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…
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