The Big Car Database

Bsa Motorcycles

BSA Motorcycles Ltd
Industry Motorcycle
Fate effectively bankrupt
Successor Norton-Villiers-Triumph
Founded 1919
Defunct 1972
Parent BSA

BSA motorcycles were made by The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited (BSA) which was a major British industrial combine, a group of businesses manufacturing military and sporting firearms; bicycles; motorcycles; cars; buses and bodies; steel; iron castings; hand, power, and machine tools; coal cleaning and handling plants; sintered metals; and hard chrome process.

A government-organised rescue operation in 1973 led to the takeover of BSA-Triumph motorcycle operations by Norton-Villiers, later known as Norton Villiers Triumph.

At its peak, BSA (including Triumph) was the largest motorcycle producer in the world. In the late 1950s and early 1960s poor management and failure to develop new products in the motorcycle division led to a dramatic decline of sales to its major USA market. The management had failed to appreciate the importance of the resurgent Japanese motorcycle industry, leading to problems for the entire BSA group.

When Norton Villiers Triumph was liquidated in 1978, the rights to use the brand name of BSA were purchased by a new business, the B.S.A. Company.

Motorcycles

Motor bicycles were added to bicycle products in 1910. The BSA 3½ hp was exhibited at the 1910 Olympia Show, London for the 1911 season. The entire BSA production sold out in 1911, 1912 and 1913.

In November 1919 BSA launched their first 50 degree vee-twin, Model E, 770cc side valve (6-7 hp) motorcycle for the 1920 season. The machine had interchangeable valves, total loss oil system with mechanical pump and an emergency hand one. Retail price was £130. Other features were Amal carburettor, chain drive, choice of magneto or Magdyno, 7-plate clutch, 3 speed gear box with kickstarter and new type of cantilever fork

As the result of increased post war demand the Small Heath, Birmingham factory was turned over entirely to motorcycle production.

In 1953 BSA withdrew motorcycle production from BSA Cycles Ltd, the company it has established in 1919, by creating BSA Motorcycles Ltd. BSA also produced its 100,000th BSA Bantam motorcycle, a fact celebrated at the 1953 motorcycle show with a visit by Sir Anthony Eden to the BSA stand.

Norton-Villiers-Triumph

The Group continued to expand and acquire throughout the 1950s, but by 1965 competition from Japan (in the shape of companies like Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki) and Europe from Jawa / CZ, Bultaco and Husqvarna was eroding BSA's market share. The BSA (and Triumph range) were no longer aligned with the markets; mopeds were displacing scooter sales and the trials and scrambles areas were now the preserve of European two-strokes. Some poor marketing decisions and expensive projects contributed to substantial losses. For example, the development and production investment of the Ariel 3, an ultra stable 3-wheel moped, was not recouped by sales; the loss has been estimated at £2 million. Furthermore, BSA failed to take seriously the threat that electric-start Japanese motor cycles might completely destroy the market for kick-started BSA motor cycles.

In 1968, BSA announced many changes to its product line of singles, twins and the new three-cylinder machine named the "Rocket three" for the 1969 model year. It now concentrated on the more promising USA, and to a lesser extent, Canadian, markets. However, despite the adding of modern accessories, for example, turn signals and even differing versions of the A65 twins for home and export sale, the damage had been done and the end was near.

Reorganisation in 1971 concentrated motorcycle production at Meriden, Triumph's site, with production of components and engines at BSA's Small Heath. At the same time there were redundancies and the selling of assets. Barclays Bank arranged financial backing to the tune of £10 million.

Upgrades and service bulletins continued until 1972, but the less service-intensive Japanese bikes had by then flooded the market on both sides of the Atlantic. The merger with Norton Villers was started in late 1972, and for a brief time a Norton 500 single was built with the B50-based unit-single engine, but few if any were sold publicly. The BSA unit single B50's 500 cc enjoyed much improvement in the hands of the CCM motorcycle company allowing the basic BSA design to continue until the mid to late 1970s in a competitive form all over Europe.

The final BSA range was just four models: Gold Star 500, 650 Thunderbolt/Lightning and the 750 cc Rocket Three. By 1972, BSA was so moribund that, with bankruptcy imminent, its motorcycle businesses were merged (as part of a government-initiated rescue plan) with the Manganese Bronze company, Norton-Villiers, to become NVT, headed by Dennis Poore. The intention was to produce and market Norton and Triumph motorcycles at home and abroad; but Poore's rationalisation led to redundancies of two-thirds of the workforce. In response, the Triumph workers at Meriden set up their own cooperative. This left Poore with neither BSA nor Triumph, and the sole NVT model was the Norton Commando. Although this machine won the Motor Cycle News "Bike of the Year" award for several years running, nothing could hide the fact that the Commando was an old design, being a pre-unit pushrod parallel-twin.

In exchange for its motorcycle businesses, Manganese Bronze received BSA Group's non-motorcycle-related divisions—namely, Carbodies. Although the BSA name was left out of the new company's name, a few products continued to be made carrying it until 1973. However, the plan involved the axing of some brands, large redundancies and consolidation of production at two sites. This scheme to rescue and combine Norton, BSA and Triumph failed in the face of worker resistance. Norton's and BSA's factories were eventually shut down, while Triumph staggered on to fail four years later.

 
BSA logo

Trademarks

Motorcycles

Rights went to Norton Villiers Triumph and on its liquidation were purchased by a new company formed by management and named BSA Company Limited.

Motorcycles from 1910

BSA Motorcycles were made by BSA Cycles Ltd, under the BSA parent, up until 1953 when the motorcycle business was moved into holding BSA Motorcycles Ltd. The first instance of intention to produce motorcycles was reported in The Motor Cycle, a British motorcycling journal, in July 1906. The first wholly BSA motorcycle, the 3½ H.P. was built in 1910 and displayed at the first Olympia Show, London on 21 November in that year. Sir Hallewell Rogers, BSA Chairman, had informed the shareholders at the Company's 1910 AGM in Birmingham "We have decided to put a motor-bicycle on the market for the coming season .... These machines will be on exhibit at the Cycle and Motor Show on November 21st, after which date we look forward to commencing delivery". The machines were available for the 1911 season and entire production sold out. BSA had previously acquired a commercially available engine in 1905 and fitted it to one of their bicycle frames and discovered at first hand the problems that needed to be overcome. BSA Cycles Ltd was set up as a subsidiary company in 1919 under Managing Director Charles Hyde to manufacture both bicycles and motorcycles.

BSA produced their only two-stroke motorcycle design for the 1928 season, the 1.74 H.P. Model A28 with two speed gearbox. It was produced as the A29 and A30 the following two years and became the A31 with a three-speed gearbox in 1931, the last year of production. The post-war 'Bantam' was a German DKW design, part of war reparation, and not a true BSA design.

BSA motorcycles were sold as affordable motorcycles with reasonable performance for the average user. BSA stressed the reliability of their machines, the availability of spares and dealer support. The motorcycles were a mixture of sidevalve and OHV engines offering different performance for different roles, e.g. hauling a sidecar. The bulk of use would be for commuting. BSA motorcycles were also popular with "fleet buyers" in Britain, who (for example) used the Bantams for telegram delivery for the Post Office or motorcycle/sidecar combinations for AA patrols The Automobile Association (AA) breakdown help services. This mass market appeal meant they could claim "one in four is a BSA" on advertising.

Machines with better specifications were available for those who wanted more performance or for competition work.

Initially, after the Second World War, BSA motorcycles were not generally seen as racing machines, compared to the likes of Norton. In the immediate post-war period few were entered in races such as the TT races, though this changed dramatically in the Junior Clubman event (smaller engine motorcycles racing over some 3 or 4 laps around one of the Isle of Man courses). In 1947 there were but a couple of BSA mounted riders, but by 1952 BSA were in the majority and in 1956 the makeup was 53 BSA, 1 Norton and 1 Velocette.

To improve US sales, in 1954, for example, BSA entered a team of riders in the 200 mile Daytona beach race with a mixture of single cylinder Gold Stars and twin cylinder Shooting Stars assembled by Roland Pike. The BSA team riders took first, second, third, fourth, and fifth places with two more riders finishing at 8th and 16th. This was the first case of a one brand sweep.

The BSA factory experienced success in the sport of motocross with Jeff Smith riding a B40 to capture the 1964 and 1965 FIM 500 cc Motocross World Championships. It would be the last year the title would be won by a four-stroke machine until the mid-1990s. A BSA motocross machine was often colloquially known as a "Beezer."

Birmingham rocker Steve Gibbons released a song "BSA" on his 1980 album "Saints & Sinners" as a tribute to the Gold Star. He still plays this song with his band and often performs on the Isle of Man at the TT races.

Motorcycle models

Pre World War II

 
1935 BSA Blue Star
  • 3½ hp
  • Model E
  • Model A28
  • C10 sidevalve 250 cc 1938 on design by Val Page
  • G14 1000 cc V-twin
  • Blue Star
  • Empire Star
  • Silver Star
  • Gold Star
  • Sloper
  • M20 (500cc):as the WD (War Department) M20 the motorcycle of the British Army in World War II
  • M21 (600cc): the big brother of the M20, also used by the British Army in World War II
  • M22 (500CC)

Post World War II

 
1957 BSA Golden Flash 650
 
1969 BSA Royal Star
  • A series Twins (four-stroke, pushrod parallel twins)
    • A7
      • A7 Shooting Star - 500cc pre-unit construction
    • A10 - 650cc pre-unit construction
      • A10 Golden Flash
      • A10 Super Flash
      • A10 Road Rocket
      • A10 Super Rocket
      • A10 Rocket Gold Star
    • A50 - 500cc unit construction
      • A50R Royal Star
      • A50C Cyclone
      • A50W Wasp
    • A65 - 650cc unit construction
      • A65 Star Twin
      • A65R Rocket
      • A65T Thunderbolt
      • A65L Lightning
      • A65S Spitfire
      • A65H Hornet
      • A65F Firebird Scrambler
    • A70L Lightning 750
  • Triples (four-stroke, pushrod, three-cylinder engines) - The BSA Rocket 3/Triumph Trident were developed together. The Rocket 3 shares a majority of engine components and other parts with the Trident T150, but has forward-inclined cylinder barrels and a BSA frame.
    • A75R Rocket3 750
    • A75RV Rocket3 750 - 5 speed
    • A75V Rocket3 750 - 5 speed
  • Singles (Four-stroke single cylinder)
    • C25 Barracuda
    • B25 Starfire - 250cc unit construction
    • B25FS Fleetstar
    • B25 SS Gold Star
    • BSA B31 single
    • B32 Gold Star
    • B33
    • B34 Gold Star
    • B40 350 Star - 350cc unit construction
    • B40 SS90
    • B44 Victor
    • B44
      • B44SS Shooting Star
      • B44VS Victor Special
    • B50
      • B50SS Gold Star 500
      • B50T Victor Trials
      • B50MX Motocross
  • C series (Four-stroke 250 cc single-cylinder).
    • C10
    • C11/C11G: 12 hp (9 kW) - 70 mph (110 km/h) - 85mpg - weight 250 lb (113 kg).

The C11 used a C10 motor fitted with an overhead valve cylinder head. The C11 frame was almost unchanged until 1951 when BSA added plunger rear suspension. Early gearboxes were weak and unreliable. The C11G was available with a three ratio gearbox and rigid frame or a four ratio gearbox and a plunger frame. Both models had better front brakes than earlier models. This model was a common commuter motorcycle, and many survive today.

    • C12
(1956–1958). 249 cc OHV

Used the C11G engine, fitted with an alternator and swinging fork (known as swinging arm) rear suspension.

 
1959 BSA C15 Star
    • C15 Star - 250cc unit construction
    • C15T Trials
    • C15S Scrambler
    • C15SS80 Sports Star 80
    • C15 Sportsman
  • D series (Two-stroke single cylinder. See BSA Bantam for details)
    • D1 Bantam - 125cc unit-construction
    • D3 Bantam Major
    • D5 Bantam Super
    • D7 Bantam Super
    • D10 Silver Bantam, Bantam Supreme, Bantam Sports, Bushman
    • D13
    • D14/4 Bantam Supreme, Bantam Sports, Bushman - 175cc
    • B175 Bantam Sports, Bushman
  • Others (may include some export versions of models listed above)
    • B31 Twin (350 cc). B31 frame fitted with a Triumph 3T motor to produce this BSA B31 Twin. Very few units were produced, probably prototypes.
    • BSA Barracuda
    • BSA Beagle
    • BSA Boxer - 1979 - c.1981 the sports version of the 50cc range (Beaver, Boxer, Brigand, GT50). The engine was by Moto Morini.
    • BSA GT50 (renamed from the Boxer)
    • BSA Beaver (the standard road version)
    • BSA Tracker 125/175 - late 70s moto-cross style product by NVT with Yamaha two stroke engine.
    • BSA Dandy 70
    • BSA Sunbeam (Scooters, also produced as Triumph TS1, TW2 Tigress)
      • 175B1
      • 250B2
    • BSA Starfire
    • BSA Rocket Scrambler
    • BSA Rocket Gold Star
    • BSA Fury
    • BSA Hornet
    • Winged Wheel (auxiliary power unit for bicycles)
    • T65 Thunderbolt (essentially a Triumph TR6P with BSA Badges)

This is a list of British manufacturer Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) motorcycles from the 1930s until the end of the marque in the 1970s.

The list is tabulated by engine type and period

V-twins

Model Engine First year Last year Notes
Model a 770cc cc 1919 1924 side-valve V twin
G30-G35 985 cc 1930 1935 side-valve
G14 985 cc 1936 1940 side-valve
J34, J35, J12 499 cc 1934 1936 overhead valve
Y13 748 cc 1936 1938 overhead valve

B series

The B-series were single cylinder models of 250 cc, 350 cc and 500 cc. After the Second World War only 350 cc and 500 cc overhead valve models were continued.

Model Engine First year Last year Notes
B33-1 - B35-1, B1 249 cc 1933 1936 side-valve
B33-2 - B35-2, B2 249 cc 1933 1936 overhead valve
B33-3 - B35-3, B3 Blue Star 249 cc 1933 1936 overhead valve
R33-4 - R35-4, R4 349 cc 1933 1936 overhead valve
R33-5 - R35-5, R5 Blue Star 349 cc 1933 1936 overhead valve
W32-6, W33-6, W34-7, W35-6, W6 499 cc 1932 1936 side-valve
W32-7, W33-7, W34-8, W35-7 499 cc 1932 1935 overhead valve
W33-8, W34-9, W35-8 Blue Star 499 cc 1933 1935 overhead valve
W33-9, W34-10, W35-9 499 cc 1933 1935 overhead valve
B20 Tourer 249 cc 1937 1938 side-valve
B21 Sports 249 cc 1937 1939 overhead valve
B22 Empire Star 249 cc 1937 1938 overhead valve
B23 Tourer 348 cc 1937 1939 side-valve
B24 Empire / Silver Star 348 cc 1937 1939 overhead valve
B25 Competition 348 cc 1937 1939 overhead valve
B26 Sports 348 cc 1937 1939 overhead valve
B29 348 cc 1940   overhead valve
B30       overhead valve
B31 348 cc 1945 1959 overhead valve
B32 348 cc 1946 1957 overhead valve
B33 499 cc 1947 1960 overhead valve
B34 499 cc 1947 1957 overhead valve

M series

In the 1930s the M series was a mixture of overhead valve and side-valve models. During and after the Second World War only the side-valve models of this series were continued, typically for use by the armed forces or in sidecar combinations.

Model Engine First year Last year Notes
M33-10, M34-12, M35-10, M10 596 cc 1933 1936 side-valve
M33-11, M34-13, M35-11 596 cc 1933 1935 overhead valve
M19 Deluxe 349 cc 1937 1938 overhead valve
M22 496 cc 1937 1939 overhead valve
M23 Silver Star/Empire Star 496 cc 1937 1940 overhead valve
M24 Gold Star 496 cc 1938 1939 overhead valve
M20 496 cc 1937 1955 side-valve. Thousands of this model were supplied to the British Army
M21 591 cc 1937 1963 side-valve. The UK's Automobile Association used this model in sidecar combinations
M33 499 cc 1947 1957 B33 overhead valve engine in M series plunger frame for civilian sidecar work

Pre-unit C series

 
A BSA C10L at Wirral Transport Museum, Birkenhead

The C-series were 250 cc single-cylinder models & a 350 cc side-valve model for 1940 only

Model Engine First year Last year Notes
C10 250 cc 1938 1953 side-valve engine
C11 250 cc 1939 1953 overhead valve engine, dynamo electrics
C12sv 350 cc 1940 1940 side-valve engine, dynamo electrics, girder Forks, ridged rear,
C11G 250 cc 1954 1956 overhead valve engine, alternator instead of dynamo
C12 250 cc 1956 1958 overhead valve engine, swinging arm suspension
C10L 250 cc 1953 1957 side-valve engine

Bantam series

All Bantams were single cylinder two-stroke machines

Model Engine First year Last year Notes
D1 Bantam 125 cc 1948 1963 Early examples had rigid frames; later models had plunger suspension
D3 Bantam Major 150 cc 1954 1957 All-welded swinging arm frame - some had plunger rear suspension
D5 Bantam Super 175 cc 1958 1958 All-welded swinging arm frame similar to D5
D7 Bantam Super 175 cc 1959 1966 Swinging-arm frame with separate rear subframe bolted on
D10 Silver Bantam, Bantam Supreme, Bantam Sports and Bushman 175 cc 1966 1967 Some models had four-ratio gearbox
D14/4 Bantam Supreme, Bantam Sports and Bushman 175 cc 1968 1969 All models had four-ratio gearbox
D175 Bantam Sports and Bushman 175 cc 1969 1971 With C15 front forks and centrally-located spark plug

Unit-construction singles

Model Engine First year Last year Notes
C15 250 cc 1958 1967  
C15T 250 cc 1959 1965  
C15S 250 cc 1959 1965  
SS80 250 cc 1961 1966 High-performance version of C15
B40 350 cc 1960 1965  
SS90 350 cc 1962 1965 High-performance version of B40
B44 GP 441 cc 1965 1967 the first unit single with oil-bearing frame. Used super strong/lightweight Reynolds 531 tubing aimed at competition use
B44 VE "Victor Enduro" 441 cc 1966 1970  
B44 "Victor Roadster" 441 cc 1966 1970 From 1968 to 1970, called "441 Shooting Star"
B40WD 350 cc 1967   2,000 for Ministry of Defence
C25 Barracuda 250 cc 1967   Short-lived high-compression model
B25 Starfire 250 cc 1968 1970 Similar to the C25 but with slightly reduced compression
B25FS Fleetstar 250 cc 1968 1971 Made with low-compression engine to increase reliability and fuel economy for police and civilian fleet use
B25SS Shooting Star 250 cc 1971    
B25ST 250 cc 1971    
B50SS Gold Star 500 cc 1971 1972  
B50T Trail 500 cc 1971 1972  
B50MX Motorcross 500 cc 1971 1972 In 1974 sold as Triumph TR5MX for US

Post-War twins

All BSA parallel twins were pushrod operated overhead valve machines. The A7 and A10 models were semi-unit construction until about 1953 and pre-unit construction thereafter. All A50, A65 and A70 models were unit construction.

Model Engine First year Last year Notes
A7 500 cc 1947 1962 BSA's first parallel twin
A7ST 500 cc 1949 1954  
A7SS 500 cc 1954 1962  
A10 Golden Flash 650 cc 1950 1962 BSA's first 650 cc parallel twin
A10 Super Flash 650 cc 1953 1954 Limited edition for homologation for production racing in the USA
A10 Road Rocket 650 cc 1954 1957  
A10 Super Rocket 650 cc 1958 1963 Amal TT 'racing' carburettor and new "357" full-race camshaft
A10 Rocket Gold Star 650 cc 1962 1963 Special - tuned Super Rocket in a Gold Star frame
A50 500 cc 1962 1970 Called "Royal Star" from 1966 onwards
A50C Cyclone 500 cc 1964 1965 Also A50 cc "Cyclone Clubman" for 1965 only
A50 Wasp 500 cc 1966 1968  
A65 650 cc 1962 1966 Sometimes called "Star Twin"
A65R Rocket 650 cc 1964 1965 Sports model with 9:1 compression, separate headlight, and sports mudguards
A65T Thunderbolt 650 cc 1964 1972 Single carburettor. From 1971 had oil-bearing frame
A65L Lightning / Rocket 650 cc 1964 1972 Twin carburettors. From 1971 had oil-bearing frame
A65S Spitfire 650 cc 1964 1968 High performance model produced in Mk I, Mk II, Mk III and Mk IV versions
A65 Hornet 650 cc 1966 1967 Sometimes called "Hornet Scrambler"
A65F Firebird Scrambler 650 cc 1968 1972 Twin carburettors. From 1971 had oil-bearing frame, high level exhaust pipes on left hand side
A70L Lightning 750 cc     Limited edition for homologation for production racing in the USA
Fury 350 cc 1971 1972 Prototype only (never produced)

Triples

See Triumph Triples for corresponding Triumph models)

Model Engine First year Last year Notes
A75R Rocket Three 750 cc 1969 1972  
A75RV Rocket Three 750 cc 1971 1972 5-speed gearbox (only three produced in 1972)

Miscellaneous

Model name Engine First year Last year Note
S31 'Sloper' 491 cc 1927 1935 By 1935 there was an overhead-valve and a sidevalve, both of 595 cc
A30-1, A30-2 175 cc two-stroke 1929 1930 Unit-construction model in two-speed and three-speed versions respectively
Winged Wheel 35 cc two-stroke 1953 1955 In-hub engine for bicycle
Dandy 70 cc two stroke 1956 1962 Lightweight scooter
Sunbeam 175 cc two-stroke or 250 cc four-stroke 1959 1965 Scooter
Beagle 75 cc four-stroke 1963 1965 Lightweight motorcycle
Brigand/Beaver/Boxer/GT50 50 cc two-stroke 1979   British frame designed by B.J. "Bertie" Goodman, with Italian Franco Morini engine
  • Bacon, Roy BSA Gold Star and Other Singles Osprey Publishing, London 1982
  • Bacon, Roy BSA Twins and Triples. The Postwar A7 / A10, A50 / 65 and Rocket III. Osprey Publishing, London 1980

 

 

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