A year which a little company called BSA came to life. 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.
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.
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 pays this song with his band and often performs on the Isle of Man at the TT races.