Classic Brit bike marque BSA has been purchased by Mahindra, making it the latest English vehicle manufacturer to be bought up by overseas owners. Now, BSAs will be built in India, but a few years ago, it could have gone very differently, when a Nova Scotia businessman was interested in buying the brand.
First, a quick history lesson: BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) made some of the world’s fastest production bikes during the heyday of England’s motorcycle industry. While best-known for making reliable motorcycles for the average consumer, it also made sportier models like the 650 cc Lightning (which captured the attention of Hunter S. Thompson, who used his to ride with the Hells Angels).
The company got its start building rifles and bicycles in the 19th century (hence the name), and still exists today, but with no motorcycles manufactured since the 1970s, when the Japanese brands crushed the UK’s motorcycle manufacturers.
For decades, the brand was dormant, which is why John Wesley Chisholm, a motorcycle enthusiast from Halifax who’s owned BSA motorcycles since his teenage years, was interested.
Chisholm says he looked into buying the brand back in 2009, after hearing it was for sale. As a long-time BSA aficionado, he’d called the parent company to inquire further. His interest was dampened by two roadblocks.
First, the brand had some issues with trademark infringement at that time – Chisholm says bicycle shops in India were cranking out cycles bearing the BSA badge. That would have been a big problem, because his own plan was to first sell BSA-branded made-in-Nova Scotia bicycles, and then move on towards the electric motorcycle market if all went well, echoing BSA’s path at the start of the 20th century, but with modern technology.
Second, Chisholm remembers BSA wanted “around $5 million” for the brand, which was money he wasn’t prepared to pay, especially considering the issues he would face getting the brand rolling again. So that was the end of it.
(For reference’s sake, Erik Buell Racing sold to Liquid Asset Partners earlier this year, for $2 million US, as a “turn key” motorcycle manufacturing operation).
It’s too bad, really, as we haven’t had any mainstream made-in-Canada motorcycles since Can-Am closed down back in the 1980s – and even those old traillies were mostly powered by Rotax motors. And given Nova Scotia’s decades-long deep ties to the Brit bike industry through British Cycle Supply, it would have been especially cool to see the brand resurrected there. But Chisholm isn’t upset about the deal that never came to be – he figures Mahindra is well-set to resurrect the marque and take care of any trademark issues that arise. It’s just unfortunate it isn’t based in Nova Scotia …
It might seem ironic that an Indian company is buying such a venerable British brand, but most British firms are now foreign owned. In fact, Triumph is probably the most notable exception. Rolls-Royce is owned by BMW, Bentley is owned by Volkswagen, Jaguar is owned by India’s Tata Motors and even James Bond’s beloved Aston Martin is owned by an American consortium that’s mostly backed by Kuwaiti investment firms.