The latest in the current crop of motorcycle topics from the renowned publishers Crowood covers BSA, once the world’s most successful motorcycle company. As before with other titles in the series they have used the sub-title, ‘The Complete Story’ which no publication of 176 pages is ever going to be! Ian Kerr reviews.
It is however, a very interesting read because the author, Greg Pullen, has based a lot of the book on inside information provided by people who were very much part of BSA when they were manufacturing more machines than any other in the world by the mid-1950s.
Pat Slinn — who perhaps is best known for his association with Ducatis — was an apprentice there and worked in the experimental shop, as his father had done before him. Stan Dibben, again best known as a world sidecar champion, worked at the factory, building Gold Stars from 1949 to 1952 and did some work as a tester and competition rider. Insights have also been gained from Moto Cross legend Jeff Smith who is of course intrinsically linked to BSA.
“Thanks to these people this is a book worthy of adding to the bookshelf…”
Thanks to these people this is a book worthy of adding to the bookshelf, which is actually quite bereft of books on the factory as whole, most focussing on various models, or genre like the twins and singles.
Over 13 chapters (plus an Appendix covering all the production models year by year) Pullen takes you through the firm’s impressive history, starting with firearms, bicycles and cars, which actually beat motorcycles into production thanks to Dudley Docker, father of the later infamous Sir Bernard who was to play a pivotal role in their demise.
As you work your way through the book — liberally spread with 170 colour illustrations — you begin to get a clear picture of the company with its various diverse products. Commercial vehicles, guns for Spitfires during WWII are all mentioned and covered in the well laid-out pages on quality paper.
Obviously, motorcycles occupy the majority of the text, including sporting success and the two Maudes Trophy wins are highlighted. But, thanks to the meticulous research and the personal memories, you also begin to get an idea where it all started to go wrong and how a huge company that won the Queen’s Award to Industry for exports in 1967 and 1968, collapsed into bankruptcy in 1973.
This is an epic story of rise and fall, even by the precarious standards of the British motorcycle industry. Pullen shows that despite investment, many of the problems related to things like empty showrooms, bodges resulting in unreliability to get machines into the dealers, coupled with questionable management amongst other things brought an end to the iconic brand.
As the book concludes, Pullen also looks to the future. Now, of course, BSA is owned by Indian tractor manufacturer Mahindra and there is talk (or should it be expectation?) that the highways and byways of the world may once again see the BSA logo on petrol tanks, and perhaps even sporting events may once again see factory machines on the podium!
Although set out as most books of its genre are these days to allow the reader to dip in and out, I found that, thanks to the diversity and research and anecdotal evidence, that this is book best read from start to finish to understand the complexities of the company.
It is certainly detailed enough to help you understand without getting too bogged down with various subjects and models, and, in many ways, leaves you to make your own mind up as to why the brand collapsed rather than just blaming the Japanese brands as many articles on the subject have done in the past. The insight from Gerald Davidson who was the boss of Honda in the UK is also very valuable in helping you decide what went wrong!
Maybe, just maybe, in this case the sub-title is reasonably accurate due to the diversity and open-mindedness the author has applied to the subject matter. Definitely one to be read by all those interested in motorcycle history as well as those with a passion for BSA, and well worth the £25.00 cover price.
ISBN: – 9781785007392
Available from all good bookshops or direct from the publishers Crowood at www.crowood.com
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