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!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Roland Pike Autobiography - Chapter 30

Summary of development work

Rather than trying to visually compare inlet ports, we found it best to compare by measuring capacity with valve fitted in cc's using a burette, several engines that were down for power were found to be smaller capacity; 136cc instead of 148cc on an A7 twin, a B34 GS port 117cc extension 128 total induction 245cc.

All bench tests were carried out in uniform manner starting at lowest practical RPM and going up in increments of 250 RPM with no pause. Flash readings were never reported. We did try running power curves in reverse order starting at maximum revs and coming down but decided this gave false high readings.

Sandilands discovered almost by accident that a venturi shape after the carburettor can be 85% of the area of the carburettor body area with no loss of power, in fact it gave a small increase. We did most of our power curves with a flow meter hooked up between fuel tank and carburettor, this gives a valuable check on efficiency and also on correct carburettor settings.

When using two into one exhaust system it is desirable to have each pipe from the cylinder head to the junction of equal length if not carburation may be drastically affected at some point in the range. The way to avoid this problem is to ensure that each pipe has the same length to area ratio, in other words the longer piece will be larger diameter. In our experiments with the short stroke 500cc A7 twin we also found the angle of the two pipes at their intersection was important. I was at MIRA once waiting to use the timing strip whilst a group of Royal Enfield people tried to get the carburation right on one of the 700cc twins fitted with a two into one exhaust system, I noticed they were using the same diameter exhaust pipes of different lengths before the junction. Strangely enough this same rule holds good for induction pipes as found by Guzzi on their later single cylinder racers.

The A7 and A10 connecting rod bolts were originally BSF threads, we changed this to 26 threads per inch cycle threads as we thought larger area at the root of the thread would make a stronger bolt, we had to reduce torque when tightening the big end nuts proportionally, unfortunately someone in the drawing office forgot to tell the engine assembly and several bolts were broken before the error was discovered. Even more strange was the fact the broken bolts only happened to one of the several mechanics assembling the crank assemblies. I was asked to investigate, so sent Arthur Butler up to the engine assembly to watch how they did this torquing up. He returned a little later laughing with a small tobacco tin in his hand, It had plumbers tallow in it, apparently only one mechanic was putting tallow on the threads before tightening, with the results that nuts tightened appreciably more before the torque wrench recorded the correct torque figures. We accordingly tested some bolts with various lubricants on the thread and decided that important bolts such as connecting rod bolts should be assembled clean.

Oil Pumps.The BSA gear type pump is very simple and reliable, at one time we did some tests by simply running a pump on a drill press in a can of oil and measuring the temperature of the oil, we were surprised at how quickly the temperature rose especially as there was not resistance to the flow. On examination of the pump we decided that some oil was being compressed between the two gears, accordingly a small bypass was cut in the cover plate allowing oil to feed back to the inlet side of the pump. Further testing showed practically no heat build up in the oil. Some tests were carried out on A7 (using various viscosity oils, starting with 50 wt and coming down to 40 wt to 30 wt, 20 wt SAE 10 and finally 5 wt. We discovered that normal oil pressure was maintained on the SAE 10 50 wt, 40 wt and 30 wt. At SAE 20 viscosity pressure tended to drop particularly when hot. The engine was stripped at this point to see if the low pressure caused any bearing problems, everything looked pretty good. At SAE 10 wt pressure seemed very low in fact when hot was nil a further examination of the bearings and pistons showed no sign of trouble but the cam followers did not look too happy, starting to score.

A final run was made with SAE 5 wt pressure almost nil when cold, showed nil when hot especially when engine was revved up, finally the timing side main bearing failed. On stripping the engine we found the white metal had melted and run, but no trace of it in the oil or crankcase, when the sealing plugs were removed from the crankshaft the white metal, was found to be inside the oil passages of the crankshaft, the connecting rod bearings appeared to be in good condition. Apparently the light 5 wt oil was thrown outwards to the big end bearings by centrifugal force enough to lubricate the big end bearings adequately but in such quantity that it robbed oil from the main bearings faster than the oil pump could replace it.

One interesting test was when we set up a A10 engine and gearbox unit on the test bed driving the dyno by a short chain, the object was to try and measure the power loss in the gearbox in each gear. We could not measure the power in 1st gear as the dyno was turning too slowly to absorb the considerable torque due to the low gear ratio. As we expected the most efficient gear was 4th, the direct gear.

Surprisingly, 2nd gear was more efficient than 3rd gear due presumably to the fact that 2nd gear wheels were better supported than 3rd. The final part of the test was when we removed the gearbox and clutch and tried to run a fairly long chain from the engine to the dyno direct to see what difference was with gearbox out of action. To our surprise it could not be done, this rather long chain just whipped and banged and would not transmit power. We had to move the engine back on the block and used a short chain. Incidentally the power loss in 3rd gear was about 10% with about 8% loss in 2nd gear as compared with 4th gear with only 2%. One of the lesser known advantages of the eccentric rocker spindles is the ability to adjust the valves whilst the engine is running.

I suggested this to Reg Wilkes one day, however, he did not seem very keen to stand astride a high revving engine with a wrench in either hand so I appointed myself as the rocker manipulator. We started off on the 500 Gold Star race engine at about 5000 rpm with me firmly astride and adjusted each rocker until the maximum power reading was obtained. The engine was then blown cool with the fan and clearance checked, the inlet figure was something like .009" and exhaust a little more. Then the engine was run at 6000rpm and again rockers adjusted for maximum power and cooled down to room temperature and clearances checked, this time the inlet was .006" and exhaust .008".

Next a reading was taken at 6500 rpm and again clearances checked when cool. Now the inlet clearance was down to about .003" and exhaust .006", subsequent checks were made at 7000 rpm and 7500, with some pointed remarks made about what happened to me if the engine shuld blow up while I am astride it. The results at 7000 rpm were clearances Inlet .001" Exhaust .004" at 7500 rpm inlet nil, exhaust clearances .003". These were not exact figures (my memory is not that good) but the general trend was there at the higher revolutions the rockers and push rods were bending and whipping slightly.

Prior to these tests we had always set valve clearances with a cold engine, with inlet push rod just free to rotate and .003" clearance on the exhaust. The normal practice with regard to rocker angle in relation to valve stem has been to arrange for the rocker to be at right angles to the valve stem at half lift, the object being to minimise side thrust and cut down on valve guide wear. In the course of experiments with both the C12 and the A7 engine better running at high revolutions could be obtained when the rocker was at right angles to the valve stem at about l/32"to 1/16" lift. It was thought that this arrangement aligned the valve seat with the valve seat in the head just as the valve was closing, whereas with the common setting at half lift, the rocker side thrust will tip the valve slightly in the guide when seating and will have to realign itself as it seats. At very high revolutions there is not enough time for this and some efficiency will be lost. On the C12 this was visible even by turning the engine by hand, by inserting some packing between the rocker mounts and the head we were able to see the improved action. It is quite possible that most overhead valve engines using rockers could benefit from this rearrangement of rocker angles.

One unexpected results when trying a much larger and stiffer crankpin with plain bearing was considerable difficulty in lining up the flywheel assembly, presumably the wider shoulders made the assembly more rigid. Engine gaskets between rocker box and cylinder head usually made of paper were replaced with metal corrugated gaskets, these could be used over and over again and sealed better.

During the five years I was at BSA doing engine development I was fortunate in attracting some very bright and enthusiastic mechanics and apprentices, they all contributed to the progress we made with development of the BSA range. There was tendency to specialise but most could handle anything that came in the shop. Jimmy Gibbard did most of the odd machinery jobs, Jack Turner did the intricate inlet port arrangements and exploited the extra down draft angles and straight ports. Reg Wilkes, Bert Hole, Arthur Butler, Arthur Bridgewood, Bill Bently and Alan Sandilands could handle any aspect of engine building , the apprentices who spent more than average time with us were Gordon Smith, Robert Trigg, Ray Beech, David Harris and John Taft. Albert Dyde, ??? Harrison Ward and Hill came into the shop later. We also had some colonials like Barry Stormont and Cohn Mather during the winter months. I learned a great deal and was able to try out many ideas that I could never have done in the ordinary way, for this I am grateful to Mr Hopwood and BSA for this opportunity.

One of the chief abilities necessary in this type of work is to be able to 'sell' ideas to the Management, something I was not very good at. Thanks to BSA sending me to the USA on business trips I decided to emigrate and have had an interesting life in USA becoming a citizen in 1982, finally having my own business and a and a decent workshop including a dynomometer. I have not lost interest in motorcycles and at 75 own a 250cc Kawasaki 'Ninja', a remarkable little machine with a performance in road trim better than my old racers. We still enjoy trips to Road Atlanta to watch the motor cycle road each year.

Roland Pike Autobiography - Chapter 29

A continental tour on A10 combination

As a result of our trip to Monthlery in May of 1953 to test the various models, I was keen to spend a holiday in France to show my wife the city of Paris and the other places I had seen and was also very keen to visit Carcassone the famous walled city in the Pyrenees.

We left our small daughter with her grandparents who lived near Folkstone and took the ferry from Dover to Boulogne using our BSA A10 sidecar outfit as transportation. We reached Paris after a rough crossing of the channel in time to garage the combination and go for a sight seeing walk. We took in the Eiffel tower and the ornamental gardens then had a typical French meal in a nearby restaurant. We stayed the night at the Hotel Vermont where Charlie Salt and I had stayed whilst at Monthlery. Next day we left Paris for Orleans and the Loire valley seeing many of the lovely Chateaux, we particularly enjoyed the Chateaux at Blois which served as the inspiration for Biltmore House near Ashville, North Carolina. We finished up that day in a little market town and stayed in a small country inn. Ruth and I had hardly a dozen words of French between us but fortunately some other English tourists arrived and spoke fluently. The inn was quite comfortable and we enjoyed an excellent dinner with wine in the evening. I remember reeling away from the table and going for a walk round the town and discovered a rope walk along a stretch of grass beside a wall with windlasses at each end, it appeared to be still in use.

Next day we drove across the Landes, flat and sandy and thick with pine forests, there was evidence of various forest fires which does afflict that area. The road was narrow straight and flat and rather bumpy, as we approached Bordeaux we passed miles and miles of vineyards and many of the villages we passed bore the names of famous red wines. Going through the city I noticed we were being followed by two policemen on what appeared to be BMWs but in fact were Gnome et Rhones built under licence from BMW They followed us right through the town, perhaps waiting for me to exceed the speed limit or some traffic infraction, but they did not sto top us thankfully. The next town of any size was Biarritz, a famous gambling centre in Edwardian days, the road runs close to the sea all the way from there to the Spanish border.

We decided to stop near there at a little town called Jean de Luc, tile hotel appeared to be full up, it is a resort town but the proprietress who spoke excellent English said she could put us up in the annexe. This turned at to be a cottage owned by an employee and nothing seemed to work in it. Plumbing was a very smelly affair. We ate in the hotel proper and excellent food it was. The waitress detailed to attend to us spoke no English but we managed to order a meal and of course wine and as it turned out although we were not sure what we were eating at times it was all delicious. Next morning after a restless night we were glad to make an early start, we had come to the conclusion French breakfasts were a waste of time as it consisted of just croissants & coffee. We had already got into the habit of combining breakfast and lunch and buying food from local shops, which was much more filling and satisfactory. At one stop for petrol the old lady attendant asked if we would like a glass of wine, it was very hot driving, we agreed and she poured us almost a tumbler apiece of a sweet white wine that she had in a large chilled bottle, it was delicious and more thirst quenching that we thought it would be. We could not cross into Spain on this trip as we did not have the necessary visas. The road came right up alongside the border in places, there were no customs posts at all these border points and there were signs requesting you to report to the nearest Custom post within 24 hours.
That night we got as far as Oloro and stayed in one of the nicer hotels of the trip. The owner had travelled all over the world, there was a grand display of trophies in the main hallway. The daughter spoke excellent English and they looked after us very well. On the way that day we had passed through a town called Mauleon whose main industry was making string soled shoes called espadrilles. I remembered my father had brought us some when he came back from a trip in 1921, you could not wear the darn things out. We had an amusing highlight going along on the outfit, as it being rather a hot day I had discarded some of the heavy outer motor cycling clothes, Ruth was reclining behind the sidecar windscreen, when three French damsels on bicycles started waving to me, but as they drew abreast they spotted my wife and they were covered with confusion when they spotted her. Next day we went to Lourdes, where faith healing miracles are said to occur but it was kind of honky-tonk with all manner of picture postcard stands catering to the tourists.

We were glad to get away from there and climbed and climbed up the valley Catercaux where the famous waterfalls are, we finally came out in the clouds, it was misty and we were unable to take any pictures so fell back on buying postcards from a vender. There were wonderful fields full of wild flowers. The head of the valley was at about 7000 feet but unfortunately it did not go any further and we had to retrace our route down again. Next on our itinerary was the ??? of Foix with an old castle to which we had to pay admission, they charged us twice the amount that was quoted in a one year old guide book! We left there the next morning and travelled through a small town called Montreal where I photographed a man driving some huge oxen. From there we went on to Carcassone, this was the high spot of our tour, after parking the outfit outside the main gate we spent several hours walking around the battlements and exploring the ancient city it has been beautifully restored to its ancient style with narrow streets with shops and a hotel and church, the whole place is on a hill and from the battlements one has a fine view of the countryside and the old town down in the valley. Reluctantly we left the old city and crossed the last ridges of the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean coast near Perpignan. At one little resort near the Spanish border we parked the bike and looked over the rocky cliff edge and for my pleasure was a girl who was brown all over, I guess she thought it was safe to sun bathe in the nude thinking she could not be seen.

We retraced our way towards the east aiming to go along the coast and up the Rhone valley and got as far as the old Roman town of Montpelier. After dinner we went for a walk round the town which seemed to be a rather nice place with decent shops in fact quite a pleasant city. Next day we passed through another Roman town, Nimes. Here there is the remains of an amphitheatre similar to the one in Rome, slightly smaller. On leaving the town we passed an aqueduct built in Roman times, it was over 100 feet high in places and in remarkably good condition. Rather than go into the Carn??? we drove across the salt flats where they were scraping up, salt from evaporating sea water. We then turned inland and took a short cut to Avignon of bridge fame where we joined N5 a main road and rather boring until we came to Montellimar which exuded a delightful smell of nougat its main industry, there were shops along the road selling it in various flavours. Wanting to avoid going through Lyons with its heavy traffic we took a detour and came out north of the city and on to ??A10ns for the night to stay at a hotel aptly named Hotel du Commerce, it seemed to have trucks and trains passing by all night. Next day we passed Vermenton famous for its potteries and fine chinaware stopping in a new hotel in Joigny. From here it was not far to Paris which we passed quickly through in the afternoon, the traffic as usual was moving fast and we had to drive quite hard to keep up, we took the road north through Beauvais, here on the weather deteriorated and we had our first rain of the trip, we stayed at a typical tourist hotel with much coming and going. The next day was a very soggy ride to Boulogne and Calais where we caught the afternoon ferry to Dover. It was still light when we disembarked at Dover being summer time but at quite a late hour. The Customs officer was quite intrigued as we had so little to declare, he must have thought we were smuggling as he made a thorough search of all our baggage and the bike, but our main was soiled clothing.

We collected our daughter next day and returned to ???. I had totalled 2300 miles in the ten days, the outfit was still running well except for a slight bearing rumble and a tendency to transfer oil from the chain case to the engine. We had had to stop several times on the trip to refill the chain case. It was easy to tell when the oil was low in the chain case as the whole machine felt rough. I am sure if I had not kept filling the case the chain would have overheated and broken. I reported this to Mr Hopwood who suggested stripping the engine and trying to find out the reason for the transfer of oil, as he had had complaints of this nature from the US.

The bearing rumble turned out to be the timing side main bearing white metal flaking away. This was a common problem. This time it inspired me to investigate the whole bearing problem, trying out needle bearings, bushes and improved white metal bearings. After re-assembly we set the outfit up with manometers connected to the rocker box and the chain case filler cap and the timing case. These water manometers were quite simply two glass tubes connected at the bottom by a rubber hose and partially filled with water, one tube was left open to the atmosphere at the Back to top whilst the other end was hooked up to the chain case or crankcase etc. The difference in pressure pushes the water up on one side and down the other. The height of one side above or below the other pressure in inches of water, for bigger pressure differences mercury would be used instead of water, flue to the mechanical breather valve the pressure in the crankcase at touring speed is about 4"- 7gi of water below, atmosphere, the crankshaft seal was the single lip variety designed to keep oil from passing OUT of the crankcase. So of course it did nothing to prevent chain case oil being pushed into the engine by atmospheric pressure, a change to a double lipped seal cured the problem.

Roland Pike Autobiogarphy - Chapter 28

My trips to the USA

The BSA representatives in the USA, Alf Childs in the east and Hap Alzina on the west coast both realised the importance of racing for sales success in this market, and both were in favour of factory co-operation in these endeavours. In 1952 Alf Childs was in England for the Motor Cycle Show and while at the factory told the Board of Directors that he wanted someone to come over for several weeks and run a service school. Someone who can talk to the Dealers in their own language and who had some personality. I understand there was some talk of sending Fred Rist, he had been over before and had gone down very well, but he was not a technical man. Mr Hopwood suggested that perhaps they would like to meet Pike, he had been a motor cycle racer, has had experience and would be interesting to the Dealers and racers.

The first I heard of this suggestion was when I received a telephone summons to Mr Leake’s office, my first thought was to wonder what I had done wrong. After a quick tidy up I went up to the office and was escorted by Mr Leake’s secretary to the boardroom where the Directors, Mr Hopwood and Alf Child were waiting. They introduced me to Mr Child who sized me up and said I looked a dignified young man and how would I like to go to the States and run a service school? I looked across to Mr Hopwood and asked if he thought I knew enough about the rest of the bikes, and he said he would arrange it for me to obtain the necessary knowledge if I thought I could run a school. It was all laid on very quickly, the Motor Cycle show was in October and I was wanted in the States by November. It meant I had to get an American visa, smallpox vaccination and renew my passport and book my passage by boat. Passage was booked on the 14,000 ton cargo boat ???Media which had accommodation for 100 or so passengers, first class only. My wife and daughter accompanied me to Liverpool, we were taken in style in a company car driven by Mr Leake’s chauffeur. The ship left from the Prince of Wales landing stage the same as for the IOM packets. The ship moved out into mid channel and then just sat at anchor and on enquiry a crewman said they were waiting for flood tide. The boat drew a lot of water when loaded. I do not know what else it was loaded with but I do know it contained 14 BSA bikes that were being sent along for the service seminars. They were all painted in non-standard colours to get the Dealers reactions, this was due to a request by Alf Child, they were in chocolate, green, red, silver, you name it. As it turned out the Dealers preferred the standard colours.

The next morning when I came up on deck somebody said we were about to pass the south coast of Ireland, with my binoculars I was unable to see anything as it was rolling so much and in fact I felt quite queasy and also cold, so I went below. I had never been on a boat as big before, the cross channel boats and those that cross to the I0M were all under 3000 tons, even the boats to Belfast were around 4000 only. So the Media seemed quite big. It was fitted with Denny Brown stabilisers which cut down the rolling but not the pitching at times it would rise and fall over 20 feet, like riding a roller coaster. I had a short bout of 'mal de mer' but soon recovered and enjoyed the rest of the trip. A good many passengers spent the whole crossing below. Actually it was not a big liner and there was not much room, a small library, large lounge, a smoking room and bar and a dining room. There was a walk way round the Back to top deck, glass enclosed that if you marched around seven or eight times made up a mile. There were several friendly passengers which helped pass the time swapping yarns. Every evening at about 6 pm various ships officers invited odd passengers to their cabins for cocktails. I went to the Captains quarters one evening and also to the chief engineers cabin another time. At one of these functions I met Chris Morley the author and had a most interesting chat. Many of the American passengers tried to impress upon me how expensive I was going to find things in New York and I began to wonder if the seven pounds a day allowance I had would be enough.

Due to the rather rough crossing the boat was slowed and the trip took eight days instead of the usual six or seven scheduled. We finally arrived in New York harbour on a Sunday morning. I had never seen so many cars and traffic on the beltway. As we only had about 100 or so passengers the immigration check was soon carried out, not like on the 'Queens' where you had to stand in line for ages. The customs was a different matter, I had some films with me for use in the school, I had borrowed them from Castrol and Shell such as Geoff Dukes' 1950 TT and some Scrambler footage. Customs were quite awkward about them, wanting to keep them to check if they were pornographic. Fortunately I was met at the pier by Roy Bradley and Geoff Floyston from BSA and Malcolm ???2~lue of Castrol. Malcolm had lived for years in the States, he had come over originally to play soccer after WW1, he had a great personality and soon persuaded Customs that they were harmless.

When we went ashore Roy said they were going to show me a bit of New York, Malcolm however fancied a drink but the bars were not open so we went in a little coffee shop across from the pier, my first experience of a 'diner'., The place was full of longshoremen and sailors from the Cunard and White Star liners that were tied up there. In those days most everyone came to the States by boat and the docks were always busy, now its like a ghost town except for the odd Cruise ships. I still felt as though I was going up and down, after you get your sea legs it takes some time to get steady again. The lads were all for taking a cab but I felt I would rather take a walk as I had little exercise whilst aboard. So we walked up about 8th Avenue where they found a bar open, I settled for a beer not being a drinking man, they others fancied something more lethal. After Malcolm left us we took a subway to Times Square and we went to Jack Dempsey's restaurant for lunch and I enjoyed my first meal American style. There was an English movie then playing on Broadway called "Sound Barrier" so we went to watch this, later we collected my luggage from a locker in the bus terminal and ??? into our car.

After driving through the Lincoln Tunnel we passed through towns with to me strange names like Hackensack and Passaic finally reaching Nutley, NJ where I booked into a motel for one night with the arrangement that Roy would pick me up in the morning and have breakfast together. The motel was steam heated, and I having always been used to cold bedrooms opened up the windows as I felt I could not stand the stuffy atmosphere, however by morning it was cold enough for me to regret being so rash. After breakfast Roy took me to Rich Child Cycle Co and I was introduced to a bewildering crowd of characters, most of whose names I forgot almost immediately.

The schedule arranged for me was to, start a school that same morning which did not leave me much time to prepare, none of the bikes or literature had arrived but I did have the two films. It was my first introduction to American motorcyclists who appeared to me to be in some type of uniform, leather jackets and peaked hats not unlike Nazi Storm troopers and some had Harley Davidson emblems on. They appeared to be a tough looking crowd but in actual fact were a friendly bunch. We soon settled in-to the Service Department which Bill Carlton the Rich Child mechanic had turned into a class room for the week with blackboard, easel and chairs. Showing one of the films gave the fellows a chance to relax as most had been travelling over the weekend to attend the school. One had ridden his Star twin all the way from El Paso in Texas 2,500 miles, and he was not a youngster either, it had taken him nearly a week. In talking to these Dealers during the lunch break and in the evenings when we went out to eat I discovered that most of them were working as dealers part time, one of them ran a radio and electrical shop, motor cycles were a side line. Another worked in a factory all day whilst his wife ran the bike shop and he sold and serviced bikes in the evening. If he sold a couple of bikes a month he was happy. There was one who ran a full time shop in New Jersey and another in Washington, Long Island , but these were the exception. Most worked only part time in the cycle business which may be why BSA did not sell as many bikes as Honda did later on, as Honda built up a proper dealership network.

Shortly we had our materials unpacked and talked about the new models and what was coming along for 1953. They were interested in what I did at BSA and how the factory was organised, we showed the films of Scramblers and of the Ulster Grand Prix in the wet in 1948. They could not understand how the bike could do 100-120mph in the pouring rain and not slide off the road. They were also interested in my own racing experiences.

The actual Service part of the course was a bit haphazard, some would bring up a problem, we would discuss what we knew of it and a possible cure, to me it did not seem they we were accomplishing very much, but they went away at the end of the week apparently quite satisfied. On the Friday we went into some details of the Ariels, which I knew only a little about but Bill Carlton and one of the roadmen were able to cope quite adequately. Alf Child, Roy Bradbury and myself sat down on the Saturday and held a review of the first week, Alf wanted more emphasis on sales, so Roy had to lay on a bit of high pressure stuff and he suggested I talk more about the Star twin, so I prepared for that. The second week with a fresh group of Dealers went off better. Roy warned me that the third week was likely to be the toughest as the Dealers expected were practical men and likely to be argumentative. He kindly pointed out the most likely trouble shooters, one in particular was Herb Suddeth but as it turned out he was the most helpful co-operative pupil of the whole three weeks and I got along with him extremely well. Another pupil Sam Avelino who came from New England told me he had worked in the ship yards during WW2 repairing a number of British boats and he hoped I was not going back on any he had worked on because they were bound to have engine trouble. On hearing I was returning to GB on the Brittanic he was shocked and said it was a terrible boat and always breaking down, at that time I thought he was all bull, he said it had two big diesels that went wrong every trip. Sure enough on the journey home I noticed ,early one morning the thump thump thump of the engines was absent and on enquiry, I happened to be having breakfast at the Chief Engineers table, he said the inevitable engine breakdown had taken place with the old engines.

Fortunately they had a complete workshop down below and were used to having to' fix the engines, they were working on the one that had broken down, they had stopped both diesels as it was easier to work on them. Due to my interest he arranged for me to have a tour of the engine room and a young engineer was my guide, after donning a set of white coveralls, the two of us squeezed into a tiny lift and shot down into the bowels of the ship. It was pretty crummy compared to the spotless oil fuel steam turbines on the Media which I had visited on my trip over, to the US There were two big diesels twenty cylinders ten in a row but double acting like a steam engine, they were made in Ireland by Harland and Wolf. One of their problems was breaking valve springs, they used to stop the engine and change them, these engines ran on absolute crude oil, black globby dirty stuff which was fed through a De Lavel centrifugal separator just like those used in a dairy! Each cylinder had its own injector operated by the camshaft, to run the ship backwards they did not change gear but stopped the engine and reversed it. In order to reverse its operating rotation, this being a four stroke engine, they slid the camshafts along to an alternative position, so that a different set of cams came into play. In the meantime all the cam followers were held up by a sort of rack. The engine was then restarted in the reverse direction with compressed air, this accounted why this type of boat is not easily manoeuvred as a steam powered one.

The Brittanic had twin screws and was very broad beamed and weighed about 32,000 tons. Despite the breakdown I thought it very comfortable trip even though it was rough the passengers barely noticed any discomfort. The last week of the four I spent in the USA there was no school and we spent some time sorting out Rich Childs service problems. One day I took a day off and Bill Carlton and I went off to see Triumphs at Towson near Baltimore, Maryland.. The Service Manager at that time was Rod Coates, a great competition rider, Rod had won the 100 mile Amateur race at Daytona Beach in 1950 on a Triumph Grand Prix model. He showed me a special racer with all the wangles and fiddles he had conjured up to make it eligible for AMA class C racing. Later when be became an AMA scrutineer I am told he was not nearly as lenient as be had found the officials in his day as a racer. We very much admired the set up, of Triumphs at Towson which had been custom designed and built specifically as a motor cycle distributorship. BSA was running what was originally a car dealers premises in Nutley, however it was adequate for all that, it had a good parts department and a large showroom, although what good a showroom in Nutley I could not fathom. Whilst at Towson I met Dennis McCormack who managed the Triumph distributorship for years. Alf Child did not like us going down to see the Triumph outfit but as BSA had bought up Triumphs he could not really complain, he always regarded them as the opposition instead of a sister company.

During my stay in Nutley I was fortunate after a false start to find accommodation with Bill Carlton at a very pleasant house, the landlady Mrs Weidlich was a very pleasant widow around 70. I enjoyed staying with her and went back again on my second visit to the States in 1953. It was about seven or eight miles from Nutley but I was able to ride in with Bill Carlton each day.

On my return to the factory I had to give a report of my trip for the management and it was read out at a meeting and met with their approval, so much so that I was asked if I would be willing to go again in 1953 to Daytona. I knew many of the US dealers had asked if I could come for Daytona as they thought I would learn a great deal more of their requirements for short track events. Evidently Alf Child had approached Mr Leake with their request. The results were that in February 1953 I was aboard the Queen Elizabeth heading for the States. This time I sailed from Southampton and it was much more 'de luxe', even Cabin Class on the Elizabeth was more comfortable than first class on the Media. The voyage across was luxurious but uneventful, I spent three days at Nutley preparing for the trip to Daytona. Alf Child and Mrs were flying and wanted to take me but I preferred going by road with Bill Carlton as I felt it would give me more time to see the country. We were taking a half ton van loaded with all manner of spares, even complete engines, catalogues and literature for the bike show in Daytona. The van was so well loaded it had a tendency to wander and was very tough to drive. We did not get started till midday and it was snowing lightly, which did not make for a pleasant drive, just as it was getting dark we fancied something to drink so pulled off into a diner just into Maryland on Highway 301. Bill ordered coffee and asked for tea for me, the waitress recognised my accent and remarked as I was from England I would like a proper cuppa, she reached to a shelf and took down a teapot, which she dusted off and made me a decent pot of tea. I thought this rather good after being served in other places with the inevitable tea bag flopped into hot water.

We pushed on finally stopping at a motel in Maryland. Next morning we made an early start, sBack to topping in Virginia for breakfast. We took turns at driving and I remember passing lots of tobacco factories around Rocky Mount, NC we stopped finally for the night near Allendale, SC. We were really beat after driving that over loaded truck all day. Next morning was a sunny mild southern day and drive through Georgia down towards the coastal swamps, which did not impress me at all. By the end of the day we had reached Jacksonville, Florida where we visited the BSA dealer Bob King who was a great pal of Bill Carlton. Bob found us a motel close by and to our amusement were installed in the bridal suite. Next day we visited a dirt track meeting just outside Jacksonville. My first introduction to dirt track in the US, with some smart talk by Bill persuaded the officials that we had factory authorisation so between races we were allowed to cross the track to the pits. After watching two or three heats came the big final and we had been told to look out for Bobby Hill on his Indian. It was a sort of borderline eligibility case and a lot of folk opined it should not have been allowed on the track. It was a 750cc side valve though it had a lot of one off, non Indian parts on it. It had got passed the scrutineers by pointing out that Indians were not longer made and it was impossible to get genuine Indian parts and they used what they could find. The bike had modern forks and superior looking brakes that no Indian ever had. It was however, a genuine Indian flathead 750cc, very highly tuned with a ultra light frame.

Came the start of the big race and Bobby Hill stalled his engine, it looked as if the chance for a win by the number one champion was nil, all the competing BSA twins, BSA Gold Stars, Triumphs and Harleys were long gone, however the referee motioned to Hills mechanic to give him a push start and away he went. It was a twenty lap race event and unbelievably Hill worked his way up through the field to win. I had never seen anything like it, that was my first introduction to Bobby Hill. Later he used BSA doing extremely well on them, winning Daytona in 1954 on a clubman type twin.

After the racing we returned to Bob Kings staying another night in the motel. Next morning after some difficulty to change some GB travellers cheques only by going to a bank we drove on down to Daytona Beach, we found ourselves an apartment about two miles down the beach, we did this on advice from Cyril Halliburn and Bob King to avoid having riders bother us twenty fours hours a day. It was a very nice place with a view of the ocean but rather far out and you needed transportation to get to the BSA headquarters which that year were in the old Hudson dealers service department. We had the use of half the garage for BSA servicing and all the dealers and their riders came crowding in, talking and getting in the way. Alter unpacking our parts and tools we proceeded to service our machines. This being 1953 all we had were the heavy plunger rear suspension, iron barrel, alloy cylinder head Star twins. They were supposed to put out 43bhp, but we were experiencing valve spring problems. The prototype built in the Engine Development did put out 43bhp but all the Star Twins sent to Daytona were built by Production and tested in the engine test by Cyril Halliburn, who issued power curves showing 43bhp but when we got them to the beach for practice it was obvious that they did not have the power and were getting passed by all and sundry.

There were three of the previous years Star twins there, one of which had been hand built by Jack Amott, it was considerably faster than the new 1953 models. I would have liked to get a look inside that engine. In the race these wretched twins we had brought folded up one after the other, Warren Sherwood nursed his home into fifth place, the rest were nowhere. Paul Goldsmith won on a Harley and was sporting enough to come over to us and commiserate. One of our riders fell of and broke a leg. I persuaded Alf Child who owned the machine anyway, since the Dealer now declined to pay for it, to let me take it back to the factory and test it on my dyno, to which he agreed, remarking they were not as good as the previous years machines. As you can imagine he was pretty miffed with me, the bikes and the race results. I did not feel it was my fault as I had only been at BSA ten months and had not built any of These machines. The company was not too pleased to see the crashed bike but Bert Hopwood agreed that it was a good idea to test it and rind out why it was running as it did arid to then try and get the bugs out of it. Back on the dyno we got 39bhp and it took a good deal of work to get it up to 43.

The Directors asked me to come and give them a talk on my experiences in the US at Daytona particularly, as Alf Child had complained to them about me. Naturally I was not going to let him get away with this and I told my side of the story, particularly my dislike of being sworn at in a hotel in front of a whole crowd of people. Mr Leake wanted to know the exact wording which I was not keen to repeat, but he insisted, he queried my repeating and wanted to know why such an occasion had occurred. It was due to my late arrival at the garage to work on the bikes and I explained to Mr Leake we were situated nearly three miles from the garage and it was difficult to get a lift and on this particular morrning they had forgotten to collect me as arranged. Mr Leake appeared rather annoyed with Alf Child and complained to him of his attitude, this in turn upset Alf Child and I did not get invited to Daytona again.

During my two trips to the USA I had the opportunity to talk to some knowledgeable dealers and our Distributors and the impression I got was that whilst Daytona was an important event there were many other races in other parts of the States of equal importance to the sale of BSA It appeared they wanted lighter machines that could be used on the half mile and one mile tracks as well, a rigid frame but telescopic forks. I pointed out to them this was against everything we had been doing. In the IOM we had been busy developing swinging arm suspension and now the States wanted rigid frames and I was not at all sure the company would be willing to make them.

On my return to the factory I had a conference with Hopwood and Bert Perrigo and told them of the Dealers requests. I pointed out that Daytona consisted of two straights both fairly smooth, one on sand and one paved with 180 degree turns at each end, there was not real cornering involved so I did not believe a spring frame was essential and that a rigid frame might be just the thing for the hale mile tracks. They also wanted to know what type of engine would be best and I suggested the single would be lighter and have better torque but they argued it probably would not have enough power, but I pointed out the superior torque and reliability. In the end Hopwood said why not go ahead and make a prototype and see what we can come up with. This was the summer of 1953, our alloy twin race engine was producing about 44bhp, the best 500cc BB Gold Star single about 40. We were planning new bigger finned Gold Stars for the Clubmans TT races but they would not be ready until after Daytona, but the 350 BB Gold Star had had a new head with slightly more finning than the old ZB and much steeper down draft inlet port. So I got the engine shop to machine one of the 350 cylinder heads to 500 dimensions, the hemisphere was enlarged and 500 valve seats fitted, we used a large inlet valve and a moderately sized exhaust valve, of course doing this left things a bit thin in places but we cut up a scrap head and decided it was a worthwhile risk. On its first test run a 500 with this head did 42bhp despite the AMA restricting us to a 8:1 compression ratio. I put Reg Wilkes to work an this, he got real interested in this and tried everything and soon got 44bhp .

In the meantime the twin was also doing some 46bhp. To meet AMA regulations all parts had to be stock and have production part numbers and available to the public. So I drew one of Bill Nicholson's lightweight rigid trials frames and started work on it, we stiffened up the rear chain stays, made an oil tank from toolbox pressings mounting it low ,on the right side. We used aluminium alloy for the mudguards, chain guard, brake pedal and fork crown. Ultimately we made three prototypes in the Engine development shop, we got some extra help from apprentices, at one time having eighteen men in the shop in place of the normal seven or eight. We fitted a single cylinder engine in one frame and our best alloy twin in the other and gave the third to the production people to copy as we knew that possibly another hundred would have to be made.

The big day came when we took the two prototypes to MIRA. For our testing, we ran them in both directions on the timing strip, the single did 114mph, the twin 116. Mr Hopwood was of the opinion we would have to take the twin, two miles an hour was a lot and at the end of a 200 miles at Daytona that bike would be miles ahead. I did not agree and he wanted to know why. He was aware I liked the single and that it was reliable but it did not appear fast enough and therefore it was no use taking it. I pointed out that in racing it's not always the fastest bike that wins. Torque is important and the winning prize goes to the first across the line, not the one that crosses at the highest speed. He was anxious whether I could prove this theory. David Tye had his leathers on and so did I, he got aboard the twin and I got astride the single. We agreed to race by riding at about 20mph in bottom gear then as we passed a little white post open up for a sprint of about a mile. The torque of the single was so much better than that of the twin that it leapt away from the 20mph start and simply ran away, towards the end of the mile the twin started to catch up, because of its slightly higher maximum speed, but the single still got to the end first. Back in the pits Hopwood said to change bikes and try again to see if the rider influences the result, so we changed over and sure enough the result was the same. Hopwood looked at me and grinned and agreed I had made my point and that we would send four singles and four twins.

The results were better than we even hoped for, we won the 200 mile race and had five out of the first eight finishers. Gene Thiessen had the bad luck to have his bike damaged going up to the start which spoilt the handling and he finished 17th. The rest of the season BSA did very well on the half mile tracks. Many years later in 1970 when these bikes were quite old I saw two of these models at Reading Speedway in Pennsylvania still giving a good account of themselves.

The early CB and Daytona engines had oval flywheels with a short connecting rod from the 350, which we had found gave good results The short connecting rod enabled us to use shorter barrel push rods and so on and made it lighter. Not to mention other more subtle technical advantages. The flywheels were made oval to clear the bottom of the piston skirt, this was fine for us making a handful of experimental engines but when the production people had to make a hundred of them they complained bitterly. One day Reg Wilkes took a pair of oval flywheels and turned them down until they were round again and we tried these lightened flywheels in a bike, frankly I did not think the engine was as smooth, but the riders thought otherwise so that is how they were made from then on and that was the beginning of the DB series. The shorter connecting rod definitely gave us something, a little more power all over the range, I have carried out the same trick on VW engines and again found the shorter rod was better. In 1954 at Daytona the Harleys gave more trouble than usual so we had a bit of a walk over, but in 1955 the tables were turned, they had some excellent riders and the best we could manage was a 4th place. In 1956 we did fairly well to take 2nd to 5th places, a Harley won. Al Gunter made the fastest lap in the race at over 104mph before retiring with a broken swing arm bolt on the BSA single. In the time trials before the race the fastest Harley did 126mph The fastest Gold Star was around 120mph. Despite this the Gold Star was a match for the Harleys during the race.

Roland Pike Autobiography - Chapter 26

Development Challenges

The BSA spring frame was originally designed and built by Bill Nicholson who was forever trying new head angles etc and it proved a job to tie him down to a final set up. However one day they got one of his Scrambler swinging arm frames up in the drawing-office, where it was faithfully drawn, the only changes being things like attachment points for civilised fittings such as pillion, foot rests, tool box attachment lugs and so on. They told me that they had changed the head angle slightly to make it more suitable for road use. Bill would ride in a trial or scramble, come back to the Competition shop, strip the machine and build an entirely new frame in a couple of days. I remember once he asked me to try a new rigid trials frame he had just built, he tested it by riding up the stairs at the factory. I rode this bike slowly around the shop in and out of the benches, I was no trials rider but thought it was perfect, Bill cut it up inside a week and started again. Never satisfied. If you want a thrill go for a ride with him in his A40 pick up truck.

The early frames were made in the frame shop on a fairly simple jig and welded. They had to do a bit of setting and straightening at first to allow for the distortion, but once this was overcome and production jigs built they had few problems. The only serious one I can remember, was the twin front down tubes breaking at the engine attachment lugs which were welded on to the tubes, this was overcome by using a longer scarfed lug slipped over the tube and welded. As well as road testing the frame was mounted on a special test rig in the experimental shop with eccentric rollers under the wheels, these were driven by a powerful electric motor which gave the frame a good workout. The frames completed their tests on this torture machine alright but we had reports of daily breakages on the Belgium pave at MIRA by the experimental shop testers. It was beginning to become worrying to the design dept as the go ahead for production could not be given until these breakages were cured. I remember Mr Hopwood was particularly worried at this time, as apart from the little Bantam, welded frames were new to BSA Mr Hopwood sent for me and pointed out I had had a lot of experience welding frames, and what did I think the problem was.

All I could suggest was that we found out the way they were testing them. He decided he would go to MIRA and see for himself. That night I was working later than usual, I heard a bike pull up outside the experimental dept and went out to see who it was, there were two young apprentices, one with a sidecar outfit which was carrying a new spring frame, on enquiring where they had been they said MIRA. testing the latest new spring frame and were quite pleased with themselves that they had broken another. I was not so pleased with their results and told them so, but they said it was what they had set out to do. On enquiring how it handled before, they admitted it was fine, and that it handled better then the old frame, on which if you had gone as fast you would have killed yourself!

Next day I met Hopwood and told him of my previous nights conversation, and he agreed I was right, he had been out that morning to MIRA. and had found them tearing around on the pave. He wondered what the best plan would be, so I suggested that they sent one of the old style spring frames and one new and make the apprentices ride them together, the old plunger frame setting the pace. Hopwood thought this a good idea and said I was a bloody genius. Next day they did this, young Povey wound up in hospital, he was riding the plunger frame bike, which broke when they started speeding he fell off and the other lad hit him. That settled the question of the better frame and production went ahead. The only criticism I had of the new frame was flexing when braking hard, the front mudguard used to hit the frame. We converted a standard frame to a single oval and tapered down tube, it definitely put a stop to the flexing, but the head angle was not quite right as we did not have the benefit of any sort of jig. Handling was not quite as good as the standard frame.

Low temperature bronze welding was used by Bill Nicholson and myself on our one off frames especially when using the aircraft quality high tensile chrome-moly steel tubing which is not suitable for normal fusion welding, it causes embrittlement. We used nickel bronze welding rod which was expensive and rather difficult to use, but which gave a very strong welded joint. Tests at the National Physics laboratory tore the steel tube before it broke the weld.

Ignition & Carburation. Our method of getting the optimum ignition timing was purely practical, we deliberately timed the engine on assembly about three degrees over advanced from normal, we then ran the engine on the dyno wide open throttle, full load at about 6000 RPM, then slowly retarded the ignition lever until the dyno showed maximum torque, then continue retarding the ignition timing until power started to drop off, then advance it back to a point where it gave maximum power. Stopping the engine we checked the timing on a degree disc and recorded it for that particular engine, then set the timing at this point with ignition lever at full advance. This method of finding the best ignition timing can be used on the road, the mountain mile in the Isle of Man was a good place to do this.

I am reminded of a mysterious malady that affected all our Daytona twin engines in 1955. Cyril Halliburn who was out there that year said they were in terrible trouble with points burning on the Lucas racing magnetos. Lucas were consulted and suggested fitting an extra condenser externally, connected in parallel with the internal condenser, utilising the contact breaker earthing brush terminal, normally used as a "kill" button. Everyone was of the opinion it was condenser trouble as the points rapidly became blackened and then misfiring set in. They could not do better than 7th and 9th place. Back at the works we set up a similar engine on the dyno and got Ken Norton from Lucas Experimental to come round and help with our tests. It did not take long to show results, oil in the contact breaker which in turn caused the burnt points. We stripped the magneto expecting to see oil coming through from the engine but on examination it was found to be clean and dry. After running the engine again with a manometer hooked up to the timing case we found that at 6000 RPM we had a pressure 4" to 7" of water below atmosphere in the timing case. The magneto had a single lip seal to keep oil out of the magneto but the low pressure was enough to lift the lip seal causing a drop in pressure in the magneto.

These racing magnetos had a breather pipe on the contact breaker cover which for some reason was bent in a loop ending right opposite the hole for the crankcase breather, so of course the faint oil mist coming from the breather was sucked into the contact breaker. All that was necessary was to bend the breather pipe on the magneto away from the vicinity of the crankcase breather hole. Since then I have experienced similar problems with Volkswagens with high mileage worn engines blowing oil up the distributor shaft and on to the points. On the TT & GP. carburettors the so-called air slide in the side of the carburettors admitted air to the air correction jet, it was only effective from fully closed to about 1/3rd open when the area of the air slide equalled the air correction jet, this range was equivalent to about three sizes of main jet. I think a tapered needle would have given more sensitive results and suggested this to CRB Smith of Amal but he was not keen to try it although he agreed that it would probably work.

One of the strangest occurrences to do with carburettors was when one day Reg Wilkes sent an apprentice from the test shop into our, main shop for a 1 3/32 GP carburettor and he misread the size and gave Reg: a 1 3/16th carburettor and they immediately got quite a jump in power. They reported this to me and I went to the shop and the test was repeated and there was no doubt it was quite a gain in power. I suggested to Reg to open the port to match, immediately we lost what we had gained plus a bit more, so we made a thin sleeve and pressed it in and the power was back. We repeated this on other engines always with the same results. A number of private owners of DBD Gold Star noticed the carb being bigger than the port and opened up the port thinking to gain power, but not having a dyno were not aware of the results. Later on we fitted a venturi behind the carb and picked up even more power. The smallest diameter of the venturi could be 80% of area of the carburettor. We tested this on several engines and it always worked and seemed to improve carburation. The venturi had to have the classic included angles of 22 degree in and 7 degree out.

We did some testing with SU constant vacuum carburettors on the Ariel 500 twin and on the 650 Gold Flash. At this time Triumph Thunderbird 650 was equipped as standard with an SU carburettor. We got good results on test but not so superior to the Amal that it did not seem to warrant a change. Also in the carburettor field we did some test runs on the Wal Phillips injector carburettor, not conclusive and in my opinion only suitable for grass track or cinder track racing. We were also convinced of the necessity of having racing carburettor flexibility mounted and insulated from engine vibration. We had a striking illustration of this one when Reg Wilkes was running one of our 500 Gold Stars, he called me into the test house to observe this engine and pointed out that it exhibited all the symptoms of weakness, fitting bigger main jets did not cure it even very big jets. So we ran the engine up at about 5000 rpm, the exhaust pip e glowed red and the exhaust note sounded flat and harsh. I thought I could see some movement of the flexibly mounted carburettor, so I grabbed hold of it, I experienced a strong tingling sensation in my hand, but held on and a remarkable change came over the engine. The note became crisp and the red glowing pipe literally went out and the mixture became rich. The float bowl on the dyno was always remote and insulated, but on this particular engine the carburettor was mounted on rubber canvas hose, to cure the problem we had to stretch rubber bands from the carburettor to the bed of the dyne etc in several directions thus damping out the high frequency movements of the carb.

Connecting Rods and BSA. I am not an expert on forging steel but I know the BSA smithy had a good reputation in Birmingham going back many years. They did a lot of work for outside firms as well as for the various divisions of BSA The Australian riders have told me that they Lave used BSA connecting rods in Manx Nortons with great success and a considerable saving in cost. I have been of the opinion that one of the secrets of BSA connecting rod forgings was in the tumbling they received. The forgings left the smithy all rough and covered in scale, a whole batch would be tumbled in a large wire basket, tipped from end to end over and over for a day or so and by the time they came out they were clean and descaled, almost polished. I believe the residual stresses in them from the forging operation were neutralised just as if they had been heat treated. The stresses had been literally knocked out of them and they were all ready to machine.

There was a learned article in the S.A.E. journal I had read describing how General Motors or someone had found that by shot peening connecting rods they became more reliable, with far less chance of surface cracks spreading and causing failure. I drew Mr Hopwoods attention to this article and he agreed that we should try it, by having three new connecting rods shot peened with the appropriate lead shot. (Mr Lupton laid this on and it was not long before I had three of the current Gold Star rods ready for test. After installing in an engine a series of power curves were taken trying out some other parts not connected with rods at this time. The first one broke after quite a short run so it was decided to go no further and the remaining rods were scrapped.

And we concluded that shot peening was not successful for us. Sometime later I wondered whether those three rods had been tumbled, on making enquiries months later no one was sure whether they had been or not, but thought probably not Anyway one wrecked engine was enough. When a rod lets go it usually does quite a bit of damage. Gold Star connecting rods were always polished as a final precaution against surface cracks, it could be that shot peening in place of the relatively expensive polishing might be equally effective, but it was never explored. The length of the connecting rod in relation to piston stroke has an important bearing on performance. For many years a ratio of stroke to -con rod length of 2: 1 was thought to be a good compromise. Some exhaustive testing along these lines was done and we found that for the standard 88 mm stroke 1.86:1 seemed best all round ratio. However, when it came to ultra short stroke engines a ratio of 2.2:1 became desirable to reduce piston acceleration at around TDC.

Pistons and Piston Rings. When I was first at BSA in 1952 I was able to borrow the 1949 500 Gold Star engine that I had used in the 1951 TT. It was of particular interest as I had on the last lap three times passed Dennis Lashmar who was riding a brand new featherbed Norton belonging to Harold Daniel, the same Norton that I later took on the Continent and finished 2nd at Hockenheim against some pretty good opposition. So this engine was no slouch and was pulling 6600 RPM. with the highest Back to top gear we could use, approx 125mph This old 1949 Gold Star had been specially built for Ray Hallett of Canterbury by Jack Amott, it was the old style non detachable rocker box, small fin engine. It had 8.1:1 ratio, 1 3/16" RN Carb , ??? inlet cam, Z exhaust, 4.375:1 Back to top gear and pulled 6200 on Sulby straight. When we got it on the dyno we got 37.5bhp which was what Nortons claimed for the long stroke Manx engine of 1951. We stripped the engine to find out what it was like internally, it seemed pretty good except for a cracked piston boss. So we replaced the piston and rings with the latest type, with narrow rings etc. On testing on the dyno with the new parts it gave 33bhp so we ran it a bit more and fiddled with jets and timing with no appreciable improvement, so we replaced the new style piston with one of the earlier type and immediately got over 36bhp. On examination we found the piston rings to be a little wider and the second ring had a groove machined in the inside diameter.

We contacted Brico and asked them why and was told it caused the ring to twist and thereby sealing better. To make a difference of over 3bhp it must have sealed a lot better. We then put a new 1952 500 Gold Star on the dyno it did not do as well as the old 49 job. The valve springs surged and it blew oil out of the breather and gave less than 35bhp. I spoke to Mr Hopwood about it but he did not seem to worry saying the 500 Gold Star was obsolete anyway and not to worry ourselves about it. The twin is the thing now. So I did not get any encouragement upstairs. We were however having so much trouble with the twins at that time that I felt we should do something with the 500 at least along the same lines as we had the 350.

For 1952 the 350 Gold Star had a new head with a little more cooling fins than the previous years, more downdraft to the inlet port and the inlet valve axis was changed, moving the valves apart a little which allowed a larger inlet valve. Mr Hopwood at this time was interested in giving the scramblers bike more torque at low speeds, so we had some 350 heads cast with smaller ports and used smaller valves as well. One of these was prepared and fitted to a factory scrambler machine, they reported that they could not tell any difference, so I took another of these castings and fitted it with l/16” smaller exhaust seat and smaller valve and at the same time made the inlet valve bigger, the results were very encouraging, we got more power and even more important perhaps a cooler running exhaust valve. The production Gold Star at this time used Jessups G2 for exhaust valves and every now and then one would break and wreck the upper part of the engine.

We had to go to a lot of trouble with these valves getting the shape and finish just right making sure the valve guides were not slack. A different type of split cotter was used and a quietening ramp added to the cams in an endeavour to let the valve down on its seat a little more gently. We also reduced the valve spring seated pressure, but still they would strip looking very hot, but with the 1/16" smaller exhaust valve after some hard test running imagine our joy when we stripped the head and found that the exhaust valve looked in better condition and it appeared to be running cooler. The bigger inlet valve did not lose any torque, in fact it was better.

High Camshafts. After the success of the MOV Velocette and Vincent HRD using these high camshafts, people have wondered why we did net try such an arrangement, in effect we did, the ultra short stroke 350 82 x 66 was very short overall, the push rods being about half the length of the normal B31 push rods. I would never have advocated making a high camshaft BSA Gold Star, if you are going to go to the trouble of redesigning, why not make the camshaft really 'high' and wake an overhead cam engine. A modern design could probably use a cogged belt, as used in many cars. People often associate overhead cams with high revving race engines, this is not necessarily so. Overhead cams will allow quicker lift and closing to valves which means more conservative timing and lighter valve springs (This in turn means better flexibility and quietness.

What about a Four? Why didn't we build a four cylinder, similar to the Italian MV 's and Gilera and later on the Japanese? In the first place the Italian fours were almost purely racers financed by other parts of the same company. The Japanese four cylinders were raced it is true but their production fours were only possible due to the conditions in Japan in the 60's and continued successfully by huge production figures using modern production methods. The British motor cycle was what people describe as designed around a centre lathe and at the end of the war we had a lot of worn machinery. In an endeavour to be less dependent on the tool room and model room I asked for and received two Colchester centre lathes and a Cincinatti miller, they all needed overhauling but once this was done were quite useful and I added own small 5" centre Little John lathe. On requesting a vertical Miller we got a veteran WW1, you could move the vertical shaft nearly 1/16" in any direction. We also managed to obtain an old surface grinder which was useful. I hoped this wasn’t typical of their reserve tools. The three cylinder BSA Triumph was typical of this attitude to production and must have been an expensive engine to produce.

Water Cooling. Not much was thought about water cooling until Tony Vandervell got Joe Craig to make a water cooled Manx Norton with the idea of using four of them in a row to make the Vanwall race car. When we heard about the gain in horsepower and its ability to maintain full power, I think we were shaken up a bit, but we loved all those cooling fins, why worry with anti-freeze or leaky radiators. However, with the aid of hindsight I think water-cooling might have been the answer to many of our problems with the vertical twins and also the MC 1.
Cast Iron Crankshafts.Harry Taft of Idoson made us or had made six crankshafts for A10 twin in 'nodular' or spherical graphite iron. We tested two of these to destruction, running at 6600 for 6 hours, there was nothing special about these cranks, they were made as close as possible to the standard steel crank and balanced to the same factor. After the first one broke the other was stripped for examination and then passed to the experimental dept. for testing on the road. I don't remember if I ever got a report on that one. With six hours at that high speed I thought that was pretty good especially since it did not have the milled fillet radii. Mr Hopwood however was not impressed, I guess 6 hours at 6600 did not seem much, so I ran a standard steel crank at the same speed, it broke at just around two hours, this of course changed his opinion.

The factory said they were not practical as they would have had to have 100% X-ray inspection. I do not believe this would have been necessary as they did not X-ray other castings. In my opinion a spot check from time to time would have sufficed. One unexpected bonus with the iron cranks was an increase in power, apparently the iron made a better bearing surface, it was also easier to cast the metal for balance purposes just where it was wanted.
Nodular iron is as strong as steel, Buick and Pontiac in the U.S.A. made connecting rods from this material. The name nodular iron comes from the formation of graphite molecules in the iron being round, whereas in plain cast iron the graphite molecules are flat, this makes a difference to the strength of the material. I designed a crankshaft assembly in this material for the Gold Star and got the research people to give an opinion on its feasibility, but it made no difference the factory apparently did not want to save money.

Herbert Hopwood and other personalities at BSA. Herbert Hopwood came from Nortons to BSA. Prior to that he had worked several years at Triumphs. At BSA he was first a draughtsman but very quickly was promoted to chief designer. At Nortons he had designed the Norton vertical twin, in my opinion the best of the many twins. He had imtimated to Mr Leake, Managing Director at BSA that he wanted a free hand in design, also a development shop which they had never had before. Previously whatever development had been done was in a corner of the engine test shop and by the experimental department, he got his way and had the competition shop made separate from the experimental. Mr Hopwood redesigned the A7 500 twin followed by the A10 650, both of which were badly needed and were an immediate success with the public. The original post-war A7 twin was a very different design and not too dependable. It had a very novel and expensive built up crankshaft designed I believe by Herbert Perkins. In those early days Mr Hopwood was busy turning out new designs, the MC1 250 racer and the MC4 which was half of an A7. The war department 500 side salve twin, the 500 overhead camshaft twin and a new four speed gearbox known as the 'A' box.

The best BSA's in the immediate post war years were probably the B31 and B33. The M31 and M 33 were the same engine in a stronger heavier frame, more suitable for pulling a sidecar. In those days the only BSA gearbox was the 'B', a big heavy gearbox that had occasional selector problems. It was this gearbox that was fitted to the Gold Star I rode in the 1952 Senior TT. The 'A' box was a more modern design with some resemblance to a Triumph box and it was very much easier to change gears. Since Mr Hopwood had worked so long at Triumphs and had a hand in most of their designs it was not surprising that there were similarities in the two designs. The only serious problem I can remember in the 'A' box was a failure under racing conditions of the layshaft bushes. I suggested fitting Torrington needle bearings which cured the problem.

I had already met Mr Hopwood once when I contacted BSA, about getting two engines for the 'Pike' BSA I intended to build for 1952. We did not have much to say on that occasion. I do not think he really was interested in someone with my Rudge and racing background but as he said after hiring me he did not know anybody else. He wanted someone he could trust to carry out his ideas and not oppose them, that was one of the problems with Jack Amott who if he did not like an idea would not use it. During my time I found this fault was not peculiar to Amott, the same problem I had at one time or another with all the fellows in the development shop, particularly with the best ones, the more creative they were the more stubborn they were likely to be.

To overcome the problem in the case of Reg Wilkes I tried a bit of applied psychology, but it back fired on me as I found that if you let Reg think he had thought of an idea himself he would work on it with enthusiasm. After about three year of this he was convinced that practically all the ideas in the Gold Star were his own. He told me so one day saying all I had done was use his ideas, what could I say? Perhaps I should have asked him to build a Gold Star 500 without the general shop improvements and see how it ran. Part of the problems at Nortons that Mr Hopwood had were the opposition of Joe Craig to the twin. Craig was an outstanding development engineer, the Manx Norton racing engine was probably the most highly developed single cylinder engine of all time. Unfortunately he completely ignored the rest of the Norton range.

You can imagine his humiliation when the Norton International which they used in the Clubmans TT was beaten handsomely by a Gold Star. We heard later that he had borrowed a350 Gold Star engine and tried it on their dyno and found out for himself that it put out 31-32bhp as against the 28-29 of the overhead camshaft International. The competition shop at BSA in 1952 was the responsibility of Bert Perrigo who was one of the most famous pre-war trials riders, always on a BSA. He was incidentally also helpful in getting me my job at BSA There were three mechanics and Bill Nicholson who was in and out all the time building his special frames. In those days Gold Stars had their own assembly line at the back of the office block with Sam Jones an old TT rider himself in charge. They dropped this arrangement when demand outstripped the facilities but that was when the best bikes were built. Every one was assembled by a man who what he was doing. When later they ran the Gold Star down the normal assembly line, they had to be virtually rebuilt at the end of it!

When Bert Perrigo was made sales manager to Ariels Dennis Hardwicke was brought in to take his place. Dennis Hardwicke came to BSA from Temple Press where he was on the staff of Motor Cycling and had written very flattering articles on BSA which led to his being given the job of competition manager. When he first came to BSA Mr Hopwood asked me to try and help Dennis until he finds his feet. I do not think Hardwicke appreciated this as before long he was trying to get my best mechanics to work in the competition shop and did eventually have a dyno installed so they could test their own engines, which was a waste of effort and unnecessary expense. He did a pretty good job as competition manager, too good in a way, he got all the best riders from other makes on BSA's which reduced public interest.

There were about nine draughtsmen in the drawing office over which Mr Hopwood presided with Mr Perkins in charge, later Ernie Webster - when Mr Perkins left due to ill health. Beside Mr Perkins office was an office where all records and specifications were maintained, several girls were employed as tracers and then another sub-office where secret designs were made by Doug Hele and Charlie Salt. These people were kept busy all the year round, what with yearly model changes, modifications as a result of service department complaints, and entirely new designs. Many of the ideas we made and tried in the development shop had to be drawn and have job number allocated, sometimes it happened the other way round, some small component would be made and tried and if successful have a drawing made afterwards. An example of how a major component, like the big fin cylinder head for the 350 Gold Star was planned would be a meeting like we had in1953 in Mr Hopwood’s office, attended by Mr H, Perrigo, Ernie Webster, Capewell and myself.

Mr Hopwood and I had briefly discussed the objects of the meeting beforehand. Once the meeting got under way Mr H turned to me and suggested as I had had some experience of these Gold Star engines, what did I think we should have for next year. I then listed benefits such as a new cylinder head and barrel with more fins, if possible a little more down draft in the inlet port. These ideas would be noted by Mr. Webster who then wanted to know what about the piston? I suggested a high dome design to use with the shorter connecting rod. Also I would like to make some changes to the crankpin design to ensure the cage runs on the outside flanges and does not touch the bearing surface, some small holes drilled to feed oil to the cage.I explained we had done this experimentally with very good results. Also, how about eliminating the small woodruff key on the timing side, as the key tends to weaken the flywheel. After this Ernie Webster wanted to know how they would ensure the oil feed holes would be lined up on assembly? Someone suggested a mark on the end of the crankpin. After the meeting Webster and I would discuss the details of this or that idea, before giving the job to one of the draughtsmen.

You will notice up to now there had been no mention of a 500 Gold Star. The company’s policy was that the 500 should be a twin, although of course they continued to produce the B33 and M33. Mr Hopwood managed to persuade the Board that having agreed to spend the money on a new 350 Gold Star it would not cost much more to make a 500 version.

The alloy twins made in very small numbers in 1951-2-3 were intended to be the 500 Gold Star of the future. The 1954 Gold Star engine was almost a new engine, it had the same bore and stroke as before but nothing else. ??? Jones was given the job of drawing up all the new parts and a very good job he made of it.

We eventually got a new crankshaft for the twins and connecting rods to suit the larger diameter crankpin journals. On first testing it we were 2bhp down on the older crankshaft, presumably due to the extra friction. When Mr Hopwood heard of this he wanted to know why and what were we doing about it, I mentioned the extra friction and he said to get it down to Halliburns shop who was in charge of all Gold Star engine testing. I was reluctant to do this as I felt one dyno is not going to be any different from another, but he insisted I do so. So I sent the engine to Halliburn for a test and he came up with the same results as we did. About two weeks later Arthur Butler by fiddling with the balance, drilling holes here and filling them there smoothed out the running and recovered the lost 2bhp, we never got more power from that engine, but we did get rid of the breakage problem. Mr Hopwood adopted a rather "I told you so" attitude which rather irritated me as it appeared that he did not trust me. But to a man like Mr Hopwood who had been opposed in every move he made, and who had tricks played on him, like the deliberate attempts to break the new welded spring frames, already described in a previous chapter, I suppose being suspicious becomes a habit and I should have expected it.

Doug Hele who also had come from Nortons had also worked at Douglas where he was concerned with their opposed cylinder 350 twin, with torsion bar suspension. Whilst at BSA he acquired a degree in engineering of which Mr Hopwood was envious but he soon overcame this. At BSA Doug Hele was concerned with the design of all the new designs the MC1 250 racer, MC4, the overhead camshaft twin, the scooter and the Dandy. He was a very good draughtsman and a fine mathematician, he was also a keen motor cyclist and used to like to ride motor cycles with some of our experimental engines. Later he returned to Nortons where he did the design work on their little Jubilee twins which unfortunately were not very successful, he also became involved in the testing of the desmodromic valve gear for the racing Norton

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Roland Pike Autobiography - Chapter 24

The problems & politics of BSA in the 1950's

Here is a little poem I made up.

The Motor Cycle Industry.
The labourers toiled, the craftsmen wrought,

The Draftsmen drew, the thinkers thought,
The planners planned, the salesmen sold,
But the bikes they sold looked very old.
Thats not to say they were not fine,
But ancient was the whole design.
The buyers paid their hard-earned gold -
For new machines that looked like old.
Designers sat and wracked their brains,
And got rude answers for their pains.
The things they drew were not too bold,
With ideas that were centuries old,
The stylist and the artist came
And still the drawings looked the same.
The conception lacked that final touch
Of which the keen demand so much.
Just then there came that way by chance
A lad who knew he could enhance
The models' looks and make them go
If only they would let him show.
He was taken at his word, and then
Got out his papers, books and pen.
Set down his ideas, plans and thought
He'd told them all, and kept back nought.
"Oh that won't work, nor that" they cried
As new ideas were made and tried.
Or when they did, the critics say
"We thought of that before today"
"That one's no good" they said in test,
"The ancient ones were always best".
They were so clever with their tricks, They ousted him with politics.

Triumphs came into BSA at the end of 1956 and took charge of the company that had bought it, only a few years before. Jack Sangster sold Triumph to BSA for $4 million, but somehow he still controlled Triumph and eventually got control of both companies.

This move did not seem to do BSA any good, they already appeared to be on a slippery road and no one appeared to know what to do to stop the slide. They laid off or fired 400 production workers at the end of 1956 and another 400 people at the beginning Of 195. This last 400 included skilled personnel, they were selected purely by seniority which was a big mistake as it left them with a lot of chiefs and no indians.

Some of those retained had not done anything useful for years but were just hanging on for their pensions. Triumph although they had high production figures did not produce as much of their motor cycles as BSA who owned Idoson Motor Cylinders, Monochrome, Jessups Steel and several small suppliers.

When BSA bought Triumphs it would have been logical for a BSA man to have been put in charge at Triumphs and to have them use BSA forgings, Daimler & Idoson castings and their research group to work in Group research at Small Heath, but that is not the way it turned out.
The class structure at BSA was quite feudal, there was no sense of democracy. You could not go upstairs to the Managers office without the Commissionaire escorting you unless you were part of management. There were five different eating areas. One for the Directors, a Monthly staff room, Foreman’s dining room, office dining room and the workers canteen. I suppose there was something to be said for this, but in this day and age most companies would have reduced the number of dining rooms to two or three.