Brough Superior’s Albert Castaigne Interview: the Story of the Handmade Beauty

Brough Superior SS100 1 photo
Photo: Florin Tibu
Together with Matchless Model X Reloaded, the Brough Superior SS100 is one of the truly spectacular blast-from-the-past apparitions at EICMA 2014. Just like the Matchless, the Brough Superior is a brand recently revived by special people who managed to put up an enthusiastic team and whose efforts have materialized into a motorcycle which traverses centuries and links the glorious past with the high-tech present. Or should we say, future?
We’ve not only been allowed to step on the immaculate black mirror floor and get close to the all-new SS100, but we’ve also had Brough Superior’s Executive Director, Albert Castaigne, in a visibly excellent mood and more than willing to answer our questions. So if you’re in for a story of how the Brough Superior SS100 woke back to life without the kiss of Prince Charming, read below:

autoevolution: Straight up: what was the first reaction when you unveiled the bike?

Albert Castaigne: Quite surprised! The brand is well-known, partly because of Lawrence of Arabia, but also to the pre-war production. They stopped everything after the World War II, so seeing the brand coming back to life was the first surprise.

Then it’s the design of the SS100 itself, a kind of neo-retro sport classic, some steampunk accents, because it really looks like a steam-powered machine. We of course, like it. We had many reactions, most of which were positive, and as with any original bike, you either like it or you dislike it, with no middle choice in between.

ae: What did the persons who disliked the bike say? What was “wrong” with it?

AC: Well, they didn’t actually say they hated it or disliked it. They said it was “bizarre”, and I’d rather say they didn’t actually “see” themselves riding it. It has a neat design, but it also is a long bike, very narrow, with a high seat, so it’s quite original, quite “unlike what you’re used to meet today”. They just weren’t able to picture themselves on it.

However, most of the comments were encouraging and this is coherent with the SS100 orders which have been taken right after we showed the initial “mock-up” of the bike last year. This year we are showing the people the definitive form of the production bike, this is how the bike will look when delivered.

ae: Please tell me more about the SS100 itself.

AC: Compared to the initial machine, we changed almost everything. All the parts are now machined, the frame is made from titanium, and it was redesigned for more stiffness. It also leaves more room for the airbox and the fuel tank.

ae: Is everything made from titanium?

AC: Not everything, only the frame, the double wishbone suspension arms for the fork and the rear subframe. The swingarm and the fork are made from cast aluminium.

ae: Taking a close look at the Brough Superior SS100, we see that it shares part of the same philosophy behind the new Matchless: it doesn’t seem to favor plastic too much!

AC: Haha, oh no, clearly not! We have only European, and only a few USA suppliers, and we can’t put plastic on it. On this bike [right next to us] you can’t see the turn signals, but they are also machined from billet aluminium or made from titanium. Other parts, such as the airbox and various other covers are made from carbon fiber and even if you cannot see them, we couldn’t use plastic.

ae: Could we say this is a handmade bike?

AC: The answer is yes, because we have a “bespoke avis” [customer clearance paper] and after this, the bike is made by hand. Even though we are receiving “industrial” parts, such as the castings, the final assembly is made by hand. At the same time, all the aluminium work is also a handcrafting process.

We are doing this in our own shop, we have several skilled workers there. The forming itself is also a handmade job, we have no machinery doing this for us, everything is made by hand, like in the old days. This includes the tank, the tail section, both fenders and the side covers, they’re all handmade.

ae: Could you tell us how many hours does it take to go from a bile of parts in boxes to a working Brough Superior?

AC: This is really a good question, but we haven’t gotten an exact calculation for this. It’s hard to estimate now, but I can tell you that a worker needs two days for the tank alone. It will take one day to form the tank and the other day would be full with carefully welding everything together. Welding must be done very carefully because if something goes wrong, you just can’t take another part from the shelf. You need to make a new one.

ae: And we suppose that meanwhile, other guys are working on different parts on the assembly line? How many bike can you produce now?

AC: At Brough Superior we have a small crew. Right now, we have 5 people to work on the assembly alone. We are now building some parts in advance, before the first bikes are delivered. When we will start the full production, we will be able to deliver around 20 bikes a month.

ae: When do you plan to start selling these bikes? When will the first Brough Superior SS100 reach its customer?

AC: This moment is planned for next June. Deliveries are scheduled for the second half of 2015, because we are still running the engine on the bench to thoroughly test reliability, emissions and other regulations for homologation. In the spring we plan to release the first bikes for a press test.

A lot of customers who are registered with us want to see the bike rolling down the street and tested, they want to know more about how it performs. We are really interested to release the bike for these tests and we will roll it out once it’s ready, completely improved from everything we had so far.

ae: Is that a Harley-Davidson Daymaker headlight or is it just us?

AC: It is! It is manufactured by an US supplier, J.W.Speaker, but I don’t know who else is using it. Probably it’s only Harley (and us), but we like it. It’s a classic-look headlight when you see it from one side, but inside you have all the modern LED technology.

It’s the same story with the braking system of the SS100. The discs have a small diameter, they have reduced gyroscopic effect, and… they look like drum brakes. When you get closer, you’ll be surprised to see they are high-tech brakes, with ceramic double discs. All in all, you have classic looks and high-performance components. This is what defines this bike.

ae: How fast does it go? We are sure this is one of the questions you’ve heard quite often.

AC: I’d say that with the stock settings, it will do 220 km/h (137 mph). No protection, no fairing. The stock handlebar is rather wide, at least compared to the sportier option we offer. It is not a super bike: it will be light and fast, probably with excellent handling at all speeds, but this is a sport classic.

ae: So you’re doing almost everything in-house, how about the engine?

AC: The engine is designed completely by us, it doesn’t contain any pieces sourced for other engines, anymore. It started out as a blank piece of paper. We developed it with the French tuning specialists Akira, who are doing a wonderful job in Superbike, winning championships and all.

They have a two-decade expertise in design and development, and since they are involved in mass production. We want to be independent, and we are willing to take the risks of running our own engine, Homologation, reliability, they can be problematic in such cases but we have managed to gather the best guys, the best facilities and the latest development technology and we believe we are ready to take the risk.

As for the engine, it is a 1,000cc 88-degree v-twin for better balance and a reduced wheelbase. We could upgrade the capacity, but today it feels just right. It can produce 120 horsepower, which is enough for this bike now.

ae: How much will it cost?

AC: The price is final, and the Brough Superior SS100 will cost €50,000 ($62,500 equivalent, EU price) ex works.

ae: That’s really close to Matchless. How is the rivalry going to be?

AC: The best thing is that the similar price is one of the indicators which tell us that there is a demand for such bikes. Of course, we and Matchless are building two completely different bikes, they are building a cruiser, we are delivering sport classic. We definitely aren’t producing custom bikes, it’s more of a new segment, neo-retro sport classics.

ae: Since you mentioned the term “custom”, what can the customers choose in terms of trim?

AC: First of all, we have the full black, the traditional color for racing bikes in the era. Then it’s the bi-color scheme, with black and aluminium, and we also made a third trim in worn colors and visible titanium parts. This was a choice from one of our customers.

Then we have Borani spoked wheels made specifically for us and a choice between a more sport- or touring-focused riding position. This includes different handlebars and footpeg positions. So far this is everything we can offer at the moment.

As you see, the old British brand is alive and kicking once more, even though it had to be the French who made this happen. If you’re in for some retro sporty feeling, then the Brough Superior SS100 is definitely as close as it gets to it. It will not be a cheap move, but to us the new SS100 surely looks like a lot of fun. And if the bike rides as tidy and neat as it looks, then we’re looking at a new dream bike.
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