BSA A65 LIGHT­NING

In 1965, Ray Jones bought a brand new BSA A65. 53 years later, he’s still rid­ing that same bike af­ter thou­sands of miles of club runs and in­ter­na­tional travel, the odd mishap and a com­plete re­build…

Real Classic - - What Lies Within - Pho­tos by Ray Jones

In 1965, Ray Jones bought a brand new BSA A65. 53 years later, he's still rid­ing that same bike af­ter thou­sands of miles of club runs and in­ter­na­tional travel, the odd mishap and a com­plete re­build...

When I left school in 1961, I got an ap­pren­tice­ship at Bri­tish In­su­lated Cal­len­der’s Ca­bles in Prescot, Lan­cashire. Liv­ing in Widnes, I could eas­ily cy­cle the seven miles across coun­try to get to work. Af­ter a year, I was sent to BICC in Helsby, Cheshire; more like thir­teen miles each way. Too far for me to cy­cle. A mo­tor­cy­cling un­cle had a spare, 1954, plunger-framed, ma­roon 250cc BSA C11G that my par­ents (quite out of the blue) sug­gested I should use for trans­port. What a turn-up that was. I was over­joyed at the idea. I’d rid­den pil­lion with this un­cle a few times and loved it.

So I learned to ride – and loved it more, passed my test in 1963 and then traded the C11G in for a lovely red BSA A7 500cc twin with a full dol­phin fair­ing. About this time I ‘found’ a girl­friend who came from a mo­tor­cy­cling fam­ily. Her dad was a despatch rider with the Royal Corps of Sig­nals in WW2 and had owned a B33 side­car out­fit be­fore his Ford Anglia. Her brother rode an al­ways-im­mac­u­late BSA A10 with a Swal­low side­car. He was a mem­ber of the War­ring­ton BSA Owner’s Club. So I joined, chang­ing my re­la­tion­ship with my mo­tor­cy­cle from a means of trans­port to a way of meet­ing new peo­ple and mak­ing new friends.

Be­ing a mem­ber of the BSAOC changed my life in a big way; mo­tor­cy­cling be­came my ‘life’ – Sun­day runs, camp­ing week­ends and club nights meant that there was never a dull mo­ment. We at­tended our first Dragon Rally in 1964 and did quite a few more af­ter that.

Our near­est BSA deal­er­ship was Jack Frod­sham in War­ring­ton and I used them for all my BSA bits and bobs. I be­came aware in early 1965, when I was 22, that ‘Frod­dies’ had a new A65 Light­ning on or­der. I quickly de­cided to put my name on it. At 654cc with twin car­bu­ret­tors it was said to be good for about 115mph – BSA’s an­swer to the Tri­umph Bon­neville. It turned out a ‘mas­sive’ 55bhp.

The Light­ning was despatched from the BSA fac­tory on June 2nd and it be­came mine on June 9th 1965, hav­ing duly signed the HP agree­ment. It was a beau­ti­ful ma­chine, with a gold tank and side pan­els, a black frame and plenty of shiny chrome. It sported a siamesed ex­haust sys­tem and 6V light­ing. It cost me £368.3.6d, an­nual road tax was £8 and the four gal­lon tank would just take a pound’s worth of petrol. It was my first-ever brand new ma­chine and it started a love af­fair with this mo­tor­cy­cle that is still on­go­ing to­day.

Ini­tially the BSA was garaged next to my brother’s Norton Ju­bilee in our dad’s rather rick­ety old shed. I broke my col­lar­bone in a mo­tor­ing ac­ci­dent three months later and didn’t see it while I was re­cu­per­at­ing. Once re­cov­ered, I was amazed and dis­ap­pointed at how quickly the chrome work, espe­cially on the tank, had de­te­ri­o­rated. Af­ter a lot of TLC

she looked very pre­sentable and, as my only means of trans­port, was used every day and thor­oughly cleaned every Satur­day ready for the club run next day. And that way of life re­mained un­changed for years.

In 1966 we trav­elled to Vi­enna for the In­ter­na­tional BSAOC Rally, and rode through a lot of wet weather there and back, but my bike per­formed with­out a hitch. We were camp­ing all the way and cov­ered 2000 miles in two weeks. ’66 was a mem­o­rable year, and dur­ing the trip we saw peo­ple on the camp­sites get­ting very ex­cited about some soc­cer matches, but mo­tor­cy­cling was our lives. As we waited at Calais to board the evening ferry back to Eng­land we were greeted by car drivers com­ing off the boat shout­ing through open win­dows; ‘We’ve won! We’ve won!’ It was lost on us. It turned out that Eng­land had won a tro­phy…

The ACU Na­tional Rally be­came a reg­u­lar event with our branch, a 600-mile jour­ney over 24 hours plus get­ting to the start point and then home again. The Light­ning al­ways amazed me be­cause rid­ing for that length of time makes you a wee bit weary, but the bike was al­ways ready to go, no mat­ter how I was feel­ing.

Af­ter Jen­nifer and I were mar­ried in 1967, we con­tin­ued be­ing very ac­tive mem­bers of the War­ring­ton BSAOC with a bike that al­ways looked good and per­formed well. There were lit­tle nig­gles every now and again, as were ex­pected with Bri­tish bikes at that time, but noth­ing ma­jor. The ad­vance/re­tard unit was the most con­sis­tent cause for com­plaint and I ac­quired a bag­ful of them over time. I fit­ted elec­tronic tim­ing many years later and all those prob­lems in­stantly dis­ap­peared.

On one club run to York, my bike started run­ning on one cylin­der – faulty coil. A very nice man from the AA found a 6V coil on a Ford Pop­u­lar in a scrap­yard and got me go­ing. That coil stayed on the bike for some time be­fore I re­placed it, as it worked per­fectly. I never have been to York to this day…

In 1970 we had our first child, so I fit­ted a sin­gle-seat Wat­so­nian GP Sports side­car and had it sprayed gold to match the bike. I changed the gear­box sprocket from 21 teeth to the rec­om­mended 19 and that helped it per­form well. Driv­ing the out­fit took a bit of get­ting used to, as it was a bit of a strug­gle with the stan­dard han­dle­bars. A pair of wider tri­als-type bars fit­ted and square-sec­tion Avon tyres made for bet­ter han­dling. It was fun once I got used to it, and keep­ing the chair wheel down on left-han­ders was quite an art!

My wife en­joyed rid­ing pil­lion, so the side­car was the nat­u­ral place for our new son. He was very much at home there and we took him camp­ing with us, and life car­ried on very much as it was be­fore. The big­ger tent and ex­tra lug­gage needed for our larger fam­ily eas­ily fit­ted with the ad­di­tion of the side­car.

Dur­ing the 1971 ACU Na­tional Rally the en­gine rather an­noy­ingly threw a con­rod in Wis­bech in the mid­dle of the night. Oh no! A friendly mar­shal al­lowed me to leave the out­fit at his place un­til the fol­low­ing week, and I jumped on the back of a friend’s A7 Shoot­ing Star and con­tin­ued with the rally. We did the round trip of 450 miles to pick up the bike on a friend’s trailer and the whole fam­ily (in­clud­ing my par­ents) made a day of it and brought the BSA home.

The con­rod had bro­ken through the bridge piece at the crank­case mouth and snapped it clean off. That was all! It was a pretty clean break and a friend’s father had a spe­cial­ist

welder do a fan­tas­tic re­pair and the crank­case was as good as new. One con­rod was badly marked, so a new pair was fit­ted and the en­gine put back to­gether. Life car­ried on but af­ter that, I be­gan not to trust this power unit as much as I did be­fore. Pulling the chair was a bit of a strain on the 654cc mo­tor. I got word that Derek Rum­ble, who suc­cess­fully raced his Rum­ble BSA side­car, had a spare A65 Light­ning en­gine for sale, and it had a num­ber of De­vimead good­ies on it. It was a later, 750 mo­tor with pol­ished con­rods, an oil feed con­ver­sion, four spring clutch, etc. This sounded too good to be true. So I bought it and put it in my frame.

The ex­tra power was very no­tice­able, and use­ful when pulling the side­car loaded with camp­ing gear. But any­thing that wasn’t needed on a race en­gine had been sawn off to re­duce weight. There were odd cut-outs in some of the en­gine cas­ings. Well that’s OK, it’s only cos­metic. My bike was now seven years old and I was happy with it.

In 1973 we were ex­pect­ing our sec­ond child so I swapped the GP Sports for a Wat­so­nian Palma child/adult side­car to ac­com­mo­date the ex­tra body. I had that sprayed gold to match, I did the sim­ple con­ver­sion to 12V and fit­ted a re­flec­tive num­ber plate and in­di­ca­tors so we could be seen bet­ter. We’d al­ready booked and paid for that year’s BSAOC rally when we learned we were ac­tu­ally ex­pect­ing twins. They were eight weeks old at the start of the rally and with the help of friends (again) we took the en­tire fam­ily on two out­fits. An­other friend took all the ‘baby stuff’ in her car and we had a fab­u­lous time. The weather was great and we took part in every trip and ride out. All the bikes pulled into a layby when it was time for us to feed the twins (every four hours at that age) and no­body was heard to com­plain!

In 1975 I built a camp­ing trailer for use with our Mor­ris Trav­eller, and it seemed a nat­u­ral move to hook the trailer to the side­car and have the best of both worlds. This was eas­ily done, and the han­dling was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent but easy to man­age. The brakes on the bike weren’t bril­liant, and the brake on the side­car wheel never worked, so stop­ping quickly could be a prob­lem. But ex­tra vig­i­lance when ap­proach­ing haz­ards helped to brake early.

1976 saw us on our way the BSAOC rally in Karl­sruhe, Ger­many, with the fam­ily of five plus the trailer and all our gear. Our three year-old twins sat side-by-side on the front seat of the side­car (with lit­tle safety har­nesses) and our six year-old sat in the back seat. They were as good as gold all through France, Lux­em­burg and into Ger­many for the rally. It was glorious weather un­til the ride home – then it poured down all the way. But it was a great first-time Con­ti­nen­tal trip with the chil­dren.

The next in­ter­na­tional rally was in Hol­land, so we planned for that trip – as the last year’s had been easy, this one should be just the same, surely? Wrong! The big ends went be­fore we’d done 60 miles. A very nice AA man took us to a friend’s house, and he al­lowed the five of us to stay for a cou­ple of nights while I sorted out the en­gine. Luck­ily we weren’t too far from the De­vimead works in Tam­worth so we took the en­gine to Les Ma­son, the owner of De­vimead, and asked him if he could re­pair it. ‘Yes’ he said, ‘Come back tomorrow and it’ll be ready’. So we left him with it.

It turned out that the oil feed con­ver­sion was not by Les Ma­son but was a Heath Robin­son copy. The sludge trap was dam­aged and full of sludge, con­tribut­ing to the demise of the big ends. We were in good hands, and Les stayed back on the Fri­day night to en­sure

that the work was com­pleted so we could be on our way to Hol­land. Which we were, as soon as I had re-fit­ted the en­gine and bolted ev­ery­thing up. With grate­ful thanks to Les and his team for a bril­liant ser­vice, we were mo­bile again. We were all hap­pier with the en­gine from then on and we got about 55mpg, not too bad for all that load!

Life car­ried on much as be­fore, but our chil­dren were get­ting big­ger and heav­ier. The BSA didn’t re­ally ob­ject to this ex­tra weight, but it was be­com­ing a tight squeeze. Camp­ing by car was much eas­ier, and my job took me away from home so I was un­able to at­tend club nights. So that chap­ter of my life closed and an­other opened. I still used my Light­ning, but not as of­ten. As the chil­dren were now too big to be com­fort­able in the side­car, I de­cided to con­vert back to solo trim: put the gear­ing back to stan­dard, keep the re­flec­tive num­ber plate and the in­di­ca­tors, too. Any­thing to be seen more eas­ily. In solo form, pulling away eas­ily in a straight line made a change from hav­ing to put a lot of right hand lock when tow­ing the trailer.

Af­ter mov­ing home and job in 1989 I used the bike for work on fine days, but it was show­ing its age. From a dis­tance it still looked OK, but it had done such a lot of hard work dur­ing its life, and it was telling its own story. I thought about restor­ing the BSA to its for­mer glory my­self, but I didn’t have the space or the tools or the con­fi­dence to tackle such a ma­jor job. I’m so much in awe of you guys who turn a rusty old bas­ket­case into a beau­ti­ful, gleam­ing mo­tor­cy­cle. I re­ally am.

I saw an ad­vert by SRM say­ing that they did re­builds on A65s, but the price was ini­tially out of my range… un­til I re­tired from work in 2006 with a re­dun­dancy pack­age, and shortly af­ter that I in­her­ited some money. This made the de­ci­sion to talk to SRM eas­ier. So in Septem­ber 2007 I handed the Light­ning over to them. By now, espe­cially with the tank and side pan­els re­moved, it looked a very sorry sight.

Any full resto job is time con­sum­ing, and I had to be pa­tient – even more than I ex­pected. I wanted the fin­ished ma­chine to look like the clas­sic bike that it was, with mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the spec to im­prove it. For ex­am­ple; a com­plete nut-and-bolt re­build; use of stain­less steel where pos­si­ble in­stead of plated steel; new chrome parts or rechromed where pos­si­ble, and an 18-inch rear wheel with a fat­ter tyre to stop it look­ing like a moped. Elec­tronic ig­ni­tion, 12V electrics of course, in­di­ca­tors with the BSA han­dle­bar con­trol and Mikuni carbs for more re­li­a­bil­ity over the Amal.

The en­gine re­build came as a bit of a fi­nan­cial shock, be­cause those cut-away sec­tions of en­gine cas­ings and the Heath Robin­son oil feed con­ver­sion meant that vir­tu­ally all the en­gine cast­ings had to be re­placed – the high qual­ity de­manded by SRM wouldn’t al­low such parts to be on their fin­ished ma­chine. I had to agree.

But SRM were great to deal with, and noth­ing was too much trou­ble for them. Their at­ten­tion to de­tail was ex­cel­lent and their stan­dard of work has proved to be per­fect. A real bunch of ded­i­cated mo­tor­cy­clists, so what more could you ask for?

The work in­cluded the usual nee­dle roller con­ver­sion to re­place the tim­ing side bush as stan­dard fayre, as was a Dyna dual ig­ni­tion coil, a sin­gle-phase rec­ti­fier to re­place the Zener diode; Ikon rear shocks, stain­less spokes, pol­ished con­rods, mag­netic sump fil­ter, lead­free valve seats; in­let valves plasma-hard­ened and out­let valves Stel­lite head and tip Tuftrided; brake shoes re­lined and skimmed on the brake plates to match skimmed hubs (wow! What a dif­fer­ence that made), etc, etc.

The petrol tank had two dents in it – one from when the bike was only six months old – and that sin­gle item cost more to be re­paired, chromed and painted than it did to buy the bike in the first place.

It was worth the wait. I had the bike re­turned to me in March 2008 and I was so pleased with how it looked and how it per­formed. My first out­ing in the dark with the 60W quartz halo­gen head­light was amaz­ing – what a bril­liant light when com­pared to the old pre-fo­cus bulbs! But it took its toll on the bat­tery. I’ve since change all the lamps to LEDs and that’s an­other amaz­ing change – and no more prob­lems with the bat­tery not keep­ing its charge. The LEDs were a sim­ple mod­i­fi­ca­tion and a huge im­prove­ment. So many older bikes just have a glim­mer of front head­lamp, and the LEDs make a big dif­fer­ence to see­ing and be­ing seen. Flash­ing in­di­ca­tors are a must for night rid­ing.

The resto job was ten years ago, and I re­cently joined the very ac­tive Black­pool and District Sec­tion of the VMCC and am en­joy­ing rid­ing the Light­ning even more with such a great group of guys. I still do the 100 mile round trip to the War­ring­ton BSA club when the weather is dry. It’s nearly all mo­tor­way but the Light­ning per­forms well at a be­tween 65 and 70, and re­mains oil-tight. I get about 70mpg on a not-too-fast ride now, on 97 oc­tane, as the cylin­der head has been skimmed and has two head gas­kets fit­ted. I rec­om­mend reg­u­lar oil changes at around 1000 miles with a straight 40-weight oil. I’m us­ing Cas­trol Clas­sic XXL in my en­gine now.

If there was one mod­i­fi­ca­tion which made the big­gest dif­fer­ence then it was the orig­i­nal 750 con­ver­sion – De­vimead may be long gone but SRM of­fer some­thing sim­i­lar. The BSA is now 53 years old and every ride takes me back to 1965 when the bike was new… and I’m 22 again!

Jen­nifer’s dad on his Norton 16H some­time around 1943

Ray’s wife Jen­nifer on her dad’s BSA B33

And then, in 1965, Ray ac­quired his new Light­ning – check out the re­ceipt!

Ray’s first bike, a 1954 C11G

1963, and af­ter pass­ing his test Ray traded his BSA for a big­ger BSA; an A7

Dragon Rally in 1964 on the A7. Ray and Jen­nifer

Year 2000, the new mil­len­nium. The bike looks OK from a dis­tance…

Job done!

Al­most com­plete…

Above: The big re­build. The en­gine, pri­mary drive on dis­playRight: That en­gine, back in its rolling chas­sis

Above: Next gen­er­a­tion: Ray’s grand­chil­dren en­joy­ing the newly re­built BSA In­set: Show­ing off at the Wrea Green VMCC stand in 2018

On the road again, bet­ter than new

Above: Those new carbs, and with the side pan­els mod­ded to ac­cept the air fil­tersRight: As new, and as re­stored

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