Matchless, Brough Superior and Hesketh – for motoring enthusiasts of a certain vintage these long forgotten names recall a golden era of British motorcycling, one that many felt had sadly left the road for good. However, following hot on the tyre tracks of Triumph’s triumphant return, all three marques have recently been revived, creating something of a renaissance in British motorcycling.
The most significant of the three is Matchless, established in 1899, by two brothers Harry and Charlie Collier, in a South London shed. In 1907, Harry’s son, Charlie, won the first Isle of Man TT on the back of a Matchless, while his other son Harry put in the fastest lap. The company spent the next few decades winning race after race, patenting innovation after innovation, and also assisting with the war effort by providing motorbikes for military use. One of the company’s most famous models, the Silver Arrow, was known as the Whispering Wonder due to its speed, comfort and reliability.
It wasn’t until 1966 that the company finally met its match. A new generation of Japanese marques spelt the end, not just for Matchless, but for the entire British motorcycling industry.
In 2006 the Matchless trademark was sold to an unnamed Greek buyer at a Bonham’s auction for £45K, and then in 2012 it was sold again to the Italian Malenotti family. The Matchless brand is now on a line of expensive branded clothing modelled by Kate Moss. The Malenottis have form in this area and were responsible for turning Belstaff, a niche supplier of waxed cotton motorcycle jackets, into an international fashion brand.
However, this time round, it is also the family’s intention to turn Matchless back into a fully operational motorbike manufacturer. They plan to run the Matchless along the lines of the Harley Davidson business model, whereby the bike is an asset that promotes the clothing. The third generation of the Collier family have also been brought back for their expertise and knowledge of the company’s history. Last November, the company unveiled the Matchless Model X Reloaded, an update of an iconic 1930s model. With bikes starting at £60K, the Mallenottis want to turn Matchless into the Rolls Royce of motorcycles.
Founded in 1919 by George Brough, Brough Superior, soon achieved racing success and a celebrity clientele including TE Lawrence, who named his first one Boanerges. His subsequent seven were successively named George I to VII, he died on the back of the last one while swerving to avoid two boys near his home in Dorset. The bike is in the permanent display at Imperial War Museum in London.
In 2008 Mark Upham bought the Brough Superior marque and began selling original Brough models from the 20s but remade in with modern techniques and materials, offering all the looks of the originals but with all the reliability of a modern bike. In 2013, the company began updating and modernising its designs starting with the SS100, which costs £45K and combines state of the art engineering with classic good looks.
Originally founded by Lord Hesketh in the early 1970s, Hesketh was originally an F1 team, and the first to give the hard boozing, womanising, maverick, but totally brilliant and fearless racing driver James Hunt his first break. It was the last of the ‘privateer’ teams to win F1. Lord Hesketh unsuccessfully began trying to manufacture motorbikes in 1981, which were, by the standards of the day, especially compared to bikes made by BMW, rather awful and expensive. Needless to say the venture didn’t take off. It was however kept alive by the engineer Mick Broom, and in 2010, he sold the rights to Paul Sleeman, where they are made entirely in Britain, in Redhill, Surrey. Needless to say the new 24 model, named after the number of a Grand Prix winning Hesketh F1 car, is much better. It’s a beast