From the Inside—BSA/Triumph’s Umberslade Hall Research Establishment Revealed Book Review
Back in 2014, we told you about Brad Jones’ remarkable book about the final days of BSA motorcycles, “BSA Motorcycles the Final Evolution.”
Now, Jones has a new book in release that takes a fascinating look inside the BSA/Triumph research and design establishment that was headquartered in a classic British manor house known as Umberslade Hall.
“From the Inside—BSA/Triumph’s Umberslade Hall Research Establishment Revealed,” provides rich and rare insight into the inner workings of what was once one of the most influential and successful motorcycle manufacturers in the world.
What’s more, Jones brings to light details of models in development when the financial situation collapsed that never saw the light of day in BSA/Triumph dealer showrooms.
Among them were the 350cc BSA Fury and Triumph Bandit DOHC twin cylinder road bikes and a sensational monkey bike based on a stripped down T10 scooter prototype. Christened the MKI and later, MKII, the little thing was loaded with innovative features that would have had Honda’s Mini-Trail and CT-series minicycles reeling.
For example the Monkey Bike featured a single-sided front fork and rear swing-arm suspension, high-rise handlebars, long, well-padded seat with an upswept, custom-bike style padded backrest, a cool, chopper-style upswept muffler and automatic CVT torque converter transmission like that used on snowmobiles. The monkey bike even had a lock-out button that would not allow the transmission to engage unless the rider’s weight was in ride position on the seat!
Jones uses first-hand accounts from high-level staff that worked at Umberslade to both expose some of the shortcomings that did hurt BSA/Triumph as well as to lay to rest some misconceptions that over time had become entrenched as fact.
One of the surprising facts Jones reveals is that the building with its origins going back to British aristocracy in 1690 with numerous expansions and renovations along the way was actually well-equipped to be an industrial research and design facility.
The first chapter reveals that contrary to the views of some that the lease by BSA/Triumph in 1967 of such an historic building may have been an act of vanity or at least altogether impractical was actually a well-reasoned move.
First, the building had actually already been used as an R&D facility for 12 years before BSA/Triumph moved in. Automotive components manufacturer, Wilmot Breeden had used the facility for the same purpose since 1955.
With some additional renovation and addition of some state-of-the-art equipment, the facility was more than up to the tasks in store for it. And, second, as Jones relates, part of the rationale in its selection was that it was geographically equidistant from the company’s three manufacturing centers at Small Heath, Redditch (BSA) and Meriden (Triumph).
Jones provides rare insight into the inner workings of Umberslade that sheds light on some of the internal problems that may have given rise to some of the company’s external problems that included declines in product quality, missed product development deadlines and, as a result, higher than necessary costs, loss of market share and missed opportunities.
While he describes internal conflicts, personality clashes and organizational resentments that his sources revealed, he also sheds light on some great progress and innovation in manufacturing and design processes and in products, including some that never had a chance to make it to the showroom before BSA’s collapse.
Indeed, Jones shows that BSA/Triumph was advancing with value engineering, computer assisted design, aerodynamics, finite element analysis, advanced analytics, computer modeling, and engine research that included early assessment and development of twin-rotor Wankel (rotary) engines and was in fact, putting the skills of the engineering staff it hired away from the aerospace industry to some good use. Unfortunately, as he points out, there was an apparent disconnect between them and the marketplace in terms of how quickly the delivery of advanced product designs needed to take place.
Seven chapters go into detail on development work done on various models with the level of inside information that is impossible to obtain without talking to people who were there at the time.
One of the most interesting is the second chapter that recounts the history of the still-born, but ahead of its time DOHC 350cc four-stroke twins that were to have been the BSA Fury and Triumph Bandit. The bike originally conceived by Edward Turner would have been the only model in its class with a double-overhead cam engine.
Other chapters cover the 654cc/649 OHV twins, 247cc/499cc OHV singles, 490cc OHV TR5T twin, 740cc OHV triples, 294cc single & 588cc twin-rotor Wankel and the 99.7cc two-stroke single cylinder Monkey Bike.
Written in a clear, conversational style, Jones makes some deep technical information accessible to even the non-engineer reader and he untangles the sometimes-convoluted politics that affected the company’s inner workings.
Every fan of the BSA-Triumph family of motorcycles will find this volume a fascinating read. It is the perfect companion to Jones’ earlier book, “BSA Motorcycles-the Final Evolution.” Collectors will find both books invaluable as resources, but every motorcyclist will find the entire BSA story Jones presents fascinating reading.
These books are also excellent reading for students of product and mechanical design, business, manufacturing and other disciplines where in-depth information is a boon to preparing for work in complex industrial environments.
- Title: From the Inside—BSA/Triumph’s Umberslade Hall Research Establishment Revealed
- Author: Brad Jones
- Published: First published in 2017, hard soft cover. 138 pages. Measures 7.75” x 10.” 100+ Color and black & white period images many not previously published.
- Publisher: Compass Publishing
- ISBN: 978-1-912009-82-4 MSRP: U.S. $ per prevailing exchange rate (approx. $34.50 + $10.00 shipping) U.K. £26.90 + shipping: £4.90 (UK, Europe, Scandinavia), £7.50 (US and rest of the world).
- Available at: ebayuk, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org More details: www.bsa1971.com