Fond Memories of a 1969 BSA A65 Lightning
By Dan Delehant
Dan Delehant and his 1969 BSA A65 Lightining.
Short of a thousand or more attractive females it was the most beautiful thing my eyes ever beheld. Over the years I owned faster and better handling motorcycles but none came close to the stunning estheticism of that black, red and chrome 1969 BSA A65 Lightning. I probably should not admit this, but even now, all these years alter, I pine for that shiny motorcycle more than any lost girlfriend.
Mechanically and electrically it was no prize. The charging system, wiring, and lights were supplied by a British company called Lucas. Lucas was better known by the nickname, “The Prince of Darkness.” All my riding buddies back then rode Triumphs – this was 1969, the Harley craze had yet to occur and the Japanese were flooding the U.S. market with cheap, reliable, and fast motorcycles. Our classic British motorcycles leaked more oil in a night than a Jap-crap (as we deemed them) machine would burn or leak in its lifetime. But we were steeped in denial and believed completely that we rode the cream of the motorcycle crop.
While shopping for the appropriate Triumph I saw the BSA Lightning at a shop in Azusa, Calif., and I was forever smitten. It was ever-lasting love at first sight! The red and chrome tank captured me. I spent a sleepless night and a frantic morning begging and borrowing and that following afternoon I bought the glistening two-wheeled English-built gem. Sure, it was no Triumph, or an Ariel Square Four (the other “accepted” bike back then in Pomona, Calif.) but since it was a British bike I would still be part of the “in” crowd. I called up my two best riding buddies, Gus and George, and told them to ride by my place Friday night, because I had a big surprise for them.
I had that Lightning glistening like a red-hued motorized diamond! I set it out on the lawn canted down on the kickstand so that Gus and George would see the lustrous beast in all her glistening glory head-on as they came trundling down the street on their shiny but run-of-the-mill Triumphs. They arrived on their chrome-laden and oil spraying steeds just before sunset. I can still see Gus down on one knee beside my Beezer studying it. George got back on his Bonneville and just sat scrutinizing the coruscating-in-the-setting-sun, red and chrome, metallic jewel on the front lawn.
I recall George saying after a few minutes, “Hot damn, but that is one pretty motorcycle!”
From a genuflecting position Gus chimed in, “Yeah, it is a beauty alright, but I have heard that they are not put together as well as Triumphs are. I hope for your sake that’s just bull-crap.”
I quickly regurgitated what the salesman had told me, “BSA is a triumph with looks.”
I remember Gus just looking at me and saying nothing. With a racing heart I grabbed the wide handlebars and swung my Levi-covered leg over the seat and took the weight off the kickstand. My newly acquired beauty of a beast came to thunderous life on the first kick. Just for a moment I lingered on the lawn reveling in the rumble of the exhaust and watching the rubber-shrouded tachometer jumping like a jackrabbit with every little twist of my wrist. I clicked down into first gear and was just about to let the clutch out when I noticed that Gus was frantically drawing a finger across his throat in the “kill the motor” signal! I reached up and turned the key off.
Gus was screaming, “You’re on fire! You’re on fire!”
Turned out a short in the wiring sizzled into flame and the entire wire loom fried! It took just two for the shop to get another wiring loom. George was sympathetic but Gus just told me in his matter-of-fact manner, “I hate to say it buddy – but I think you might of messed up buying that Beezer.”
Truth is, Gus was wrong. Oh sure, as time transpired, there were lots of problems with that BSA. Some of my own making and some of the manufacturer’s but nothing serious enough to keep me from absolutely loving that bike. I spent a prideful and glorious couple of years riding that British jewel around Pomona. The three of us would sit at a red light on a Friday or Saturday summer night, the hubs of front wheels vigorously vibrating to our twin’s power pulses. There we were, wearing sunglasses even at night, as we cruised on the dimly lit Pomona streets, our shirts unbuttoned, and our hair, thick as helmets, shellacked down against the onslaught of the wind. Young girls in the back seats of their parents’ cars gawked at us. Girls and women, sitting tight besides their driver husbands or boyfriends, as they were wont to do back in the day before seatbelts, sneaked looks over at us. Yeah, we were in the wheelhouse of our lives.
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