Sunday, 9 January 2011

Whatever happened to British Motorcycle picture credits?

"Whatever happened to the British Motorcycle Industry?" is a book about the rise and demise of the British motorcycle industry written by Bert Hopwood who served as a development engineer and ultimately director with BSA.

It was written by Bert Hopwood and has been staple reading (it's been re-printed several time since first published in 1981)for BSA, Norton and Triumph enthusiasts ever since. As with any account of history it should be treated as one version of events and in Hopwood's case sometimes reads more like a biography than an account but I'm sure that savvy, litereate people will know this and take a balanced view. You may be interested to read ex- BSA development engineer Roland Pike's views on some of the same people and events elsewhere in my blog (add link)and form your own opinions. As with all personal accounts, personal aspirations, vanity and ego all contribute to the final product.

However, none of what I've written in any way detracts from the contribution both men made to the British motorcycle industry in general and BSA in particular in whose firmament they are amongst the brightest stars.

But the subject of this blog is not about the people, it's about the pictures.

"Whatever..." is a great read but it's shame the picture quality isn't better. It's not a coffee-table book so we just have to accept and forgive the limitations of small-volume publishing. What's harder to forgive are the picture captions (and I have a specific interest in one, more of which later) which are in some cases frustratingly not as descriptive as you'd like and in some cases just plain wrong.

An example of "just plain wrong..." can be found on page 108 there is a photo of a single-cylinder NSU Sportsmax described as a Rennmax - which is a twin.

An example of "frustrating..." can be found on page 120 where what is described as a 650 Golden Flash is actually a 650 Super Flash and there's a great story attached to this attempt to sell the Super Flash to the French Police which would have been good to read in the book and which I may write about in another blog.

Another example of "frustrating... " can be found on page 116 where what is described as a Gold Star in a rigid frame is actually something much more special than that as it is one of the Gold Stars prepared for the 1955 Daytona 200 mile race on the old beach circuit.

There may be others too but I'll leave you to play 'spot the mistake' if you like.

Now - back to the picture in which I have a specific interest.

On page 116 there is another photo of a bike described as a racing version of the 500cc BSA Shooting Star twin from the mid 1950's. It is, but I think it's much more than that. I think it's the bike that Dick Klamfoth rode to 2nd place at Daytona in 1954.

This is the racing 500 twin in "Whatever happened..."

The bike in the Hopwood photo shows modifications and features that were only used on bikes prepared for Daytona. For example, the modified fuel tank with filler moved to the side. The Vokes oil filter. Twin TT carburettors. The special thick-flange Daytona barrels. The racing seat made by BSA that looks like a Feridax seat but isn't.

In 1954 BSA achieved their big-win at Daytona winning the first 5 places with a team of specially prepared Gold Stars and Shooting Stars. These bikes have fascinated me since I was 17 and my interest and work to find out more then ultimately get involved in the restoration of examples of both can be read about at

My motivation to do this was driven by a frustration that there was so little documented about them in published histories and what was published was often inaccurate.

These bikes were hand-made by a team in BSA put together for just this purpose and special in many ways but with the most obvious and defining characteristic being that they were rigid- framed so they would be lighter and so they could be used in US flat-track events after Daytona. However,the bike that Dick Klamfoth rode to 2nd place was different because it wore a swing-arm frame - why?

This is Dick Klamfoth on his swing-arm twin at Daytona in 1954

The work to research the rigid Gold Star and Shooting Star restored in 1954 took longer than the actual restoration itself and I described it at times as being "more like archaeology than restoration". If the history and specification of the rigid bikes was a big puzzle to solve, then Dick Klamfoth's swing-arm twin has been an even bigger one.

This will be the first in a series of blogs that will explain the research done that led me to believe that the Hopwood pic is Klamfoth's 1954 bike. And since I'm now restoring that bike too, it will provide an occasional update on the work.

More later...

You can read a book review here
You can read more about Daytona BSAs and my involvement in the project to restore a 1954 Gold Star and Shooting Star here

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