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Eye Candy: 1965 BSA Lightning
Retired photojournalist Doug Ball's 1965 BSA Lightning roared in the Scottish motorbike racing circuit in the ’60s, tore around Quebec and Ontario in the ’70s, and is now back on the road again after being restored.
Doug Ball: Wheels reader
Occupation: Retired news photographer
The Wheels: 1965 BSA Lightning (A65)
Around 1971, my brother, Lynn, was living in Edinburgh working as a photographer for Scotland’s tourist board when he bought the BSA for £180 from its original owner.
Brand new, it came with a gold-coloured Avon fairing, like the one on the Lightning driven by a female assassin in the 1965 James Bond film, Thunderball, minus the rocket launchers.
The first owner, Mick Spiteri, rode it in the Scottish racing circuit and picked up some third-place finishes along the way.
When Mick sold it to Lynn, it had a Manx Norton racing fairing, which is still on the bike today, and the 650cc motor had been rebuilt and modified to the higher performance BSA Spitfire’s engine specifications.
Lynn rode it for work and pleasure. He would pack up the bike and take off with a tent, sleeping bag, and his cameras, able to make good time getting to photo assignments riding through the sparse but slow Highlands traffic.
I’ve got a terrific picture from that time of Lynn with his first wife, Norma, taken in Benbecula, in the Hebrides Islands.
He brought it to Canada on his return home the following year and moved to a farm near Ottawa. The windscreen cracked shortly after, and while holidaying a year or two later, Lynn got a very rare original one from Mick in Scotland. Lynn brought it home on his lap on the plane
When my Triumph Daytona 500 blew a cylinder head a couple of years later, I put it in Lynn’s barn and I bought his BSA. Days later, I slid on gravel, dumping the bike and breaking the windscreen. I felt really bad after all the effort Lynn went through to bring it to Canada.
I was working in Montreal at the time, and I drove the BSA all over Ontario and Quebec, strictly for pleasure.
In 1976, I was working for The Canadian Press in Montreal, where I met my wife, Gail, at the Press Club, and one Sunday, we rode out to the West Island to visit her parents. It was the year before we were married.
I fondly recall Gail wearing jeans and a denim vest on that visit to Pierrefonds, but I also remember her parents not being impressed by my motorcycle. The BSA soon went back to my brother’s barn, as I became very busy at my job.
As a press photographer assigned to cover Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, I travelled all over North and South America, Mexico, Europe, Africa, Japan, and even the Arctic. I also shot the Canadian Olympics and the Habs winning a lot of Stanley Cup championships.
Gail and I were married in 1977, but we delayed our honeymoon until after I covered the G7 Summit Conference in London in May. That’s when I managed to get a shot of Trudeau doing a pirouette behind the Queen and G7 participants at Buckingham Palace.
We had our honeymoon in the U.K. between the G7 and my next photo assignment at the London Commonwealth Conference that June.
After we moved to Oakville in the ’80s, I brought the BSA and the Triumph down from Lynn’s farm, and around 2005, I began thinking about restoring the BSA.
It was an unrushed rehab project that took about 10 years, with the majority of the work undertaken by Martin Jensen, a renowned Austin Healey restorer who lives north of Milton.
My cousin, Bill Coulson, and his buddy, Andy Wieckowski, who knows everything about Brit bikes, took over after Martin. They worked together at Rocky’s Cycle in London, Ont., years ago. Bill and Andy made sure the electrics were correct, they installed the windscreen, checked the brakes and did all the things it needed to be certified. The BSA was roadworthy by October.
It’s a little stiff riding but handles very, very well. Not a lot of fun riding in town as it has close-ratio gears; first gear goes to 100 km/h. It has a racing seat with little room for a second ride, so I don’t think Gail and I could re-enact that ride from 1976.
My goal is to ride to the Friday the 13th motorcycle gathering in Port Dover next July, and then I’ll decide whether to sell it or pass it on to one of our kids. I’m also checking to see if the organizers of the International Motorcycle Super Show would be interested in displaying it at the Toronto International Centre in January.
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