1969 BSA Rocket 3: Time Capsule

  • BSA

    Photo by Suzy Gorman

  • BSA

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.”

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?

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