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21st January 2003

The debate hots up: can a classic bike be a good investment? Allan Johnson has personal experience of buying, owning, riding and rebuilding a Brough SS80. Has it earned its keep?


In the early spring of 1969 I bought a dismantled 1938 SS80 Brough Superior in the Leeds area. I was living in Durham at the time, doing graduate work at the University there. The bike cost 65 sterling or about 170 Canadian dollars. Restoration had been started on it but the bike was still sufficiently dismantled that two of us and the whole bike went inside a Hillman Imp for the trip back to Durham.

Leather pannier ideal for carrying large coffee filter papers.

A quick rebuild followed and the bike was in running order by the late summer, in time to be crated and shipped with all other of our worldly possessions to Canada. The Brough was back on the road in Canada by the time we had a permanent house with garage in the autumn of 1971. Total investment by this time was about $550 (say 225).

Since then the Brough has been on the road every year from 1971 to 2001 for use in vintage club events, and ordinary riding. At times it has been hooked up to several different sidecars (Swallow and Watsonian) but a few years ago I attached a rebuilt Steib S350. This along with the various winter repair and maintenance that an old bike always requires, put my capital investment in the Brough and outfit up to about $ 3000 by the end of 2001. I do not include fuel, oil, insurance or license fees in this.

In the winter of 2001-02 I decided that the engine in the SS80 was getting pretty tired and needed an overhaul. While the bike was partly dismantled anyway, it was obviously a good time to do a badly needed repaint and fettle the suspension, both the Monarch bottom link fork and the Brough plunger rear, line the wheel rims and fit new tires and tubes. The engine was found to be close to needing new valves, guides, pistons, and small end bushes. The bottom end, oil pump, etc was good. The paint was completely removed (much of it was failed cellulose paint from previous work) and things started from bare metal up. Painting was done by hand and up to eight coats of enamel were applied by brush.

The rebuild of the engine was done by adapting Chrysler 6-cylinder pistons and rings and Ford V-8 valves. Including all parts and machining work (all teardown, paint preparation, painting and mechanical assembly work was done by myself ) the overhaul has added less than another $1000 to the total capital cost, which is now about $ 4000 Canadian. The rebuilt bike is shown in September 2002, assembled but before the paint was hard enough to rub out and polish. A few details have to be attended to (fishtail mounted, new horn control) but the break-in of the new engine began in October with no great problems and when that is done some time this summer, the chair will likely go back on.

I am told that the last couple of solo Brough SS80s which have been sold at the US Daytona auctions have brought the US equivalent of around $40,000 Canadian. Is an SS80 Brough in good shape worth that much? I doubt if I would ever be in the market for one at that price.

Considering that I have had good and loyal service out of a motorcycle which has been a joy to ride (and pretty easy to look after by myself), and that if it has gone up in value by a factor of 10-fold over the capital invested, to discover that it has kept pace with the inflation of the price of the house I bought in 1971 (which is now valued at 10 times its price back then) is something of a relief. The old saying 'safe as houses' can - in some situations - apparently be extended to certain of our old bikes.

But Rowena is right in another respect - the real dividends of owning an old bike are in the pleasure of its use in congenial company.

September 2002 - Still going strong.


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