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Most people know that former late-show host Jay Leno is a car collector extraordinaire. He features exciting and even bizarre vehicles from his collection regularly on his CNBC show Jay Leno’s Garage. Recently, he introduced fans to a room in the garage filled with exceptional motorcycles made by a small but storied company, as this YouTube video shows.

A room packed with fabled British bikes

A room in Leno’s vast 122,000 square-foot garage is filled with high-end Brough Superior motorcycles, memorabilia, and art. In its day, the Brough Superior has been dubbed the “Rolls-Royce of motorbikes”. And experts agree that their speed and power make them the first superbikes.

The history of the Brough Superior goes back to 1919 when George Brough, a motorcycle racer, started his own factory in 1919. The legendary T.E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, owned eight Brough Superiors over his lifetime.

A painting in Leno’s room depicts Lawrence riding a Brough Superior while racing a biplane. The mythical bikes were produced until 1940 when the factory was commissioned to make crankshafts for fighter planes at the start of World War II. 

Leno says that, back in its day, the Brough Superior cost as much as a house. And George Brough made sure that the quality of these bikes stayed high. They were test-driven to meet specifications before leaving the factory. For example, an SS80 was driven at 80 mph and an SS100 model was driven at 100 mph.

The motorcycles featured in Jay Leno’s room

Most of the pricey motorcycles in the room belonged to Robert White, Jay Leno’s close friend. For decades, White was a well-known Brough Superior enthusiast.

When White was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he sold Leno his bike collection and donated the proceeds of the sale to build a cancer wing for the English hospital that treated him. Leno honors White’s memory with the Brough Superior room.’

The Brough Superiors are tough and well-built. One of Leno’s originals is a classic SS100 with a JA Prestwich motor that Leno had for more than 30 years.

The early Brough Superiors had acetylene headlights and an air-cooled V-twin engine. Leno points out that there were no hand throttles on these bikes, so the rider had to modulate acceleration by alternating the air and fuel on the handlebars.

Leno also shows off a predecessor to the SS100, which is a twin-cam model without an overhead valve. He tells us that it’s fast, fun, and practically unbreakable. Other interesting Brough models are a single-cylinder 500 cc race bike with low handles, a 680 cc miniature version of the SS100, and a show bike that has an oil pump indicator on the tank that could be adjusted. All of the Broughs have total-loss oil systems where oil is introduced into the engine and is then burned off into the atmosphere.

Later models, explains Leno, are more polished, solid, and comfortable than the early versions. They have bigger seats, better suspension, and a Matchless engine instead of one made by JA Prestwich. He likens the Brough bikes of the 1930s to a British version of a Honda Gold Wing.

Taking a special Brough Superior out for a spin

Before taking it out on the road, Leno takes us on a walk-around a 1934 SS1150 that was once used as a police motorcycle. With an 1150 cc engine, this model is a dynamo of a bike that is bigger than an early Harley-Davidson Knucklehead. It has a four-speed foot-change and cruises easily at 50 or 60 mph.

While the SS1150 is a comfortable touring motorbike, it was ideally designed to pull a sidecar. The sidecar that the SS1150 pulls looks like the hull of a magnificently crafted speedboat and is known as a petrol tube sidecar. A tube on the frame of the car holds fuel and loops over the front. A hand pump pressurized the fuel and sent it over to the bike’s engine.

As Leno takes the bike out on the road, he talks about its refined details such as a modern speedometer, the peak on the headlight, and an actual front brake. He appreciates the integrity and unique personality that these older motorcycles possess.

They have an aura of glamour and adventure to them, and they sometimes need coddling. Contemporary bikes are almost too good by comparison, Leno believes, because they don’t require much pampering.

Maneuvering a motorcycle with a sidecar can be precarious sometimes, Leno tells us. The sidecar’s outside wheel lifts up while the rig turns. Some riders put a sandbag in the car to prevent this from happening. But the bike’s ride is comfortable and free of vibration, making it a close second favorite for Leno after the SS100.

Leno says that Brough Superiors have grown in value only in the last few decades. Before that, people used them as daily drivers since they often couldn’t afford a car. But this motorcycle brand has a special meaning for Jay Leno because it reminds him of his friend and fellow Brough fan, Robert White.


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