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British Motorcycle Decline

1972 BSA Thunderbolt.

1972 BSA Thunderbolt.

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the development of the British motorcycle industry was a great success story. In 1948 when Soichiro Honda was attaching second hand US Army generators to bicycle frames, the British industry enjoyed world leadership. The decline of this once proud industry to the shattered fragments which survive today is one of the saddest stories in British motoring history.

Many factors have been blamed for this rapid decline including post-war austerity, petrol rationing, lack of government support and poor management. While the home market remained buoyant, British manufacturers ignored trends elsewhere, failing to respond effectively to the light-weight inexpensive machines introduced by Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki in the 1960s. By the time motorcycling for fun became fashionable in America in the mid 1960s, the Japanese were firmly in control of the market.

The British fought back briefly with quality machines such as the Norton Commando and BSA/Triumph 3 cylinder models, but this challenge was destroyed when Honda introduced a 4 cylinder, 5 gear 750cc machine at a price they could not match. On a more positive note, Triumph are back in business once again, producing some of the world's most sought-after machines.

A collection of over 100 motorcycles are on permanent display in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.


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