The city of Birmingham, England, has a long history of ironmongery, going back to the 16th century. Foremost among the metal goods manufactured in Birmingham were firearms, and it is for weapons that the 19th-century Birmingham Small Arms Company, commonly known as BSA, was named. By 1880, the company had branched out into bicycles, and by 1909 it was also offering customers several models of motorcycles to choose from.
While rifles and machine guns dominated the company’s output during World War I, motorcycles were also produced, leading to the formation of a dedicated motorcycle division after the war. In 1927, BSA introduced its S-Series motorcycles, which were called Slopers thanks to the sloping angle of the engine’s cylinder by the motorcyclists who loved them—eventually, BSA used that name, too. But the bike that would make BSA the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer was the Gold Star, introduced in 1938 and popular throughout the 1950s. In that postwar decade, the company also released its A7 and A10 models, some of which were appended with speed-conjuring phrases like Road Rocket and Super Flash.
In 1951, BSA merged with Triumph. Another consolidation, this time with Norton, occurred in 1972, but despite its catchy model names of the late 1960s and early 1970s—Spitfire, Thunderbolt, Lightning—by then the BSA brand had less currency than Triumph or Norton, so it was discontinued.
Indeed, in the early 1970s, no British motorcycle company was able to compete with the bikes coming out of Japan. By the mid-1970s, the British motorcycle industry was only able to manufacture and sell around 20,000 bikes a year, whereas Honda, all by itself, cranked out around 2 million. In no small part, the wound was self-inflicted. Customers in the U.K. and throughout the world were demanding lighter motorcycles with smaller 250cc engines, while the smallest British bike available during this time had powerful, but heavy, 500cc, 750cc, and 850cc engines. Today, the once-ubiquitous BSA brand is owned by a subsidiary of an automobile manufacturer based in Mumbai, India.