1967 BSA Hornet
1967 BSA Hornet.
Photo by Nick Cedar
1967 BSA Hornet
Years produced: 1964-1967
Claimed power: 53.5hp @ 6,800rpm
Top speed: 102 mph
Engine type: 654cc air-cooled OHV parallel twin
Weight (dry): 382lb (173kg)
Price then: $1,182 (1965)
Price now: $4,000-$6,000
MPG: 40-50 (est.)
Powering along in low gear, you ignore the heat enveloping you. Despite the bandanna over your face, alkali dust fills your nose, but you stay fixed on negotiating the washed-out gullies and rapidly changing terrain.
Two more turns and you give your 1967 BSA Hornet the gas, running up the gears as the trail straightens out and the checkpoint in the distance comes into focus. There’s no one in front of you, and your watch says you’re on time. You’re winning. Focusing on your line, you completely forget about the heat.
Let’s go racing
The Sixties were boom times for motorcycles and off-road motorcycle racing. Stoked by Baby Boomers who were just entering their teens and helped by Honda’s campaign to convince Americans that “you meet the nicest people” on two wheels, motorcycle sales shot from less than 60,000 in 1960 to 609,000 imports alone in 1965. While most of these were small-displacement Japanese and Italian bikes, more than 33,000 were imported from England, mostly 500cc and 650cc Triumph and BSA motorcycles.
Many of those people buying British motorcycles were using them for amateur competition. Flat tracking was hot, and the stands were packed as local favorites went wheel-to-wheel. Enduros, motocrosses and cross-country races drew full fields, and drag racing was so popular that contemporary motorcycle magazines published quarter-mile times instead of top speeds.
While lightweight 2-strokes were increasingly showing up at off-road motorcycle racing events, the winner’s circle was still dominated by heavy-duty overhead-valve singles and twins. “The sound of a 4-stroke intimidated some people,” remembers John Huetter, former managing editor of Cycle News, who raced a BSA Hornet in the desert in the late Sixties. “Huskys [Husqvarnas] dominated at the time, and when the BSA Hornet started doing well it was hailed as the return of the 4-strokes to desert racing.”
Southwestern riders, including Hollywood star and offroad competitor Steve McQueen, were hooked on desert racing. When Popular Science asked McQueen to evaluate offroad competition motorcycles in 1966, he set up the test course himself. “We assembled all the bikes on a scrambling course of 6-mile perimeter, which had just about every type of terrain I could think of: cow trailing with a top end close to 70mph; a sand wash with some rocks (to be avoided at all costs); sand dips of the washboard type with a depth of two feet maximum; several high speed jumps of the TT variety; and a lot of fast trailing with quick changes, both up and down and side to side,” McQueen said.
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