Birmingham Small Arms Company

Birmingham Small Arms Company

The Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) was a British manufacturer of vehicles, firearms, and military equipment, and still exists as an airgun sport manufacturer and distributor.

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.


BSA was founded in 1861 in the Gun Quarter, Birmingham, England by fourteen gunsmiths of the Birmingham Small Arms Trade Association, who had together supplied arms to the British government during the Crimean War. The company branched out as the gun trade declined; in the 1870s they manufactured the [ Otto Dicycle] , in the 1880s the company began to manufacture bicycles and in 1903 the company's first experimental motorcycle was constructed. Their first prototype automobile was produced in 1907 and the next year the company sold 150 automobiles. By 1909 they were offering a number of motorcycles for sale and in 1910 BSA purchased the British Daimler Company for its automobile engines.

World War One

During World War I, 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

In 1920, it bought some of the assets of the Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Airco), which had built many important aircraft during the war but had become bankrupt due to the falloff in orders once hostilities ceased. BSA did not go into aviation; the chief designer Geoffrey de Havilland of Airco founded the de Havilland company.

As well as the Daimler car range, BSA re-entered the car market under their own 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.

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 1931 the Lanchester Motor Company was acquired and production of their cars transferred to Daimler's Coventry works.

World War Two

By World War II, BSA had 67 factories and was well positioned to meet the demand for guns and ammunition. BSA operations were also dispersed to other companies under licence. During the war it produced over a million Lee-Enfield rifles, Sten sub machine guns and half a million Browning machine guns. Wartime demands included motorcycle production. BSA supplied 126,000 M20 motorcycles to the armed forces, from 1937 (and later until 1950) plus military bicycles including the folding paratrooper bicycle. At the same time, the Daimler concern was producing armoured cars.

Post war

Sir Bernard Docker was chairman of BSA until 1951 with James Leek CBE Managing Director from 1939, after which Jack Sangster became Managing Director.Post-war, BSA continued to expand the range of metal goods it produced. The BSA Group bought Triumph Motorcycles in 1951, making them the largest producer of motorcycles in the world. The cycle and motor cycle interests of Ariel, Sunbeam and New Hudson were also acquired. Most of these had belonged to Sangster.

In 1960 Daimler was sold off to Jaguar.

The BSA bicycle arm was sold off to Raleigh in 1957. Bicycles under the BSA name are currently manufactured and distributed within India by TI Cycles of India.

The production of guns bearing the BSA name continued beyond the 1957 sale of the bicycle division, but 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 are still based in Small Heath in Birmingham.


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, superbike engine capacity had risen to 1000 cc 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 some 2 million pounds.

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 to 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, and with government backing its motorcycle businesses were absorbed into the Manganese Bronze company, Norton-Villiers, which became Norton-Villiers-Triumph with the intention of producing and marketing Norton and Triumph motorcycles. The shareholders of BSA confirmed the deal. 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.

Out of the ashes of receivership, the NVT Motorcycles Ltd company which owned the rights to the BSA marque, was bought-out by the management and renamed the BSA Company.

The BSA bicycle arm had been sold to Raleigh in 1956 and the BSA Winged-B logo was still seen for a while on up-market bicycles.

Limited revival

The BSA company produced military motorcycles (with Rotax engines) and motorcycles for developing countries (with Yamaha engines) under the BSA name. In the later case the old "Bushman" name was recalled to duty - it had been previously used on high ground clearance Bantams sold for the likes of Australian sheep farmers.

In 1991, the BSA (motorcycle) Company merged with Andover Norton International Ltd., to form a new BSA Group, largely producing spare parts for existing motorcycles. In December 1994, BSA Group was taken over by a newly formed BSA Regal Group. The new company, based in Southampton, has a large spares business and has produced a number of limited-edition, retro-styled motorcycles.



Bicycle manufacture was what led BSA into motorcycles. The subsidiary business BSA Bicycles Ltd was sold to Raleigh Industries in 1957.


Infobox Defunct Company
company_name =BSA Motorcycles Ltd
fate = effectively bankrupt
successor = Norton-Villiers-Triumph
foundation = 1919
defunct = 1972
location =
industry = Motorcycle
key_people =
products =
num_employees =
parent = BSA
subsid =

The first wholly BSA motorcycles were built in 1910, before then engines had come from other manufacturers. BSA Motorcycles Ltd was set up as a subsidiary in 1919.

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 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 World War II, 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 amazingly 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. [ [ BSA: 50 years later ] ]

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."

Motorcycle models

Pre World War II

*G14 1000 cc V-twin
*Blue Star
*Empire Star
*Silver Star
*Gold Star
*M20:as the WD M20 the motorcycle of the British Army in WW2

Post World War II

*A series Twins (four-stroke, pushrod parallel twins)
***A7 Shooting Star
***A10 Golden Flash
***A10 Super Flash
***A10 Road Rocket
***A10 Super Rocket
***A10 Rocket Gold Star
***A50R Royal Star
***A50C Cyclone
***A50W Wasp
***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 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

*B series (Four-stroke single cylinder)
**C25 Barracuda
**B25 Starfire
**B25FS Fleetstar
**B25 SS Gold Star
**BSA B31 single
**B32 Gold Star
**B34 Gold Star
**B40 350 Star
**B40 SS90
**B44 Victor
***B44SS Shooting Star
***B44VS Victor Special
***B50SS Gold Star 500
***B50T Victor Trials
***B50MX Motocross

*C series (Four-stroke single-cylinder unit construction).


**C11/C11G: Convert|12|hp|kW|0|abbr=on - convert|70|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on - 85mpg - weight Auto lb|250|0.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.

**C15 Star
**C15T Trials
**C15S Scrambler
**C15SS80 Sports Star 80
**C15 Sportsman

*D series (Two-stroke single cylinder. See BSA Bantam for details)
**D1 Bantam
**D3 Bantam Major
**D5 Bantam Super
**D7 Bantam Super
**D10 Silver Bantam, Bantam Supreme, Bantam Sports, Bushman
**D14/4 Bantam Supreme, Bantam Sports, Bushman
**B175 Bantam Sports, Bushman

*Others (may include some export versions of models listed above)
**B31 Twin (350 cc). This information is not available easily. B31 frame was used with a Triumph 3T motor to produce this BSA B31 Twin. Very few units were produced, probably prototypes.
**BSA Barracuda
**BSA Beagle
**BSA Brigand - late 70s moto-cross style product by NVT with Yamaha 50 cc two stroke engine.
**BSA Dandy 70
**BSA Sunbeam "(Scooters, also produced as Triumph TS1, TW2 Tigress)"
**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)


Car timeline
*1907 to 1914 various forms with capacities ranging from 2.5 to 4.2 litre. The larger cars were based on the 1907 Peking-Paris Itala.
*1910 BSA purchased the Daimler Company who took over car manufacture.
*1911 BSA car with Daimler engine.
*1912 Car production transferred to Coventry, BSA cars became rebadged Daimlers.
*1914 War stopped car production
*1921 BSA car production resumed with rear-wheel-drive air-cooled V-twin light car.
*1929 First BSA three-wheeler
*1931 TW-5 van version of the three-wheeler
*1931 BSA acquired Lanchester.
*1932 T-9 open four seat four-wheeler with a water-cooled four cylinder 9 hp (6.7 kW) engine (1075 cc).
*1932 V-9 Van version also produced.
*1932 Another BSA Rear-wheel-drive fluid flywheel 10 hp (7.5 kW) car, sold alongside the T9.
*1932 FW32 Four wheeled version of the 3-wheeler produced for 1 year
*1933 T-9 and V-9 production ceased
*1933 Four-cylinder engine version of the three and four-wheeled car was added to the range.
*1935 First Scout Series 2/3
*1936 to 1937 Scout Series 4
*1936 Three wheeled cars dropped
*1937 to 1938 Scout Series 5
*1938 to 1939 Scout Series 6
*1940 WWII stopped production of BSA cars
*1960 Jaguar Cars Ltd. acquired The Daimler Co. Ltd. and its subsidiaries from the BSA group.

Military vehicles

*BSA Scout armoured car.

*"Type G Apparatus", Folding paratrooper bicycle, 32½ lb (15 kg) with parachute.

Military Firearms

* Besa machine gun
* Lee Enfield rifle
* Sten submachine gun
* L1A1 SLR

Civilian Firearms

* The 1906 war office patern rifle [ [ The War Office Pattern Miniature Rifle ] ]
* The Sportsman series of .22lr bolt action rifles
* Various Martini action target .22lr rifles [ [ BSA Small-bore Target Rifles and Equipment ] ]
* The Ralock and Armatic semi automatic .22lr rifles [ [ The BSA Ralock and Armatic semi-auto rifles ] ]
* Various bolt action hunting rifles mostly in .243 and .270 calibre

Air rifles

*BSA AirSporter Air Rifle
*BSA Buccaneer Air Rifle
*BSA Mercury Air Rifle
*BSA Meteor Air Rifle
*BSA Comet Air Rifle
*BSA Lightning Air Rifle
*BSA Lightning XL Air Rifle Carbine
*BSA Superstar Air Rifle
*BSA Goldstar Air Rifle
*BSA Hornet Air Rifle
*BSA Supersport Air Rifle
* BSA Ultra Air Rifle
*BSA Superten Air Rifle
*BSA Spitfire Air Rifle

Air pistols

*BSA Scorpion Air Pistol

ee also

*List of modern armament manufacturers
*Tribsa cafe racer using a Triumph engine in a BSA frame
*CCM (Clews Competition Motorcycles) - the remnants of BSA's off road arm
*List of BSA motorcycles


* [ BSA Rocket 3 and Triumph Trident]

External links

* [ BSA Portal]
* [ BSA Owners Club UK]
* [ BSA Owners Club of New England]
* [ BSA Owners Club of Northern California]
* [ Ohio Valley BSA Owners Club]
* [ BSA Owners Club of Southern California]
* [ Swedish BSA Owners Club]
* [ BSA Rocket 3 and Triumph Trident]
* [ BSA Gold Star Owners' Club]
* [ BSA B50 homepage]
* [ C10, C11, C12 MSN group]
* [ 1966 BSA Bantam D7]
* [ BSA Regal motorcycles]
* [ BSA guns site]
* [ BSA Air Rifle Owners Group - Updated]
* [ BSA Small-bore Target Rifles]
* [ Birmingham's Industrial History Website]

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