R3.4m tag on unique 'Old Bill'

2012-04-24 09:01

The Brough 'Old Bill', one of the most sought-after motorcycles created by the marque, will be auctioned later this year and it's expected to fetch as much as R3.4-million.

The 'Old Bill' has featured in every book written about the Brough marque and will be auctioned as part of the Roger Allen collection at an H&H auction in the UK on October 4, 2012. The pricey specimen will be on show over April 28/29 at the International Classic Motorcycle Show in Stafford, central Engalnd. It carries an estimate of £250 000 to £270 000 (about R3.17 - R3.4-million).

The motorcycle, originally known as 'Spit & Polish' (due to its immaculate appearance), was manufactured in 1922 by the Brough Superior factory for the personal use of its founder George Brough.


It is powered by a 1000cc side-valve, V-twin engine and made its debut at Brooklands, giving Brough his first win and becoming the first side-valve machine to lap the historic Surrey track at more than 100mph (160km/h). It also put its rider in hospital later the same day when a tyre burst.

Having convinced his family that sprinting and hill-climbing were safer pursuits than circuit racing, Brough rebuilt the motorcycle with special forks and a prototype JAP engine, and renamed it 'Old Bill' in memory of Bruce Bairnsfather’s First World War cartoon character.

With George in the saddle, 'Old Bill' went on to win 51 sprints in the 1922/1923 seasons and in the 52nd, at Clipstone, Nottinghamshire, it made fastest time of the day; even though the bike and rider crossed the line separately!

With Brough once more in hospital, 'Old Bill' was converted to road trim and sold to fund the factory’s wages.

During the Second World War the machine was damaged when a cast-iron bath fell on it and then remained in storage until the late 1950's, when it was acquired by ‘Titch’ Allen – the founder of the now 16 000-strong Vintage Motorcycle Club (VMCC) and Brough enthusiast.


With the assistance of George Brough and his one-time works manager Ike Webb, the bike was duly restored to its 1923 specification and demonstrated at Clipstone in 1959 with George Brough astride and at the Brighton Speed Trials and Brooklands by ‘Titch’ Allen.

In 1988 then-chairman of the VMCC’s racing section and historic racer, Roger Allen, equipped 'Old Bill' with a sidecar so he could enter the occasional sprint with his wife Sue as passenger. He also ran it in solo trim in the 1991 classic Isle of Man TT races – the first time a Brough had ever competed on the island.  It was while running a Triumph there the following year that he sadly lost his life, at which point his motorcycle collection, including 'Old Bill’, passed to his wife.

Since then it has been on display at the Nottingham Industrial Museum.

Said George Beale, principal of H&H’s motorcycle department: "If I could bring any motorcycle in the world to auction, it would probably be this one – the combination of significance and provenance is simply unrivalled in my view.

“It is an absolute privilege to be handling the sale of such an automotive icon and we very much look forward to being able to show it to the world’s serious collectors from the Stafford show onwards."