1955 BSA M21 Restoration
So of all the bikes out there, why choose a plodding old side valve to devote one’s time, money and considerable effort to restore?
Well, perhaps a better question would be why not?
I was born in Birmingham, and emigrated as a youngster to South Africa. So when I developed an admiration for those lovely old machines I suppose it was only natural that I should want a bike from my birthplace, and in particular those of BSA and Triumph.
Why I settled on the M20/M21 is a bit more obscure, even to myself. My daily ride is a Hinckley Bonneville, so I decided that if I wanted to restore a classic bike, then I should get something that looked really old, something that looked substantially different from my Bonny. Somehow, the M20/M21 settled in my mind as fitting the bill, as well as being relatively affordable. And not least in my consideration, in the words of several magazine articles I had read, “it oozed character”.
And then of course there was my irrepressible old Uncle John, the family adventurer, who rode a WM20 as a dispatch rider in WW2. He arrived slightly late for D-day after being torpedoed by an E-boat en-route, but made up for it by thrashing his M20 all over Normandy until being shot by a German sniper. Thankfully he made a full recovery, but I’m not so sure about the poor old M20.
My Uncle John and his WM20 in Normandy, shortly after D-day.
I have lived in Johannesburg since I was 15 years old and while there is a healthy classic bike scene over here, including several very active clubs, classic bikes are not so easy to come by. When available they tend to be already restored and pretty expensive. So when I saw a genuine “barn find” M21 for sale for a decent price on Gumtree I was on the phone in seconds.
It turned out I was two hours too late, the bike had already been sold and I was about the tenth caller. Anyway, I chatted to the seller, he told me the bike had been standing at the bottom of someone’s garden for about thirty years or so, and had belonged to the house’s previous owner who had passed away many years before. The seller had picked it up as a project, but as he already had a substantial collection of far more glamorous bikes had never got any further than having it stripped down. I asked him if he had any other bikes for sale, which he hadn’t, and left my number in case anything else should crop up.
Anyway, about a month later, I got a call from him saying that he had been waiting all this time for the buyer to come up with the money, had lost patience, cancelled the deal, and did I still want the bike?
Now there is one golden rule that is written in capital letters in every book I’ve ever seen on motorcycle restoration. NEVER BY A BIKE THAT IS IN PIECES. Because the most expensive, hard to find and irreplaceable bits are never there, no matter how much the seller promises they are.
Hah! Rules are for other people.
According to the seller the dynamo was history, the speedo missing, and the exhaust rotten, but he had been told by “his mechanic” that the engine seemed in pretty good shape. But the price was good, I’d found nothing else affordable in a couple of years of searching, and fancied a challenge. So I became the proud owner of several oil drums full of bits of BSA.
Bits and pieces.
The bore wan’t too bad actually.
And she definitely claims to be a BSA of some sort!