The term ‘barn find’ is fre­quently used in­ap­pro­pri­ately, but this time Stu­art Fran­cis re­ally did pull a vin­tage mo­tor­cy­cle out of a crum­bling barn where it had been gen­tly de­cay­ing for decades…

Real Classic - - Bsa 350 Flat Tanker - Pho­tos by Stu­art Fran­cis, David Rus­sell, Andy Tier­nan, RC RChive

This story started in 2014, as told in part back in RC159. Mossy, a lo­cal char­ac­ter with an eerie abil­ity to un­earth old mo­tor­cy­cles, told me and my friend Don­ald about a stash of barn-find mo­tor­cy­cles that were for sale. The 10 hour drive was well worth it. I bought a 1946 Ve­lo­cette MAC, a 1924 L24 BSA and a 1915 Dou­glas; Don­ald bought a 1918 BSA and a 1924 Dou­glas CW.

Af­ter sort­ing out the Velo MAC, I turned my at­ten­tion to what had been sold as a 1926 L26 3½ hp 350cc side­valve BSA. The ma­chine was a gen­uine barn-find and I de­cided to try to keep as much of the patina of its age as pos­si­ble. By far the big­gest prob­lem was that the back wheel was miss­ing, as were the ex­haust pipe and mag­neto. The rear mud­guard was also so dam­aged and twisted that it could have been used as a very large corkscrew! The en­gine and gear­box looked like they needed some at­ten­tion, but for­tu­nately it came with a load of sec­ond­hand parts; three en­gines, a re­fur­bished bar­rel with a new pis­ton, four gear­boxes, a cou­ple of clutches and some other spares.

The en­gine was quite an easy job. Af­ter re­mov­ing the rather tired top end I found the bot­tom end was not too bad; fit­ting the re­fur­bished bar­rel and pis­ton got the pro­ject off to a fly­ing start. What did take time was mak­ing the cylin­der head valve cov­ers and seal­ing rings. Hav­ing ma­chined a piece of brass to the right shape, screw-cut­ting the fine thread on my worn lathe was a bit fid­dly. It needed a cou­ple of passes with a thread chaser be­fore they felt right. Sil­ver sol­der­ing a piece of bored-out hexagon brass bar onto the top of the valve cover fin­ished them off. The seal­ing rings were just very thin pieces of alu­minium tube that I an­nealed to soften them up.

The gear­box was next. Af­ter re­plac­ing the out­put shaft ball bear­ing and a rather worn gear se­lec­tor, it all seemed to go to­gether quite well… more on this later. A suit­able old Lu­cas mag­neto was found in my stock of spares to re­place the miss­ing item. A quick re­build, in­clud­ing re-mag­netis­ing, pro­duced a healthy spark.

The badly twisted rear mud­guard was held to­gether by the num­ber plate mount­ing bracket. It took a lot of work to tease it straight, weld up the cracks, tap out the larger dents and paint it in an in­dus­trial, semi-matt black that looks like old worn enamel. The rear car­rier looked all right un­til it was re­moved, which re­vealed that it was twisted and had a num­ber of rust holes on the un­der­side. Some deft work with the welder and grinder, fol­lowed by clamp­ing it in the big vice and ap­ply­ing pres­sure through a piece of tim­ber, soon sorted it out. A quick coat of my favourite paint fin­ished it off.

The front forks were stripped down to check for wear. BSA used an un­usual ar­range­ment; the side links have short tubes brazed onto them that run in bushes in the steer­ing head arms and fork legs. The tubes and bushes were slightly worn, but were OK for a ma­chine that might just ex­ceed 45mph and will only be used on high days and hol­i­days. I did re­place the four very long bolts that held the side links in place be­cause it looked like some­body had used an 18” Stil­son wrench to tighten them.

By far the big­gest job was fab­ri­cat­ing the rear wheel; a nar­row 19-inch, WM1 rim rear wheel from my pile of bits seemed like a good start. It quickly be­came clear that to cen­tre the wheel rim, get the rear chain in­line, and the brake plate in place, the rim had to be re-spoked with a dif­fer­ent off­set and a dished rear sprocket man­u­fac­tured. The sprocket needed three lay­ers of metal to get the right amount of dish­ing, like three lev­els of a pyra­mid. Keep­ing the sprocket

teeth con­cen­tric and true to the cen­tre while weld­ing it all up was a bit of a chal­lenge. Af­ter a bit of trial and er­ror and a quick skim in the lathe, it all started to line up and did not look out of place.

Orig­i­nally the 1924 L24 had dummy rim brakes at both ends, but at some point the front brake was re­placed with the slightly later, in­ter­nal ex­pand­ing band brake. The spring steel brake band is an­chored at one end and the brake lever pushes the other end, ex­pand­ing the band and forc­ing the fric­tion ma­te­rial onto the in­side of the brake drum. The fric­tion ma­te­rial was rather worn, so af­ter some ini­tial dis­cus­sions about bond­ing, a lo­cal fric­tion ma­te­rial sup­plier riv­eted on a new lin­ing. The rear brake is an early BSA Ban­tam item that does not look out of place.

The ex­haust pipe was an old Match­less G80 pipe that was se­verely cut and shut to fit the tor­tu­ous path it had to fol­low. Leav­ing it out­side in the rain to rust added to the look…

All the bits were as­sem­bled to­gether and the pipework con­nected, and then it was time to start putting the oil and petrol into the tanks. The first con­cern was that there seemed to be a small but per­sis­tent oil leak com­ing from the front left-hand side of the oil tank. Ini­tially I thought it was the hand oil pump pipe union, then I thought it was a split seam, but it even­tu­ally turned out to be a cou­ple of tiny rust holes in the bot­tom of the tank.

The petrol tank was OK but petrol shot out of the AMAC car­bu­ret­tor when the fuel was turned on. Sus­pi­cion fell on the float level, and af­ter some head scratch­ing it turned out that a later float nee­dle had been fit­ted. Tony War­ren, who owns a very nice 1928 ohv model, ex­pe­ri­enced the same prob­lem and sug­gested fit­ting a hole-punch eye­let on the float nee­dle shaft to ad­just the fuel level. This helped con­sid­er­ably, how­ever there was still a steady slow drip from the bot­tom of the car­bu­ret­tor. Fur­ther delv­ing re­vealed the float bowl union to the car­bu­ret­tor had been dam­aged and some­one had tried to file the faces flat. Some te­dious work with nee­dle files has im­proved things no end but it still gets slightly damp at the joint.

Ini­tial at­tempts to start the ma­chine were very frus­trat­ing. Tantalising oc­ca­sional glim­mers of ig­ni­tion con­vinced me that suc­cess was just around the cor­ner, but it wasn’t! Whip­ping out the plug re­vealed a weak and in­ter­mit­tent spark and some very sooty de­posits. With the bike back up on the work bench, the prob­lem be­came clear. Some of the oil from the leak­ing oil tank had got into the mag­neto.

Af­ter clean­ing out the mag­neto I de­cided to take a slightly dif­fer­ent ap­proach to start­ing: no petrol but a shot of ‘Start Ya Bas­tard’ (an Aus­tralian brand of easy-start) up the car­bu­ret­tor. Af­ter a cou­ple of kicks it burst into life and ran for 30 sec­onds. Re­peat­ing the process and then turn­ing on the petrol af­ter it had fired up got the ma­chine run­ning but clearly it was very rich, even with the air lever fully open. Af­ter fur­ther low­er­ing the fuel level she would start and run rea­son­ably well.

My first at­tempt at rid­ing the ma­chine was not the best ex­pe­ri­ence I’d ever had. The re-covered over­size bi­cy­cle sad­dle was very un­com­fort­able. Rais­ing it and tip­ping it for­ward im­proved things no end, but it still feels like I am sit­ting on the fam­ily jewels!

How­ever my real con­cern was the gearchange. It was very dif­fi­cult to en­gage first, and nigh on im­pos­si­ble to change gear when the clutch was pulled in, although clutch­less changes were OK. Sus­pi­cion fell on the gear­box main­shaft end float, but ini­tial checks with the clutch re­moved sug­gested all was OK there.

In a mo­ment of des­per­a­tion I ro­tated the main­shaft slowly and found lots of end float, then car­ried on ro­tat­ing and it dis­ap­peared. It turned out the large flat-faced en­gage­ment dogs on the gears were touch­ing and mask­ing the true end float. A thicker thrust washer soon sorted it out.

I was ex­chang­ing emails with BSA-ex­pert Rick in the UK about the gear­box prob­lem, when he pointed out that the ma­chine was prob­a­bly a 1924 model. He cited the frame num­ber, petrol tank con­struc­tion, rear car­rier con­struc­tion and the lack of a damper on the front forks; all good in­di­ca­tors that it was an ear­lier ma­chine.

The L24 was BSA’s cook­ing 350cc side­valve, but it had a three-speed gear­box, clutch and kick­starter. It was rel­a­tively easy to op­er­ate and main­tain – the hand­book sug­gests set­ting tap­pet gaps with a busi­ness card! BSA also pro­duced a 500cc side­valve aimed at the side­car mar­ket and a very nippy ohv ver­sion. In 1924 my 350 would have been fit­ted with beaded edge wheels, chang­ing over to wired rims in 1926/27. It is worth re­flect­ing how far ma­chines had come in the pre­vi­ous 10 years, when di­rect belt drive was still com­mon and most ma­chines had to be push-started.

So what is it like to ride? A good tickle on the car­bu­ret­tor, slightly re­tard­ing the ig­ni­tion fol­lowed by a cou­ple of hefty swings, usu­ally brings it chuff­ing into life. I give it a shot of oil from the hand pump at this point, and check to see if the oil from the en­gine pump is drip­ping in the sight glass and ad­just the drip rate. The clutch is quite light and first gear goes in with a clunk. First is quite low so I quickly change up to sec­ond while jug­gling the throt­tle, air lever and gear lever which are all on the right-hand side.

Pick­ing up speed slowly I slip it into third and, like a stately galleon, it cruises along at about 30mph. With the wide, bent-back han­dle­bars the rid­ing po­si­tion is rather up­right and the pre­vi­ously men­tioned sad­dle makes its pres­ence felt. The ma­chine feels tall and slightly top heavy, although this may be rather more to do with my larger build.

Slow­ing down takes a bit of time and co­or­di­na­tion. The front (ex­pand­ing band) brake is rather weak, it may im­prove a bit when the new lin­ing beds down. In its day, this brake was con­sid­ered to be a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment over the dummy rim brake! The Ban­tam rear brake is rea­son­ably ef­fec­tive and is the brake I rely upon. How­ever at some point you have to change down. I leave this as late as pos­si­ble as it in­volves clos­ing the throt­tle and air lever and let­ting go of the front brake to move the gearchange lever – all with the right hand. I have tried clutch­less gearchanges with the left hand but with lit­tle suc­cess.

So the key ques­tion: was it worth the ef­fort? I can only re­spond with a re­sound­ing YES. Once you get used to its foibles, the BSA is a real blast to ride on coun­try roads, and the tech­ni­cal chal­lenges only add to the en­joy­ment. I must ad­mit I wouldn’t want to do much town rid­ing given the slow ac­cel­er­a­tion and poor brakes but, that aside, I usu­ally fin­ish up with a big cheesy grin on my face while rid­ing it. The only out­stand­ing nig­gle is I have bro­ken two kick­start springs so far and find­ing a re­place­ment is dif­fi­cult.

The BSA had its mo­ment of fame when a lo­cal pho­tog­ra­pher, David Rus­sell, needed help with a pho­to­shoot for a fam­ily an­tiv­i­o­lence cam­paign poster. He wanted an old mo­tor­cy­cle for a steam­punk model to pose on, and the 1924 BSA L24 fit­ted the bill. The model ar­rived one Sun­day af­ter­noon dressed up in her steam­punk out­fit, com­plete with a hard leather corset which her part­ner then pro­ceeded to tighten up – rather like that scene out of Gone with the Wind. She got on the bike with some dif­fi­culty due to the tight corset, and David took over 100 images of her on the BSA. She wasn’t keen on rid­ing it as her ex­pe­ri­ence is with mod­ern bikes, and all its strange levers can be some­thing of a chal­lenge!

The start of the re­build. Ev­ery­thing looks pretty en­cour­ag­ing from the front

Left: A rear view re­veals that there is quite a lot miss­ingBe­low: The top end re­assem­bled, com­plete with a re­fur­bished bar­rel

Above: A stock of spare en­gines can only be a good thing

Nice and shiny; new valve caps

Part way through the re­build, with the new rear wheel in place

Where the sparks come from. Mr Lu­cas’s meaty mag­neto

Oil con­trol and sight win­dow

When it was new in 1924, Stu­art’s L24 side­valve 350 would have cost £47.10s. These days, it’s worth more like £6000

One handy BSA, fresh off the bench

Tony War­ren, who owns a very nice 1928 ohv model, pro­vided ad­vice and en­cour­age­ment

‘In­vest in a BSA for sat­is­fac­tion, re­li­a­bil­ity and ster­ling value’ Or else…

It’s Cheesy Grin Time!

Although this may ap­pear to be a simple ma­chine, the rider has much to oc­cupy both time and at­ten­tion. Con­sider chang­ing gear, for ex­am­ple

At 217lb, the L24 was one of the light­est bikes built by BSA at that time

Noth­ing un­nec­es­sary here. BSA built bikes in­tended for hard work and a long life

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