The ex-C E 'Titch' Allen
1930 Brough Superior 981cc SS80 De Luxe 'Black Bess'
Registration no. TV 1497
Frame no. D983
Engine no. KTCY/W 84306/S
While equalling a Rolls-Royce for quality of construction and finish, in spirit the Brough Superior was more akin to the sporting Bentley. In its maker's own words, the Brough Superior was 'a type of machine designed from the experienced solo rider's point of view.' To prove the point, Brough lost no time in demonstrating his machine's capabilities in the most attention-grabbing way possible - by racing at Brooklands. Introduced in 1922, the JAP-powered SS80 (so-called because of its guaranteed 80mph top speed in road trim) achieved instant fame when a stripped-for-racing version (nicknamed 'Spit and Polish') ridden by George became the first sidevalve-engined machine to lap the Surrey track at over 100mph. Even more surprising was the fact that this landmark figure had been achieved on its maker's Brooklands debut. That particular Brough Superior SS80 - subsequently re-christened 'Old Bill' - went on to win 51 out of 52 races contested, only failing in the last when a tyre burst.
This most famous SS80, known affectionately as 'Black Bess', was previously owned by VMCC founder, the late C E 'Titch' Allen, OBE, BEM. The machine's copy works record card shows that it was manufactured with the Bentley & Draper sprung frame and attached to a Cruiser sidecar. The retailer is listed as 'Godfreys Ltd, London (A Wall)', the latter presumably being the first owner.
In a 1997 letter (on file) to the current owner, Titch recalls that he bought the Brough using his £50 Army gratuity (indicating that it was purchased in the aftermath of WW2) and states that 'in many ways it was the most important bike in my life.' Apparently, the Brough had been owned during the war by an 'eccentric' family who had run it with a box sidecar attached. Fitted with oversize Fordson valves, the SS80 'ran like an express train. 80mph sitting up any time two up as well. It had a huge Lycett pan saddle and I let my wife sit on that and I sat on the tank.'
Titch was working on a Leicester evening paper at the tine, a job that involved frequent lengthy journeys on the Brough. 'It was the effortless high speed and the spring frame comfort that made it possible,' he recalled. When the Allen's first child arrived, Titch fitted a Blacknell sidecar and took the SS80 sprinting, sometimes with the 'chair' attached and sometimes, with it removed, as a solo. 'The heavy flywheels used to hurl it off the line when I dropped the clutch at about 3,000rpm and I took it up in the gears until the valves bounced (approx 5,000rpm). Then rode home. Unburstable.'
The Brough had only one breakdown during Titch's ownership, necessitating the replacement of the gearbox. Eventually he swapped it for an SS100 that belonged to fellow VMCC member, 'Chappie' Chapman. Long after he had parted with 'Black Bess', Titch learned that it had racing history. 'Pre-war Rob Buxton, Phil Heath's pal, had bought it as a float to carry Phil's solo racer to meetings up and down the country and at a small meeting they ran it in the sidecar class, Rob riding and Phil lying on the plank platform. What a life it had.' Titch goes on to say that the Brough had also been owned by Arthur Birch when it was near new, and that 'Chappie' Chapman looked after it well for nearly 40 years. Subsequently the machine passed via Brian Verrall to Bill Lake.
Since its acquisition by the current vendor the SS80 has been restored to original specification by renowned marque specialist, Tony Cripps (during the period 1994-1996) and is presented in generally excellent condition. 'TV 1497' was last taxed for the road in 2006 and its engine has been turned over regularly since then. Fitted with a Karslake prop stand, the machine is offered with copy Works Record Card, old-style buff logbook, period photographs (including one of Titch on the bike), Swansea V5/V5C documents and a substantial quantity of related correspondence (close inspection recommended).