1928 Brough Superior SS100 'Moby Dick'
Registration no. TO 8878
Frame no. 993
Engine no. JYO/C 20728/T
'The fastest privately owned machine in the world suitable for road use' according to Motor Cycling magazine, this Brough Superior SS100 - dubbed 'Moby Dick' by the magazine's tester, Dennis May ('Castor') - achieved a top speed of 106mph back in 1931, a staggering achievement at a time when very few road vehicles of any sort were capable of reaching three-figure speeds. The stock SS100 came with a guaranteed top speed of 100mph (hence the name) but even this wasn't enough for Moby's first owner, Guildford garage proprietor Charles Hobbs, who commissioned special oversize cylinders from Brough's engine supplier, J A Prestwich. When Dennis May first rode Hobbs' modified Brough, the 1,142cc engine produced around 57bhp (13 horsepower more than the standard 980cc unit) but after further tuning by Brooklands wizard Ted Baragwanath this was upped to over 65bhp. Tested again by May for a Motor Cycling report published in October in 1932, Moby clocked a maximum of 115mph in top (third) gear, with 109mph achievable in second. Baragwanath's modifications include an increase in compression ratio to 8.3:1, higher-lift cams, lightened valves and the installation of twin Amal carburettors.
Moby's phenomenal performance notwithstanding, Hobbs enjoyed little success at Brooklands but did fare much better at the nearby Gatwick Speed Trials, on one occasion setting fastest time of the day in both solo and sidecar classes. Following an accident (not on the Brough) Hobbs decided to sell Moby, which in September 1936 was purchased from him by the Bilbé brothers, Ken and Ralph. Elder brother Ken had made a number of visits to Hobbs' Markenfield Garage, admiring Moby and getting to know its owner, who encouraged him to take it for a test run. At this time Moby had a Swallow sidecar attached, and with a pal in the 'chair' Ken set off for the ride of his life, touching 90mph on one occasion while noting that the Brough seemed to have plenty left in reserve. Ken enthusiastically recounted this experience for an article published in Motor Cycling (August 26th 1936 issue).
When purchased, the Brough came with Swallow Donington sidecar still attached, though this was hastily sold off to enable the brothers to repay some of the money they had borrowed to buy the bike. In 1937 the Bilbés decided to enter Moby, by now benefiting from a rebuild and further tuning, in a BMCRC handicap race at Brooklands. Ridden by Ralph, the Brough started from 'scratch', by which time it had almost been lapped by the rest of the field, yet went on to win handsomely, finishing a lap ahead of the second-place rider! The award, a silver biscuit barrel, is still in the family's possession today. Prior to the Brooklands outing, Moby had been tested at dawn over a measured mile on the A30 trunk road between Stockbridge and Salisbury, achieving a maximum of 126mph. It is not surprising that of the 32 speeding 'tickets' Ralph Bilbé garnered in his lifetime, Moby Dick was responsible 23 of them!
There would be no further competitive outings for Moby, which became Ralph's everyday transport, and in 1940 the Brough was traded in for something more practical. Moby then disappeared from view, the only record surviving from the war years being the photocopy of a 1942 logbook listing Alfred James Cain of Edgware, Middlesex as owner. After the war the Brough resurfaced at the North London dealership, Slocombes of Neasden, from whom it was purchased in September 1945 by Tom Eccles. While in his possession Moby was photographed for Ronald H Clarke's book 'Brough Superior - The Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles' and is depicted on page 135 wearing the large capacity fuel tank fitted by its then owner.
Tom Eccles owned and enjoyed Moby for the next 30-plus years and during his ownership the Brough was converted from three-speed hand-change to four-speed Norton foot-change transmission, suitably modified. In 1980 Tom sold Moby to Louis Holland, who had come close to buying the bike from Slocombes all those years ago and had coveted the Brough ever since. His health failing, Louis sold Moby a few months later to Roger Bilbé, Ralph's son and the Brough's current owner, who had succeeded in tracing its whereabouts.
For the next few years Moby's use was restricted to trailered visits to the Brough Superior Owners' Club Annual Rally and the Brooklands Reunion, picking up the BSOC's Baragwanath Cup for 'Best SS100' along the way. Eventually the time was ripe for a rebuild and in 1997 the Brough was despatched to one of the marque's best-known and most highly respected specialists for expert restoration. In the process the long-suffering 'Eccles' fuel tank was removed and current one, an original Brough item dating from 1928, fitted in its place. Moby's racing days being long gone, the worn out twin Amals were likewise discarded in favour of a single twin-float unit. After countless trials and tribulations, the Brough fired up for the first time on 5th November 1997 and was back on the road by the end of the month.
The following year Roger and Moby were presented with the BSOC's historic Wollaton Park Award for 'Best Man and Machine 1998-99', which had been won by George Brough himself in 1910, 1911 and 1912. In April 1999 Moby returned to Brooklands for the first time in over 60 years for an article published in The Classic MotorCycle (September 1999 edition) and since then has continued to delight and amaze enthusiasts wherever it appears.
Accompanying documentation consists of a BSOC Copy Works Record Card, copies of the aforementioned magazine articles, copies of original photographs (on CD-ROM), old-style buff logbook (issued 1945), recently expired MoT (June 2011) and Swansea V5 document. Also included in the sale are the 'Eccles' fuel tank, Amal carburettors and manifolds, operating instructions and various other spare parts. Lastly and most importantly, Moby Dick comes with Roger Bilbé's exhaustively researched and copiously illustrated history, running to over 100 A4 pages, recounting the life and times of this unique Brough Superior.
- Please note the engine number of this machine is JTO/C 20728/T and not JYO/C 20728/T as stated in the catalogue.