Triumph & BSA Girl Ads

BSA's famous 1969 "Girly Advertising."

Craig asks: Who did those girly ads?

Don answers: I worked with a very creative guy by the name of Rick McBride from California to do the BSA ads. McBride had done work for Pete Colman. But, when Thornton came I was forced to hire a national ad firm in New York to handle all of the company’s adverting. It was the new agency that came up with the girly ads. It was a bad experience, but the photo shoots were fun and I tried to keep an open mind. It was my last assignment on behalf of BSA marketing, having been reassigned as vice president of national BSA sales. Thornton wanted his people to handle advertising and promotion, he knew I was on my way out, but he didn’t know that I also knew the end was near as a matter of personal choice.

Craig and friend, mocking BSA's Girly Ads in Florida, 1969.

Craig adds: I had a good time with those ads, taking mimicking pictures of me and my friends.

Don again: To kick off the BSA campaign, I got an agreement from AMA President Bill Berry to officiate record attempts with the Rocket 3 at Daytona International Speedway. We leased the Speedway April 2 through 5, 1969, and hired Dick Mann, Yvone Duhamel, and Ray Hempstead for long-distance speed record attempts. These attempts were being made because our service manager, Herb Nease, told me he thought the new bike could go as fast as 130 mph if it was set up carefully to exact factory specifications. That got my attention because I respected Herb's opinion on such matters. As it turned out, the attempts were highly successful, with a certified lap speed of 131.790 mph for the 2.5 mile oval, set by Yvon. Numerous other distance and speed records were also set, like 124.141 for 200 miles. Nobody else was close and these speeds until Kawasaki’s Z1 surpassed them at Daytona in 1972, but only by a relatively small margin. However, the Kawasaki records were approved by the FIM, which certified them as world records. Our BSA records were certified at the 1969 AMA Competition Congress as being set by standard production motorcycles.

1969 April 3-5 Daytona records;
Motorcyclist June, 1969

The four bikes used to set the records were certified by the AMA as being absolutely to factory specifications, except we used K81 Dunlop tires front and rear. The front ribbed tire that came standard would not have endured the heat of high speeds on that track in April. Also, we replaced the standard handlebars with shorter ones, and the front fender was removed because it didn’t allow enough clearance for the K81 tire. That was it, and the project was a big success, as reported by Gordon Jennings in the July 1969 Cycle Magazine. It didn’t save the Rocket 3 in the market, but it did cause the market to believe that the BSA version was faster than the Triumph version. It did look faster, having cylinders that were slanted forward. Whether the Rocket 3s were really faster than the Triumph Tridents is another question. Sales of the Rocket 3s in the first year were better than those of Triumph, but only just exceeded 1,800 units.

The speed and endurance records were achieved at a minimum of cost, but aside from the initial magazine publicity, Mr. Thornton later ignored them in favor of his successful bid to win at Daytona, at a huge cost. He could have used both events to prove how fast and durable the triples were, but he chose not to. I couldn’t help but believe that his decision was related to the fact that the speed records were my idea -- not his -- for introducing the Rocket 3 in the US market.

Don continues: While returning home from England early in 1969 after seeing the new triples, all I could think about was the bulky appearance of the BSA Rocket 3, those ugly exhaust pipes, and the projected high price. I was certain we were in for a tough time in the market place, especially if the inside information about Honda’s new bike was true. Today I often wonder whether I was right about those rocket style silencers. But it wasn’t just the silencers. I thought the triples looked too bulky and were not especially exciting in appearance. What mattered though was that I believed they were ugly, and this prompted me to take the next step.

BSA Rocket 3
Ogle Trident from Bert Hopwood’s book

I gave a lot of thought to the styling of the Rocket 3. I knew nothing could be done and after all, it wasn’t my job to suggest styling changes, especially when the job was already done. I had to wonder what influence, if any, was brought to bear by my American colleagues on the styling of these new bikes before I came back on board. But what would I do if I could do anything at all? Over dinner on the return flight (first class yet), I began to think of my first bike and what had drawn me to it in the first place.

Craig comments: This BSA corporate design stuff makes no sense to me. Why were the new triples not styled by Jack Wickes, Triumph’s famous in-house designer? Who called the shots in design?

Don answers: Jack Wickes was Edward Turner’s man. Management then was looking for a fresh design not reminiscent of the Triumph of old. At that time I was long gone and couldn’t tell you who was responsible for design. At some point after the BSA Group failed, Jack Wickes got involved with some Americans who were trying to design the “perfect” Triumph. I spoke to him once. He seemed very unhappy. It wasn’t the Jack Wickes I remember. I never spoke to Jack again.

Craig continues: BSA had its own designers at Umberslade. What was Matt Guzetta doing? What was Steve Mettam doing? Worse, BSA retained Ogle Design, a design house located in Letchworth, to style the new triples. Ogle had racked up design awards for toasters, which have become collectors’ items in England, but what were their credentials for designing motorcycles? Why did they get design awards for motorcycles that were generally disliked? These are big mysteries still.

Ogle Design toaster

Don to Craig: Matt Guzzetta was working at Umberslade, but was under other engineers. Matt had complained to me that he had not been given any important projects to work on and eventually said he wanted to come home, which he did before I left the company.

Craig: Bert Hopwood offers a clue in his book, "Whatever Happened to the British Motorcycle Industry," which is my favorite book on the era. He writes, "The styling of the motorcycle was so transformed that, to me, it looked like a strange mixture." It sounds as if nobody was in charge. Hopwood also observed in that book, "If we made a motorcycle which pleased British riders, we were well on the way to pleasing the rest of the world." Of course, he was right. I have always said that it takes a motorcyclist to design a motorcycle. Triumph finally came to their senses and put Jack Wickes to work on fixing the triples. I know this because when I was at Meriden in December of 1972, Bert Hopwood even lent a hand with a clay model of my 1972 Bonneville TT design. Jack and I worked together to incorporate the design elements of this bike into the electric-start triple. These became the T-160 and the stillborn T-180. This is another story, however.

An interesting side note from Don: I first wanted Matt Guzzetta to help me redesign the BSA Rocket 3 because in the late fifties he had designed a Formula 4 car that I personally funded when he was in design school. We had become friends. He was also quite talented and I had gotten him a job, with Lionel Jofeh's help, to work at BSA Group's Umberslade Design Works in England. I really wanted an insider I could trust to keep me informed. Matt wasn't available to take on a Rocket 3 redesign project within my time frame, so I had to look elsewhere. Interestingly, in 1985 when I was doing consulting work for John Bloor, he asked me to consider doing an X75 Hurricane-like project. Matt Guzzetta did do some drawings for me, but the project didn’t go anywhere.

When I returned to the office in Nutley, I discussed the Rocket 3 specifications with our sales manager, Harry Chaplin. While I didn’t reveal the extent of my dislike for the Rocket 3 styling, I did ask him if he knew of anyone who did custom bike styling. He handed me a card with the name "Craig Vetter" on it. Harry said he had seen some of the bikes that Vetter had styled at Daytona and that he liked them a lot.

The "Zoomy" Vetter Suzuki 500

Craig says: In 1968, three years out of design chool, I was known for my fairing designs. But I wanted to do an entire motorcycle. At the same time, Don Brown was pondering how to somehow "Americanize" the BSA Rocket 3 and I was designing a special 'zoomy' seat/tank for my new Suzuki 500. It held 6 gallons of fuel and 1 gallon of two-stroke oil! I rode it everywhere and in the summer of 1969 regularly raced it at the Indianapolis 1/8 mile drag strip. It was there that I realized that the long, 'zoomy' shape, as beautiful as it was,- forced a viewer’s eye right off onto something else -- anything else. My next motorcycle design, I decided, would somehow keep a viewer’s attention right there.

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