This is What a $500,000 Pile of Parts Looks Like
“Ninety-one-year-old motorcycle. Fossilized. No test rides.”
For a half-million dollars, you could buy a Lamborghini Huracán Spyder. Jaguar E-types, six of ’em. You could have a house in the Arizona desert, a fleet of motocross bikes and support a George Jung-esque cocaine habit. Or, you could buy a heap of parts making up most of an old British motorcycle. Tires not included.
Built during a motoring golden age between the World Wars, this 1927 Brough Superior is an example of that era’s finest motorcycle. Most period vehicles were slow and clattery affairs; the Superior raced at Brooklands, cracked the 100-mph barrier in 1922, then flirted with the 125-mph mark shortly thereafter.
Offered for auction by Bonhams, this assemblage of parts is allegedly a 1927 SS100 Alpine Grand Sport, powered by a 981cc v-twin engine. Despite being in pieces, it just sold for ￡259,100, or roughly $400,000 in real money. After commission, taxes and fees, that’d put it in the ballpark of a half-mil.
George Brough founded his motorcycle company in Nottingham at the turn of the century. He had high standards. Every Brough Superior was assembled twice: once for fitment, a second time after painting or chrome-plating. Each was then run over a timed flying mile at 100 mph or above. (The slightly cheaper SS80 was benchmarked at 80 mph). The Superior brand, as one contemporary English journalist trumpeted, was the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles. And, like a Rolls, customers could customize bikes to their exact liking.
This particular hyper-expensive yard sale has all the good bits: more-powerful J.A.P. V-twin engine, duplex cradle frame and Harley-Davidson-style front fork. The original owner, George Tunbridge of Tunbridge Wells, would’ve been very well-heeled, indeed. A Superior SS100 in this spec cost roughly as much as the average house at the time.
It's a thoroughbred, a no-expenses-spared stud for the low-flying aristocrat. Famous owners included adventurer Thomas Edward Lawrence—better known as Lawrence of Arabia—who had eight of the things, all of them named George. He survived a desert war against the Ottoman Turks, but was killed while riding his Superior SS100 near Dorset in 1935.
So, it's fast, bloody dangerous, eye-wateringly expensive and requires assembly. Evidence of the total and complete madness surrounding today’s collector vehicle market? Yes. Also, the kind of really bad idea we can get behind.
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