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The Sad Case of the Triumph Bandit/BSA Fury 350, and What Might Have Been

It was Edward Turner’s final motorcycle design in his long career with Triumph. It was to be the mid-range competition for Honda’s CB/CL 350 and the other Asian 350s, as well as the Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint.

With development starting in 1968, the 350cc Triumph Bandit and its BSA counterpart called the Fury were to hit the showrooms in the 1971 model year.

The Bandit and Fury would have something the other manufacturers did not have in their 350cc four-stroke designs: double overhead cams vs. single overhead cams. It would have that plus an extra cylinder to offer against the single cylinder H-D Sprint. It would have the deep, resonant sound of a four stroke over the buzzy sound of the two-strokes built by most other brands in the 350cc class.

BSA Triumph 350 Promos
BSA Triumph 350 promos 1970: With roll-out scheduled for the 1971 model year, the 350s were photographed with fashion models for sales brochures, but the roll-out never happened. (Image: BSA Motorcycles the Final Evolution, by Brad Jones)
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Turner designed the engine to do something British twins had not been particularly well-known for up to that time: rev to high RPMs. It would also bring the technical derring-do of Honda’s CB450, which was introduced with a DOHC powerplant in 1965, to the Triumph/BSA line.

The specification sheet for the dozen prototypes built said the 350cc four stroke twin fed by dual 27mm Amal carburetors produced 34 hp at 9000 rpm. With a weight of 345 pounds and five-speed gearbox, the bike reportedly could reach 104 mph (one source cites a top speed of 112 mph) by test rider, Percy Tait in 1968.

Of course, we now know that the Triumph/BSA enterprise was on the eve of financial destruction by 1970. What is much less-known is that the Bandit/Fury models were also hamstrung by internal political and design problems through much of their early development.

For example, Bert Hopwood and Doug Hele who became involved in design development after Turner had completed his original prototype design took issue with a good many parts of the design. Turner’s original engine design was to use a 360-degree crankshaft (both pistons rising and falling in unison) as was the past practice; Hopwood and Hele redesigned the crankshaft to have a 180-degree throw.

Cylinder head and valve designs were also reworked as was the crankshaft. Location of the cam timing chain was moved from between the cylinders to the timing side of the engine. The crankcases and most castings had to be reworked. Turner’s single down-tube frame also was discarded in favor of a double-cradle unit designed by Rob North.

Marketing issues had to be worked out, as well. For example, initially the P30—which was the code name for the bike’s prototype stage—Triumph version was proposed to be called the “Tiger 90” and the BSA version “Apollo.” At least in the case of the monikers the bikes would have had to bear, Bandit and Fury do seem to be a little more inspired and a little less derivative. The fuel tank and sidecovers had an aesthetic make-over and mufflers were reshaped.

Triumph 350 Bandit
Triumph 350 Bandit: This early prototype design shows styling departures that didn’t make it past prototype stage: external spring forks, angular fuel tank and “martini-shaker” mufflers. (Image: Edward Turner-the Man Behind the Motorcycles, by Jeff Clew)

For Triumph/BSA history buffs, this all probably has familiar ring to it; similar tribulations beset the development of the Triumph Trident and BSA Rocket 3.

By the summer of 1970, the bikes were nearing market readiness; indeed pre-production examples were given road test reports by Cycle Guide magazine’s Bob Braverman and Bob Greene of Motorcycle Sport Quarterly.

Despite the development problems, both road tests were generally positive if not outright effusive in their findings. For example, Cycle Guide’s subtitle for its road test of the Triumph Bandit touted, “This new 350 twin is probably the newest and freshest thing to come out of England in twenty years.”

“For a motorcycle that sells in the area of $900 it is a lot of machine for the money. It’s got a lot of performance, although we were unable to get any acceleration or top speed figures due to the nature of the weather and locale. One thing I can tell you though is that the motorcycle will run at 90 mph all day long. The engine starts to pull strong at 3,000 to 3,500 and at nine grand it’s still pulling,” said Braverman.

Bob Greene had similar sentiments about the bike’s performance, saying,: “…up near the top end, the Fury is happy as a lark when rolling 80-85 mph. Imagine a five-speed 350 with a 90 mph fourth gear!”

The bikes did have some flaws that the testers hoped would be taken care of by the time the production models hit showrooms. The long travel of the shift lever from gear-to-gear, small, hard-to-read instruments, weak rear brake, a too-short tachometer drive cable, which caused an oil leak, and a couple of other minor beefs were mentioned.

On the other hand, they loved the clean appearance and styling of the bikes, the comfortable ride, excellent handling and quiet operation. Most of all they loved that potent little double overhead cam engine. The vertically split cases, which continued past practice and makes major engine work a headache was a flaw not likely to be corrected in post-marketing development. But, since the bikes proved oil-tight despite some days of hard thrashing on both road and track, it was an imperfection likely to be forgiven by the average rider.

All things considered, despite the internal mash-ups that hindered the pace of development, cost both time and money and caused a lot of re-work, the Bandit and Fury models seemed poised to be a big hit as the first DOHC four stroke models in the 350cc class.

Triumph 350 Bandit and BSA Fury Promo Pictures
Bandit & Fury promo pics: The sales brochures showed beautifully styled bikes including a scrambler version that would never reach the market. (Image: BSA Motorcycles the Final Evolution, by Brad Jones)

Sadly, it was not to be. Despite preparation of marketing brochures and posters during the spring of 1972, there were still unresolved issues about production costs and the viability of the BSA/Triumph combine itself. Bad financial news caused an announcement from BSA brass in November 1971 that the bikes were being put on hold and that they would not see production in 1972.

The BSA Group had already lost market share in North America, with it falling to 6.9 percent by 1971, the company posted a loss of more than £3 million, laid off 3,000 employees at BSA’s Small Heath factory and showed £22 million in debt on its books. BSA effectively was out of business by 1972 with Triumph surviving, if only temporarily. In July 1973, a new conglomerate, Norton Villiers Triumph (NVT) was formed and soldiered on until February 1976 when the last Triumph Tridents were built for the government of Saudi Arabia.

In 1977, an infusion of cash and new business from a company called GEC put the Meriden Cooperative back in business, building Bonnevilles, Tigers and Thunderbirds until August 1983. Through it all, despite so much work, praise and promise the Bandit and Fury were never to re-emerge for production.

While the market in the U.S. was known for always leaning toward ever-increasing horsepower and displacement, there has always been strong demand for mid-size bikes, particularly if they come with above average performance. From what we can see today, the Triumph Bandit and BSA Fury had that and were slated to come onto the market with a competitive sticker price.

We can only speculate about what might have been if the P30 bikes had made it to the marketplace in numbers strong enough to help reverse the BSA Group’s financial woes. Who knows—it may have forced the creation of DOHC Honda 350s or other more exotic, high-performance mid-size bikes by the end of the 1970s. And, in the end, they may have helped to keep BSA and Triumph off the financial rocks.

For some fun reading on these and other historic models from BSA and Triumph, see:

And, for another look at a “what might have been” in motorcycle history, see:

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