Those of a certain vintage would have ,at some time owed a product made by this Midlands firm.
Weather it was air rifles to bicycles to motorcycles to machine guns BSA made it all. I certainly had a few bikes and air guns from them ,alas the British firearms regulation forbade machine gun ownership.
BSA or Birmingham Small Arms was originally a trade organisation founded by gunsmiths in Birmingham. They were encouraged by the War Office to use new technology recently acquired from the USA to produce guns more efficiently. The Government of the time was concerned of the perils of a potential monopoly by the Royal Small Arms factory in Enfield.
Owing to a more peaceful geo political climate in 1880 BSA found itself in financial peril. Guns didn't sell particularly well in peacetime and their stock value plummeted.
Quite by chance a keen cyclist on a tour of the works named George Illston suggested that they used their shell making machines to turn out bicycle wheels. This brainwave saved the firm and George became BSAs first traveling salesman.
The machining of small components process was very similar to that of firearms. This meant that they avoided the problems normally associated with retooling.
In 1902 local rivals Triumph released a Minerva powered motorcycle. BSA followed suit in 1904.
They were basically bicycles with an engine bolted to the frame. This was the birth of the age of the "The Flat Tanker"
By 1910 after a great deal of experimentation and a few false starts BSA produced the Three and a half horse power motorcycle. This 500cc machine took the Olympia Show by storm. Many bikes of this era had tricky or confusing controls. Some were downright dangerous . Fortunately for BSA the 3.5 HP was easy to control, and the public fell in love with this little "Flat Tanker".
They sold every bike they had brought with them to the show, even the display model !
After a brief unsuccessful partnership with Daimler ,BSA decided not to manufacture cars. This was arguably a blessing as so many who have ventured in to this have fallen by the "way side".
With the outbreak of The First World War in 1914 BSA through itself in to providing armaments for British Empire Forces. Because they had shared tech from their competitors from Enfield most components were interchangeable.
Many returning soldiers had acquired a taste for motorcycling during the war. BSA knew this and strived to produce a reliable machine to take them in to the 1920s. Cars were a luxury that were well beyond the resources of the ordinary man. It was now that the firm built its reputation for affordability with the introduction of the "Model E".
The Model E was a V Twin design with a capacity of 770cc.It sported a three speed gearbox and a chain drive which at the time would normally only be found on more luxurious makes. A top speed of 55mph was produced by its 6 horse power engine. Not the most sporty model around but most buyers valued its reliability and reasonable price.
. As the 1920s drew on it became apparent that Britain had lost its economic world dominance. The United States had "cashed in" on Britain's markets. This led to a slump in living standards domestically. To combat this and increased competition from Villiers they introduced one of their only two strokes, the Model A28. Deflector pistons used on early two strokes inhibited performance. This meant that the 174cc A28 only produced roughly half the horse power of a D1 Bantam.
A selling price of only £28 persuaded many to overlook its lack of available power to sell well in its short production run.
A more long lived model was the BSA C10. This available as a 250cc with a side valve engine designed by the legendary Val Page. Later machines benefited from overhead vales and a foot gear change. A 55mph top speed was developed from its 12 horse power motor,this respectable for a bike as this era.
The War Department requisitioned all available C10s at the outbreak of The Second World War. Its eleven year production run ran from 1938 till 1958
For those that wanted a little more refinement the BSA "Sloper" series fitted the bill. First produced in 1927 this 500cc machine boasted smooth running along with a solid reputation for reliability.
To allow for a saddle tank the barrel was sloped forward .This allowed for a far lower seat height which in turn lowered the centre of gravity, to make handling a dream.
Slopers benefited from large flywheels and a long stroke engines that made them one of quietest bikes around.
Some engineers have suggested that a "V" engine configuration was preferable to pistons moving vertically. BMW took this theory to its natural conclusion with their Flat Twins that seem to run forever. Einstein suggests that the force of gravity is really curved, perhaps this is the origin of the theory. Its beyond my command of physics, so answers on a postcard please,ha ha.
Various refinements and optional extras were offered during in eight year production run. With a smooth willing engine capable of 75mph the BSA Sloper makes a very usable classic even in these days of monstrous horsepower.
The BSA M20 story has a tinge of the Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling" about it. The British Army initially rejected the machine due to the high maintenance required.
Eventually the "milestone" 10,000 miles endurance for the piston and barrel were realised allowing the M20 to begin its legendary journey in to World War 2. Many pre war bikes were still fitted with hand gear change. It must have been a great relief to the riders when foot change was added in 1940. Taking your hands off the handle bars to change gear on heavily pitted roads on such a heavy machine would have been nerve racking experience.
The M20 wasn't that popular with dispatch riders ,they preferred the lighter more agile Norton H16. What really sold the bike to The War Office was the easy of maintenance of its 500cc side valve engine. This coupled with an abundant supply of cheap spares led to over 120,000 BSA M20 seeing service in the war. This was the motorcycling equivalent of the legendary Sherman Tank.
After the war a deluge of used machines hit the market. These decommissioned military mounts which were practically throwaway machines in their day. And many owners did just that (according to popular folklore in some instances actually buried them in their gardens}. This was post war sacrilege at its worst !
A £65 purchase price made the M20 a favourite with fleet buyers. For many years the AA used the side car version for its patrols. As time passed BSAs more modern twin cylindered bikes became more popular ,so the M20 was discontinued in 1956.
This "dependable plodder" might not have set the world alight like the more racy models like the "Gold Star".
That said its ease of maintenance makes it an ideal classic ride for today. If you fancy a genuine WW2 ride you will only have to part company with approximately a quarte of what would buy an equivalent BMW or Zundapp.
Despite not having the finest racing pedigree after its disarterrous1921 TT campaign. BSA gained notoriety for its Gold Star range.
This happened almost by accident . Record breaking Wal Handley was coaxed out of retirement to ride a BSA Empire Star in a race at the famous Brooklands race track. Not only did he win the race but clocked a speed a tad over 107 mph. His BSA Empire star was specially modified to run on alcohol. Any speed over 100 mph at Brooklands gained the rider a converted Gold Star Badge.
This success encouraged the firm to develop one of the fastest production bikes of the 1950s.The Gold Stars models production ran from 1938 right up to 1963. Each was hand build and came with individual testing documentation from its factory regarding its performance. This was similar to the service offered to Brough Superior customers.
Post war improvements included making the engine lighter and an optional extra sports RRT2 gearbox. This had such a high ratio that 60mph could be achieved in first, a huge advantage in the "Café Duels" infamous in the 1950s
When Lucas phased out its magneto ignition BSA decided the "call time" on this successful model.
Two things are for certain with the Gold Star ,you need plenty of money to buy one, and an equal amount of courage to ride these beautiful beasts !
The BSA Golden Flash was a reaction to the success of the Triumph Thunderbird that was immortalised in the Marlon Brando movie "The Wild One". Commonly referred to as the "Gold Flash" this 650 twin went on to be the best all round parallel twin machine of the 1950s.
One of the more ironic elements was the career of its designer Bert Hopwood. He left Triumph for Norton only to be "poached "by BSA a year later. Then BSA to bought Triumph in 1951. According to legend he was known as "Boomerang Bert" in the canteen for a while.
Even thou they were in the same group, both firms spent valuable resources developing rival designs without sharing information. Perhaps these were the "early seeds" of demise of the whole group.
Even thou it was capable of 100mph the Golden Flash was never designed as a sports bike but rather as a cruiser. A long stoke engine returned miles per gallon figures that its modern counterparts would find more than respectable. Being based on the tried and tested A7 ,spares and reliability were there in equal amounts.
The gold colour scheme was for export only and most found their way to the Untied States where they sold well. British riders had to content themselves with a black paint and a long delivery wait times. Many classic bike fans prefer the black "Goldies". They feel that it ties in with the "bad boy" image that biking had in the era.
To keep the ever "speed thirsty" American market happy BSA "beefed up" the A10 in to the Road Rocket and The Super Rocket. When Lucas decided to abandon manufacturing magneto ignition in favour of alternators, BSA knew that they would be forced in to redesigning their range. They decide to phase out the The Golden Flash and the A7 in 1963.
The British public first got a glimpse of the BSA Bantam at the 1948 motor show. It was originally for export only but the massive interest expressed in this little two stroke forced the firm to reconsider.
War weary Britons could see the sense in owning such an economical lightweight bike. They needed cheap transport ,and with a MPG 100 to the gallon most could afford to run these "Little Chickens".
Many of the older generation believe what BSA said at the time, that The Bantam was a "unique British design".
It wasn't until BSA collapsed in the early 1970s that the truth was revealed. The design is a direct copy of the DKW RT125 from Germany.
The management at DKW had collaborated with the Nazi authorities, so to make amends they offered the design free to the world. This and the fact that it was so ingenious led to this machine becoming the most copied bike design in history.
In 1948 the Bantam D1 sold for £80. This super low price made it a favourite with fleet buyers. The Post office bought thousands of them. Those of a certain vintage will remember telegrams being delivered on these "chirpy fellas". During the 1970s many were sold for next to nothing .Probably a good thing was they led hard lives on the streets of Britain.
The official top speed for the 125cc D1 was listed as 49mph. Most "Bantamites" would confess that would be
down hill flat on the tank with a tail wind.
In 1954 a 150cc version was released. The BSA "Major" sported 3 colour option with extra performance of a respectable 50mph.
With traffic flows becoming faster a 175 version was introduced in the late 1950s. The Japanese invasion had become by now and the Bantam looked rather antiquated compared to the Honda Cub 90.
As time passed bikers didn't want to have to "tickle carbs" and expected their machines not to leak as so many British machines would. Despite the writing definitely being on the wall and there being a desperate need for new designs, BSA carried on producing the D1 until 1966.
Many popular variants were produced including the much sort after "Bushman". The world really wanted the higher power output provided of four stroke machines. Production came to and end in the early 1970s when BSA collapsed.
A parallel can be drawn with BMCs "Morris Minor". Both are design classics but in their own way they both kind of "out stayed their welcome".
After all is said and done, these small two strokes are simple to maintain and heaps of fun to ride.
The history of the BSA Rocket 3 is an excellent example of how the British motorcycle industry put itself out of business.
It was designed at the Triumph works at Meriden by Doug Hele, Bert Hopwood and Jack Wicks, as BSA owned Triumph by this time.
Hopwood had the idea in late 1961, and Hele had drawings by October 1962, but the idea was not officially shown to Triumph management until 1964, when rumours of a 4-cylinder street bike from Honda began to surface.
The BSA Rocket 3 was initially a great design that was years ahead of its time. Unfortunately in typical fashion the management out soured the cosmetic design to Ogle , a firm that was more accustomed to producing toasters.
This delayed the project by over a year.
Rumours were rife around Armory Road that Honda were building a new 750cc.This new bike could have been released two years before the all conquering Honda CB750, but it was not to be.
The Rocket 3 sports a novel three piston arrangement and is very similar to the Triumph Trident which it was designed alongside.
Its 740cc engine could produces the best part of 120mph ,so it was fast for 1969. It took a fair amount of criticism for its seemingly old fashioned push rod engine from American dealers.
Handling and performance were good but the age old British bike problems with oil leaks plagued this early "Superbike". It wouldn't be a "Proper Brit" otherwise ? The original square tank designed by Ogle were replaced by a more tradition round set up that was more appealing to the US market.
Unfortunately, Honda introduced the revolutionary CB750 shortly after the launch of the Rocket 3 and Trident. Although its handling wasn’t the best, it was oil tight and featured an electric starter, an overhead camshaft and a front disc brake. Honda sold an estimated 30,000 CB750s in 1969, against some 7,000 Rocket 3s and Tridents.
The Rocket 3 is a good machine and should have helped BSA stay in business but their delay proved fatal !!