After decades of inactivity, a famed brand of British motorcycles came back to life. India’s Mahindra Group dusted off the chrome of Britain’s BSA and its motorcycles are beginning to hit the road. Now, according to patent trademark applications around the world and including America, BSA is considering bringing back some historic names. BSA is thinking about reviving the Bantam, Lightning, and Thunderbolt. Oh yeah, the 1960s are back.
Motorcycles with retro style are popular in the industry today. You can purchase a motorcycle that looks like it comes from decades past from a number of manufacturers. Honda will sell you the Super Cub, Kawasaki has its Z900, BMW has the R 18, Indian and Harley-Davidson have lineups of classic-style machines, and Royal Enfield‘s entire line looks vintage. One of my favorite rides in recent times was the Janus Halcyon 450, which is even built by hand like an old machine. Many motorcycle riders, including yours truly, find classic style alluring and would buy an old bike brand new if they could. I would be lying if I said I haven’t been looking at getting a new Royal Enfield for a while. I mean, just look at the Classic 350:
India’s Royal Enfield has seen success in trading on nostalgia and Mahindra has been wanting to get in on some of the action. The marque launched a subsidiary called Classic Legends. Under it, Mahindra has been bringing famed names back from the dead. Mahindra already brought back Jawa Motorcycles and Yezdi Motorcycles, but it had another brand to reboot as well. The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited (BSA) had been dead since 1973 but in 2016, Mahindra bought the name with the mission to bring it back. With Royal Enfield in its crosshairs, the revived BSA finally got its first new motorcycle on the road in 2022.
The Gold Star wowed journalists and lovers of vintage metal got excited. Now, perhaps riding on that success, as Cycle World reports, BSA has filed trademark applications for Bantam, Lightning, and Thunderbolt in several countries. It looks like BSA is brewing up an entire line to go after Enfield’s best.
Once The Largest Producer Of Motorcycles
If you were curious about why Mahindra would want to bring BSA’s rides back after half of a century, we should take a look at why BSA mattered in the first place. As Web Bike World writes, from the mid-1930s through the early 1960s, BSA was a powerhouse with so much momentum that it was the world’s largest producer of motorcycles. The site goes on to note that even more than that, BSA was one of the largest companies in the world, period. BSA rode high, then came crashing down.
The relaunched BSA helpfully provides a few paragraphs about its own history:
Standing for Birmingham Small Arms Company Ltd, BSA was founded in 1861, for the production of firearms. They chose 25 acres of ground at Small Heath and by 1863 the factory was complete. The brand’s motorcycle division was set up in 1903, and the first motorcycle followed in 1910.
[In 1914,] BSA produced 1.5 million rifles, 145 Lewis machine guns, along with motorcycles, the world’s first folding bicycle, machine tools, jigs, gauges, aero components, gun locks, shells and fuses to support ‘The Great War’. In addition, there were the staff cars, ambulances and commercial vehicles produced by Daimler, which had been bought by BSA in 1910.
Post-WW1, in 1920, BSA bought some of the assets of the Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Airco), which had built many important aircraft during the war. While BSA did not go into aviation, the chief designer of Airco founded the De Havilland company and BSA reentered the car market under their own name in 1921 with a V-twin engine light car followed by four-cylinder models. In 1924, four BSAs made motorcycling history by successfully climbing Snowdon.
In 1929 a new range of 3 and 4-wheel cars appeared, and in the 1930s the board of directors authorised expenditure on bringing their arms-making equipment back to use. In 1931 the Lanchester Motor Company was acquired, and production of their cars transferred to Daimler’s Coventry works. BSA’s motorcycle production increased – the reliable Sloper model gave way to the Blue Stars and Empire Stars and the Maudes Trophy was awarded to BSA for the most meritorious motorcycling performance.
BSA goes on to note that during World War II, it produced munitions components, Browning guns, and shell fuses. BSA also supplied 126,334 M20 motorcycles to servicemen fighting in the war. Following the war, BSA really took off as a world leader in motorcycles. In 1951, BSA purchased Triumph Engineering Co. Ltd and in the decade, BSA-Triumph became a monster. BSA says that at its peak, one in every four motorcycles sold worldwide had a BSA badge on it. Meanwhile, the steeds were so hot that they were killing it on the track.
For example, in 1954, BSA sent a team of riders to race 200 miles on Daytona Beach on BSA Gold Stars and Shooting Stars. BSA smashed the podium taking first, second, third, fourth, fifth, eighth, and sixteenth. And as Cycle World magazine wrote in 1967, America had a little Isle of Man on the island of Santa Catalina, some 26 miles from Los Angeles. There, BSA took two wins in the Catalina Grand Prix in 1952 and in 1956, it took wins in three classes.
So, this is a brand with real racing heritage. Sadly, competition from Japanese and European machines, as well as mismanagement and a reported lack of innovation led to an erosion of BSA’s market share. Eventually, the brand fizzled out and eventually disappeared in 1973.
Stunning Looks, Modern Reliability
The new BSA is not really a maker of race-winning machines. Instead, like Royal Enfield, it seeks to make you swell with emotion. Like a Royal Enfield, a new BSA is meant to look like the motorcycles of the past but come with some modern equipment. The first motorcycle to come out of the new BSA was the Gold Star in 2022. The original Gold Star was made from the late 1930s and thundered its way through the early 1960s. These are the machines that won Daytona and even the Isle of Man TT and the flagship was the Gold Star 500, which topped out at around 110 mph.
This new one is a nod to old BSA’s most famous machine but is bringing some modern power with it. The new BSA Gold Star is powered by a 652cc single making 45 hp and 40.6 lb-ft torque. It’s capable of going 100 mph, too. In fact, its engine traces its roots back to the Rotax single that powered the BMW F650. Here, it’s all dolled up in style that makes it look like an old air-cooled powerplant, even though it’s water-cooled. To achieve some of this, BSA removed the wet sump and traded for a dry sump. It has an oil tank behind a side cover and because of this change, the engine can sit low and stand vertically, giving off those classic vibes.
There are no rider aids here, but you do get fuel injection, electric start, ABS, and even Pirelli tires. In other words, it looks like a British bike, but you won’t break your leg starting it and it’ll get you home. India’s rebirthed BSA also has some good level of detail from the Smiths-style instrumentation to the inclusion of a rifle symbol on a side panel as a nod to the past. Cycle World called it a “carefully designed reboot of a much-loved classic.”
New Names And American Plans
Now, according to the publication, BSA has submitted trademark applications in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand for Bantam, Lightning, and Thunderbolt. The Bantam was a small displacement motorcycle sold by BSA between 1948 and 1971. That motorcycle was originally based on the German DKW RT 125 two-stroke, a design that BSA was awarded as war reparations. A number of manufacturers got this design, including Harley-Davidson, which built the Harley-Davidson Hummer from them.
The BSA Lightning was a 650cc-class machine sold between 1965 and 1972. And finally, the BSA Thunderbolt was another 650cc motorcycle and sold between 1962 and 1972. In their day, both of these were competition for the Triumph Bonneville. BSA has made no official announcements about these models, but I see the logic in bringing these back.
See, Royal Enfield is BSA’s current target for competition. Enfield is currently sitting on a gold mine of attractive models. There’s the inexpensive Classic 350 and the vivid Scram 411 scrambler. For fans of old British racers, Royal Enfield sells the INT650 and the Continental GT. I could see BSA selling the Bantam as an answer to the Classic 350 or perhaps the Meteor. The other two could go up to bat against RE’s larger bikes. The new BSA Gold Star starts at £6,500, which would put it in competition with RE’s best, too.
Perhaps the best news in all of this is that back in 2022 BSA said it’s bringing the Gold Star to America. The company said we would see the Gold Star sometime this year after it launches in Europe first. No further details have been announced at this time, but I will be watching. As I said, I’m currently in the market for something like this and both Royal Enfield and BSA have taken my heart. One of them will definitely get my money, too.
Hopefully, BSA will follow through on its word and brings the bikes to America. Mahindra already has a presence here with the Roxor side-by-side and its farming equipment, I could see it making inroads with motorcycles.
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I can’t wait to see what the Gold Star’s like when it hits our shores. And considering all the stuff that Royal Enfield and Triumph have, seeing BSA fire on all cylinders (forgive me) again would be delightful
The question is how good will the production bikes be, and how much of the pie is left after Royal Enfield’s two wheeled Morgan’s and the various modern retro bikes? I can’t see myself wanting one since I already ride a classic factory Cafe Racer.
The BSA brand actually survived past the 70s in India as a Bicycle manufacturer. The Bicycle company is still around today, although it now has very little to do with the historic and modern motorcycle companies it shares its name with. They’ve actually developed a bit of a cult following of their own with a couple of iconic models like the Ladybird Step-Through.
I used to have a purple BSA cycle when I was a kid. The greatest thing in the world to me. I got another red one later when I and my brother temporarily moved across the country to live with my Gran, and that was the first cycle I rode without training wheels on. When we moved back in with my parents we left the BSA at Gran’s house, and I’d use it every time we went to visit. It was a bit cursed though (probably because it was only used like 3 weeks a year). Found a beehive on it once. The brake assembly collapsed and fell off another time. We sent it for scrap a couple of years ago. Don’t know what happened to the old Purple one, but its probably gone too. Still feel a bit nostalgic for both.
I’m hopeful they make something cool with the BSA brand, but the Gold Star kinda feels like an also-ran with the RE 650s already out there. Maybe I’m underestimating how much weight the BSA brand carries.
There’s a lot to be said for reliable modern mechanicals and electric start. I have a few bikes that start on the button and it’s nice.
However, there’s a whole experience on an old bike that a proper gearhead has to experience, at least for a while in their life. I have a ’78 Bonneville, and even when it was built, it wasn’t exactly modern. It vibrates. It smells. It leaks a little. But every time I successfully kick it over after its nine-step start procedure, I feel like a god. She’ll talk to you, and she reminds you that the machines we build really are alive.
I do hope the rebirth goes well, because I love motor vehicle brand proliferation. Keep in mind however that while old BSAs aren’t exactly cheap, neither are modern bikes really. I think if you already have multiple bikes in your stable, at least one of them should be something old and slightly ornery. Choose your BSA wisely.
They are absolutely beautiful bikes, but dear god are they heavy for a lower powered single cylinder-470 lbs wet. That’s the same as a street twin, which is a twin making almost 50% more power, damn near as much as a rigid mount sportster, and 60-70 lbs more than a Ducati scrambler. I feel the weight puts it out of reach of both new riders looking for something easy to ride, and experienced riders looking for something slower but fun.
They’re old enough now that the DR650 and XR650l are going from ‘how the hell are they still making that’ back to being cool. A proper wild 90s color scheme on the DR (like the old purple and yellow) and round headlight, ‘The lost boys’ style XR would probably set off a radwood style nostalgia wave, especially as they are cheap enough people can actually afford them. I’d love to see proper, simple scramblers make a comeback. Off-road bikes with round headlights and a bit less travel, not street bikes dressed in high pipes
This is a trend I can get behind. Older looks, modern parts. Kind of a best of both worlds thing.
I’ve got a couple of 1910 era BSA air rifles. Beautiful and charming things. Lovely to shoot, but I worry about wearing them out or breaking something impossible to replace.
The bikes just look old to me, but my bike tastes are stuck in a 1990’s race-rep time warp.
“In my opinion,
there’s nothing in this world,
beats a ’52 Vincent,
and a red-headed girl.
Now Nortons, and Indians, and Greeveses won’t do;
they don’t have a soul
like a Vincent ’52.”
thumbs up for the Richard Thompson
I like the looks of these. Not quite a Norton 750 Interstate (my own personal dream bike), but quite cool none-the-less.
Speaking of classic motorcycles, here’s a quick PSA. If you like old bikes: British, Japanese, customs such as the Roadog, Honda, Harley, etc., head over to Anamosa, Iowa before September of this year – the sooner the better. There exists the National Motorcycle museum, and as someone who isn’t super into bikes, but likes anything with wheels and a motor, I only recently heard about this place. Went last weekend, and it is a superb destination. But, like I said, get there by September as that’s when it’s closing. A number of the bikes there are on loan and others are being put up for sale, so some of what’s there is already starting to disappear. It’s an amazing collection – see it while you can!
Feel like they missed the boat on this by like 10 years. Triumph has had Thailand-made Bonnevilles for as long as I’ve been riding bikes. There’s tons of them used.
They look like nice bikes. I’d have to see one in person before passing judgement, but… Thinking about it, depending on the displacement, I’m not sure how many Bantams they would sell in the U.S. but I expect a good looking 125 or 250 at a good price would be a big seller in other markets. If you want some real nostalgia though, check out a Ural. The Morgan of bikes. Like Morgan, sweet for what they are.
I love a Beeza! That Thunderbolt is just about perfect.
Had a chance to pick up a reasonably-priced Shooting Star last year and decided to pass. Wish I hadn’t. 🙁
“This is a great time to cash in on the booming 1960s nostalgia market” is not a wager I’d make in 2023, but I guess it’s easier than building a competitive modern bike.
I do think there is a market parallel to Royal Enfield it seems this kind of plan rather than the rebirth/rapid evolution of Triumph. I hope they have been watching those brands to realize production quality is paramount.
At least they’re not burdened by good old Joe Lucas.
As for me there is no appeal having experienced the original brand, well maybe if they came back with a modern 441 Victor. (-;