Brough Superior and Lawrence of Arabia
This August, we’re celebrating the British motorcycling brand regarded as one of the finest and most luxurious marques in the world: Brough Superior.
Once dubbed the ‘Rolls Royce of Motorcycles’ – a sobriquet that stuck, in part because of founder George Brough’s ability to recognise a marketing opportunity when he saw one – Brough Superior bikes were the epitome of perfection, luxury, and exclusivity.
The best motorcycles money could buy – and Brough Superior’s famous connections
With the price of a Brough Superior out of reach for most people, and the quality to more than back it up, Brough Superior motorcycles were considered the best of the best.
Brough Superiors were owned and ridden by many famous and well-to-do men of the 1920s and 1930s: among them filmmaker Orson Welles (of Citizen Kane fame), playwright George Bernard Shaw (the man behind the stage play Pygmalion, which went on to be recreated in musical form as My Fair Lady), the aristocracy, and more. But there is no more famous connection between Brough Superiors and the world of glitz and glamour than the relationship between the bikes and T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.
Without T.E. Lawrence, legends of motorcycling like Burt Munro, Steve McQueen, and Evel Knieval may not have ever happened. Lawrence of Arabia was the first truly modern motorcyclist.
His story was immortalised on-screen in the Hollywood blockbuster that won seven Oscars.
T.E. Lawrence: the backstory
Born in Wales in 1888, Tomas Edward Lawrence and his family packed up and moved to Oxford when he was a child, in 1896. After leaving school, between 1910 and 1914, he worked as an archaeologist for the British Museum – mainly at Carchemish in Ottoman Syria.
Lawrence was in the Middle East when WWI broke out. He immediately signed up for military service and was promptly despatched to Egypt, to serve as a Colonel in the British Army’s Arab Intelligence Service. A couple of years later, he wound up in Mesopotamia and found himself involved in an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire.
After the war drew to an end, Lawrence joined the British Foreign Office and continued to work with operatives in the Middle East. However, that all came to an end in 1922 when he decided to retreat from his diplomatic work and joined the Royal Air Force.
T.E. Lawrence was an enlisted Aircraftsmen in the RAF and helped developed rescue motorboats. But there was one dead giveaway that he was no lowly private. His chosen form of transport.
Lawrence of Arabia and Brough Superiors
Made by hand by George Brough in Nottingham from 1925 onwards, Brough Superior motorcycles were the best money could buy.
At the time the going price of a Brough Superior, about £200, would have bought you a cottage. Given T.E. Lawrence owned about eight Broughs over the course of his lifetime, it’s quite evident he didn’t struggle for money despite his low rank in the RAF.
The price of Brough Superiors has not waned over the years: in fact, these classic British motorcycles routinely fetch eye-watering prices at auctions around the world. Adding to their appeal, and value? Only a few thousand of these machines were ever made, in Brough Superior’s comparatively short production run.
It’s not hard to see what drew Lawrence to Brough Superior bikes. Their ability to go fast, and to do so in such a style that automotive manufacturer Rolls Royce gave George Brough permission to reference their vehicles when marketing his motorcycles, made them incredibly compelling. For a man used to adventure, like Lawrence of Arabia, they were the perfect way to get around.
A way with words
Fortunately for fellow motorcycling enthusiasts, riding bikes fast was not T.E. Lawrence’s only talent.
He had a way with words, and as any writer can tell you: you should write what you know best.
He particularly liked to write about his Brough Superior that he had dubbed ‘Boa’ or ‘Boanerges’, which translates to ‘Son of Thunder’ in Aramaic.
(The Aramaic language is more than 3000 years old. Comprised of 22 characters, it is part of the group of languages called the Semitic languages – which also includes Hebrew and Arabic. Aramaic originated amongst the Arameans in an ancient region of Syria.)
From T.E. Lawrence’s The Mint –
“Another bend: and I have the honor of one of England’ straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air’s coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight two hundred yards ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar’s gravelled undulations.”
An untimely end
Tragically, it was T.E. Lawrence’s love of Brough Superior motorcycles and the speed they could achieve that led to his death.
Out for a ride on his seventh Brough bike (his eighth was on order) in 1935, T.E. Lawrence lost control of his SS100 just two months after leaving military service.
Close to his cottage Clouds Hill, in Dorset, a dip in the road obstructed Lawrence’s view of two boys on their bicycles. Lawrence swerved to avoid them but lost control, and was thrown over the handlebars of his motorcycle. He died six days later on 19 May 1935, at the age of 46.
(An interesting tidbit: one of the neurosurgeons looking after Lawrence was a doctor by the name of Hugh Cairns, who would go on to study motorcycling head injuries of both military and civilian riders. His research would go on to lead to the widespread use of crash helmets.)
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill attended T.E. Lawrence’s funeral, describing him as “one of the greatest beings alive in this time”.
The location of Lawrence of Arabia’s crash is marked by a small memorial at the roadside.