1969 BSA Rocket 3: Time Capsule

BSA

Photo by Suzy Gorman

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On March 18, 1969, Birmingham Small Arms Ltd., once the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, crated up three new 1969 BSA Rocket 3 motorcycles and shipped them across the Atlantic to McBride Cycle in Toronto.

Introduced in 1968, the 750cc, 125mph three-cylinder Rocket 3 was crucial to BSA, whose future hinged on the bike’s success. Those were dark days for BSA, caught in a tsunami of new bikes from Japan that were flooding the market and eroding BSA’s once dominant position. The Rocket III was critically acclaimed by the motorcycling press, which labeled it the world’s first Superbike. But then in 1969 Honda released its revolutionary CB750 Four, and a new Superbike era was born.

Although faster and better handling than the CB750, the Rocket III failed to impress the buying public. Had it been introduced a few years earlier when it was first developed, it might have saved the company. Unfortunately for BSA, the new bikes from Japan continued to steamroll the market, and many of the new BSAs sat unsold in dealer showrooms. The last BSA Rocket 3 rolled out of the BSA’s Small Heath factory in 1972, when the company closed for good.

Thirty-eight years new
McBride Cycle, a BSA dealer since the late 1940s and a Toronto icon since 1909, finally sold two of the Rocket 3s in the late 1970s, but it held on to this bike, part of the McBride family’s personal collection, until last September, when the shop closed down after 97 years in business. Classic bike dealer Michael Kiernan bought the BSA along with 42 other machines after McBride shut down.

Showing 8/10 of a mile on the odometer, the Rocket 3 is original and unridden, and is the closest to a new BSA Rocket 3 you'll ever get: It’s never had gas in the tank, acid in the battery or oil in the reservoir. It was uncrated when the other two were sold and put on display, complete with its original shipping crate and all its original paperwork.

“This bike’s not so incredible that it’s nicer than a restored bike. It’s just all those little things together,” Kiernan says of the BSA. “I had a restored one, and some people would say it was better, because this one has a little orange peel in the paint and stuff like that. But this one’s real. This is what they were really like.”

The BSA Rocket 3 was on display in Boyd Uzzell’s Motorsports Museum of Orlando until it closed in 2007. To the best of our knowledge, the Rocket 3 was auctioned off along with the other classic motorcycles and cars in Boyd's museum.