Everything was shiny in the early days of the classic world. It was odd, because we were dealing with obsolete metal, but that’s the way it seemed in the early ’80s, at the birth of what is now a vast movement.
We were wide-eyed and innocent, and nobody had been writing about motorcycles such as Brough Superiors for years, so complete had been the mindwashing since Japan’s emergence in the 1960s as the motorcycling superpower. So when at Classic Bike we were offered the
chance to ride a Brough Pendalpine, our first reaction was to rush to the marque history books. What was a Pendalpine?
I discovered that it was a road-legal version of the factory’s Pendine racer, the latter a machine that was guaranteed to have been tested at 110mph before delivery to the customer. The 1927 Pendalpine was a hybrid, powered by JAP’s mighty KTOR 980cc V-twin engine and fitted with Brooklands can silencers and a kickstarter. But it still carried that 110mph guarantee.
Let’s add a little context to that ton-ten figure. In 1927, the outright motorcycle lap record at the 2.75-mile Brooklands speed bowl stood at only 3.5mph more. That same year, Freddie Dixon achieved the highest speed ever attained on a motorcycle – 130mph on another one-litre JAP-engined Brough. So if you bought a Pendalpine you could get to within 20% of the top speed of the world’s fastest
motorcycle – on the narrow and tacky public roads of 90 years ago. It would be the equivalent of buying a 300mph streetlegal
motorcycle today, when the twowheeled land speed record stands at 376mph. The Pendalpine must have been wildly, outrageously fast for its day.
My motorcycling CV contained names such as Bantam, Crusader, Daytona, A65, Commando, Trident, CB750, Z1, R90S. So a 1920s superbike – a super-superbike really – was something very new to me.
The Pendalpine’s restorer, Tony Cripps, invited CB to sample the bike on a heathland road in Dorset before it was handed over to its owner, Pete Lancaster, then the owner of Bikes of Brighton. Motorcycles of that era were spartan – the Brough only weighed about 350lb – but its controls were not that different from those of 1980s bikes – apart from the hand change on the right for the three-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox.
So, cog the Brough into first and let the big V-twin gather pace. Changing gear was a leisurely affair – release the throttle,
guide the lever through its gate and wind the throttle back on. What had been a lazy chuffing sound escalated to what seemed
like a 5lb hammer trying to break out of the cans as we gathered speed in second.
Change into top and the acceleration faltered. There was quite a big gap between second and third, but then the KTOR gathered pace again and started to reel in the horizon. I got up to perhaps 70mph on the deserted rural road before it was time to brake and swing around. I had no idea of the actual speed or revs as the Brough wasn’t equipped with instruments.
The JAP engine had triple valve springs and had ‘square’ bore and stroke dimensions of 85.7 x 85mm – advanced engineering in an age when long-stroke plonkers were the norm. It developed around 50-55bhp, which doesn’t seem a lot, but big V-twins of the vintage period right through to the Vincents of the 1950s seemed to make what power they had reach a long way. The Brough could clearly have bounded right across England at a steady, loping rate if we hadn’t had to return it to an impatient customer.
A ton-ten... it was a speed that many a British 650 could barely achieve 30 years later. What I was thinking about most on the journey home was not so much the Pendalpine’s effortless performance, but how you would manage that speed – or even 80 or 90mph – on 1920s roads. You round a bend and there’s cattle on the road or a milk float pulling out; there’s no real bite in the eight-inch drum front brake, and you can’t execute a quick downchange to get engine braking on a slippery road.
And no crash helmet, no one-piece leathers, no back protector... heroic stuff.