BSA Company History
BSA Regal Group Ltd has had a long history dating back to the 17th Century. The timeline below gives a brief description and report of the progression and achievements the company has endeavoured to get to where we are today:
King William III was worried that his soldiers were poorly armed and that he had to buy his armaments from Holland. In 1692 a contract was drawn up between the Majesties Board of Ordnance and five Birmingham gunsmiths. The practice of buying from a group of gun makers continued for 150 years and many thousands of firearms were supplied to British and foreign governments.
In 1880, the market for guns had declined and the company started to make bicycles and tricycles, still using the 'Piled Arms' device that was to become known throughout the world. The tradition of quality, needed for gun making, gained BSA a good reputation as the bicycle boom gathered momentum, particularly after the introduction of pneumatic tyres.
During 1914 and the start of WWI, the emphasis was once more switched back to armaments with 10,000 rifles being produced per week together with a total supply of 145,000 Lewis machine guns.
Other war supplies were motorcycles, the first folding bicycles, aero components, gun locks, shells and fuses. A massive extension of the factory at Small Heath took place. Daimler, which BSA purchased in 1910 produced staff cars, ambulances and commercial vehicles. BSA was also to produce the gearbox and engine of the world's first tank.
The post war years saw a huge boom in the demand for motorcycles and most other goods, with every country in the world needing supplies and in 1951, Triumph was purchased to make the BSA Group the largest producer of motorcycles in the world.
1976 saw a hastily assembled NVT Motorcycles, created to carry forward some motorcycle engineering and spares functions.
A range of lightweight bikes was designed and limited production, using Yamaha and Morini engines, commenced. A management buy out, organised by Bertie Goodman and William Colquhoun, persisted with the production of lightweight bikes, continuing and enjoying the rights to BSA's popular name. Two British Army contracts were won for 250cc Rotax powered motorcycles and in collaboration with Brooke Bond, a 50cc motorcycle was designed and supplied with engines for use in India.
In 1991 BSA Company was merged with another buy out company, Mike Jackson's Andover Norton International Ltd., to form a new BSA Group. BSA purchased the Norton Spares business from Norton Motors and this change to the cash starved spares business prompted a rapid and continuing growth in the sale of genuine parts. MZ (GB) Ltd was acquired and BSA Group became heavily involved with the renowned Norton F1 designers Seymour Powell in developing and launching the MuZ Skorpion, later to win the 1994 BBC Design Award.
In 1997 production began on the hand built 400cc Gold SR with the first batch of over 200 machines being exported to Japan. The very comprehensive spares business continued to supply the world's Norton twin owners and restorers. Development work with Government agencies and non-European motorcycle manufacturers had been augmented with the strength from the Regal Group and in 1999 a 500cc version of the Gold SR was launched for the European and American markets.
1903 saw the company's first experimental motorcycle constructed. This was shortly followed by their first prototype automobile which was produced in 1907 and the next year the company sold 150 automobiles. By 1909 they were offering a number of motorcycles for sale and in 1910 BSA purchased the British Daimler Company for its automobile engines.
Wartime demands included motorcycle production. BSA supplied 126,000 M20 motorcycles to the armed forces, from 1937 (and later until 1950) plus military bicycles including the folding paratrooper bicycle. At the same time, the Daimler concern was producing armoured cars.
During 1972 BSA was absorbed into the Manganese Bronze in a rescue plan initiated by the Department of Industry. This was initiated due to the sharp rise in Japanese and German motorcycle production. Many of the highly regarded companies were separated - some merged with other companies and still trade vigorously today.
Plans to rescue the combined Norton, BSA and Triumph motorcycle factories soon ran into trouble. The plan was to concentrate all production at the BSA Small Heath factory. The Triumph employees found this unacceptable and occupied their factory to form a worker's co-operative. There were no winners in the politically charged two year battle that followed. 7,000 employees lost their jobs and Norton's Wolverhampton factory together with BSA’s Small Heath factory was closed. The only survivors were the rebel co-op, itself to fail four years later.
The trouble and strife in 1986, of inner city Coventry, resulted in BSA moving premises to Blockley in Gloucestershire to occupy 20,000 sq. ft. of required space for the production of some 1,200 Trackers and 400 Juniors. Well over 1,000 of the BSA Bushmans have left the works in Gloucestershire for destinations in most third world countries where the Yamaha based Bushman remains as popular as ever.
In December 1994 Colquhoun and Jackson's BSA Group was taken over by a newly formed BSA Regal Group. Not for the first time have these two famous names been linked. In the early 1920's BSA and Regal produced gramophones together although the 1990's Regal represents the Southampton engineering based group. This culmination meant that Southampton has been the home of BSA Regal since this date.
By 2003 it had become clear that demand for the hand built Gold SR was not reaching previous expectations and production ceased. The 1,000cc Tempest, widely acclaimed in its prototype form, did not reach the production line and MZ sales failed to reach their promising potential.
In 2007 BSA’s involvement with MZ ended when the parts business was sold. In the same year Joe Seifert, the then new owner of Norton Motors Ltd, made an interesting and successful bid for the Norton Commando parts business. The bid included the return to BSA of its European trademarks where they await the next chapter of their long and celebrated history.