Birmingham Small Arms Company

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited (BSA)
Listed company
Fate Acquired 1973 by Manganese Bronze Holdings
Founded Gun Quarter, Birmingham, England, 1861
Headquarters Birmingham, UK
Key people
<templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/>
Footnotes / references
<templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/>
  • BSA brand Bicycles are currently manufactured and distributed in India by TI Cycles of India
  • Motorcycles bearing the brand BSA were briefly manufactured after 1979 by a business now known as BSA Regal
  • BSA brand air rifles are manufactured in Birmingham by a subsidiary of Spanish manufacturer Gamo

This article is not about Gamo subsidiary BSA Guns (UK) Limited or BSA Company or its successors.

The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited (BSA) 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.

At its peak, BSA was the largest motorcycle producer in the world. Loss of sales and poor investments in new products in the motorcycle division, which included Triumph Motorcycles, led to problems for the whole group.

A government-organised rescue operation in 1973 led to the takeover of remaining operations by what is now Manganese Bronze Holdings, then owners of Norton-Villiers, and over the following decade further closures and dispersals. The original company, The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited, remains a subsidiary of Manganese Bronze but its name was changed in 1987.

Manganese Bronze continues to operate former BSA subsidiary Carbodies, now known as LTI Limited, manufacturers of London Taxicabs and formerly the largest wholly British-owned car manufacturer. (Manganese Bronze is now owned by the Chinese company Geely).<templatestyles src="Template:TOC limit/styles.css" />

History of the BSA industrial group

BSA began in June 1861 in the Gun Quarter, Birmingham, England founded specifically to manufacture guns by machinery. It was formed by a group of fourteen gunsmith members of the Birmingham Small Arms Trade Association. The market had moved against British gunsmiths following the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 because the Board of Ordnance's Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield had introduced machinery made in the USA and Enfield's greatly increased output had been achieved with reduced reliance on skilled craftsmen.[1] The War Office provided this new grouping of gunsmiths free access to technical drawings and their facilities at their Enfield factory.

The newly formed company purchased 25 acres (10 ha) of land at Small Heath, Birmingham, built a factory there and made a road on the site calling it Armoury Road.

This machinery brought to Birmingham manifested the principle of the inter-changeability of parts.[2]


BSA's resort to the use of machinery was rewarded in 1863 with an order for 20,000 Turkish infantry rifles. The management of the BSA Company was changed at an Extraordinary Meeting called on 30 September 1863 when the Company was changed from being run by a committee to that of an elected Board of Directors, Joseph Wilson, Samuel Buckley, Isaac Hollis, Charles Playfair, Charles Pryse, Sir John Ratcliffe, Edward Gem, and J.F. Swinburn under the chairmanship of John Dent Goodman.[3]

The first War Office contract was not agreed until 1868. In 1879 the factory, without work, was shut for a year. The military arms trade was precarious.[4]

New ventures


The next year BSA branched out into bicycle manufacture.[4] The gun factory proved remarkably adaptable to the manufacture of cycle parts. What cycles needed was large quantities of standard parts accurately machined at low prices.[2] In 1880 BSA manufactured the Otto Dicycle, In the 1880s the company began to manufacture safety bicycles on their own account and not until 1905 was the company's first experimental motorcycle constructed. Bicycle production ceased in 1887 as the company concentrated on producing the Lee–Metford magazine-loading rifle for the War Office which was re-equipping the British Army with it. The order was for 1,200 rifles per week. BSA recommenced manufacturing bicycles on their own behalf from 1908. BSA Cycles Ltd was set up in 1919 for the manufacture of both bicycles and motorcycles. BSA sold the bicycle business to Raleigh in 1957 after separating the bicycle and motorcycle business in 1953.

Bicycle components

In 1893 BSA commenced making bicycle hubs[3] and continued to supply the cycle trade with bicycle parts up to 1936. BSA bought The Eadie Manufacturing Company of Redditch in 1907 and so began to manufacture the Eadie two speed hub gear and the Eadie coaster brake hub. BSA also signed an agreement with the Three Speed Gear Syndicate in 1907 to manufacture a 3 speed hub under licence. This was later classified as the Sturmey Archer Type X. BSA introduced a 'Duo' hub in the late 1930s which was capable of one fixed gear and one gear with a freewheel. All BSA hub gear production temporarily ceased in 1939, until they recommenced making their 3 speed hub around 1945. The Eadie coaster hub made a brief return in 1953 on two BSA bicycle models. BSA forever ceased production of their hub gears in 1955.


BSA sold its ammunition business in 1897 to Birmingham Metal and Munitions Company Limited part of the Nobel-Dynamite Trust, through Kynoch a forerunner of ICI.[5]


In 1906 Frank Dudley Docker was appointed a director of the company. By the autumn of that year BSA was in some difficulty. They had purchased the Sparkbrook Royal Small Arms Factory from the War Office, and in return, the War Office undertook to give BSA a quarter of all orders for Lee–Enfield rifles. But, the War Office did not honour their undertaking.[6] The ensuing financial crisis did not prevent BSA from signing an agreement to amalgamate with another bicycle component manufacturer, the Eadie Manufacturing Company of Redditch, on 11 February 1907. That decision was ratified by the shareholders of both companies at separate Extraordinary General Meetings held in the Grand Hotel, Birmingham on 27 February 1907. Albert Eadie became a BSA director, a post he held until his death in 1931.[3]


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.[3]

Motor cars

BSA cars

<templatestyles src="Module:Hatnote/styles.css"></templatestyles>

In an effort to make use of the Sparkbrook factory BSA established a motorcar department there. An independent part of it was occupied by Lanchester Motor Company. The first prototype automobile was produced in 1907. The following year, marketed under BSA Cycles Ltd, the company sold 150 automobiles and again began producing complete bicycles on its own account. By 1909 it was clear the new motorcar department was unsuccessful; an investigation committee reported to the BSA Board on the many failures of its management and their poor organisation of production.

Daimler vehicles

<templatestyles src="Module:Hatnote/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Dudley Docker had joined the board in 1906 and was appointed deputy chairman of BSA in 1909. He had made a spectacular financial success of a merger of five large rolling-stock companies in 1902 and become the leader of the period's merger movement. Believing he could buy the missing management skills that could not be found within BSA he started merger talks with The Daimler Company Limited of Coventry. Daimler and Rover were then the largest British car producers. Daimler was immensely profitable. After its capital reconstruction in 1904 Daimler's profits were 57 per cent and 150 per cent returns on invested capital in 1905 and 1906. The attraction for Daimler shareholders was the apparent stability of BSA.[7]

So in 1910 BSA purchased Daimler with BSA shares but Docker who negotiated the arrangements either ignored or failed in his assessment of their consequences for the new combine. The combine was never adequately balanced or co-ordinated. One of the financial provisions obliged Daimler to pay BSA an annual dividend of £100,000 representing approximately 40 per cent of the actual cash BSA had put into Daimler. This financial burden deprived Daimler of badly needed cash to fund development, forcing the Daimler company to borrow money from the Midland Bank.[8]

BSA had still not recovered financially from the earlier purchase of Royal Small Arms factory at Sparkbrook and BSA were not in a position to finance Daimler, nor had either company ample liquid resources. BSA went ahead with motorcycle production in 1910, their first model available for the 1911 season. In 1913 the BSA group were compelled through pressure from the Midland Bank to make a capital issue of 300,000 preference shares. In the short term this was to solve the liquidity issue but further diluted the group's capitalisation.[9]

Dudley Docker retired as a BSA director in 1912 and installed Lincoln Chandler on the BSA board as his replacement. Dudley Docker liked to draw a comparison between the BSA~Daimler merger he engineered and that of his 1902 merger of Metropolitan Carriage Wagon & Finance Company and Patent Shaft. However, there was not the integration of facilities in the BSA~Daimler case, nor was there a reorganisation of either BSA or Daimler and in view of the earlier criticism contained in the 1909 report of the investigation committee, BSA continued to produce cars of their own using Daimler engines. In 1913 Daimler employed 5,000 workers to manufacture 1,000 vehicles, an indication that things were not well.[10]

Steel bodies

In 1912, BSA would be one of two automobile manufacturers pioneering the use of all-steel bodies, joining Hupmobile in the US.[11]

First World War

During the First World War, the company returned to arms manufacture and greatly expanded its operations. BSA produced rifles, Lewis guns, shells, motorcycles and other vehicles for the war effort.

Inter-war years

1935 magazine advert for the BSA range of motorcycles and 3-wheeler cars


<templatestyles src="Module:Hatnote/styles.css"></templatestyles>

In November 1919 BSA launched their first 50 degree vee-twin, Model E, 770cc side valve (6-7 hp) motorcycle for the 1920 season.[12] The machine had interchangeable valves, total loss oil system with mechanical pump and an emergency hand one. Retail price was £130. Other features were Amac carburettor, chain drive, choice of magneto or Magdyno, 7-plate clutch, 3 speed gear box with kickstarter and new type of cantilever fork[13]


<templatestyles src="Module:Hatnote/styles.css"></templatestyles>

During the war Daimler had built enormous numbers of aero engines and aircraft and by the end was building 80 Airco de Havilland bombers a month. In February 1920 BSA amalgamated[14] with what was the world's largest aircraft manufacturer, Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Airco), Airco's main plant at Hendon had employed between 7,000 and 8,000 people.[15] The Airco group of companies had turned out a new aircraft every 45 minutes.[16]

Within days BSA discovered Airco was in a far more serious financial state than George Holt Thomas had revealed. Holt Thomas was immediately dropped from his new seat on the BSA board and all BSA's new acquisitions were placed in the hands of a liquidator. Some of the businesses were allowed to continue for some years, Aircraft Transport and Travel's assets being eventually rolled into Daimler Air Hire to make Daimler Airway Limited. BSA failed to pay a dividend for the following four years while it tried to recover from its losses.[17] Some relief was achieved when in March 1924 Daimler Airway and its management became the major constituent of Imperial Airways.

As well as the Daimler car range, BSA Cycles Ltd re-entered the car market under the BSA name in 1921 with a V-twin engined light car followed by four-cylinder models up to 1926, when the name was temporarily dropped. In 1929 a new range of 3- and 4-wheel cars appeared and production of these continued until 1936.

By 1930 the BSA Group's primary activities were BSA motorcycles and Daimler vehicles.[18]

Car production under the BSA name ceased in the 1930s.


<templatestyles src="Module:Hatnote/styles.css"></templatestyles>

In 1931 the Lanchester Motor Company at Sparkbrook was acquired[19][20][note 1] and production of their cars transferred to Daimler's Coventry works. The first new product was a version of the Daimler Light Twenty or 16/20 and called Lanchester 15/18.


In the 1930s, the board of directors authorised expenditure on bringing their arms-making equipment back to use – it had been stored at company expense since the end of the Great War in the belief that BSA might again be called upon to perform its patriotic duty. In 1939, BSA acquired the blueprints for a submachine gun designed by Hungarian arms designer Pál Király as well as the rights to manufacture it. Examples were produced in 9mm Mauser Export calibre according to Kiraly's design. It was estimated that these arms would only cost 5 pounds each to manufacture. However, at the time, submachine guns were viewed as "gangster weapons" and plans to manufacture it were shelved.[21]

Second World War

By the outbreak of the Second World War, BSA Guns Ltd at Small Heath, was the only factory producing rifles in the UK. The Royal Ordnance Factories did not begin production until 1941. BSA Guns Ltd was also producing .303 Browning machine guns for the Air Ministry at the rate of 600 guns per week in March 1939 and Browning production was to peak at 16,390 per month by March 1942. The armed forces had chosen the 500 cc side-valve BSA M20 motorcycle as their preferred machine. On the outbreak of war the Government requisitioned the 690 machines BSA had in stock as well as placing an order for another 8,000 machines. South Africa, Éire, India, Sweden and the Netherlands also wanted machines.

The Government passed the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939 on 24 August allowing the drafting of defence regulations affecting food, travel, requisitioning of land and supplies, manpower and agricultural production. A second Emergency Powers (Defence) Act was passed on 22 May 1940 allowing the conscription of labour. The fall of France had not been anticipated in Government planning and the encirclement of a large part of the British Expeditionary Force into the Dunkirk pocket resulted in a hasty evacuation of that part of the B.E.F following the abandonment of their equipment. The parlous state of affairs "no arms, no transport, no equipment" in the face of the threat of imminent invasion of Britain by Nazi forces was recorded by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke in his diary entries of the 1/2 July 1940.[22]

The creation of the Home Guard (initially as the Local Defence Volunteers) following Anthony Eden's broadcast appeal to the Nation on Tuesday 14 May 1940 also created further demand for arms production to equip this new force. BSA, as the only rifle producer in Britain, had to step up to the mark and the workforce voluntarily went onto a seven-day week.[23] Motorcycle production was also stepped up from 500 to 1,000 machines per week which meant a finished machine coming off the production line every 5 minutes. The motorcycle department had been left intact in 1939 due to demand which was doubled following Dunkirk. At the same time BSA staff were providing lectures and demonstrations on motorcycle riding and maintenance to 250,000 officers and men in all parts of the UK.

The BSA factory at Small Heath was bombed by the Luftwaffe on 26 August 1940 resulting in one high explosive bomb and a shower of incendiaries hitting the main barrel mill which was the only one operating on service rifles in the country, causing the unaffordable loss of 750 machine tools but fortunately no loss of life.[24] Two further air raids took place on 19 and 22 November 1940.[25] The air raid of 19 November did the most damage, causing loss of production and trapping hundreds of workers. Two BSA night-shift electricians, Alf Stevens and Alf Goodwin, helped rescue their fellow workers. Alf Stevens was awarded the George Medal for his selfless acts of bravery in the rescue and Alf Goodwin was awarded the British Empire Medal.[citation needed] Workers involved in the works Civil Defence were brought in to help search for and clear bodies to get the plant back into production. The net effect of the November raids was to destroy machine shops in the four-storey 1915 building, the original 1863 gunsmiths' building and nearby buildings, 1,600 machine tools, kill 53 employees, injure 89, 30 of them seriously and halt rifle production for three months.

The Government Ministry of Supply and BSA immediately began a process of production dispersal throughout Britain, through the shadow factory scheme. Factories were set up at Tipton, Dudley, Smethwick, Blackheath, Lye, Kidderminster, Stourport, Tyseley, and Bromsgrove to manufacture Browning machine guns, Stoke, Corsham, and Newcastle-under-Lyme produced the Hispano cannon, Leicester and Studley Road produced the Besa machine gun, Ruislip produced the Oerlikon 20mm cannon, Stafford produced rocket projectiles, Tamworth produced two-pounder gun carriages, Mansfield produced the Boys Anti-tank gun and Shirley produced rifles. These were dispersal factories which were in addition to Small Heath and the other BSA factories opened in the two years following the 1940 blitz. At its peak Small Heath was running 67 factories engaged in war production. BSA operations were also dispersed to other companies under licence.

In 1941 BSA was approached to produce a new pedal cycle with a maximum weight allowance of only 22 lb especially for airborne use. This required a new concept in frame design which BSA found, producing a machine which weighed 21 lb, one pound less than the design specification and which also exceeded the design requirement for an effective life of 50 miles many times over. Over 60,000 folding bicycles were produced, a figure equal to half the total production of military bicycles during World War II. BSA also produced folding motorcycles for the Airborne Division. In late 1942 BSA examined the Special Operations Executive designed Welgun with a view to manufacture. BSA were willing to manufacture the gun in the quantities required starting April 1943 but the cheaper and less accurate Sten Mk IV was adopted for production by the Ministry of Supply.[26] BSA bought the Sunbeam motorcycles and bicycle business from Associated Motor Cycles Ltd in 1943 and then Ariel Motors Ltd in 1944. During the course of the conflict BSA produced 1,250,000 Lee–Enfield .303 service rifles, 404,383 Sten sub-machine guns, 468,098 Browning machine guns plus spares equivalent to another 100,000, 42,532 Hispano cannon, 32,971 Oerlikon cannon, 59,322 7.9 mm Besa machine guns, 3,218 15 mm Besa machine guns, 68,882 Boys Anti-tank guns, 126,334 motorcycles, 128,000 military bicycles (over 60,000 of which were folding paratrooper bicycles), 10,000,000 shell fuse cases, 3,485,335 magazines and 750,000 anti-aircraft rockets were supplied to the armed forces.[23]

At the same time other parts of the Group were having similar problems. Before World War II Daimler had been linked with other Coventry motor manufacturers in a government-backed scheme for aero engine manufacture and had been allocated two shadow factories. Apart from this, BSA-owned Daimler was producing Scout Cars and Daimler Mk I Armoured Cars which had been designed by BSA at Small Heath not Coventry as well as gun turrets, gun parts, tank transmissions, rocket projectiles and other munitions. This activity had not gone unnoticed by the enemy, which made Radford Works a target in the Coventry air raids. Radford Works received direct hits in four separate air raids during 1940. None of these attacks were to seriously disrupt production, however two more serious air raids were carried out in April 1941 which destroyed half the factory. In all it is estimated that 170 bombs containing 52,000 lbs of explosive were dropped on Radford Works as well as the thousands of incendiaries. Like BSA, Daimler had to find dispersal units.[24] A back-handed compliment was paid by Field Marshal Rommel to the workers at Radford Works when he used a captured Daimler Scout to escape following his defeat at El Alamein.


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

BSA produced the first Sunbeam bicycle catalogue in 1949 and produced its own '4 Star' derailleur gear with an associated splined cassette hub and 4 sprocket cassette.[27] This design was different from the 1930s Bayliss Wiley cassette hub which had a threaded sprocket carrier. BSA bought New Hudson motorcycle and bicycle business in 1950 and followed this up in 1951 with the purchase of Triumph Motorcycles which brought Jack Sangster onto the BSA board. The effect of this acquisition was to make BSA into the largest producer of motorcycles in the world at that time.

1952 saw BSA establish a Professional Cycling Team. Bob Maitland a successful amateur cyclist and the highest placed British finisher in the 1948 Olympic Games road race and now an independent rider in the BSA team was a BSA employee working in the design office as a draughtsman. It was Bob Maitland who was responsible for the design of post war BSA range of lightweight sports bicycles based on his knowledge of cycling.[25] Bob Maitland also made some of the components used on the bicycles of the professional team which were not standard production machines. In the 1952 Tour of Britain Road Race run between Friday 22 August and Saturday 6 September, involving 14 individual stages and covering a total race distance of 1,470 miles, the BSA team of Bob Maitland, “Tiny” Thomas, Pete Proctor, Alf Newman and Stan Jones won the overall team race and Pete Proctor “King of the Mountains” classification. The riders also enjoyed success on the individual stages of the race. The team competed in four further events, 14 September Tour of the Chilterns, 1st “Tiny” Thomas and Team Prize, 21 September Weston-Super-Mare Grand Prix, Team Prize, 28 September Staffordshire Grand Prix, 1st Bob Maitland and Team Prize, 5 October Tour Revenge Race, Dublin, 1st “Tiny” Thomas and Team prize.[28]

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. In 1953 the BSA Professional Cycling Team was managed by Syd Cozens. Successes were 5/6 April Bournemouth Two Day Road Race, 1st Bob Maitland, 12 April Dover to London 63 Miles Road Race, 1st Stan Jones, 31 May Langsett 90 Miles Road Race, 1st Bob Maitland and “King of the Mountains”, 7 June Tour of the Wrekin, 1st Bob Maitland, 12 July Severn Valley 100 Miles Road Race, 1st “Tiny” Thomas, 19 July Jackson Trophy, Newcastle, Team Prize, 9 August Les Adams Memorial 80 Miles Road Race, 1st Alf Newman, Team Prize, “King of the Mountains” Arthur Ilsley, 30 August Weston-Super-Mare 100 Miles Grand Prix, 1st Bob Maitland, Team Prize. The team also competed in the 1,624 mile, 12 stage, 1953 Tour of Britain Road Race. The 1953 line up had changed as Arthur Ilsley replaced Pete Proctor in the team. “Tiny” Thomas won the overall individual classification, the Team were runners-up in the team competition and Arthur Ilsley was 3rd in the “King of the Mountains” competition. Bob Maitland also had notable success by winning the Independent National Championship.[29]

1954 saw the introduction of the BSA Quick Release 3 Speed hub gear. It was a split axle three speed gear intended for use with bicycles equipped with oil bath chainguards. The original BSA 3 speed hub gear had been made under licence from the Three-Speed Gear Syndicate since 1907. The design was later to be classified as the Sturmey-Archer 'Type X', but all BSA hub gear production ceased in 1955[30]

Sir Bernard Docker remained chairman of BSA until 1956 when the BSA removed him. In an acrimonious dispute conducted in the media the matter was brought to the BSA shareholders at the Annual General Meeting where the decision of the Board was upheld. Another significant departure for the fortune of the BSA Group but less controversial was the retirement on ill health grounds of James Leek CBE, Managing Director from 1939 until his retirement. Sir Bernard Docker was replaced as Chairman of the BSA Board by Jack Sangster.[3]

The BSA bicycle division, BSA Cycles Ltd., including the BSA cycle dealer network was sold to Raleigh in 1957.[31] Raleigh initially continued bicycle production in Birmingham at Coventry Road, Sheldon, Birmingham 26 into the early 1960s using up BSA parts but as time went on more stock Raleigh parts and fittings were used, some continuing to bear the 'piled arms' stamp. TI Group owners of the British Cycle Corporation bought Raleigh in 1960 thus gaining access to the BSA brand. Bicycles bearing the BSA name are currently manufactured and distributed within India by TI Cycles of India but have no direct connection to the original Birmingham BSA company.

In 1960, Daimler was sold off to Jaguar.

1961 was the centenary year of the BSA Group and in recognition of this milestone the company magazine produced an anniversary issue of BSA Group News in June BSA Centenary 1861–1961 in which many of the achievements of the Group were celebrated. This year also saw the end of military rifle production, however BSA still continued to make sporting guns. In 1986 BSA Guns was liquidated, the assets bought and renamed BSA Guns (UK) Ltd. The company continues to make air rifles and shotguns, and is still based in Small Heath in Birmingham.


Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

<templatestyles src="Module:Hatnote/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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 key-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.

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 Norton-Villiers-Triumph with the intention of producing and marketing Norton and Triumph motorcycles at home and abroad. 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. The final range was just four models: Gold Star 500, 650 Thunderbolt/Lightning and the 750 cc Rocket Three.

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



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


Rights were acquired by Gamo for its new subsidiary BSA Guns (UK) Limited



According to Charles Spencer, BSA was manufacturing the "Delta" bicycle circa 1869. In 1880 the company was approached to manufacture the "Otto Dicycle". An initial contract was signed to produce 210 and a further contract followed for a further 200. In all it is believed that a total of 953 Otto machines were made. BSA then went into bicycle production on their own account, the first machines to their own specification being exhibited at the 1881 Stanley Show. BSA went on to design and manufacture a "safety" bicycle (patent:15,342 of 1884). BSA was also producing tricycles and a licence was obtained in 1885 to manufacture ball bearings. BSA ceased bicycle manufacture in 1887 because of the demand for arms. Bicycle component manufacture commenced in 1894 and BSA continued to supply the bicycle trade up to 1936. The company recommenced bicycle manufacture on their own account again in 1908 and these were exhibited at the Stanley Show in 1909.[32] Bicycle manufacture was what led BSA into motorcycles. BSA produced bicycles for both the police and military and notably a folding bicycle for the British Army during World War I[33][34] and the more well known folding Paratroopers bicycle during World War II. BSA supplied the Irish Army with bicycles after 1922.

BSA manufactured a range of bicycles from utility roadsters through to racing bicycles. The BSA range of Sports bicycles expanded in the 1930s following the granting of a patent for a new lighter design of seat lug in 1929[35] and tandems were introduced into the BSA bicycle range as well. BSA had a reputation for quality and durability and their components were more expensive that either Chater-Lea or Brampton. BSA launched a high end club cyclists machine in the early 1930s initially branded as the "Super-eeze". Never slow to avail of publicity BSA sponsored the great Australian cyclist Hubert Opperman [36] and re-branded the top of the range machine the "Opperman" model.[37][38] A less expensive range of clubman lightweight machines was introduced from 1936 with the "Cyclo" 3 speed derailleur equipped "Clubman". Subtle changes were made to the range, most models being equipped with "Russ" patent forks [39] and some models were made for only two seasons. This all stopped around September 1939 with the outbreak of war. A revised catalogue with a much reduced range was issued in March 1940 which also saw the launch of the BSA "Streamlight" model.[40] A novel all white bicycle [41] was produced for the blackout but had disappeared from a severely reduced bicycle range the details of which were circulated to dealers from December 1941. BSA had ceased production of their 3 speed hub gear in 1939 and production appears to have started again by 1945 although with a black finish instead of chromium plating. BSA bought Sunbeam in 1943 and produced Sunbeam bicycles using up existing frames and parts and using BSA components for the missing bits. The first BSA produced Sunbeam catalogue was published in 1949[42]

Post war BSA expanded their bicycle range but faced problems of shortages of raw materials such as steel and was required to export a lot of their manufactured output in order to get a Government licence to purchase the necessary raw materials. The company moved bicycle production to the new Waverley Works after World War II. BSA continued to innovate introducing the 4 Star derailleur gear in 1949[43] along with an associated 4-speed 'unit' or cassette hub. The derailleur design was altered from 1950[44] and was certainly available up to 1953 but was not a great success. BSA bought New Hudson in 1950[45] and started to manufacture and sell New Hudson branded machines as well as Sunbeam. It appears that the top of the range BSA lightweight club cyclist machine was the "Gold Column" and this appears to have been changed into the BSA "Tour of Britain" model following the success of the BSA Professional Cycling Team in the 1952 Tour of Britain race. The "Tour of Britain" model was heavily promoted in the BSA 1953 sales literature. The factory made "Tour of Britain" model was not the same as those ridden by the professional team. Only eight machines were crafted for the professional team and none of the components appear to have been standard BSA parts. 1953 saw BSA separate the bicycle / motorcar and motorcycle business into different holdings.

The good times were coming to an end and demand for bicycles fell with the end of rationing in 1954.[46] James Leek, managing director of BSA Cycles Ltd was suffering ill health and he retired in 1956, the same year the BSA Chairman, Sir Bernard Docker,[47] was removed from the BSA Board. Jack Sangster who had joined the BSA Board in 1951 following the purchase of his company Triumph Motorcycles became Chairman. The bicycle manufacturing business BSA Cycles Ltd was sold to Raleigh Industries in 1957.

Motorcycles from 1910

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

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.[48] The first wholly BSA motorcycle, the 3½ H.P.[49] 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".[3] 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.[3]

BSA produced their only two-stroke motorcycle design for the 1928 season, the 1.74 H.P. Model A28 with two speed gearbox.[50] 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.[51]

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.[52][53] 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

<templatestyles src="Module:Hatnote/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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

Post World War II

1969 BSA Royal Star
  • A series Twins (four-stroke, pushrod parallel twins)
  • 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 cycle parts with the Trident T150, but has forward-inclined cylinder barrels, BSA frame and cycle parts.
    • A75R Rocket3 750
    • A75RV Rocket3 750 - 5 speed
    • A75V Rocket3 750 - 5 speed
  • Singles (Four-stroke single cylinder)
  • 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.

(1956–1958). 249 cc OHV

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

    • 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 boxer-GT50, beaver, brigand (or 50cc) range
    • 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)

Military vehicles

  • BSA Scout armoured car.
  • "Type G Apparatus", Folding paratrooper bicycle, Lua error in Module:Convert at line 452: attempt to index field 'titles' (a nil value). with parachute.

Military firearms

Civilian firearms

  • The 1906 war office pattern rifle[54]
  • The Sportsman series of .22 Long Rifle bolt-action rifles
  • Various Martini action target .22lr rifles[55]
  • The Ralock and Armatic semi automatic .22lr rifles[56]
  • Various bolt action hunting rifles

See also


  1. from Hamilton Barnsley, the principal shareholder, chairman and managing director. Negotiated shortly before his death during Christmas time 1930. The Lanchester Motor Company held adjoining factory premises at Sparkbrook. The purchase of the whole of the shares was completed in January 1931 for £26,000.


  1. Taylerson, A. W. F. (1983). pages 469–472. in Pollard, Hugh B. C. and Blair, Claude (eds.). Pollard's History of Firearms. Feltham, Middlesex: Country Life Books. ISBN 0-600-33154-7
  2. 2.0 2.1 W.B. Stephens (Editor), A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 7: The City of Birmingham. Victoria County History, 1964
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Ryerson, Barry (1980). The Giants of Small Heath: The History of BSA. [Sparkford: Haynes]. ISBN 0-85429-255-1
  4. 4.0 4.1 Davenport-Hines, R. P. T. (2002). Dudley Docker: The Life and Times of a Trade Warrior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 48. ISBN 0-521-89400-X
  5. Ryerson, Barry (1980). The Giants of Small Heath: The History of BSA. [Sparkford: Haynes]. p. 16. ISBN 0-85429-255-1
  6. Davenport-Hines, R. P. T. (2002). Dudley Docker: The Life and Times of a Trade Warrior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 49. ISBN 0-521-89400-X
  7. Davenport-Hines, R. P. T. (2002). Dudley Docker: The Life and Times of a Trade Warrior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 49-50. ISBN 0-521-89400-X
  8. Davenport-Hines, R. P. T. (2002). Dudley Docker: The Life and Times of a Trade Warrior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-521-89400-X
  9. Davenport-Hines, R. P. T. (2002). Dudley Docker: The Life and Times of a Trade Warrior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 50-52. ISBN 0-521-89400-X
  10. Davenport-Hines, R. P. T. (2002). Dudley Docker: The Life and Times of a Trade Warrior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 52. ISBN 0-521-89400-X
  11. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found., p. 63.
  12. BSA Cycles Ltd 1920 Advertisement Suggestions for BSA Bicycles and Motor Bicycles, The Birmingham Small Arms Company, no ISBN
  13. Ryerson, Barry 1980 The Giants of Small Heath - The History of BSA, Sparkford, ISBN 0-85429-255-1
  14. Air Transport Combine. Aircraft And B.S.A. Firms Unite The Times, Monday, 1 Mar 1920; pg. 14; Issue 42347
  15. Mr. G. Holt Thomas. The Times, Friday, 4 Jan 1929; pg. 14; Issue 45092
  16. Mr. G. Holt Thomas. Colonel G. W. Dawes. The Times, Saturday, 5 Jan 1929; pg. 14; Issue 45093
  17. Dudley Docker: The Life and Times of a Trade Warrior R. P. T. Davenport-Hines 1984 Cambridge University Press
  18. The Birmingham Small Arms Company The Times, Saturday, 1 November 1930; pg. 20; Issue 45659
  19. The Lanchester Company FROM OUR MOTORING CORRESPONDENT The Times, Tuesday, 6 Jan 1931; pg. 10; Issue 45713
  20. The Birmingham Small Arms Company A Difficult Trading Year, Important Transactions Effected The Times, Saturday, 28 Nov 1931; pg. 17; Issue 45992
  21. Clark, D.M. Arming the British Home Guard 1940-1944, PhD Thesis, Cranfield University, 2010
  22. War Diaries 1939 -1945 Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, London 2001, ISBN 0-297-60731-6
  23. 23.0 23.1 BSA Centenary 1861 - 1961, BSA Group News, No.17 June 1961, The Birmingham Small Arms Company, no ISBN
  24. 24.0 24.1 BSA Centenary 1861 - 1961, BSA Group News, No. 17 June 1961, The Birmingham Small Arms Company, no ISBN
  25. 25.0 25.1 Godwin, Tommy It wasn't that easy - The Tommy Godwin story, John Pinkerton Memorial Publishing Fund, 2007, ISBN 978-0-9552115-5-3
  26. Boyce, Frederick and Everett, Douglas, S.O.E.- The Scientific Secrets Stroud, Gloucester, 2003, ISBN 0-7509-3165-5
  27. BSA Cycles Ltd, 1951 Bicycle Replacement Parts, BSA, Sunbeam, New Hudson Birmingham Small Arms Company Ltd, no ISBN
  28. BSA Cycles Ltd, The Story of How BSA Won The “Daily Express” TOUR OF BRITAIN TEAM PRIZE and “The King of the Mountains”, Birmingham Small Arms (1952), no ISBN
  29. BSA Cycles Ltd, 1st BSA Wins “Daily Express” Tour of Britain, Birmingham Small Arms, (November 1953), no ISBN
  30. Hadland, Tony The Sturmey-Archer Story, privately published, (1987), ISBN 0-9507431-2-7
  31. Bowden, Gregory Houston (1975). The Story of the Raleigh Cycle. London: Allen. ISBN 0-491-01675-1
  32. Millar, Ray (2009). An Encyclopaedia of Cycle Manufacturers: The Early Years up to 1918. (2nd ed.) [Great Britain]: John Pinkerton Memorial Publishing Fund. ISBN 978-0-9560430-5-4
  33. Birmingham Small Arms, 1918, BSA History from the days of the Crimea , Birmingham, no ISBN
  34. B.S.A. History booklet 1914
  35. Intellectual Property Office, (patent application date 4 July 1929), GB332384(A) Improvements in or relating to the construction of cycle frames BSA Birmingham, no ISBN
  36. [1][dead link]
  37. [2][dead link]
  38. [3][dead link]
  39. [4][dead link]
  40. [5][dead link]
  41. [6][dead link]
  42. Pinkerton, John; Roberts, Derek; Hadland, Tony; and Lawrence, Scotford (2002). Sunbeam Cycles: The Story from the Catalogues, 1887–1957 . Birmingham: Pinkerton Press. ISBN 0-9536174-3-2
  43. Berto, Frank J. et al. (2005). The Dancing Chain: History and Development of the Derailleur Bicycle. (2nd ed.) San Francisco, CA: Van der Plas Publications/Cycle Publishing. p. 168. ISBN 1-89249-541-4
  44. BSA Cycles Ltd, June 1950 Bicycle Catalogue It's Time You Had a BSA Birmingham Small Arms Company Ltd, no ISBN
  45. BSA Cycles Ltd, April 1950 Letter to Dealers reference newspaper advertising campaign for New Hudson bicycles to be run in local newspapers from March to August 1950, Birmingham, no ISBN
  46. BBC ON THIS DAY | 4 | 1954: Housewives celebrate end of rationing
  47. Time magazine 11 June 1956
  48. Motor Cycle, 7 July 1966. p.26 Flashbacks to 1906. 16 July 1906. "We hear that the Birmingham Small Arms Co Ltd, the makers of well known and renowned BSA fittings, who recently purchased the Government Small Arms factory at Sparkbrook, Birmingham, for motor work, have decided to take up the manufacture of a light motor bicycle". Accessed and added 2014-05-29
  49. VJMC Northern Counties Classic Bike Show 2009 | Flickr – Condivisione di foto!
  50. [7][dead link]
  51. BSA: 50 years later
  52. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  53. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  54. The War Office Pattern Miniature Rifle
  55. BSA Small-bore Target Rifles and Equipment
  56. The BSA Ralock and Armatic semi-auto rifles

External links