Lawrence of Arabia’s Brough Superior SS100 Motorcycle

Larry Lewis sent me a photo of the the last Brough Superior motorcycle that was owned by T. E. Lawrence, who was better known as “Lawrence of Arabia” for his exploits during World War I.  There was a movie made about him called “Lawrence of Arabia”.  By the way, this is a good movie and I would recommend watching it on the biggest screen that you can find.  The scenery in the movie is spectacular. This was the motorcycle that he was riding when he was died in his accident in 1935.  This motorcycle is on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Lawrence of Arabia’s 1935 Brough Superior SS100

Apparently this is the only display in the Imperial War Museum that has its own separate room.

T. E. Lawrence owned 8 Brough motorcycles over the years

Lawrence was a very keen motorcycle rider.  He did a lot of riding and apparently much of it was at fairly high speeds.  He owned a number of Brough (pronounced “bruff”) Superior motorcycles over the years. Obviously the Brough Superior company used his name in some of their promotional material.

Another View of Lawrence’s 1935 Brough Superior SS100

Brough Superior motorcycles were very expensive in their day and they continue to be very expensive if you want to buy one today.

The following four models represent most of the production of Brough Superior motorcycles. Most were custom built to order and many variations were made:

  • The SS100 (Super Sports), powered by J.A.P. or Matchless 1000 cc overhead valve V-twin engines. The SS100 was guaranteed to go 100 mph.  Approximately 383 were manufactured from 1924 to 1940.
  • The SS80 (Super Sports), powered by J.A.P. or Matchless 1,000 cc sidevalve V-twin engines.  The SS80 was guaranteed to go 80 mph.  Approximately 1,086 were manufactured from 1922 to 1940.
  • The SS680 O.H.V. (Super Sports) powered by J.A.P. 680 cc overhead valve V-twin. Approximately 547 were manufactured from 1926 to 1936.
  • The model 11.50, powered by J.A.P 1096 cc sidevalve 60° V-twin engines. These were primarily designed for sidecar and police use. Approximately 308 were manufactured from 1933 to 1940. The model name refers to the tax horsepower rating of the engine.

Brough Superior Motorcycles used Most J.A.P. Engines

The one early summer’s day in May 1935, Lawrence was riding his Brough Superior SS100 back home to cottage at Clouds Hill.  Suddenly he came upon two boy cyclists, possibly obscured from view by a passing car; fatally swerving to avoid them, he was thrown over the handlebars onto the road. Like most riders of the time, he was not wearing a helmet, and so sustained a serious head injury which left him in a coma and claimed his life some six days later.

The Last Version of the Brough Superior SS100 in 1939

Production of the Brough Superior motorcycles ended when World War II started.

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18 Responses to Lawrence of Arabia’s Brough Superior SS100 Motorcycle

  1. Pingback: Brulding van de Week: Brough Superior | DeJaap Asfalt

  2. The movie Lawrence of Arabia opens with a scene of Sir T.E.Lawrence riding a Brough motorcycle and crashing. The Number plate shown on the motorcycle is UL 656. I guess that the movie makers used a stuntman double for actor Sir Peter O’Toole. , and the movie makers did not use the Number GW 2275. please correct me if i am wrong. The movie inspired me to own a motorcycle.When I was 24 years old ,my dad bought me a 250CC JAWA motorcycle. I subsequently became a stuntman with South India Stuntmens Association, did many daring stunts on motorcycles., before i retired as a stuntman. Now I am 62 years and still ride my JAWA-YEZDI 250cc.

    • It sounds like you have had quite a life so far. I’m surprised that you were inspired by a movie with a motorcycle accident that ends in death. You must be fearless!

      It has been years since I last saw the movie and I have no idea what the license plate number was on the motorcycle used in the movie. As a result I am in not in a position to comment on whether you are correct or not, but given your interest in this matter, I suspect that you are right.

      I would be surprised to find out that they used his actual motorcycle in the movie. Not only would they use a stunt double, they probably used a stand-in motorcycle as well. They would not want to damage the actual motorcycle.

      Keep riding,
      Steve

      • Tim Haupt says:

        The motorcycle used in the movie had a chrome tank. There was quite point make of him polishing a spot of oil from the tank. However as you can see from the museum photo above, his actual motorcycle has a black tank.

        Thanks for this site – very informative –
        Tim Haupt

      • Mr.Tim Haupt,
        The movie Lawrence of Arabia inspired me, and i became a motorcycle freak when I was 24 yrs old. Im 62 yrs now and still ride a JAWA-YEZDI 1995 – 250 CC Bike. during my youthful days I became a stuntman and did a few daring stunts like jumping over a moving train.I have a vcd on this stunt. As for the bike in the movie Lawrence of Arabia I have a DVD and the number plate shown in the movie is UL656. I was facinated by this number and used it on some of my stunt motorcycles. Man, what lovely reminences :).
        God bless you and keep up the good work. you can write to me at :jayakumarramasami@yahoo.com

  3. Roger Hopkins says:

    Hello Steve

    I came across your very interesting website and its comments about T E Lawrence’s Brough Superior SS100 – Registration No: GR 2275. As a documentary film maker, I’ve been associated with the motorcycle on several occasions and know the present owner well. Believe me, the very act of sitting on the machine is electrifying! If ever there was a spiritual scent attached to a man made object, this is it. Lawrence’s beloved Brough is probably the most famous road going vehicle in the world, and certainly the most valuable. It currently resides in London’s Imperial War Museum London, and is the very stuff of iconic history. One of your contributors discusses the present black colour of the tank. When Lawrence crashed the bike in 1935, the tank was badly damaged, and a rare photograph taken just after the accident shows this very clearly. The bike was quickly returned to George Brough’s workshop where a new aluminum tank was fitted, but this time it was painted completely black. This is the tank we see on the machine today. The former silver looking tank was in fact black on top with a thin gold key line separating the opposite shades. Ironically, the damaged tank was almost certainly repaired and sold as a spare by Brough’s workshop. One has to remember that in those days preserving the Brough’s original tank would have been unimportant – back then no one could have imagined how famous the bike would become. Miraculously, the Brough survived any further serious damage, and interestingly the small scrapes and dents caused by the accident are preserved to this day. Even the stretch mark where George Brough straightened the bent handlebar is perfectly in evidence. The motorcycle used in David Lean’s classic movie was a poor substitute for the real thing, and had the film been made today, I’m sure a doppelganger of the SS100 (with correct number plate!) would be top of the props list! When ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ was premiered in London, the real GR 2275 stood in pride of place in the foyer of the Odeon Liecester Square. Star of the show Peter O’Toole delighted the world’s press by sitting himself firmly on the Brough! I understand he too received the spiritual electric shock.

    Roger Hopkins, London UK

    • Hi Roger,
      Thanks very much for your insightful comments. Given the scale of the movie, having a motorcycle with a different registration number does seem like an unpardonable mistake. As evidenced by a comment on my website, people pay attention to that sort of thing. The motorcycle is probably one of the few direct connections to Lawrence.

      Thanks again for your comments!

      Regards,
      Steve

  4. Roger Hopkins says:

    Hi Steve

    The correct registration number of Lawrence’s Brough should be GW 2275. Silly me!

  5. Steve Southgate says:

    I saw Lawrence of Arabia when a small boy and was fascinated by anyone who had a job that involved blowing up trains and riding motorcycles, and yes I’ve been a motorcyclist all of my adult life.
    When Lawrence died another Brough (paid for by Charlotte Shaw and Nancy Astor) was on order. I understand that his own Brough had a bespoke petrol tank on it and this had been taken off to be transferred to the new bike, so it is likely that the tank on the bike he had the accident on was only lent to him by the factory.

    • Hi Steve,
      Thanks for providing that information; it is quite interesting.

      Glad to see that you have been a life-long motorcyclist. Hopefully you never got involved in blowing up trains!

      Regards,
      Steve McKelvie

  6. anand lokottara says:

    hi i found it most intresting reading about lawrence more so as i went to buy a home at flambrough head and was told buy the present owners at that time that lawrence had built this for him and his friend where this was true i didnt know but apprently it was confirmed he used a different name for this at the bottom of this garden was a sidecar over grown with grass and weeds 8 yeras later i went to see if it was still there and yes it wasi bought this sidecar for 40 pounds in 2010 to restore it inside were two letters to lawrence from agentlman who lived in robinhoods bay they were of a very personal nature i just wondered if there was ever a mention of him owing an old sidecar who knows i have this fitted now to a panther

  7. CHRIS RENHAM says:

    INTERESTING TO READ ABOUT THIS BIKE BECAUSE ;- IN THE EARLY 1960S I WAS A YOUNG MOTORCYCLE SALESMAN AT JENKIN AND PURSER IN SOUTHAMPTON AND A KEEN VINTAGE ENTHUSIAST WHEN OLD BIKES WERE JUST “JUNK”. WE HAD A BRANCH IN PORTSMOUTH AND SOMEONE HAD TAKEN IN AN OLD BROUGH WITH A WINDOW CLEANERS SIDECAR ON IT THAT HE HAD BOUGHT FOR A FEW POUNDS, IT HAD BELONGED TO A T.E. SHAW AS FIRST OWNER IN THE OLD BUFF LOG BOOK . A SMALL BIT OF PUBLICITY IN THE LOCAL PAPER ABOUT HOW IT WAS THE BIKE LAWRENCE HAD BEEN KILLED ON. MY BOSSES THOUGHTTO GAIN A BIT OF FREE ADVERTISING AND OFFERED TO RENOVATE IT FOR THE OWNER FOR FREE. IT CAME UP TO THE SOUTHAMPTON WORKSHOP AND THE YOUNG APPRENTICE DISMANTLED IT AND PUT THE BITS IN A TEA CHEST. THE MECHANICS THOUGHT IT WAS JUST SCRAP AND HAD NOT THE SLIGHTEST IDEA ABOUT RENOVATING OLD BIKES.
    I TOOK THE BLACK CELLULOID COVERED HANDLEBARS, COMPLETE WITH ALL CONTROLS AND FOR OVER A YEAR THEY SAT PROUDLY ON MY DESK IN THE SALES OFFICE. THE LAST THING LAWRENCE HAD TOUCHED. IT WAS BEFORE THE FILM AND NO ONE KNEW WHO LAWRENCE WAS. THE MECHANICS THOUGHT I WAS A BIT WEIRD.THE BIKE WAS JUST JUNK TO THEM AND I EVENTUALLY CONTACTED THE OWNER AND SUGGESTED HE RECOVERED HIS BIKE, PUT THE HANDLEBARS BACK IN THE BOX. I COULD PROBABLY BOUGHT IT FOR £20 IF I HAD WANTED. WONDER WHA THOSE HAIRY ARSED MECHANICS WOULD THINK IF THEY KNEW THAT YEARS TO COME THAT WOULD BE THE MOST EXPENSIVE BIKE IN THE WORLD, WORTH MORE THAN THEY WOULD ALL EARN IN A LIFETIME.

  8. Gary Mayberry says:

    Never been much of a motorcycle person but when I saw the picture of this bike and the back story,what a great find.I,m looking foward to learn more about the bike and the person named Lawrence Of Arabia.Thank You very much……Gary M.

    • Hi Gary,
      I would encourage you to watch the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”, but watch it on the biggest screen or TV that you can. The cinematography in this movie is great and the scenery is spectacular and you need to see it as big as possible. Lawrence of Arabia was an extremely interesting person and although most of the movie takes place during the First World War you can get good insights into today’s news about the Middle East.

      Steve McKelvie

  9. Bob F says:

    Having recently read extensively on the subject of T E Lawrence and visited the ‘usual sites’ in Dorset, before Christmas I arranged to meet my daughter in London and visit the Imperial War Museum to view the Brough Superior on which he met his untimely end.

    Unable to find the exhibit I enquired at the information desk where it was. I was informed that it had been privately loaned by an individual who they had recently asked to take it away as it was no longer thought to be ‘relevant’ to their collection. Apparently this had caused all sorts of problems to the owner as he had nowhere to store it and who needed to arrange shipment with little notice given.

    Needless to add they were unable to give me any details of about the owner due to the ‘Data Protection Act’!! (Total bollocks. Why do these people always say this when they merely want to mess you around?)

    They helpfully (and rather patronisingly) told me that they were about to have a major refurbishment and that if I liked motor bikes they would have one used by the Taliban on display when they re-open. I found it hard to hide my excitement.

  10. Pingback: Accessories - Nippy Normans - Page 2 - BMW R1200R Forum : BMW R1200R Forums

  11. arvmsr25 says:

    Mr. T. E. Lawrence, who known as “Lawrence of Arabia” also is distributing a brief knowledge and information about bike and its quality and also have created movie on it. If you are more interested about this can visit sell crashed motorcycle.

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