Speed

T. E. Lawrence’s Brough Superior SS100 Motorcycle, 1932

This 1000cc motorcycle was the prized possession of T E Lawrence, better known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, and the machine on which he was killed in May of 1935. Lawrence’s Brough Superior was tailor-made by George Brough himself and cost 170 pounds in 1932. This was the seventh Brough that Lawrence had owned. He named each in succession ‘George 1′ to ‘George VII’, and also referred to some of them, including this model, as ‘Boanerges’ (Son of Thunder).

The Brough Superior was the fastest and most expensive machine on the road at the time. It easily reached speeds of over 100 mph and was at the cutting edge of 1930′s design. The motorcycle was Lawrence’s constant companion on the deserted country roads of pre-war Britain. Long distance visits to friends such as Winston Churchill or Lady Astor were achieved in record time. ‘It is the silkiest thing I have ever ridden…’ Lawrence would famously say.

In May 1935 Lawrence was riding the Brough back home from Bovington in Dorset to his nearby cottage at Clouds Hill. Suddenly he came upon two errand boys on bicycles, swerved to avoid them and pitched over the handlebars onto the road. His head struck the ground and he sustained terrible injuries, which would claim his life six days later. The motorcycle was only slightly damaged in the accident and was returned to the factory to be repaired by George Brough.

T. E. Lawrence's Brough Superior SS100 Motorcycle

T. E. Lawrence's Brough Superior SS100 Motorcycle

T. E. Lawrence's Brough Superior SS100 Motorcycle

T. E. Lawrence's Brough Superior SS100 Motorcycle

This is a clip from the opening of the film Lawrence of Arabia that depicts T.E. Lawrence racing through the English countryside and ultimately crashing as described above. It’s a good sequence and worth watching. Just skip ahead to around 4:30…

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42 thoughts on “T. E. Lawrence’s Brough Superior SS100 Motorcycle, 1932

  1. Poor boy… the lack of technology of the time killed him. Even if I am not an expert, I’ve to admit that this motorcycle is cool. :) And I’m damn sure that who posted this article would agree with me!

    • It wasn’t so much the lack of technology of the day that killed him, more his “pushing of the envelope”! Lawrence’s bike was very much top of the range and cutting edge for its day, HIS present time. Lawrence was ALWAYS pushing it to the limit whenever he had an “open undulating road” in front of him. Read any of his own descriptions of his rides and you’ll see! He LOVED riding but he was very much a thrill seeker and by nature, a risk-taker. I sincerely doubt that if he’d been riding a modern bike, with TODAY’s refinements, that the outcome would have been much different, because he’d have pushed a MODERN bike to its limits too! A MODERN helmet MAY have helped, possibly. We’ll never know.

  2. T. E. Lawrence (also known as Lawrence of Arabia) had a crash on a Brough Superior SS100 on a narrow road near his cottage near Wareham. The accident occurred because a dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on bicycles. Swerving to avoid them, Lawrence lost control and was thrown over the handlebars. He was not wearing a helmet, and suffered serious head injuries which left him in a coma; he died after six days in hospital
    One of the doctors attending him was the neurosurgeon Hugh Cairns, who consequently began a long study of what he saw as the unnecessary loss of life by motorcycle despatch riders through head injuries. Cairns’ research led to the use of crash helmets by both military and civilian motorcyclists.

  3. Back in the early 60′s I was a young motorcycle salesman at Jenkin & Purser’s in Southampton,England and a vintage enthusiast.
    The Portsmouth branch of the firm had been approched by someone who had bought an old Brough with a window cleaners sidecar for a few pounds. A check with the licence authority showed the first owner to be a T.E. Shaw.
    It gathered a bit of publicity and the firm offered to renovate it and it ended up in the Southampton workshop as a basket case.
    The mechanics thought it was a heap of junk and had never heard of Lawrence. (This was before the award winning film).
    Anyway—-I took the handlebars, complete with all the controls, and for over a year they sat in pride of place on my desk in the sales office until the owner managed to retieve the dismantled bike—which had been semi dismantled and left to moulder in a corner of the workshop.

  4. TE,crash shown in the film was not depicted right. for one the two boys on their bikes were going the sameway, t.e. slowed down on seeing boys as all three desended the hill, ( as seen by a witness at post mortom.) t.e. moved to one side as he saw a black car coming the other way, also descending the hill on doing so t.e. hit the back of the boys bike. the car did not stop all three laid on the road, a work man run to help, an army lorry come a long and put all three and bike were put in the back and taken to wool camp,that was the last time t.e. was seen,the boys parents, the police,were not able to see them for several days.

  5. Pingback: Lawrence of Arabia and the Helmet Law |

  6. what a luvverly story .And what a pity that the perfid ious anglaise as our french friends would call them,of M.I 6 do not own up to their dastardly crime.guess who was in the black car?

  7. The bike used in the movie doesn’t look like the 1932 Brough Superior that Lawrence was killed riding. Look at the up-angled
    parallel exhausts on the movie bike, for instance. Which year and model was the bike used in the movie, anyone?

  8. T.E.
    WHY WERE THE 2 BOYS,NOT ALLOWED TO SEE PARENTS OR BE INTERVIEWED BY THE POLICE,
    WHY WAS T.E. BROTHER NOT ALLOWED IN T.E. COTTAGE;
    WHY DID THE SECURITY SERVICES REMOVE PAPERS FROM THE COTTAGE NEVER TO BE RETURNED.ON THE MORNING OF HIS DEATH HE WAS RETURNING FROM BOVINGTON CAMP POST OFFICE HAVING ACCEPTED A MEETIN WITH PRO GERMAN SIMPERTHISERS ( BY TELEGRAM ) THE EYE WITNESSES TO THE BLACK CAR WAS THE ONLY ONE THE BIT IN THE FILM I BELIEVE WAS WRONG

  9. BY THE WAY, brough only used J.A.P. engines.the were the best along with graves,V.twin. Some bikers called G.Brough, G bluff!! he used the best Engine,nickel plated it sup/ it up . like royes of rolls-royes.fame .
    i think j,a p. pieason??

  10. Not so!
    Brough also used Matchless engines (side-valve and overhead valve), and even a few Austin Seven engines!
    J.A.P. stood for J.A.Prestwich (engine manufacturers of Tottenham from the early 1900′s until the late 1960′s).

  11. you are right i have been put my place!! the j,a,p, was a much better .,matcless were not a bad engines ,i had one in an morgan 3 wheeler? have you read a book on brough. called the rolls-royes of motor bikes.? the seven engines were uesd under license one beinging reliant 3 wheelers.but i feel that t.e.onley had j.a.p. thank you for pointed above out.

  12. Sorry Gordon, but I must again disagree …..
    The Matchless engines, in particular the OHV models, were fine engines eminently suited for a grand tourer such as the SS100 of the late 1930′s.
    The Austin Seven engines were modified (not standard) car engines of 800cc capacity. They were fitted to specially designed frames having double rear wheels, and set up as sidecar outfits. There are 10 examples recorded as having left the works between 1932 and 1934.
    The Brough Superior Fours were not in any way related to the Reliant!!!
    So far as Lawrence was concerned, I believe he only used OHV machines, and yes, they would have all been JAP engined.
    All of the above can be verified by reference to the book “Brough Superior – The Rolls Royce of Motorcycles” by Ronald Clark.

  13. thank you, re j,a,p and matchless thire is no doubt the j,a,p, engien was much superior (for forgive the pun ) that is why t. e ,used them ! onley the best would do for him,it always down to choice! ronald clark was and stll is the unchallenged expert on brough is goes with j/a/p/ as for reliant!! were never part brough,i feel you may have missunder stand ,a lot of firms english and european .took out patones/licence out/ on reliant

  14. anyway point it out or not, it did well to do a 100 mph in those day’s, l used to have
    a few old brits in the 70′s and l must say riding them at a ton was a real experience
    particularly with the vibration, one thing l remember it bits used to fall off quite a lot
    but that was triumph, the brough certainly looks a much better built bike and l would
    jump at the chance to take one up to a ton, they used to put the jap engines in the
    speedway bikes and trials, my uncle was a speedway rider they were good engines
    so they say. I have had the pleasure of riding without crash helmets in the 60′s
    and riding pillion on my uncles bikes as a child, great sense of freedom l must say
    everyone should try it once. As for crash helmets they are certainly a good thing
    personally l would’nt go anywhere without mine these day’s, certainly a life saver,
    during the war my grandfather had a 500 and sidecar, he used to take my mother
    to the seaside at hemsby, she used to hang over the side, they did’nt have crash
    helmets either, used to wear a funny hat, none safety but did look trendy of course,
    my mother told me there was not much trafic on the roads then, but plenty of bikes,
    how things have changed. It’s good to travel back in history, l think lawence had a
    great sense of adventure and like many of us a great love of two wheels. Does any
    one have any views on the allegations M16 killed lawrence, could they have done
    the dirty deed and were the stories of the mystery black car, made up, they can be
    a funny lot, have you seen the news this week, one found in a bag in the bath. They
    seem to have some very odd pastimes at MI6, not as much fun as riding a brough
    though. night….night…. look forward to more interesting comments.

    • Personally, I doubt the involvement of MI5 or MI6 in Lawrence’s death. What would be the gain? Churchill certainly wouldn’t have had any part in it as he and T.E. were friends. T.E. was a fairly regular guest of Winston and Clementine Churchill. I’m more inclined to believe that the driver of the black car simply did what a lot of drivers still do to this day; panic and leave the scene as quickly as possible. Maybe the driver thought that he was responsible in some way for causing the motorcycle to crash.Maybe he simply “didn’t want to be involved” and drove off. Who knows? Conspiracy theory/Machiavellian plot to murder Lawrence? I don’t think so.

  15. Yes mi5-6 may well have a hand in the death or t.e l.my late father , born 1903 ,and a lot of is contempories were sure of it.
    Clark of the author of the rolls -roles of motor bikes and steam trains,. Father had a brough ,just after w.w.2 he also had valocette panther norton and others, I can recal going to london with my father mother and my brother on a panther with side car,my other and brother in the sidecar me and dad on the bike from knutsford no m6 motorway or m1.it was a long way. I was about 8 . My older broth nowe in his 80s had norton. Father give up bikes in the 50s getting him and mother a ford pop.

  16. I saw the movie for the first time on the full screen in a local theater.Great movie and the bike is amazing .But the guy went thru a heck of a life .Many times he should of died the war, battles ,desert and he died on a small road is that not amazing in its self ?

  17. Sorry the bike is privetley own a British bike club or consortium did
    try to buy it , but the owner turne down allegedly,200.000.

  18. Having been to Clouds Hill and seen where TE was killed I was surprised to see that it was only yards from the entrance.
    Coming back from the camp he must have been slowing down when the accident happened otherwise he would have sailed past the cottage.
    To me the location just didn’t seem to fit the outcome – has anyone else had the same thoughts?

  19. Tomorrow, August 16, Lawrence’s birthdate Note: 1+6= 7. License number of his Brough 2275= 7. His book: 7 Pillars of Wisdom. Even the movie, Lawrence of Arabia: Oscars, 7. . . !

  20. I still have the newspaper article dated from 1987,regarding the potential purchase of this very Brought.

    The then owner was an American collector, and he turned down a seven figure sum for the bike.

    Normal SS100 Brought Superiors of 1930s vintage,and in similar condition can command over £200.000.

    Thomas Edward Lawrence and his mythical status,as the British Army Officer who single handedly altered the history of the Middle East with his action against the Turkish Empire, is one of the most famous action figures of the early 20C.

    Any item that was personally owned by him sells for huge money.

    If this Brought Superior came up for sale in the near future,it would easily sell for many millions, it was the very motorcycle that he was riding that fateful May Day back in 1932.

    It is currently the most sought after motorcycle, and in its current ownership,the most valuable.

  21. I am trying to pull together the license plate numbers for TEL’s ( TE Shaw’s) bikes. So far I have GW 2275 for the 1932 SS100 for George 7 that he was riding when he had the accident, UL 656 for 1930 (?) SS100 that might have been George 5 or 6 and RK 4907 that was a 1926 SS100 and must have been an early George. I believe that George No 1 was an SS 80. Any info with source appreciated.

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