Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Is there anything better than sitting back and going through the old family photo albums and looking back reminiscing at what it was like back when mum and dad were growing up or if you’re lucky enough to have them, even go back to when Grandad and Grandma were young and carefree?
W47’s owner James K was doing just this when he got the inspiration for this BSA Retro Bobber.
James was just kickin’ back flicking through his Grandfathers old photos when he stumbled onto an old black and white photo of his Granddad on an old vintage bike. The photo had an instant impact on young James, not only because of the cool factor of seeing his Granddad in a cool photo but the bike itself had James intrigued. His first thought was “I’ve got to get me one of those”. On the back of the photo was the date 1934 and though James had no idea what brand of bike it was, he knew from the photo what style he would like and would settle with something similar.
James’s Grandfather was an old time petrol head and over his life had several motorcycles and cars and at one time was even the Chauffer for the King of Egypt which seems to correspond with the date of the photo.
King of Egypt was the title used by Egypt’s ruler Sultan Fouad “between” 1922-1951.
As luck would have it James stumbled onto Trojan Classic Motorcycles whilst walking his dog and thought to himself “I’ll have to drop in there one day!”
James finally dropped in and saw Peter and Nick and said “I want something old and different!”
Those three words “old and different” are like music to the Trojan boys ears Pete said “come with me” and led James out to the workshop. Pete pointed to a bike which was leaning up against the wall and said “we have this thing” and then went about pointing out some of his visions and alterations that could be made to build James his dream bike.
Pete’s description and his compassion for his bikes left James thinking about the bike and left him picturing it in his head constantly. A few days later James bit the bullet and went back with his deposit. The project bike was a 1954 BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) plunger frame with a 1948 special 420cc engine. The phrase “special” was used for the engine because unlike the more traditional 350cc or 500cc motors BSA were recognised for. The top end 420cc was made for racing and was only available on special order.
Pete bought the bike sight unseen from Queensland, apparently the bike had sat in an old shed for the past 20 years and hadn’t been started in all that time.
When the bike first arrived Pete didn’t bother even trying to start what he in his own words regarded as a ‘’the raggedy old girl’’. With more work than he could handle the so old girl was put on the back burner and would have to wait her turn. It wasn’t to be long before curiosity got the better of Pete.
Pete primed the old girl up, went over the engine and checked everything thing before trying to kick it over and with one kick in the guts and too everyone’s surprise the old BSA came to life with not even a hint of smoke.
Since this day the motor has had no internal work done nor has the gear box - both passing the Trojan stringent bill of health. The only changes that have been made were the clutch and minor tuning.
The first task of the rebuild was the rides feet. Pete laced a 16’’ Harley Davidson rim. Replacing the original 19’’ WNB rim, presented the boys with their first hurdle because of the offset issues. The front rim wasn’t as bad but still had its share of issues with Pete deciding to marry up the new 21’’ Harley Rim and lacing it to the original BSA hub with original brakes. The front headlight was a Y-Pac lamp off a Triumph Bantam which was modified and custom made brackets made to fit the front end. James an electrician by trade configured and wired the lamp.
A simple custom touch the boys added was turning around the bike’s long dog bone rises, which dropped them forward and the addition of drag bars dropped the position of the bars 4’’ forward. In their standard configuration the rises would have sat 4’’ back, so rather than the traditional upright riding position, the rises now give the rider, as Pete put it “an old school board track style’’ forward riding position.
These bikes came out with centre stands and not the now traditional side stands, because the bike stance was close to the ground Pete had to weld a lug on the rear and got an old Triumph side stand and modify it so to stand the bike upright safely.
It was all the little odds and ends, spaces etc that took up much of the build time.
James made the template for the seat and Pete had Kansas Charlie knock up one of his one off custom saddles and Pete mounted the 3’’ springs. The voltage regulator which was originally housed under the seat was then dropped lower on the frame.
The flat chopper style rear guard and mounts were custom made by Trojan.
James wanted to keep the bike’s original colour scheme where possible, with the only changes being the Ford GT silver fox paint used for highlights -were otherwise chromed. It was due to the paint that the build went over time.
It was the same old story! James had a mate who owed him a favour so he got his mate to spray his tank and then didn’t end up getting the tank back for months putting the build well behind. Forgiving James holds no hard feelings against his buddy saying ‘’we are cool! After all good things happen to those who wait!’’
Whilst the build was happening the then single James still had time to find himself a fiancé. When James fiance first saw the bike she thought it was an antique (which is right in a sense) and then when the tank was sprayed and mounted James was surprised with her turn around saying ‘’that’s not old! I like it!” The only thing was she was a bit cut that the bike was only a single seater and there was no room for her “but she is fine with that’’ James said because he had the bike before meeting her (aint love bliss?)
Pete and Nick have been dealing in vintage bikes long enough to know the modifications needed to be made to bring vintage motors up to scratch and one of the main factors is fuel and exhaust. Old motors are not fond of todays fuels so the exhaust was changed for a tapered turbo pipe and the carburettor updated.
Tuning the bike was working out to being a challenge, originally the boys put it down to the magneto and the fact it was so old, but it wasn’t until they found out they were tuning a 420cc rather than a 500cc that they changed tack and got results.
But as many of us would know owning a motor bike can have its challenges particularly a vintage bike and James was about to find this out first hand. Shortly after getting the War 47 home he, like a proud owner would give the baby a wash. After he washed the bike he thought he’d take his future bride out to dinner. When he came home it was pissing down rain so he made sure he covered the bike. Two days later, hanging for a ride when he went to start the old girl she would not kick over. James grabbed his bike manual, tried four different spark plugs - all to no prevail. Tired and at wits end James rang Pete and drove down to Trojan, picked Pete up and took him back to look at the bike. Pete came prepared whipped out a small piece of sandpaper cleaned the points and the bike started first kick. Most people at this stage would be thinking what have I done! As with many vintage motorcycle owners James has taken it in his stride and put it down to a learning curb and an opportunity to learn about his bike, getting to know it better and says it has started first kick every time since.
Pete was thrilled with the build saying ‘’what James did with the bike was very much how I envisioned it and how I would have built it myself. Of course it’s the customer’s bike and we are here to just give a little input and advice but with James we just happened to agree. Not every day do you share a vision but James saw everything I saw, so it was basically artistic license, with James saying just do it! The tail light was one occasion in particular, James and I couldn’t quite agree and we went through twenty of them until we decided on the 525 custom alloy light, he looked at it and I looked at it and we both said that’s it!”
During the build the bike sat in Trojans showroom for 3-4 weeks in that time Pete and Nick had just about every person asking if the BSA was for sale.
Whilst these retro bobbers aren’t for everyone they ooze character and personality. Owners of these bikes seem compassionate and often become real good friends Pete explains ‘’We have noticed whenever we do a build like this or an engine for someone or something that involves the person we tend to become good friends, not only that, we did another bloke’s (Phil) bike now James and Phil are good friends and go for rides!”
Special thanks must go out to our model SWR (South West Rockets) Roller Derby pin up girl Asha Wilkins aka Dolly Death. You may also know Asha Tatt in mags and clothing ads or even promo’s. Ash was onto us as soon as she heard we were featuring her favourite style of bike “the bobber’’ and was keen as mustard to be in our shoot so who in their right mind would turn down Dolly Death?