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Jay Leno's Column: The Collector

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Jay Leno on the Brough Superior...

When PEOPLE go to places like Pebble Beach,they are drawn to the exotic Italian machinery. But maybe because of my Scottish heritage, I’ve always been pulled towards the small-industry English stuff. At Pebble Beach this year I saw what I thought was the most brilliant thing.

A guy named Mark Upham has built an exact replica of the George Brough SS100. And by ‘exact replica’ I mean exactly that. The Brough Superior went 100mph when most vehicles struggled to reach 45 or 50. In 1925 it was as expensive as a small house. A good-size house, actually. To even see a Brough Superior back in the ’20s or ’30s would have been a real treat but you would have probably had to go to Brooklands or some rich guy’s place.

I think it was 1978 when I saw a picture of a Brough Superior Pendine Sands racer. I cut it out and put it on my wall because I thought it was the most exotic, beautiful motorcycle I had ever seen. So to walk into Mark Upham’s Brough Superior marquee in Pebble Beach and see one on display was amazing. I thought it was a real one, and I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable person. I have half-a-dozen Brough Superiors.

We took it off the stand, fired it up and I rode it down the street. If you’d like to see that, it’s on www.jaylenosgarage.com. It is fascinating to be able to recapture a piece of 1925 history. I think Brough probably built a total of about 3000 motorcycles. There’s only a few hundred left. During the war people put them away in their sheds or covered them up with straw or did whatever it was to save them from being taken for scrap for the war effort, because they were just so valuable.

Mine are well used and I enjoy riding them. To see a brand new one was stunning: everything was just as it would have been in 1925. To be able to thrash it as you would a new motorcycle back in the day was pretty amazing. It was a real thrill. You get all the excitement of an original Brough Superior and for all intents and purposes it is an original Brough Superior, except it doesn’t have the provenance of the numbers on it.

What’s the point in buying this one? Why, even though there are Brough Superiors out there, would you buy a replica? I think for the same reason that your wife might have costume jewellery that looks like her expensive family jewellery. When she goes out she wears the costume jewellery in case someone robs her or the necklace falls off. This Brough is well over £100,000. But original ones are over £200,000. It’s crazy. But, thank heavens, the Brits relish history and are willing to remake a classic accurately.

All this reminds me of a friend of mine who was working on the Mel Gibson movie Mutiny on the Bounty. He wanted to get a uniform that was exactly like Captain Bligh’s. He went to the shop in London that made Captain Bligh’s uniform originally. They came out with a big book: ‘Oh, here it is, “Captain Bligh”!’ They had the size, they had the material, and he was able to recreate the uniform from the same company that made it for Captain Bligh.

That’s my favorite thing about the British: they do revere their heritage, whether it’s a Bristol or a TVR or whatever. The factory might be fallen down or there could be holes in the roof, but, God bless them, they still believe in the heritage and they’re keeping it alive.

After this talk of things with two wheels, I’ve been thinking about cars that would be great to bring back to life as accurate replicas. To start with, anything made by a guy named Walter Christie [Innovations, p132, Octane issue 36]. He built one of the first front-wheel-drive vehicles and it was the first to lap Indianapolis at over 100 miles an hour. It was built in the early 1900s, an enormous thing of clutches and wheels, with two huge cylinders in the front.

Second, anything by Harry Miller. He built beautiful 16-cylinder motors, works of art. Some of them still exist and some of them exist in pieces but to be able to recreate them would be fantastic.

But the ultimate replica I’d really like to see the British produce is the Spitfire fighter. I’m waiting for the next British guy to recreate the Merlin and the amazing airframe in which it flew. Anyone in England up for that job?

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