What more is there to say about the new Brough Superior, the legendary brand created in Nottingham by George Brough in 1919, disappeared in 1940 and revived utopically several years ago by Mark Upham in Austria.
To start with Mark recreated a replica of the SS100, then moved on to attacking an all new concept. For this he has called upon a designer from Toulouse in France, Thierry Henriette and his company Boxer Design. Together they have dared to try the unthinkable to this iconic piece of history. Often compared to a motorcycle Rolls Royce. Only the future will tell us if this attempt was a master stroke and if the history of the brand will include this model.
At the request of the excellent magazine MOTO HEROES, we did a full article on Thierry Henriette and his design office a few months ago, when we photographed his creations in his studio: from the most realistic to the most outlandish.
Originally published in French, in Moto Heroes edition 5, here is the English version, translated by our friend Neil Williams.
In the microcosm of independent motorcycle design, Boxer Design, which was created 12 years ago by Thierry Henriette in Toulouse and still directed by him, occupies a unique position.
Thierry and his team have worked with the major brands, and have been developing over several years a study on what could become the next French motorcycle. This is what makes us proud of our French entrepreneurs.
Photos and words by Guerry & Prat Images
The entrance hall contains a Ducati,this is Thierry ‘s personal bike, and the other his W800 project with Starck. These overlook a monumental staircase which invites us to go straight to the huge first floor where there is a large room and 4 workstations where Thierry’s colleagues busy themselves in a monastical silence. Indeed, there is no noise here; it's a serious place, far from the atmosphere of garages, this is a technological world. As we arrive, Thierry is sitting behind his huge desk glued to his phone..
Continuing the visit, the other space is what could be described as a meeting room with a desk in the centre surrounded by the famous prototypes from the last 30 years that we came to photograph. They are arranged around the outside in chronological order. The polished concrete floor adds a dramatic dimension to the room. No doubt that Thierry has wanted to enjoy imagining this arrangement of his own achievements.
The ground floor houses on one side, a mechanical workshop and on the other an assembly line. Don’t expect to see dozens of bikes stored but rather a prototype for an electrically propelled 4 wheeled mini bus at the first station, and a scooter on which Thierry is working with René who has been the technical director for 25 years and Eric the metalman who is responsible for the frame. The fourth area is used for the assembly / fitting of a series of special motorcycles. The remaining space which is left empty could one day hold the assembly lines of the Superbob project.
SUPERBOB PROJECT (in honour of his father)
There’s nothing superfluous in this business: the game today is to exist alongside not only the industrial sector, but also the relevant government departments (ADEME et CGI), with which T is in contact with for the validation of his future projects. The Superbob musn’t end up as only another dream of Icarus for the French motor cycle industry.
To ensure its success, T takes all the necessary precautions, and by taking his time resists any hasty developments. This project is a comprehensive and innovative design, borne from the long experience of Boxer Design in the design of their frames and the engine development entrusted to the Bayonne developer Akira Technologies.
Having shone brilliantly in his first year of medicine in 1975, Thierry was going to go off to the USA for a study trip: a good pretext to strengthen his knowledge of…. Motorcycles..
Having in his head the idea of becoming a reseller/ prep man, but without the means to buy a dealership, he changed his plan and went to meet the prep men of the era, such as Russ Collins:
Drag racing interested him and he came back marked by the experience, which changed his path in life. From now on he ,together with his father and brother, would dedicate himself to motorbikes.
He spent a year in a dealership in Toulouse, taken on as a trainee mechanic. He quickly laid down his tools in favour of becoming a salesman, after discovering his boss liked to wander off leaving him to deal with prospective customers. From 22/23 years old, Thierry already had the responsibility for the dealership, and inevitably this gave him the idea to start his own company. Boxer Bikes was born in 1977, on the boulevard Carnot, in the heart of Toulouse. He started as a Yamaha agent, but was quickly solicited by Kawasaki to become one of their dealers.
Design came in parallel: he realised his first works based on the turbo engines that were very much in vogue and cutting edge at that time. In terms of marketing, Magazines were greedy for this sort of work, and their rapid acclaim as well as word of mouth, powered his rise to fame. Little by little he used the Kawasaki dealership to develop his bike tuning business, as GG had done for their racing.
This was constructed with an 1100 Kawasaki GPZ 1984 engine and was produced in a run of 50 : it was the first model with Boxer on the registration documents. The chassis périmétrique was designed and built by Claude Fior (Nogaro) , at the time of the Bimotas and other Martins. It was one of the first aluminium chassis to come out before the GSXR Suzuki. The angle of the chassis was adjustable with shims on the handlebars, swing arm height was also adjustable. This system was patented by Fior. This motorbike was prepared to win the American Superbike championship with an American rider. They were imported into America by Francis de Grove
1985 Sensor,This machine was powered by a 750 Honda VFR 4. 30 of these identical machines were built, with only the bodywork/ paint personalised (type Rothman, for example). They were built to the spec given by private clients. As a result the company wasn’t very structured and the assembly was done between the workshops of Fior and the Boxer shop in the Boulevard Carnot.
This creation bears the name of the famous car, considered to be a publicity masterstroke at the time. Thierry knew the owner of the brand, a cousin JC Mimran, also a motorbike addict, gave him the authorisation to name this model a Lamborghini. One of these motorbikes was recently sold for more than €40,000.
About 30 of these lambos were produced, the colours corresponding to those of the Countach. The construction of these 110 bikes was spread over 3 years.
Its full design is in line with the fully faired CB 1000 Honda. The frame was also made by Fior, the suspended engine is a 900 Ninja, and some were equipped with a liquid cooled 100RX engine.
1989 L'AtlantisIt was developed in collaboration with a Parisian firm, with whom T was associated, "Alain Carré Design", It was his first real incursion into the world of Design
This company, with about 100 employees, mainly designed architectural packaging for sanitary ware. Thierry brought SL into the company. From this was born the idea of developing a motorbike. They produced 4 motorbikes together. This special series, intended to be sold by Kawasaki, would be commercialised in kit form with several dozen examples. It was powered by a 1000RX.
1990 SqualeIt was conceptualised and built in collaboration with Alain Carré, on behalf of Suzuki France, a prototype, designed to be shown at an exhibition, based on the Intruder 1400 engine. According to Thierry, a lot of energy was used for a too-brief life. This concept of free design has just about completely disappeared today.
1991 La BA 747
This was designed in homage to Bernard Alonso, a friend of Thierry, who died in an accident. The concept was developed on Boxer’s initiative, with a Fior deformable parallellogram chassis, taken up a bit later by BMW. This type of fork had existed since the 30s. It also had a 1000RX engine.
its chassis was developed by Fior, one year before the Monstro : one can recognise the same influences in its design, without any commercial intent, he designed it to please himself, to gain experience, it was also a form of publicity...
Was created, based on the ZXR engine, destined for the IGOL brand it marked an evolution in Boxer’s style, with the use of aluminium for parts of the body work, hand fashioned by Fior, it became a sort of signature.
A style study with the aim of proposing Boxer’s services to Triumph as a designer and developer of chassis, it was a project that didn’t go anywhere. The frame was a Fior with oval tube, like the Spondon, based on a Daytona 1200 engine.
Was created at the request of the brand, based on the Pegaso.
1999 Scrambler Voxan
This prototype is one of Thierry’s favourites, even if its initial design was revised by Voxan to result finally in a sanitised example. It is an illustration of the difficulty of how to unite the initial concept designed by independent designers and the final design, finished by the in-house team.
The VB1 was developed from the cafe racer era, in partnership with Voxan, with whom Boxer had signed an agreement to cooperate in becoming the top prep man for the brand.
Thierry then sold his dealership, to set up Boxer Design and Boxer Motors, a business to fabricate pieces of the VB1, meanwhile Voxan had gone out of business and 33 bikes had been made, of the 450 ordered……
VB2 model with an aluminium frame, it could have become the next roadster and defined the brand.
This prototype was drawn at the request of the Italian successors of Voxan.
2003 ROADSTER Voxan
Also for Voxan, but at the request of the new owner, Didier Cazeaux, the Bordeaux industrialist, who also owned the yacht brand Guy Couach.
2005 Concept SSR(SS for supersport and R for roadster)
This allowed Voxan to build 2 very different motorbikes from 1 base, changing just the bodywork, in the same way as Triumph had created the Daytona and the Speed Triple.
2006 PROTOTYPE SB,
Made for Scorpa, was debuted at the Milan exhibition.
Thierry’s own motorbike, slightly reworked, which he uses every day.
2012 W800 KBS
(Kawasaki by Boxer for Starck) a minimalist project, based on the W800 Kawasaki, created at the request of Philippe Starck, not really a design, but rather a stripped down dirt-bike.It’s look was elegant and simple, in the style of the moment
Thierry became nostalgic; he bought this MK3 850 to recreate an old fashioned style of driving.
It’s a good sign….
Reflections on Design
Today, after a handrawn sketch, at Boxer the motorcycles are designed directly in 3D, to get a good idea of the presence of the bike they make a 3d 1/5 scale model, the model can also be produced at 1 :1 scale in polystyrene and reworked in clay to modify some details.
For his inspiration, Thierry keeps his distance from the internet and contemporary media, so as not to be interested nor to plagiarise. His activity begins with the motor, letting him switch between different worlds and to keep his eyes fresh for his projects, the influences coming notably from his constant exchanges with his wife Françoise. Some bikes are designed as a result of a request from a constructor, perhaps wanting to redynamise one of their models which has lost its way: these requests are simpler, by needing to stick to the specifications defined by the competition, it’s a fairly easy task, if not very creative.
It roughly corresponds to a very young sector. Thierry doesn’t feel so much at ease with this kind of request, which is why he surrounds himself with young talent.
Today design is accompanied by an economic realism: a company like Boxer needs to have a very precise view of the costs of any planned production.
The position of an independent designer isn’t always very easy : the in-house designers working for the commissioning company don’t always happily accept work from independent designers, and so a project often sees itself modified if not abandoned through their reactions.
According to Thierry the revolutionary innovations have been rare over the last 30 years : electronics and electronic management such as ABS are the principal changes.
The electric bike, a very interesting proposition in an urban environment, from respect for others and also from the point of view of pollution, but not in time-saving, and Thierry reckons that they lack the necessary spirit and known sensations. The problems of autonomy are also a brake on development.
Akira Technologies which could be the future Brough-Superior engine. I wear the famous Bonneville coverall