1969 BSA Rocket 3: Time Capsule


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.  


garee peters
11/29/2011 11:13:41 AM

Bought '69 Rocket in Jan of '69 from Carl's BSA in OkC...for $1965.00. Rode it to Long Beach and got a job with Johnson Mtrs. The west coast Triumph distributor at the time.Met Tony Nicosia who was the developement rider for the Kawasaki 500triple at Riverside.He assured me that the Kaw was faster...it was...to 80...but not to 105. Loved that BSA...

5/27/2011 6:14:07 PM

The 69 Rocket also suffered from bad styling ment to look more like JAP bikes. BSA did reverse this and the last of its line had better styling like the good looking Lightning, even with the odd dove gray frame paint. I had a 71 Rocket and it is one of 3 bikes I would really love to own again.

5/27/2011 11:37:17 AM

What the article doesn't mention is the significant price difference between the British and Japanese bikes. Throw in the BSA's reputation, like all Brits, for poor reliablity, and the Japs' rep for the opposite, and you have your results. Given a choice today, there is no choice. Who wouldn't pick the BSA?

fast fred
5/26/2011 10:12:45 AM

My '69 Rocket3 doesn't look nearly so pristine. But I RIDE it, not merely admire it in my garage/museum/man cave, etc. And 42 years after it left the factory, it is still a 'kick' to ride. "There is nothing like the sound of a triple at full chat through the gears."

roy vincent jr._2
4/16/2010 9:44:12 PM

Hi I been a motorcycle nit all my 61 yrs young,I had 9 different bikes.1- whizzer (on a swhin bickel frame 2- 1948 hummer harley (rubber band suspenin front ) 3-165 Hummer 1952 4- 1967 norton 600 commando 5- 1968 w2 650 Kawaski (scrambler pipes) 6- 1974 125 Rapido harley 7- 1975 500 yamaha twin 8-1968 honda cb 160 9- 1981 yamaha xs 650 special 2 10- 1982 yamaha xs hertiage special (1000-original miles presently ridding) 11-most loved 1970 Bsa Lightning 650 fully restored with 59 miles. I always wanted the lightning ,beautful bike she runs great .I won 1 place in 2004 Vintage bike show in Layette,La.among 135 other bikes. I waited 35 yrs (brought it in 2002) fot this bike and a dream come true. Like to post pictures of it or sent your email to me. She looks better rhan factory with extra refinements to it .Thanks /God Bless Roy Vincent Jr. 11 bikes I am so happy with my lightning i can not add any more. Take Care Roy

dennis cannarella
3/6/2010 6:41:45 PM

I have a perfect 1969 rocket 3 vin # 1234 I got it from a guy in Alabama can't find the reg reg is the title so it's useless it runs perfect I also have a 1969 frame with a 1971 motor in it also run very good I have title for it for sale cash talks crap walks !!! linden nj . 908 337. 1234 Dennis

6/18/2009 1:11:42 PM

my father owned ed's bsa cycle shop in yatesville,pa. the year's 1969-1972 there was no motorcyle's sitting on the show room floor that he couldn't sell. he couldn't get enough motorcyle's to sell. he had a waiting list. so the comments about how the bsa rocket 3 couldn't compete with the honda cb750 4 in sales,is not true. bsa went out of buisness because they bought trumiph which dragged the company into bankruptsy.

curt gray
2/15/2009 9:41:04 PM

I wish my 69 Rocket3 that I bought in 1973 from my next door neighbor looked that good. How in Gods creation do you find an unridden bike like that? Where did it end up? I'd love to check it out in person to rekindle the memories of fresh red paint.