The ups and downs of owning a classic motorcycle
Beat Me Again Please!
Or why I restored a 1966 BSA 441 Victor
Do you need professional help? Would a 12-step program be a good idea for you? Are you certifiable? Well, if you own a British car, one or more of the above would certainly apply. Why else would you spend countless hours dealing with the quirks of British motorcars and fighting the devil spawn LUCAS? Hopefully you will continue to avoid the men in white coats who think you should be confined and to convince society that you are pretty much “normal.”
Sooooo, if working on a British car does not satisfy your masochistic tendencies, and pulling your fingernails out at the root does not add the additional pain you desire, what do you do? Well, you can do as I do and try British motorcycle restoration! Ahh, the hunt for a suitable project at a suitable price in suitable condition, very similar to the hunt for that magical automotive restoration. Do these sound familiar? “barn find”, “ran fine when parked”, “easy restoration”, “just needs a little TLC”, “rare”, “not many of these made”, “chance of a lifetime”, “true classic”, “finest example out there”, and on and on. Well, I found my latest motorcycle restoration on eBay about a year ago. It is a 1966 BSA 441 Victor, sometimes referred to fondly as a 441 Victim.
I restored a 1970 Victor, er Victim, about 10 years ago and sold it to buy a new driveway. In fact, most of my motorcycle and car restorations had to be sold to buy braces, MRI’s, food, clothing, insurance, and of course tuition. The 1966 was the first-year production model, a so-called “round barrel” engine and presumable very desirable.
The BSA Victor has a proud heritage, starting life as a motocross bike that was world champion in 1964 and 1965. This was back in the day when a big 4-stroke single could be competitive. The owner lived about 25 miles from me and had purchased the motorcycle at an auction in Reno, Nev., a couple years prior. The bike was proudly described as “restored, never had fluids in it, ready to run” and looked pretty good on the surface. The owner had never tried to start it and grew tired of using it to gather dust in his garage. We struck a deal and I expected to spend a couple hundred dollars to get it up and running and roadworthy … RIGGGGHHHHT! Silly me, you would think after doing three MGB’s and countless motorcycles the optimism would have been driven entirely out of me, however, I am a glass half full guy, so off on another adventure in British land.
I should also point out that all older British motorcycles use Lucas electrics, thankfully I would not be saddled with some electrical system that actually worked! So, I put oil in the primary chaincase, engine, forks, and transmission and discovered that pretty much every seal and gasket designed to hold oil at bay – did not. I replaced most of the gaskets and seals in the bike in my elusive (and unsuccessful) search for oil tightness. I think with British machinery we can only hope to reduce oil loss to a controllable level. I completely cleaned the carb, bought a rebuild kit and installed it, and as a fluke checked the model number stamped on the body of the carb. It was actually intended for use on a Triumph 250 Cub, a much smaller motorcycle and different manufacturer. The speedometer was broken and was also off a 250 Cub. The speedometer drive unit on the rear wheel was completely empty, only the outside shell remained, and there was no speedometer cable. Most cables needed replacement, the clutch was shot, a rear wheel spacer was missing, the energy transfer coil no longer transferred electricity, the fuel petcock leaked as much fuel as it passed, the compression release did not release compression, numerous fasteners were incorrect, wheel spokes were loose, and the transmission seal leaked like an MGB rear main seal.
I replaced the old 6-volt electrics (and this will only be meaningful to other Brit bike nuts) with a new 12-volt stator and rotor, and bought the Boyer Branson electronic ignition system with a powerbox to replace the zener diode and rectifier. Well, that was about $700 of electronics and should have made the bike purr like a kitten. The first kick or two gave me such an electrical shock off the gas tank that I was glad I was done having children, because the unintentional electroshock therapy would likely ensure I remained childless. Turns out the coil they gave me was incorrect for the ignition system and shunted coil voltage right to the gas tank ... hmmmm, thousands of volts going through an aluminum tank full of fuel can’t be a good thing, right?
I spent 30 years in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program on submarines and aircraft carriers and refuse to ever let a mechanical device get the best of me. I am sure most of you have faced down the British mechanical and electrical demons and fought until you finally won. Well, my BSA is finally “done,” or about as done as any of our vehicles ever gets. It is starting in 1 or 2 kicks, idles nicely, shifts through all four gears and is ready to be registered and taken on some good shakedown cruises. It is truly a bike that does nothing particularly well and is not particularly unusual, but like most of the vehicles we own it just hits a chord that resonates. We own the machines we own for no particular reason other than they just feel right, are fun, and satisfy that desire to be punished and abused that no American vehicle can possibly satisfy … see you on the road.
Kevin Lemire owns a 1965 Royal Enfield 750 Interceptor, 1966 BSA 441 Victor Special, 1969 Kawasaki 650 W2SS, 1976 MGB, and a “new” bike – a 2001 Harley-Davidson Road King.