The Brough Superior - Austin Seven Power Motorcycle

The following article is taken from the February 1987 edition of the UK magazine The Classic Motor Cycle. The excellent article was written by Bob Currie and the photographs taken by Jim Davis. I have been unable to contact these people for their permission to reproduce this article but will proceed as it documents the history of the only Austin Seven powered motorcycle that went into limited production in 1932.



Source: The Classic Motor Cycle February 1987 (page 32...)

Only one maker ever went into production with an Austin-powered four-in-line; but it was very limited production, even then. Bob Currie investigates a shaft-drive rarity, while Jim Davies points his camera.

The Brough Superior is perhaps not quite as lengthy as it might seem, the actual wheelbase is 59-1/2 inches.

Cast light-alloy footboards are standard equipment.

Back in pre-war days (and for that matter, during wartime blackout hours, too) quite a favourite pastime was the construction of "specials" employing the ubiquitous 747cc Austin Seven car engine. Usually it was mounted lengthwise in the frame, despite the unwieldy wheelbase that resulted, but the more adventurous specials-builders turned the unit crosswise. One of the latter was Bob Collier (well, natch; sort of thing he would do!) except that he went one better by chipping off the water jacket, sweating fins onto the barrel and head, and running the result in national trials as a rock-hopping combo.

However, only one factory ever employed the Austin Seven in a production model - if, indeed, you can term a total output of ten machines "production" - and that was Brough Superior. And, of course, George Brough being George Brough the engine (he said) was no run-of the-mill Austin Seven but a 797cc version built for him exclusively, by arrangement with Sir Herbert Austin. In fact it was just the standard two-main-bearing Austin engine, bored out by 1.9mm and fitted with a light-alloy cylinder head, but the power output was claimed to be 33bhp at 4,600rpm, (as against the 24bhp at 5,000 rpm of the engine in normal trim).

Before we go any further, let it be said that the Brough Four exhibited in the National Motorcycle Museum collection, as pictured here, lacks its original light alloy head (which would have had the "BS" initials cast into the right-hand side) and, instead, has the usual car-type cast-iron item.

It was not only the Austin engine that George Brough adopted, but also the Austin plate clutch (with left-side foot operation by an enormously long pedal), gearbox, and driving shaft to a bevel box mounted between the twin rear wheels. The bevel box was Brough's own and embraced a massive light-alloy casting into which the two frame main tubes were inserted and secured. On the end of the drive shaft was a helical-tooth pinion engaging with a crown wheel mounted on a short axle to which the rear wheels were attached. No differential was Incorporated, and each rear wheel was fastened, car-style, by four studs and nuts.

Equipment included a normal starter motor operating on the toothed periphery of the engine flywheel and, at the front right-hand side, a transverse dynamo on the end of which was carried the distributor. On the initial 1931 Olympia show model, the header tank of the radiator was extended upward and faired into the bulbous nose of the traditional Brough Superior fuel tank, but on subsequent models a normal tank was fitted, the two-part radiator having chromium plated header tanks with a Motometer temperature gauge incorporated into the filler cap.

The Brough-Austin, warned George, was to be sold for sidecar use only - not, he said, because the twin rear wheels ruled it out for solo riding, but because as a solo machine the radiators would be very vulnerable (more so than on a Scott, anyway). Nevertheless, it could be ridden solo, as George's friend Hubert Chantrey soon proved, by taking the Show model through the traditional New Year's Eve London-Exeter Trial in that condition. Not that the machine's handling on the roughery was impeccable, as Chantrey later reported in Motor Cycling. In a spot of pre-trial practice the Brough showed a tendency to zig-zag, according to whichever rear tyre happened to be the lower. "This inclination to wander", reported Hubert, "was easily checked by a firmer grip of the wide handlebars and a determination to go straight."

In the actual trial he had to drop his feet on Harcombe, when he inadvertently began the climb in too high a gear and had to snatch the gear lever back into bottom, proceeding for most of the way up the observed section holding the gear lever in and driving one-handed. He disclosed also that the prototype machine had cost its manufacturer well over �1,000 to produce, in addition to taking many weeks of hard labour (by present-day standards, that would be around �50,000). In any case, the machine had already been sold and, immediately after the trial it was handed back to George Brough, to be whistled back up to the works in Nottingham, cleaned up, fitted with a sidecar and delivered to the new owner - who, incidentally, had given prior permission for its expedition to Exeter.

Confirmation that it is possible for a (very) brave man to ride a Brough-Austin Four solo was given as recently as 1985 when John Wallis completed five laps of Silverstone at the Motor 100 extravaganza on the example owned by his father, Albert Wallis. The secret, disclosed John, was to run with no more than 15lb/sq in pressure in each of the rear tyres. (Me, I wouldn't know, I have driven a Brough Superior Four, by courtesy of owner Martin Emery, but in sidecar trim only - and I was especially intrigued by its possession of a reverse gear. Yes, I'd ridden a motor cycle in reverse before, but inadvertently, the said machine being a Coventry-Eagle two-stroke with rather surprising habits).

George Brough had never intended the Austin Four to be a speedster, and in its original 1931 description of the model, The Motor Cycle commented: "It should be emphasised that the machine is……. a luxurious passenger outfit which will attain a speed of something better than a mile a minute and maintain that speed for as long as road conditions permit." Still, a 60mph sidecar outfit wasn't bad going for 1931.

"For six years", wrote George, introducing the Four in his 1932 catalogue, "my ambition has been to produce a vehicle that has all the charm and exhilaration that only motor cycling can give to the true motoring enthusiast whilst possessing advantages of silent running, effortless starting, cleanliness and the more foolproof transmission of a thoroughbred car."

For all that, the Brough-Austin was catalogued in 1932 only, and the factory record cards now in the possession of the Brough Superior Club indicate that just ten were made - and that includes the Show model - though there are unconfirmed rumours of one other, a single rear-wheel maverick with chain final drive. Of the ten, two (including, oddly enough, the Show job ridden in that long ago Exeter by Hubert Chantrey) have never been traced. The Show machine was last heard of during World War Two at the Station Garage, Kings Heath, Birmingham, but there the trail went cold; the garage is still in business, but it has changed hands several times since the forties, and it is just possible that this particular machine ended up in the Coventry scrap yard run by the late Derek Pickering.

Of the remaining eight, seven were known to have survived (that includes the two in the USA and the one in New Zealand), but Brough Club information is that the eighth (registration number EY4321, frame number 4006) lived all its life in Anglesey, and was scrapped there, though the log book survived. However, there existed at the Brough works a spare rear bevel-box casting. Brough Superior enthusiast Albert Wallis had already acquired various other parts himself, including a pair of radiators, engine and gearbox, and it was he who built the representation of EY4321 currently on exhibition, as a duplicate of his own model.

More photographs of the Brough Superior

The Austin Seven Motoring Pages