BSA BAN­DIT

A bike which BSA never built was hand-crafted in Kent, stored in a shed in the Cotswolds, em­i­grated to Aus­tralia, moved to New Zealand, and has now re­turned to Britain where it can be seen on the clas­sic scene. Richard Jones re­veals some of its se­crets…

Real Classic - - Contents - Photos by Roger Josling, Dave Akhurst, Henry Bal­four and Richard Jones

A bike which BSA never built was hand­crafted in Kent us­ing pre-pro­duc­tion parts. In­tended as a 350, it’s been fit­ted with an A65 en­gine – and if that wasn’t enough the mo­tor’s been taken out to 750. We re­veal some of its se­crets…

New Year’s Day saw me, as usual, with cam­era at the Vin­tage Stony event, busily look­ing for mo­tor­cy­cles that I hadn’t pho­tographed be­fore. Lean­ing in­sou­ciantly on its side­stand was a ma­chine with the word ‘Ban­dit’ on its side­pan­els. Pho­tographs were taken, con­fi­dent that I re­called some­thing about a BSA with that name. The en­gine was an 1965 A65 twin – so I should be able write con­fi­dently about it for the RC web­site.

It was there­fore some­thing of a sur­prise to find that BSA had never made a Ban­dit. The Ban­dit would have been a Tri­umph, and BSA’s ver­sion of the same ma­chine was called a Fury. Con­fu­sion reigned and I turned to RCHQ Bude. There­after, thanks to the wonders of the in­for­ma­tion su­per­high­way, I not only dis­cov­ered who the owner was but was in­vited along to see the bike.

Roger Josling is one of those peo­ple who has mo­tor­cy­cles deeply in­grained in his char­ac­ter. His first ex­pe­ri­ences of twowheeled de­light were aboard a friend’s two-stroke – pos­si­ble a DOT, or James or Cot­ton, mem­ory fades – rid­ing around an al­lot­ment. He’s al­ways been a fan of all things me­chan­i­cal and what he refers to as ‘tin­ker­ing and pulling things apart’, some­thing he in­her­ited from his fa­ther, who thought noth­ing of re-wind­ing the elec­tric mo­tor from a wash­ing ma­chine. Roger be­gan buy­ing old bikes and ‘tart­ing them up’.

His first ma­chine of any size was a 1954 Tiger 100 which cost £25 from Law­son’s Mo­tor­cy­cles in South Nor­wood, a lot of money when old ma­chin­ery could be bought for a fiver. Roger had yet to get his li­cense, so the bike had to be pushed all the way to his fa­ther’s garage in Thorn­ton Heath. Roger in­tended to put the Tri­umph’s en­gine into a BSA frame, or maybe a Nor­ton Featherbed, but nei­ther project reached fruition.

The Tri­umph was fol­lowed by a Pan­ther with a side­car chas­sis, to which his fa­ther at­tached an alu­minium body he had fab­ri­cated. Roger – still with­out li­cense – was fer­ried around by a friend. A rather cu­ri­ous Tri­umph Tiger 100 fol­lowed – a café racer with clip-ons and a sin­gle seat but at­tached to a rather heavy Swal­low Jet 80 side­car. The out­fit re­quired con­sid­er­able strength to be man­han­dled around South Lon­don and Roger more of­ten than not found him­self as pas­sen­ger to a stronger mate who could wres­tle the Tiger into order.

Years passed and Roger moved out of Lon­don in the early 1970s while mo­tor­cy­cles faded from his life. When the itch for two wheels re­turned he looked at a BSA B33 – big sin­gles be­ing a pas­sion – and then set­tled on an In­dian Royal En­field Clas­sic. This had the ad­van­tage of be­ing a new big sin­gle with plenty of spares which looked like a clas­sic Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle. Roger still owns this bike al­though it has gone through many changes and improvements. There then fol­lowed a fas­ci­na­tion for some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent – small Ital­ian lightweights, the first of which was a Gi­tane Testi 50cc which Roger re­built and re­stored. There then fol­lowed Gil­era, Bianchi, Du­cati and Moto Morini ma­chine, so there are now seven of th­ese small but beau­ti­fully formed Ital­ian clas­sics in Roger’s out­build­ing. How he man­ages to get them, the Ban­dit and the In­dian En­field in there is be­yond me. Shades of Dr Who and the TARDIS, per­haps?

This all begs an im­por­tant ques­tion. Given Roger’s fas­ci­na­tion with big sin­gles and Ital­ian lightweights, how did he end up own­ing the Ban­dit which is nei­ther?

‘When I saw it for sale I just liked the look of it and, as some money be­came avail­able, I could af­ford it. Af­ter all, it’s not go­ing to go down in value.’ So, with per­haps some trep­i­da­tion, he sent the pur­chase price to New Zealand where the Ban­dit was cur­rently liv­ing and, in re­turn, was re­warded with the splen­did ex­am­ple of mo­tor­cy­cling his­tory that you see here. His­tory? Oh yes.

Cast your minds back to those heady days of the late 1960s when BSA and Tri­umph, com­bined into a sin­gle busi­ness, were search­ing for a so­lu­tion to get them out of the deep mire into which they were swirling. New models were re­quired and, like a white knight rid­ing to the res­cue, the by-then re­tired Ed­ward Turner pro­duced his de­sign for a 350cc dohc twin which would be the an­swer to all the group’s trou­bles. Sur­pris­ingly – at least to Bert Hop­wood who had been work­ing hard on a 250cc triple – the board agreed with Turner and said that all work must be con­cen­trated on pro­duc­ing pro­to­types of Turner’s ma­chine.

Hop­wood was then asked to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the de­sign of the 350 and was not happy, as may be gath­ered from his let­ter to Lionel Jofeh, the then Man­ag­ing Direc­tor. ‘ To re­fresh your mem­ory, there is so much fun­da­men­tally wrong with the de­sign that, if this were cor­rected, there would be lit­tle of the orig­i­nal lay­out sur­viv­ing. I told you that no one in his right senses would touch this with a barge pole be­cause, from

con­sid­er­able past ex­pe­ri­ence, I know that he would be ac­cused of caus­ing de­lays and un­nec­es­sar­ily al­ter­ing a per­fectly sound de­sign.’

Hop­wood was proved cor­rect. Not only did Turner say that Hop­wood would de­lay pro­duc­tion, mak­ing Hop­wood ‘very an­gry’ and ‘bit­terly dis­ap­pointed’, but the en­gine and gear­box had sig­nif­i­cant flaws. Fur­ther­more; ‘ The frame of the ma­chine has al­ready been re-de­signed due to ex­cess flex­i­bil­ity in the main, which con­sti­tuted a haz­ard, and the front forks also are con­sid­ered to be fun­da­men­tally un­safe and are at the mo­ment en­gag­ing our at­ten­tion.’

Hop­wood and Doug Hele un­der­took con­sid­er­able re-de­sign to pro­duce the even­tual pro­to­type, bas­ing the frame on the one de­signed by Rob North for the Tri­dent. The new ma­chine was just about ready to be shown to the (pre­sum­ably) ad­mir­ing public and press in 1971, al­though pro­duc­tion was at least an­other year away. 1971 – wasn’t that the year when BSA-Tri­umph finally ad­mit­ted to its ‘financial dif­fi­cul­ties’? In­deed it was and the BSA Fury and Tri­umph Ban­dit never made it into pro­duc­tion, al­though ex­am­ples of what may have been can be seen in the Lon­don and Na­tional mo­tor­cy­cle mu­se­ums.

The Fury and the Ban­dit may not have made it into pro­duc­tion but quite a few of those Rob North-in­spired frames were man­u­fac­tured and be­came avail­able to those savvy enough to recog­nise their po­ten­tial. One of th­ese was a ta­lented young pre­ci­sion engi­neer in Kent called Dave Akhurst who, at the ten­der age of 22 and with his friend, Jerry Poole, built the ma­chine you see here in a gar­den shed while oth­er­wise un­em­ployed. The frame was ac­quired from Tam­worth- based De­vimead, the com­pany founded by ex-BSA em­ployee Les Ma­son and per­haps best known for be­ing the first com­pany to of­fer the nee­dle roller con­ver­sion for the mar­que’s A10 and A65 en­gines.

The frame cost Dave £11 and he de­cided to do some­thing that per­haps BSA might have thought of if wiser minds had pre­vailed – the mo­tive power for the spe­cial would be BSA’s A65 en­gine. Once again he turned to De­vimead, pay­ing them £8 for one of their 750cc con­ver­sion units al­though he then went on to spent £160 in up­grades, a large sum for the early 1970s. The con­ver­sion pro­vided a dou­ble ben­e­fit – there was, of course, the ex­tra ca­pac­ity but the short­stroke con­ver­sion meant that, at ½” lower, the en­gine could be fit­ted into the frame with­out cut­ting, some­thing that must have ap­pealed to Akhurst’s en­gi­neer­ing in­stincts.

Not that it was sim­ply a mat­ter of drop­ping the en­gine into the frame and tight­en­ing some bolts. Dave wanted the en­gine to be as far for­ward as pos­si­ble, with the front of the crank­case bolted to the small mount­ing plates welded to the down­tubes. How­ever the mount­ing plates were blocked, in part, by the frame tubes them­selves so it wasn’t go­ing to be pos­si­ble to ma­noeu­vre a long bolt through the plates and the crank­case boss. This wasn’t a prob­lem for a ta­lented engi­neer like Dave who made an in­ter­nally threaded tube to go in­side the boss and then bolts to go through the mount­ing plates from each side. The only in­ci­sion to the frame was a small cut to the right-hand loop to al­low the oil pres­sure re­lief valve to fit in.

The orig­i­nal Ban­dit had a right-side fi­nal drive, so the rear fork was turned up­side down and new lugs brazed on for the sus­pen­sion struts to move things to the other side. There is also a sub­stan­tial head steady, and an un­sightly gap be­tween the slim 2½ gal­lon fuel tank was hid­den with ad­di­tional gus­sets brazed on at the steer­ing head. The last bit of de­sign and fab­ri­ca­tion to men­tion – the for­mer by Akhurst, the lat­ter Poole – was the oil tank that sits neatly be­tween the frame tubes be­hind those ‘Ban­dit’ em­bla­zoned side cov­ers.

Not only did BSA man­u­fac­ture frames for the Fury but there were also plenty of other cy­cle parts avail­able for the Ban­dit cre­ation, and th­ese were sourced from Jim Sharp Mo­tor­cy­cles in Sevenoaks. The only non-Ban­dit part that the pair didn’t fab­ri­cate them­selves was the two-into-one ex­haust and si­lencer, but Dave never warmed to this so he made his own. You will also see from the photos that the work­man­ship of the young duo is ex­cep­tional, as is the at­ten­tion to de­tail from those hand­some hubs, wheels and brakes to the light al­loy footrest plates.

Al­though the Ban­dit looks small and com­pact – pos­si­bly ac­cen­tu­ated by the way the en­gine fits so snugly in the frame – the wheel­base is 56” so it’s by no means a tid­dler. Jour­nal­ist John Nut­ting rode it back in the day, and com­mented favourably on the com­pact, re­laxed rid­ing po­si­tion and the fact that the ‘lithe, 340lb ma­chine could be swung through sharp bends with­out any fear of ground­ing’. He would have pre­ferred a nar­rower han­dle­bar, and the sus­pen­sion set­tings were yet to be sorted as the front springs were too soft. The flex­i­bil­ity of the sin­gle car­bu­ret­tor en­gine also re­ceived favourable at­ten­tion and was said to have ‘made cog-swap­ping su­per­flu­ous’.

But why is it called a Ban­dit when it should be a Fury? Dave told me that nei­ther he nor Jerry thought Fury sounded right and Jerry, in par­tic­u­lar, thought that Ban­dit sounded far bet­ter. Who can ar­gue with that?

Be­fore we leave Dave Akhurst, a cou­ple of in­ter­est­ing facts on his later mo­tor­cy­cling ex­ploits. So im­pressed was he with the Ban­dit’s han­dling that he built him­self an­other to race, with twin carbs, and with which he had quite a bit of suc­cess in club races. By 2007 Dave had de­signed and built one of the world’s first liq­ue­fied petroleum gas-pow­ered mo­tor­cy­cles. Based on the Yamaha XT500, it was, nat­u­rally given its en­vi­ron­men­tal cre­den­tials, painted green and, equally un­sur­pris­ingly, was called the Green­fly.

The view over the bars is less rad­i­cal than you might ex­pect

The small BSA head­lamp was re­placed by a su­perb 7” Bosch H4 unit out of Henry’s BMW parts bins and he used the BMW mount­ing ears on their rub­ber grom­mets to re­tain it

Above: The frame’s dou­ble cra­dle con­struc­tion for­tu­nately al­lows the carb and its in­let tract plenty of room to breathe Right: A fas­ci­nat­ing com­bi­na­tion of parts has pro­duced a truly re­mark­able BSA

Fit­ting the big twin en­gine into a frame in­tended for a 350 wasn’t as easy as it looks. The brack­ets on the front down­tubes of­fered a prob­lem … which was of course solved

There is a sub­stan­tial head steady in place to keep things smoother, and an un­sightly gap be­tween the slim 2½ gal­lon fuel tank was hid­den with ad­di­tional gus­sets brazed on at the steer­ing head

The only in­ci­sion to the frame was a small cut to the right-hand loop to al­low the oil pres­sure re­lief valve to fit in

Right: Henry re­stored the petrol tank. It’s a 1971 ex­port Rocket Three tank, and he had the tank badges gold plated (as in real gold) be­fore reap­ply­ing the paint colours us­ing Hum­brol and a tiny brush

Rear an­chor­age is pro­vided by an­other con­i­cal hub, sls this time, and with the hub drilled for ei­ther light­ness, style or both

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