Memorable Motorcycle: BSA Victor Special

July 20, 2010
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
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Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

BSA Victor Special
The Victor in the BSA’s name directly refers to its motocross success.

The key to understanding the BSA Victor Special’s concept lies in the bike’s name – and the very different way in which motocross was viewed in the 1960s. BSA won the 500cc World Motocross Championship in 1964 and 1965 and 40 years ago, motocross success was good for road bike sales.

Rather than being a specialized niche activity the vast majority of road riders knew about motocross and the mainstream motorcycle press gave the sport as much coverage as they did road racing.

So this explains the “Victor” connotation: a bike which was directly related to World Championship motocross success.

The Victor GP racer was very much the younger brother of the innocuous 250cc BSA C.15 road bike – a machine never intended for racing. By the time it transmuted into the Victor, the 441cc bike had been bored and stroked and the power vastly increased. What had been retained – almost – was the C.15’s 250cc motorcycle weight.

For a factory motocross machine, this was ideal. A works Victor was some 100 lbs lighter than a Goldstar and although the engine made 12 bhp less than the Goldie, the handling and acceleration were vastly better.

BSA Victor Special
Close to 100 lbs lighter than a Goldstar, the BSA Victor Special had improved handling and acceleration.

The works machines needed performance, not longevity. If a factory machine lasted the 40 minutes, plus two laps, of motocross GP then its job was done. There was an unlimited supply of new bits to keep the bikes fresh – and clever mechanics to ensure that the bikes were in race winning condition.

So far, so good. The problems began when BSA decided to cash in on their success by converting the already fragile Victor works bikes into production machines. In fact, the first Victors to be sold were pure race machines. It was only later, in 1967, that the road versions appeared.

From the outset, the Victors were beset with problems. Mechanically, the bikes were not robust. The C.15 derived gearbox and clutch were always fragile and, when put into the hands of less than mechanically sensitive owners, they became a real issue.

The big-end and main bearings were right on the edge of their design limit and provided BSA dealers with ample spare parts sales.

The Lucas electrics were also a nightmare – pun intended – particularly in their Energy Transfer form which, theoretically at least, allowed the bike to run without a battery.

Even at the time of their launch in 1968, the Victors seemed very old fashioned. Here’s the procedure which came between the new BSA owner and his first ride. First gently flood the Amal carburettor – but not a molecule too much gas or you will wet the plug and the motor will never start. Bring the piston up to top dead center on the ignition stroke; engage the valve lifter; ease the piston over tdc just a fraction; take a long swing at the kick starter and, once the bike fires, catch it on the throttle – but only with the merest whiff of gas. For an expert, the process is automatic – and inculcates a wonderful sense of smug satisfaction when the Victor bursts obediently into life.

BSA Victor Special
One of the main issues with converting the Victor to a road bike was its need of constant upkeep under skilled hands.  
BSA Victor Special

By contrast, a beginner could kick a Victor until he was blue in the face and the thing still wouldn’t start. Alternatively, he could buy a Honda and ride away seconds after he had pressed the electric starter button.

The Victor also needed to be ridden with a degree of circumspection. A nice Victor is theoretically capable of something in the region of 85 mph flat out. The problem is that ridden like this, the motor will self-destruct in hours – which isn’t that much of a problem because the vibration will have killed the rider long before the engine blows up.

What the Victor does do well is accelerate hard – and it rides like a 250cc machine which has been taking a large dose of illegal steroids. This is hardly surprising because the Victor is a 250cc machine which has been taking a large dose of illegal steroids.

Victors came in various flavours from pure road bike to our test bike – which is the best of all: the Victor Special. We have the Americans to thank for this bike because in 1967 US customers were screaming for dirt bike styled road machines – and none was better looking than the Victor Special.

All the motocross machine’s feather light weight was retained – along with the race derived front forks, gas tank and paint job. The front wheel was BSA’s highly effective 7-inch unit and meant that the bike could stop on a dime. In fact, the Victor was potentially a generation ahead of anything else in the world.

But “whats” and “ifs” litter history and no more so than the Victor. If BSA – who had the capital and resources at the time – had built a reliable overhead cam engine, with a bullet proof five-speed gearbox and fault-free electrics, then the Victor was destined to be the first, successful, dual sport bike and would have been a motorcycling icon: but they didn’t.

BSA Victor Special
In addition to its light weight and race-derived front forks, the Victor Special had a special visual appeal for customers who wanted a dirt bike-styled streetbike. 

So today and to the $64,000 question: should you buy a Victor today? Strangely, the answer is yes – and for a number of reasons. First, the Victor Special in particular is a real looker. If you hanker after being the GP motocross star you never were when you were 16 years old, nothing will excite like the red BSA logo sitting proudly on the polished alloy and Spectramaster Yellow gas tank.

Next, the bikes are pretty well sorted now. An easily fitted electronic ignition makes starting much easier and that fragile gearbox is fine, now that the motor is not being revved to oblivion and the gears are not being stamped in without using the clutch.

Finally, used as a classic bike the performance is very acceptable. The engine is punchy and, if the revs are kept down, the vibration is fun and full of “character”, rather than enthusiastically self-destructive. The Victor is feather light at around 275 lbs on the road – and is anorexically slim and therefore incredibly easy to ride. In short, you can have a great Sunday afternoon ride and be surrounded by admirers when you stop for a soda.

There is also more good news. BSA made a lot of Victors and the bikes are not uncommon. A ready supply of the bike which never quite made it as a motorcycling deity means that a nice, clean, useable Victor could be yours for less than $5,000 and with the current sky high values of classic bikes, that’s something of a bargain.

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