Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The BSA Super Flash Story

For one year only BSA made a super sports 650 pre-unit twin called the Super Flash.

It was conceived specifically for the US market and most of the 700 machines made went there. Little information was published about them in their short life and they are rarely mentioned in books about BSA history. Few have survived.


Why make a super sports twin? The Super Flash is the first example of a bike produced by BSA specifically for a particular market, in this case the USA. The requirements driving it's birth were simple - raw power.In early 1950's World War W II was five years distant, but many wartime restrictions remained.

In the monochrome austerity of continued rationing, fuel and housing shortages a motorcycle was for many people the only affordable means of transport. With manufacturing industry still picking it's way out of the ruins and crippled by US war debts, manufacturers were exhorted by their government to 'Export or die'. And the biggest market was the USA. Meanwhile in the US where the economy had largely recovered by 1946 and car ownership was widespread, motorcyles were for sports and leisure time. Consequently US buyers were more influenced by racing success than in the UK, and at that time this meant big Indian and Harley-Davidson(60 cubic inch V-twins.

By 1949, BSA had a US distributor and started making an impression on both leisure and sports riders. However, US AMA class 'C' restrictions meant that the OHV racing bikes bikes made by British manufacturers were limited to 500cc. Recognising the importance of the US market, BSA's chief designer Bert Hopwood went on a fact-finding mission in 1951 and met US dealers and riders. They made it very clear to him that if BSA wanted to increase it's sales presence it had to make bigger, faster bikes. On his return to the UK in 1951 the Super Flash was conceived.


What kind of bike? Bert Hopwood had certain constraints to work within. Since swinging arm frames and alloy heads were already in the planning stages a new model was out of the question. The bike would have to use as many existing parts as possible yet produce a bike that was much faster than the existing roadsters.
An impossible task? In fact BSA already had considerable experience. Veteran BSA competitor Fred Rist had been riding a tool room special 650 in sand races that could reach 140mph. A 650 ridden by Gene Thiessen had taken the AMA class 'B' record at 151mph at the Bonneville salt flats in October 1951. They had also been sending 500cc bikes to compete in the Daytona 200 that by 1953 could reach 130mph.

In the end there was no replacement for displacement so a 650cc or 40 cubic inch bike was made. The finished bike looked superficially like a plunger Gold Flash but with the obvious external differences kink in the seat post to accommodate the TT carb. Gold Star type chromed blade mudguards and stays were used. A 2.5 gallon tank Gold Star quick filler, chrome panels and metal tank badges was fitted with a unique 'Super Flash' decal on the tank top.
Inside however, the engine used many components that were not standard Gold Flash. In the press that accompanied it's launch these were described as 'special' though in reality their specification had probably been proven in the Rist, Thiessen and Daytona bikes.


The Super Flash had a brief life. First Super Flash is shipped in February 1953. In the same month American Motorcycling makes the bike 'Motor of the Month' with a 3 page review written by Roy Bradbury, general manager of the BSA's East coast distributor Rich Child Cycle co. This was reprinted later by BSA and used as a 4 page advertising brochure. In April 1953 the first bikes appear in US showrooms. In June 1953 BSA issues a list of parts to dealers as service bulletin no. 4F. In August 1953 the "You can buy 'em bigger" ad appear in US mags. The bike is priced at $975.00. In October 1953 a colour A3 foldout brochure is printed, probably in time for the Earls Court Motorcycle show in November. In November 1953 the Super Flash parts list appears as an appendix at the back of the 'A' models twin cylinder spares book. In the same month, the last Super Flash leaves BSA.

Initially, almost all Super Flashes were shipped to the US. But by the Autumn US shipments slowed down and machines began to be shipped to BSA dealers in Europe, Africa, Australia and the far east. Midway through 1953 BSA had already demonstrated a swing arm frame so most people knew it was on the way. Enthusiasts had also guessed that a new range of alloy head twins was being planned for 1954. With it's plunger frame and iron head the Super Flash would have seemed a dinosaur in comparison so potential buyers, unless desperate, would have waited for the new models. As US sales evaporated BSA tried harder to sell remaining Super Flashes any way they could.

Shipping records and anecdotes from owners suggests that the machine specification was changed either to use surplus parts or by customising to seal a deal. Things like changes in mudguard type, tank size, mudguard stays, handlebars and colours. The most significant change was to use a swing arm frame on some of the very last models shipped in late '53 and early '54. With this change and the appearance of the alloy head Road Rocket imminent, the game was pretty well up for the Super Flash. In a production life of about 1 year around 700 machines were built in all.

Why have so few survived? Of the 700 or so made, very few have survived. At a casual glance the Super Flash doesn't have much to distinguish it from any other old pre-unit BSA iron head twin. BSA pre-unit twins have never been considered glamorous and would have been treated accordingly when the mechanical 'end' came. Left for dead in garage corners, thrown in the river or a skip - many Super Flashes must have met the same fate. One of the reasons for appearing on this blog is to provide information that will help unearth bikes currently lying unidentified in workshop corners. It will also bring owners and information together to help get more bikes on the road.

If you wanted to create a classic motorcycling legend from scratch the sports specification, short production life and low survival rate could almost be used as a template. But the Super Flash isn't a legend because it is simply too obscure. It has managed to excuse itself from published BSA histories by being a US only model - most of the books are written in the UK, by UK historians about the bikes BSA made for the UK.

And the reason for its existence is much more mundane. Like the later Rocket Gold Star the Super Flash was a 'bitsa' put together using parts that were mostly already available in the product range or had been tried and tested in the competition shop.

It was a stop-gap machine made in sufficient numbers to qualify for US AMA class 'C' racing until Bert Hopwood's product rationalisation programme bore fruit with the swing-arm frame and A/B series gearbox in 1954. But what a stop-gap!

38 comments:

  1. 從未遭遇失敗的人,對自己或是別人,都是一知半解的。..............................

    ReplyDelete
  2. 以簡單的行為愉悅他人的心靈,勝過千人低頭禱告。........................................

    ReplyDelete
  3. 最偉大的天才如果終日躺在草地上,讓微風吹拂,眼望天空,那麼溫柔的 靈感也不會光顧他的。 ....................................................

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  4. 你的選擇就是做或不做,不做就永遠不會有機會.............................................

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  5. Does anyone know the colors? Were all of the gas tank silver and what about the forks and oli bag, tool box? Silver like the Ad? I am putting a Super Flash together and need to paint it. Marty

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  6. 如此動感的blog!!!.................................................................                           

    ReplyDelete
  7. 偶爾上來逛逛,下次不知是否還有緣再進來,先祝您平安順利!!!............................................................

    ReplyDelete