It was the motorcycle made famous by a writer, spy and gentleman adventurer.
He was riding one, when he died in a crash in Dorset in 1935, while trying to avoid two boys on bicycles who had been hidden in a dip in the road.
We are speaking, of course, of the great TE Lawrence, more famously known as Lawrence of Arabia.
The bike was a Brough Superior SS “Super Sports” 100, one of eight he had successively owned.
Known as the “Rolls-Royce of motorcycles,” British-made Brough Superior bikes were never turned out in large numbers and were expensive, but their riders included illustrious owners, such as George Bernard Shaw.
In its hey-day, Brough Superior was the pinnacle of luxury motorcycles; appealing to nobility, aristocracy, and even royalty.
Production of Brough bikes ended in 1940 when the factory in Nottingham was requisitioned for Britain’s war effort.
But a French luxury motorbike company in the south of France — yes, France, not the United Kingdom — is bringing the brand back to life with an updated, hand-built version of the neo-vintage bike, as reported by Connexion France and Agence France-Presse.
The revival of the brand began to take shape in 2013 when Frenchman Thierry Henriette, a former Toulouse motorbike salesman, met with Briton Mark Upham, who had bought the Brough Superior trademark five years earlier.
Within three months Henriette came up with a prototype for a new Brough that won cheers when he presented it at the Milan bike show.
Henriette started production, first under licence, before taking over the brand in 2018.
“I always thought Brough was the most beautiful motorbike brand,” Henriette told AFP.
The memory of TE Lawrence, bike lover, supporter of an Arab rebellion during World War I and author of the literary epic “Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” is a big factor for the longevity of the Brough legend.
Lawrence kept a regular correspondence with Brough’s founder George Brough, got a say in the bikes’ design, and acquired seven, four of which were SS 100s, the model that still gets the hearts of aficionados racing.
“What we’re doing is heritage theft,” acknowledged Albert Castaigne, Brough Superior’s CEO. “But if you do it well, the English will forgive you.”
It was an important moment when members of the Brough Superior Club made the trip to France on their 1930s bikes to give the venture their blessing.
The modern bikes have little technical resemblance to the old bikes, most of which had a gear lever which had to be changed by hand, instead of the foot levers now used.
They did keep the engine layout of a large capacity twin cylinder motor, which gives a distinctive sound, “a bit like a Ducatti but different – you can recognize the bike by the sound,” said Henriette.
The ultra-modern factory in Saint-Jean will deliver around 100 Brough bikes this year, at a price tag of 60,000 to 100,000 euros, with customization costing extra.
Brough offers three neo-retro models: a contemporary version of Lawrence’s S S 100, a scrambler and an art-deco effort to mark the brand’s centenary.
While retro in design, the bikes meet the latest regulations and have safety features such as ABS brakes and anti-dive front forks, making the machine easier to control under braking.
“Each part is made from a piece of metal or a sheet of leather in our workshop. After it is assembled, the person who made it signs it,” Henriette said.
“We have customers in a dozen countries in Europe, in Russia, Australia, Mexico and soon in the United States.”
One of them is Patrick Blandinet, a businessman in his 60s based in the French Caribbean department of Guadeloupe, who came over to see the factory, customize his bike and “indulge myself,” he said.
“I asked for a gold-leafed logo on the tank,” said Blandinet, calling his brand-new bike “a gem” and “worth the money.”
And much cheaper than the remaining models from the pre-war period, which now sell for hundreds of thousands of euros at auction.
The team of 25 who build the bikes are French and Henriette said they are proud to show off the country’s technical and luxury manufacturing skills, as well as taking on George Brough’s philosophy of excellence.
They all have motorbike licences and are expected to go out and test the machines as they are built.
Lawrence was a proud owner of Brough Superior, having owned eight in his lifetime, describing one of his bikes as,“… a skittish motorcycle with a touch of blood in it.”
He even gave his favorite, a 998cc, the nickname of “Boa” which was a shortened version of the Aramaic word meaning “son of thunder.”
It was on this 998cc that Lawrence met his tragic end.
While riding near Clouds Hill, his Dorset home in England, a small dip in the road blocked his view of a couple of boys on bicycles ahead. Maneuvering to avoid the boys, Lawrence was thrown from his bike and struck his head.
Sadly, it was common to ride without a helmet at that time. On May 19, 1935, six days after the accident, TE Lawrence passed away at the age of 46. His death was hailed a “tragic waste” by the New York Times.
Sources: Connexion France, Agence France-Presse, Deeley Exhibition