By their very name, Brough Superior motor cycles led the public to expect something special, but George Brough was a shrewd salesman, always keen to add to the mystique enjoyed by his creations. The yearly motor cycle show, held at Olympia and later at Earls Court, provided the perfect environment in which to stun the two wheeled world, and on four occasions George did this by displaying four cylinder machines.
In 1927, The Motor Cycle wrote that the Brough stand would be showing "an additional exhibit which is not to be marketed in 1928. This machine breaks entirely new ground, having its cylinders set in V formation with a four speed gearbox built as a unit with the crankcase."
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The engine was more or less like a doubled-up transverse vee-twin with separate cylinders in horizontal pairs. Side-valves were employed, operated by a single camshaft lying in the 60-degree angle between the cylinders. Brough had apparently been hoping to manufacture an engine under Lancia patents (the car company being famous for breaking new ground with its vee-four) but this was not agreed on.
Was it ever intended for serious production? We can never be sure, but the factory was serious enough to have a second design of crankshaft made up to experiment with firing pulses. It should not be lightly dismissed as a freak, however, for there are now rumours that the Italian Moto-Guzzi factory is about to produce a very similar design – a 1,000cc vee-four disposed in the same manner, based on the popular V50 unit. George Brough is hailed as a far-sighted manufacturer, and you can't get much further sighted than a 58 year lag.
He was also keen to experiment on new designs, and when cooling problems on the vee-four appeared intractible, he lost no time in commissioning a new four cylinder engine. The Motor Cycle set the scene in its November 1928 preview of the Show: "Judging by the crowds that thronged George Brough's stand to see his four-cylinder effort last year, it will be a case of queuing up again for the Brough Superior stand to inspect the latest creation of George's brain. This new production has a 900cc side-valve 'straight four' engine of remarkably neat design. In unit with the engine, which has a three-bearing crankshaft, is a three-speed gear and the whole construction is very compact. The inlet and exhaust manifolds are cast within the cylinder block; a separate aluminium casting forms the cylinder heads."
Four cylinder motor cycles were well in evidence at the 1928 show, for apart from the American models like the Indian and Henderson fours, other British manufacturers were showing the 985cc AJW Super four, with its very different front suspension and steering arrangements, and the McEvoy 594cc straight four.
The unit is reputed to have been designed in conjunction with Dougal Marchant, then a consultant with Motosacoche who undertook to built the engine, but once again cooling problems were encountered and, tragically, Marchant was killed in a car accident before development could be completed.
Despite the great expense to which these prototypes must have put him, George Brough was not put off the idea of a four cylindered motor cycle, and in November 1931 Motor Cycling wrote: "Once again the Show will have a British four-cylinder machine with its cylinders in line like those of a car engine. We have seen many such machines at Olympia in previous years, but none so advanced as this year's example, and none more closely allied to car practise."
It is hardly surprising that the cylinders were in line like those of a car engine, for the unit was a car engine, from an Austin Seven, of all things.
The bike also followed car practice in having reverse gear (with a Brough-designed device for avoiding embarrassing mis-changes), shaft drive and two rear wheels. The latter squeezed through the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations by virtue of the fact that those regulations state that if the centres of the rear wheels are less than 18 inches apart, they are deemed to be one wheel. The shaft drive ran down the centreline of the machine, between the rear wheels and connected with a bevel box. The shaft carrying the crown wheel also carried the road wheels, which were detachable like those of a car. Although it was claimed the machine could be used solo (though, even with wheels less than 18 inches apart there must have been some problem with differential speed when cornering), "Mr. George Brough tells us … (that) … the radiators would be vulnerable. In the ordinary way with a sidecar attached they should come to no harm, because they are protected by stoneguards of the type often seen on sports cars."
Unlike the other fours, this one actually went into production, if ten examples in two years (between January 1932 and sometime in 1934) can be called production. There are still some extant and working, and you most certainly won't mistake them for anything else.
Following the despatch of the last Austin-engined Brough, there was a slight hiatus in the dreaming up of four cylindered machines, but when the next one did hit the Show stand, it really was a dream the Golden Dream. Working closely with legendary Douglas rider and tuner Freddie Dixon and H.J. "Ike" Hatch, (designer of the Excelsior Mechanical Marvel amongst many other engines), George came up with a horizontally opposed flat four, with the cylinders disposed in vertical pairs. The upper and lower pairs of piston and conrod assemblies each shared a crankshaft, and the two cranks were geared in such a way that all four pistons move inwards and outwards together.
The project was taken seriously enough for two prototypes to be made. The first was of 997cc, bore and stroke dimensions being 68 x 68mm, with gear-driven cams; the second – as displayed at the Show was of 996cc (71 x 63mm), and the cams were driven by chain from the oil pump shaft, which was itself chain-driven from the top crankshaft.
As might be expected, the Golden Dream was the star of the show, The Motor Cycle describing it in its stand-by-stand commentary thus: "The engine, with its geared crankshafts, bristles with novelty, but interest does not stop here. In unit with the engine is a three-or four-speed gear box from which an enclosed worm shaft is taken to the worm wheel in the rear hub.
"Other points that are attracting interest are the rear wheel suspension, the method of removing the rear wheel, the redesigned Castle forks, the ball-mounted headlamp, the concealed tool box, and the special sidecar attachment and chassis designed for the machine."
So, the Golden Dream was an advanced and convenient motor cycle, with none of the cooling problems associated with George Brough's previous four cylinder efforts. At £185, four or five were put on special order in the early part of 1939, and another Show model was prepared. But, by the time when thousands should have been flocking to Earls Court, war had been declared, and the Brough works was turning out contract work for Rolls-Royce Merlin aero engines.