What kind of BSA motorcycle is this?
December 19, 2011 6:28 AM   Subscribe

What kind of BSA motorcycle is this, and should I buy it?

So I finally found a beautiful BSA bike here in Bamako, Mali. The owner claims it's a Thunderbolt from 1960. I doubt the year, but he could be right about the model. Can you tell from this photo?

Extra-credit: Do you have any experience with BSA Thunderbolts? I want to take it for long countryside drives, and don't mind doing maintenence work on it, but would prefer to not do that work on the side of the road in the 120 degree heat if possible.

He's asking roughly $6,000 for it, but I can't afford that. Will try to bring the price down as much as I can.

Thanks Internet Collective!
posted by leecohen to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Basic web searches will give the information that the Thunderbolt wasn't made until 1964. It will also give you an awful lot of pictures that will show you whether or not that bike is what it says it is.

From my quick look your one is missing a few bits and pieces and has a few additions (possibly legal? Such as side repeaters/front indicators).

There are many, many BSA clubs on the net to research before you buy, though.
posted by Brockles at 6:49 AM on December 19, 2011

Well, it's an old, unit-built, twin, right? So that narrows it down a lot. I'm thinking A50 with an aftermarket seat. It must be later than the A10 series of bikes with the separately-housed gearbox, but not very much later.

I don't have any experience with any of these bikes, but my dad, who's had a zillion motorcycles in his life, still talks about this Road Rocket he had. He loved that bike for some reason. And he's not of the ilk that goes soft-brained for postwar British motoring and its attendant heartbreaks. It must be partly that it's spec sheet has been thoroughly chewed over by the dogs of memory. He always talks about how "fast" it was. He currently rides one of those huge BMWs that I'm sure blows that Road Rocket away in any speed-related category. He's owned Ducatis and what have you. When I was a kid he had one of those late '70s Kawasaki 900 deathtraps (and on which, he almost died.) but if you start talking about motorcycles with him that BSA will come up and he still gets all thousand-yard-stare about it.
posted by jeb at 7:24 AM on December 19, 2011

$6,000 for that?!?!? $6,000 United States Dollars? There's an extra zero on that number. IMHO.
posted by Lone_Wolf at 10:28 AM on December 19, 2011

if you are close to the bike you can run the vin # that will give you the information that you need.

Lone_Wolf, if all is authentic after the restoration is complete, you can add a 1 to the front of that $6k price
posted by kanemano at 11:15 AM on December 19, 2011

I think I found it (new window)
posted by kanemano at 11:26 AM on December 19, 2011

Old British bikes, BSAs in particular, are very high maintenance. You will break down on the side of the road, it'll just be a matter of when. If you're lucky, you might be able to fix it there but I wouldn't bet on it. They're hard to find parts for. I'd only recommend this bike for short rides or getting around a city. I love old motorcycles but they are a fucking pain in the ass sometimes.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 12:04 PM on December 19, 2011

I'm gonna agree with jeb, it kind of looks like an A50 with a lot of farkles and bits off other bikes. Don't take my word for it, get a frame and engine number to see for sure.

That feels like a HUGE price for a BSA of that, err, quality. For that coin you can get a much nicer bike, but it may not be near you. Looking at it, you're going to have to do a lot of work on that bike, for starters, you need to tear it down and check the sump and oil system, because those go quickly if the bike isn't ridden and you will end up with a grenaded engine if you don't clean and fix it NOW. Not to mention, the missing bits and rust removal and prevention. BSA's are fun, and will do well on or off road, but if you don't like working on them, you don't want one.

Here's some excellent reading material of what's invovled: http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=431187 if you're serious.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:21 PM on December 19, 2011

does it start? seconding mary and mr fish man, that is a high price and resto work, even just getting shit to running, is always a magical time-sucking adventure.
posted by beefetish at 2:54 PM on December 19, 2011

For that price I'll sell you my 2006 Harley 883, and probably even include shipping. It is shiny, runs like a top and is pure, stock..

Saying that because, yep, that price is WAY too high if that's US $$'s you're talking about. An engine that old is going to need a lot of time, care, and parts.... If you're getting it as a hobby to sink money into, go for it.. to ride, nope...
posted by tomswift at 3:41 PM on December 19, 2011

Seconding tomswift.
posted by Lone_Wolf at 3:49 PM on December 19, 2011

I have a 1950s A10 which I spent $1000 for a decade ago and sank $10,000 into restoring. It's dead reliable now, contrary to what Mary suggests, but that's a function of the $10,000 and care I put into it. The bike in your photo is a $600 bike, if that.

When contemplating a restoration like this, my thoughts are:

1) The initial purchase cost is going to be a relatively minor part of the end price (unless you way overpay, like the bike you have in the photo)

2) The total restoration cost of a "desirable" model and a "porridge" model are going to be roughly the same

3) It then makes sense to restore a "desirable" model and not a "porridge" model unless you have an emotional connection to the lesser variety

And most importantly

4) It always, always costs less to buy someone's restored bike than to restore one yourself. Now, it can be a pain to ascertain they did a good job, but unless you find restoring bikes fun (I do!) you'd be money way ahead to buy a restored version.

For $6,000, you should be able to buy a very nice "unit" A50 which is completely correct and reliable. For $10,000 you could get a very nice A65 or A10. For $10,000 I'd consider selling mine.

If you're going to buy a vintage BSA, two things: one, do your research so you can tell from a few photos whether a bike is correct and what it is, and two, be ready to buy it long-distance. The local pool is way too narrow and when a junker is finally wheeled out at a high price you feel like it's the last one on earth, and it's not.
posted by maxwelton at 4:50 PM on December 19, 2011

It's an early A65. The missing side cover gives a clue since the battery box has to holes for the outie screws that are used to hold the side cover in place and the tank badge would be a tear drop with sunburst if it were an A10. The best way to find out what it is is to get the engine number off the bike since BSA serial numbers start with the model designation eg: the 650 Lightening would be numbered A65L, a Thunderbolt would be A65T, the Royal Star is A50R etc. Up to and including 1966 BSA frame and engine numbers did not match and you'll have to go back to the original records to determine what model it really is. The engine number will be at the base of the barrel and the frame number will either be at the front curve of the engine frame member, or up near the steering head on a little plaque.

The things I'm noticing; the coils are in the wrong position, the indicator lights in the headlight shell are missing and there's the added turn signals all of which make me wonder what modifications were made to the wiring harness. It's missing the Smiths chronometric speedo which could wind up being costly to replace (fully restored it could set you back as much as $750). The seat isn't correct ... etc etc. Really, what you have here is a barnyard find that needs to be gone over from headlight shell to the brake light and replace anything that needs replacing along with giving the engine an overhaul which could mean anything from just some new gaskets to a rebore with new pistons and rings. It's impossible to say from a photo.

I agree with everything (almost!) maxwelton said, I could send you a link to a BSA A65L that is for sale; asking price is only $500 more and fully restored, ready to ride, disagree with him on avoiding the porridge though BSA made some really pretty grey porridge.
posted by squeak at 8:41 AM on December 20, 2011

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