In 1955, BSA motorcycles dominated the 500cc European Motocross Championship, with John Draper, Bill Nillson, and Sten Lundin securing the top three spots in the series. Nearly a decade later, Jeff Smith returned the Birmingham-based brand to its winning ways with back-to-back 500cc Motocross World Championships in 1964-1965.
At the same time, BSA’s presence in the U.S. market was dwindling. With the firm failing to develop new product lines to combat the resurgent Japanese factories, BSA needed to make a splash in the 1971 model year. To leverage its motocross glory days, the company decided to paint its production model frames silver, emulating the titanium frames found on the BSA works motocross machines of the time.
Unfortunately, tight production deadlines forced plant managers to adopt a dull gray color instead. Though the gray frames were well received in the U.S. market, in time, customers found the paint hard to maintain. As a result, the factory returned to manufacturing black frame BSAs after only producing the gray frame models from January-May, 1971.
While BSA’s execution was flawed, modern manufacturers still apply the same techniques today. From Honda’s CRF300L Rally to KTM’s ultra-exclusive 450 Rally Replica to Yamaha’s YZF-R3 Monster Energy MotoGP Edition, brands are still capitalizing on successful race programs. Unfortunately for BSA, its gray frame gimmick wasn’t enough to move the needle, but the brand had one last trick up its sleeve.
BSA unveiled the Fury 350 in October, 1970, a model aimed squarely at Honda’s firm grip on the 350cc market with the CB350 and CL350. After several quality control issues, the British marque intended to release the Fury 350 in 1972, but it never saw the light of day. Of course, those last-ditch efforts couldn’t save BSA in the end. With bankruptcy on the horizon, Norton-Villiers absorbed the brand in a government-backed rescue plan in 1972.
Would BSA still be around if the gray frames held up? Would the brand still exist if the Fury 350 was released earlier? We may never know, but we do know that the gray frame BSAs are some of the most coveted motorcycles in the world.