Best of Bri­tish

Classic Trial - - CONTENTS - Words: Steven Crane Pic­tures: Mal­colm Car­ling, Yoomee Ar­chive

Was­sell

In a time af­ter the Sec­ond World War many in­no­va­tive Bri­tish en­gi­neers formed a cot­tage in­dus­try of mo­tor­cy­cle pro­duc­tion putting their skills into where they felt they could be best ap­plied. One man, Ted Was­sell, was no dif­fer­ent. He had served as a Fleet Air Arms pi­lot dur­ing the war and the story goes that he once man­aged to smug­gle a mo­tor­cy­cle onto an air­craft car­rier and ride it around the flight deck. This same spirit would see him dis­play his new range of mo­tor­cy­cle com­po­nents at the Mo­tor­cy­cle Show held in Novem­ber 1956. He had a dream to one day man­u­fac­ture a mo­tor­cy­cle that would proudly carry his name on the fuel tank.

Based at Spring Hill near Birm­ing­ham in the Mid­lands, his first lead into the mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try was when he started to man­u­fac­ture his own Was­sell branded ac­ces­sories of which he put to­gether a com­pre­hen­sive range of parts in a cat­a­logue.

At first, he had the many com­po­nents and ac­ces­sories made by out­side con­trac­tors be­fore bring­ing them in-house to im­prove stock and qual­ity con­trol. With the in­ter­est in the new parts they were forced to move to big­ger premises on the Burnt­wood In­dus­trial Es­tate at Wal­sall to in­crease pro­duc­tion and meet the de­mands of the cus­tomers.

With so many com­po­nents now at hand his fo­cus turned to fol­low­ing his am­bi­tion of pro­duc­ing his own ma­chine.

The orig­i­nal idea was to do as the fa­mous Rick­man broth­ers had done be­fore and at­tack the new mar­ket for small-en­gined ma­chines in the ex­pand­ing Amer­i­can mar­ket place with the idea of even­tu­ally be­com­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle man­u­fac­turer.

Many tri­als rid­ers will re­mem­ber the hero­ics by the late Dave Row­land on the works BSA Ban­tam 175cc tri­als ma­chine in the late six­ties tak­ing the ma­chine to run­ner up spot in the 1967 Scot­tish Six Days Trial.

Mick Bow­ers then con­tin­ued with de­vel­op­ment be­fore the project folded. Tri­als en­thu­si­asts saw this as a missed op­por­tu­nity to pro­duce the ma­chine as ev­ery­body knew what a good lit­tle tri­als en­gine the sin­gle cylin­der two-stroke power plant was.

In 1970 he was pro­duc­ing enough parts to put to­gether the BSA Ban­tam en­gine into a frame of his own de­sign for tri­als and scram­bles.

Rolling Chas­sis

Mo­tor­cy­cle frame fab­ri­ca­tor, Jim Lee, came to the project with so much enthusiasm and ex­pe­ri­ence which he passed onto Ted Was­sell and the con­struc­tion of the first two pro­to­type Was­sell mo­tor­cy­cles were built.

There would be two mod­els, a tri­als ma­chine and a scram­bles model and they would use the 173cc BSA Ban­tam en­gine.

He showed the two new mod­els at the 1970 Mo­tor­cy­cle Show in a hope that the BSA man­age­ment would pro­vide him with new en­gines to pro­duce the mod­els. BSA was not in­ter­ested in the slight­est but such was Was­sell’s spirit he took it as an op­por­tu­nity to make his own rolling chas­sis kits.

The short-sighted BSA man­age­ment could have taken a leaf out of the vi­sion of its Ja­panese ri­vals as four years later the Yamaha TY 175cc would be re­leased and go on to be a mas­sive seller. The new frame kits would take the ‘Ban­tam’ en­gine and car­bu­ret­tor as the donor and you could then build your own ‘spe­cial’ ma­chine up to the spec­i­fi­ca­tion you re­quired.

The com­pany could also sup­ply com­plete ma­chines as they had the fa­cil­ity to re­fur­bish the en­gines which were read­ily avail­able and fit many of the com­pany’s range of parts to make the com­plete ma­chine. The kits came com­plete with ball ended com­pe­ti­tion levers fit­ted with built in ad­justers (new at the time), all the ca­bles and han­dle­bars and grips, en­gine mount­ing bolts, wa­ter­proof ig­ni­tion coil with snap con­nec­tors and plug lead.

The main stay of the kit though was the frame which was stove enam­elled in hard wear­ing ham­mered sil­ver paint which was easy to ‘touch up’ if dam­aged. Chrome parts in­cluded the steel wheel rims, han­dle­bars and ex­haust pipe. To com­ple­ment the look of the sil­ver frame, high qual­ity parts such as the fuel tank, wheel hubs, side pan­els and chain guard were man­u­fac­tured from pol­ished alu­minium which also helped to keep the weight down. To keep the em­pha­sis on qual­ity the footrests, brake pedal and all fit­tings in­clud­ing nuts and bolts were ei­ther zinc or cad­mium plated.

When com­pleted the ma­chine cer­tainly looked the part and was a good way of get­ting people into the sport at a sen­si­ble price. The com­plete cost of a ready to ride ma­chine was a very com­pet­i­tive £175.00 which at the time was quite a lot cheaper than the new ma­chines from Spain which were slowly creep­ing into the mar­ket.

With a wheel­base of 51 ½ inches and a good 12 ½ inches of ground clear­ance, fifty com­plete ma­chines were sold by the end of 1971 as well as many frame kits.

Only Tri­als

An­other at­trac­tion was the ease of main­te­nance on the lit­tle sin­gle cylin­der ma­chine. Many rid­ers had been brought up with Bri­tish two-strokes and were not over fa­mil­iar with the new gen­er­a­tion of for­eign ma­chines with their met­ric thread nuts and bolts, etc.

With lit­tle in­ter­est in the scram­bles model, the com­pany de­cided to con­cen­trate on the boom­ing tri­als mar­ket. With the demise of BSA as a man­u­fac­turer and the dry­ing up of donor en­gines they needed to start sourc­ing a re­place­ment en­gine.

The Aus­trian com­pany, Sachs, had pro­duced a su­perb lit­tle 125cc six speed gear­box mo­tor which had pow­ered many of the small ca­pac­ity tri­als, en­duro and mo­tocross ma­chines and this would be the en­gine they would use to power their new tri­als ma­chine ti­tled the ‘An­te­lope’.

Ted Was­sell had vis­ited the Mi­lan show in late 1971 in Italy with friend Pete Ed­mond­son and a sup­ply con­tract was signed.

With the demise of the Sachs en­gined 125cc Dales­man tri­als ma­chine due to eco­nomic rea­sons, they could not sell enough ma­chines to make it prof­itable.

Was­sell em­ployed the re­dun­dant staff which in­cluded founder Ed­mond­son and frame builder Jim Lee to man­u­fac­ture the new ma­chine, once again us­ing as many of the com­pany’s ac­ces­sories as pos­si­ble. In two months the

new ma­chine was ready for pro­duc­tion.

It was a mas­ter­piece and once again the qual­ity was very ev­i­dent. The du­plex cra­dle frame was man­u­fac­tured from the new must have Reynolds 531 tub­ing, giv­ing max­i­mum strength with flex­i­bil­ity and was an all welded con­struc­tion. An­other nice touch was the use of main­te­nance free Silent bloc bushes in the swing­ing arm pivot and a chain oiler.

Also fea­tured and quite new at the time was a spring loaded trail­ing chain ten­sioner to take up any slack in the chain dur­ing an event. The sus­pen­sion also came in for some qual­ity treat­ment with Gir­ling oil filled units look­ing af­ter the rear with chrome springs and Metal Pro­file 600 se­ries forks on the front. An­other nice touch was the fit­ting of Timkin ta­per roller bear­ings in the head­stock which gave pos­i­tive han­dling and re­quired very lit­tle ad­just­ment. All this was clamped se­curely in sturdy al­loy clamps.

The en­gine came in for some fine tun­ing from Ed­mond­son and an Amal Con­cen­tric car­bu­ret­tor was fit­ted. The frame was once again fin­ished in sil­ver, com­ple­mented with many highly pol­ished parts in­clud­ing the fuel tank, which had a re­ally use­ful ca­pac­ity of ap­prox 1 ½ gal­lons, the mud­guards and the con­i­cal hubs, etc. The op­tion was also of­fered of a high or low fit­ting front mud­guard.

As per the BSA frame kit, all the com­po­nents fit­ted were top qual­ity ei­ther be­ing zinc or cad­mium plated and ‘Ny­lock’ lock­nuts were used to keep ev­ery­thing nice and se­cure.

Penton

With the ma­chines now rolling off the pro­duc­tion line at the rate of three per day, Ted Was­sell looked across the pond to the mas­sive ex­pand­ing Amer­i­can off-road mar­ket.

His com­pany had traded in the USA for many years with the wide range of mo­tor­cy­cle com­po­nents it had to of­fer. He had an in­sight into the way of the Amer­i­can rid­ers and upped the spec­i­fi­ca­tion of the ma­chines to meet their de­mands. His in­stinct was cor­rect and even­tu­ally around one thou­sand of the

ma­chines were ex­ported to the ‘States’.

The com­pany knew they had a qual­ity prod­uct to sell and they man­aged to bro­ker a deal with the Amer­i­can Penton mo­tor­cy­cle com­pany to sell them. They were or­dered by Amer­i­can off-road leg­end John Penton and car­ried the Penton brand name on the fuel tanks and were mar­keted as the 125cc ‘Mud-Lark’.

The same oper­a­tion of im­port­ing re-branded ma­chines had worked be­fore and Penton knew this, hav­ing suc­cess­fully car­ried out this ex­er­cise with the Aus­trian KTM brand. The tri­als ma­chine would com­ple­ment the Penton off-road brand in Amer­ica. You must be re­minded that the rapid growth in the huge Amer­i­can mar­ket was hap­pen­ing around this time.

With the Was­sell and KTM Penton branded ma­chines they could sup­ply a com­plete range of off-road ma­chines, Tri­als, En­duro and Mo­tocross. You may think that the tri­als model named the ‘Mud-Lark’ was strange but the en­duro mod­els were named ‘Berk­shire’, 100cc; ‘Jack Piner’, 175cc; and Mo­tocross/Desert model ‘Six Day’ 125cc.

The new Penton badged ‘Mud-Lark’ ma­chine ini­tially sold very well but when the pound ster­ling plunged against the U.S dol­lar in 1975, overnight the ma­chines be­came un­eco­nom­i­cal to pro­duce. Pro­duc­tion fin­ished at the end of the year and the dream was over.

The ma­chine had never scored much suc­cess in com­pe­ti­tion and in the UK the ma­chines re­mained vir­tu­ally un­known but what it did achieve even­tu­ally ended with Was­sell re­ceiv­ing a Queen’s award to in­dus­try.

Ted Was­sell passed away in 1975 but the com­pany continues to trade with his son Tim at the helm. Was­sell con­tinue to pro­duce and sell ac­ces­sories to the present day.

The Was­sell BSA pow­ered tri­als ma­chine kit con­ver­sion

The Was­sell BSA pow­ered scram­bles ma­chine kit con­ver­sion

The sturdy frame ready to ac­cept the BSA Ban­tam mo­tor

Quick re­lease ‘Knock’ through spin­dles were used

The air fil­ter out­let was po­si­tioned high in the frame

Tim Was­sell stands proud with the new tri­als ma­chine in 1972

The tri­als ‘High Fen­der’ model

The tri­als ’Low Fen­der’ model

The brochure em­pha­sis was on qual­ity com­po­nents

The Penton tri­als range brochure for the lu­cra­tive Amer­i­can mar­ket

In the USA the Penton ma­chines were sold along­side re-badged KTM’s from Aus­tria

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