Press Release: Bonhams Stafford Sale set a new world record price for a Brough Superior and for any British motorcycle sold at auction, as the gavel fell at an astounding £331,900 ($481,000) for the 1938 Brough Superior 750cc BS4.
The BS4 was the highlight lot in the collection ‘The Broughs of Bodmin Moor’, which sold 100% to achieve a collective £752,625. These iconic, rare British motorcycles were believed to have been destroyed, until Bonhams motorcycle department discovered the eight machines in 2015 in a remote Cornish village. The motorcycles were discovered whole, in parts, and some were partially submerged under decades of dust, old machinery parts and household clutter. Bonhams Stafford sale saw the bikes unveiled for the first time in more than 50 years.
Motorcycles of the 1920s and 1930s largely featured only one cylinder, so when the BS4 launched at the Olympia Motor Cycle Show in 1931, with its engine and gearbox taken from an Austin 7 motor car, it was truly revolutionary for the marque. Only ten BS4 models (aka Brough Superior ‘four cylinder’) were built, and only seven survive.
Ben Walker, International Director for Bonhams Collectors’ Motorcycle Department, said: “The Broughs of Bodmin Moor are the motorcycle discovery of the decade. They’ve caused quite a stir in the saleroom, with each one far exceeding estimate, allowing us to break our own world record for a British motorcycle sold at auction, the 1938 Brough Superior 750cc BS4 selling for £331,900 to a German bidder in the room.”
“Having been housed in a Cornwall barn for so many decades, we’re delighted to have brought these machines back into the spotlight,” said Jonathan Vickers, Bonhams West Country motoring specialist.
“They’ve sold phenomenally well, cementing Bonhams highly successful record breaking reputation in the collectors’ motoring industry.”
Malcolm Barber, Bonhams Co-Chairman and auctioneer, said: “The Bonhams team have held an auction at the Stafford International Motorcycle show for more than 28 years. The sale is an institution, and one that rightly attracts the attention of motorcycle enthusiasts from across the globe. With a packed saleroom and bids coming in internationally including a determined bidder who flew in from the antipodes and several world records achieved, such as for the 1956 Vincent 499cc Comet Series-C/D which sold for £55,200, as well as of course for Brough Superior, it’s been yet another incredible Stafford Sale.”
The Bonhams Sale featured the best of British motorcycles, with Vincent, Coventry Eagle, and of course the rarest of Brough Superiors leading more than 230 machines to achieve a total £3,454,501.
Further successes of the Sale include the 1939 Vincent-HRD 998cc Rapide Series-A Project, sold to a European bidder for £270,300; the 1929 Coventry-Eagle 980cc Flying-8 OHV, sold for £163,900, and the c.1959 Norton-JAP 998cc Sprinter ‘Thor’, sold for £61,990.George Brough had toyed with.George Brough had toyed with idea of a four-cylinder motorcycle on two previous occasions, both of which had resulted in a solitary prototype, before making a more serious attempt in 1931. For this latest
George Brough had toyed with idea of a four-cylinder motorcycle on two previous occasions, both of which had resulted in a solitary prototype, before making a more serious attempt in 1931. For this latest venture George chose an off-the-shelf power unit of proven reliability: the 747cc engine of the Austin Seven light car. Retaining the Austin three-speeds-and-reverse gearbox, this was mounted fore-and-aft in the frame and at first it was planned to use chain final drive. However, the required intermediate transmission made the machine unacceptably long, so George came up with idea of retaining shaft drive and using twin rear wheels, one either side of a central crown wheel and pinion. The wheel centres were 7½” apart which, fortunately, meant that as far as the taxation authorities were concerned the machine still qualified as a motorcycle, albeit one much better suited to sidecar duties than solo riding.
- One of only seven survivors (out of ten made)
- Matching numbers
- Present ownership for over 50 years
- Offered for restoration
Tests of the first prototype revealed that the Austin engine’s 13bhp maximum output made for unacceptable poor performance, and so the second machine incorporated an engine bored out for a capacity of 797cc and fitted with an alloy high-compression cylinder head and a more ‘sporty’ camshaft. Two radiators were provided for the water cooled Austin engine, their bulbous header tanks blending into the front of the fuel tank to maintain the traditional Brough look, though a more conventional arrangement was adopted for the production models. Castle forks were standard equipment, and it is worth noting that Brough’s patented easy roll-on centre stand made its first appearance on the new Four, which was announced to an astonished public in November 1931. Following the Four’s debut at the Olympia Motor Cycle Show, George Brough’s friend Hubert Chantrey rode the show model, as a solo, in the London-Exeter Trial in December ’31, an account of which appeared in Motor Cycling (13th January 1932 edition). At the end of the article, Chantrey stated that he had ordered one of the Brough Fours.
Highly unusual in retaining its original engine, ‘4004’ was despatched to Hubert Chantrey on 20th March 1932 in solo form, though he did not register the machine, as ‘GY 989’, until July of that year. Why was there a four-month delay in registration? Possibly because ‘4004’ had been ridden initially on ‘borrowed’ numberplates, a practice the works frequently indulged in despite its illegality.
It is assumed that ‘4004’ is the Brough ridden by Chantrey in the MCC’s Land’s End Trial in 1932, run over the Easter weekend. Although he climbed all the most difficult hills and completed the course, he received no award, having finished outside the time limit at the Taunton checkpoint. That summer, Chantrey entered the Four (as a motorcycle combination) in the MCC’s London-Edinburgh Trial. In the event, he non-started as a protest against cars being allowed to precede motorcycles.
Chantrey was killed in an air crash in 1933; ‘GY 989’ then disappears from the Brough Superior records, reappearing circa 1947 in the ownership of Les Dunster of Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey. Dunster fitted an Ariel front wheel and telescopic forks, and three years later part-exchanged the Brough against a BSA Golden Flash at the famous dealership Comerfords of Thames Ditton, Surrey. Comerfords used ‘GY 989’ to haul their box-sidecar ‘float’, and some time later sold it to Mr E J Sheridan of Forest Gate, London E7.
In 1958, while still owned by Sheridan, ‘GY 989’ was featured in an article in Motor Cycling by John Griffith, at which time it was still attached to a sidecar and fitted with the Ariel front end; it also had a Solex carburettor. The Brough was last taxed by Sheridan on 24th March 1958.
Circa 1959, ‘GY 989’ passed to Brough Club member J Cornwell, an RAF sergeant of Minster, Kent, who fitted it with the correct Castle forks and corresponding front wheel, and also replaced the original radiators. Photographic evidence shows that at this time the Four was fitted with a Brough Superior AGS petrol tube sidecar chassis, with Cruiser body, taken from another Brough. ‘GY 898’ was advertised for sale on 21st August 1961, and is believed to have been purchased by Frank Vague in 1963. It is possible Frank bought it from Matthias, a scrap dealer at Lopscombe Corner on the A30 between Salisbury and Stockbridge, which is not far from his St Mary Bourne home. The Brough Club has a reliable report of a BS Four seen at the scrapyard in the early 1960s, and it seems most unlikely that there were two in the same locality. It is worth noting that of the seven surviving Brough Superior Fours (out of ten made) only three, ‘GY 989’ being one of them, retain their original engines.