The Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) was for most of it's life Britain's largest motorcycle manufacturer.
BSA's adventure began in 1861, in England, the company being founded by fourteen gunsmiths of the Birmingham Small Arms Trade Association, who had supplied arms to the British government during the Crimean War. As the gun trade declined, they began to manufacture bicycles in 1880. The first motorcycle was produced in 1903 and the first automobile prototype saw the light in 1907. The BSA automobile was, for sure, a success, if we take into consideration the fact that in 1908 there were already 150 vehicles on the streets. In 1920, the company bought some assets of the Aircraft Manufacturing Company and a year later returned to the love for cars, being proud of its four-cylinders models. During the World War I and II, the company produced a lot of rifles, shells and motorcycles for the troops and post-war, BSA expanded the range of goods it manufactured. From 1937, it supplied 126,000 M20 motorcycles to the armed forces.
After World War 2 it became the largest in the world, producing over 75,000 bikes a year in some years of the 1950s. BSA did well in post war economy and was involved in producing guns, taxi-cabs and metal plate.
In 1951, the BSA Group bought Triumph Motorcycles, increasing their fame and production and in 1954 entered a team of riders in the 200 mile Daytona beach race where the bikes took first, second, third, fourth, and fifth places. Ten years later, BSA gained fame in motocross, thanks to Jeff Smith and his B40.
The Group continued to expand over the years, but by 1965, the competition from Japan made BSA lose the first place on the list. The year 1968 determined BSA to make a few changes to its product line and to prepare the field for the three cylinder machine, "Rocket three". Unfortunately, in a few years, BSA almost experienced the bankruptcy and its motorcycle businesses were absorbed into the Manganese Bronze company, Norton-Villiers, which became Norton-Villiers-Triumph.
Even if the BSA name was not on the new company's title, a few products with BSA signature were made until 1973. The four models released were Gold Star 500, 650 Thunderbolt/Lightning and the 750cc Rocket Three.
In 1991, the BSA Company merged with Andover Norton International Ltd. thus forming the BSA Group, which produced spare parts for existing motorcycles. Three years later, the BSA Group was incorporated into the newly formed BSA Regal Group, which had a large spare parts business.
BSA had a relatively strong racing presence prior to the Second World War. All racing activity was put aside during the War but resumed afterwards to give the company consistent racing results which had eluded them beforehand. Racing success equals strong consumer sales and the motorcycles were considered very reliable and a good value for the money.
- In the late 1930`s they purchased Sunbeam.
- In 1944, they purchased Ariel.
- BSA went on to purchase Triumph, which eventually merged with Norton - Villiers.