Words: Trials Guru; Steve Owen; Bruce Johnston
Extract from Jeff Smith – Trials Expert, Motocross Maestro (Copyright Motorsport Publications)
The Birmingham Small Arms Company developed a unit construction single cylinder model to be universally known as the C15, which went into production in September 1958.
Having acquired Triumph in 1951 , the C15 was derived from the smaller capacity 199cc Triumph Tiger Cub, BSA was quick to capitalise on the UK trials market by having a C15’T’ model for sale to competition riders for the 1959 season and also a C15’S’ model for scrambling.
The 249cc C15T was supplied with a chromed and painted blue steel fuel tank, full width wheel hubs and lighting kit. Later, many riders fitted Triumph Cub wheels and brakes to reduce weight and a ‘Lyta’ aluminium alloy fuel tank made by Hitchisson of Vauxhall Bridge, London.
The 1959 ‘Golden Jubilee’ Scottish Six Days Trial had a number of the new C15T models entered in the highland classic, but it was not all to be plain sailing as all the factory entered machines were to expire during the week. All save for one, the privately entered C15T of Fort William man Ron Thomson, whose machine was supplied by Duncan’s Motorcycles of Brechin, Angus, near Dundee. It was registered JTS139 and it survived the rigours of the SSDT whereas the factory bikes of Jeff Smith et al did not!
Chris Smith, daughter of Jeff Smith has allowed us to quote directly from the most excellent biography written by Ian Berry: ‘Jeff Smith – Trials Master, Motocross Maestro’: “In the meantime BSA who had decided to field a team of four riders all mounted on C15T machines, suffered unprecedented humiliation in the Scottish Six Days Trial in early May. Poor John Draper did not even make it to the first section before his bike seized and Jeff, Tom Ellis and Arthur Lampkin soon followed suit, all eliminated by failure of the distributor drive. So with three days gone, all four of the factories entries were out of the trial.” (Copyright Motorsport Publications)
Thomson was by 1959 a veteran of the SSDT having ridden on Matchless, BSA, Triumph and an H.J.H, a Welsh built two-stroke. He was originally from St. Andrews in Fife and he is featured in our Great Scots series.
Thomson didn’t enter the following year and when he did ride the SSDT again, he reverted to use the BSA Gold Star in both 350 (PSR54) and 500 (PFS916) variations.
Ron sold the little BSA to Dundee trials man, Alfred C. Ingram who was a bit of a character and he rode the C15 more than a half a dozen times. Alf also had the distinction of literally driving around the globe in an 875cc Hillman Imp car with a very novel way of overcoming mechanical failures along the way!
Alf carefully wrapped up components in grease-proof paper and labeled each one, making a note of the contents on a list which he took with him. When he suffered a mechanical failure he sent a telegram to his mother who would go to his stock of parts with the required reference number and mail the item to him wherever he was in the world. Now that is one way of having your own spares system, globally!
Ingram rode the BSA C15T in a number of SSDT events, and at every one, his machine was marked with dabs of special paint with the riding number inscribed before the paint dried fully by machine examiners at Gorgie Market on the Sunday before the event started. Alf never removed these markings and the machine collected a fresh mark every year he rode. The machine created its own history book of itself.
By 2009 the BSA had entered the ownership of Dundee car dealer Bruce Johnston who knew about the machines history. The bike was displayed in the car park of the SSDT for a couple of years and advertised as being for sale. However, the price was not to everyone’s taste and the machine didn’t sell initially. Johnston then did what a ‘purist’ would perhaps describe as a ‘despicable act’, he removed the original registration number and put it on retention, the DVLA then issued a replacement age-related mark from the 1959 era. The machine’s records now hold the replacement registration mark and not JTS139.
The BSA which, going by the frame number was the 42nd C15T built at Small Heath, had remained intact since 1959 apart form the usual modifications such as Cub wheels and a Lyta tank had effectively lost it’s original identity and a bit of it’s history in the process.
The machine was eventually sold without the original index number JTS139 which is now on a Nissan car.
Then a strange twist of fate emerged, the new owner had an idea to put the motor from the BSA into a Drayton frame kit, would this be the end of the C15T?
No it wasn’t, far from it in fact, Steve Owen became the new owner and rescued the BSA from it’s DNA forming a virtually new machine and the identity would be further defiled.
Steve then made contact with Trials Guru’s John Moffat via the website’s contact facility asking if any of the BSA’s history was known. Steve made reference to the abundance of SSDT markings and Moffat was immediately intreagued and remembered the bike ridden by Thomson and Ingram as he knew the bike quite well. He was of course slightly confused when he asked Owen for the registration number stating that he expected the number to be JTS139, but of course it had been!
Due to Ingram’s forsight, he did not remove any of the paint dabs from the BSA which still carries all the old SSDT markings on the frame, fuel tank, oil tan, front forks and rear dampers. Bruce Johnston had the wheels rebuilt with alloy rims, due to the decay of the originals, which would also have come under the machine examiners markings back in the day. The motor was out of the frame and Steve Owen plans to have the bike back in one piece very shortly.
Steve Owen told Trials Guru: “I was delighted to learn more about my bike, I guessed it would have a have an SSDT history going by the markings and John Moffat confirmed that by researching from his archive of SSDT programmes, matching the dabs of paint with the years they referred to. It’s a pity that Bruce Johnston decided to part the bike from its number, research indicates that the number is for sale at £3,000 a hefty amount for a number plate”.
“John Moffat knew Ron Thomson, the first owner, very well as his father rode trials in the 1950s with him, he also knows Bruce Johnston through Scottish trials, so I suppose I went to exactly the right place to research the machines history”.
Bruce Johnston told Trials Guru: “I’m not sure I can add much to the story other than that I bought the BSA from Gordon Small who was a journalist with D.C. Thomson newspapers in Dundee. Gordon was a good friend of Alfie Ingram and had bought the C15 from him years earlier. Alfie was a keen mountain man and was part of a mountain rescue organisation at one time.”
As luck would have it, Trials Guru’s John Moffat was friendly with the late Gordon Small who introduced Moffat to world racing champion Bill Lomas.
Moffat: “I knew Gordon Small very well indeed as he had been editor of ‘Classic Motorcycling Legends’ magazine in the early 1980s and our paths crossed many times over the years. Gordon’s nom-de-piume was ‘Gordon Cadzow’ taken from his house name in Newport On Tay and he used this when he edited the magazine. Small also edited ‘The Biker’ column in the Dundee Courier for many years. Gordon arrived at my house in the latter part of the 1990s with former world champion Bill Lomas, who was also a very good trials rider, to look over my ex-works Matchless a machine Lomas had been given by the factory in the winter of 1955.”
Moffat added: “I was delighted to check over JTS139 when Bruce Johnston owned it around 2009, he had it on a stand in the parc ferme area of the SSDT. I was very much taken with the bike and I had a mind to buy it from Bruce, but I thought the price tag was a bit too steep at the time and I didn’t make a firm offer. We chatted about it’s history and I was quite interested in buying the BSA at the time. I knew Ron Thomson very well and I had been given the details of the bike from Ron when he was still alive, it was he who told me about the factory bikes pulling out of the 1959 SSDT leaving him as the sole finisher on a BSA C15 that year.”
Steve Owen takes up the story:
“My friend who has worked with me for nearly twenty years and is a big trials bike fan has an older brother Bill Fitzsimons now 86 years young. He first saw the bike for sale on the Yeomans of Bromsgrove stand at the Stafford show and he noticed all the Scottish markings and thought it looked very interesting. The stand was selling it on a commission so didn’t know much about the BSA.
As interesting as it was he didn’t buy it then and there, but took details home with him after a bit of thinking time he gave them a call and they still had it so a deal was done. The previous owner had already had new rims and tyres fitted but otherwise it was unrestored and running, all be it with a lot of smoke. Bill stripped the engine down and fitted new rings , exhaust valve guide and a main bearing and started to put it together but before getting very far he decided to sell it to me having talked to his brother Mike.
I’m getting around to replacing the engine in the frame to get the little BSA running again. It certainly has a lot of character, although it is a real pity it hasn’t retained it’s original registration to complete the history.”
That isn’t the end of the story, we are trying to locate photos of Alf Ingram riding the bike in the SSDT and are conducting a thorough analysis of the years he rode the BSA – so as they say, watch this space!
JTS139 – Its SSDT history:
1959 – R.S. Thomson – number 74
1963 – A.C. Ingram – number 150
1964 – A.C. Ingram – number 129
1966 – A.C. Ingram – number 126
1967 – A.C. Ingram – number 97
1968 – A.C. Ingram – number 192
1969 – A.C. Ingram – number 90
Ron Thomson – Trials Guru has already written about the late Ron Thomson, a man who was very well known in trials by not only his fellow Scots but also Peter Fletcher, Gordon Balkeway and others of that era who got to know Ron through riding in the SSDT over the years. His story can be found here: Ron Thomson.
Alf Ingram: A trials enthusiast from Dundee in Scotland who was a member of the now disbanded Dundee & Angus MCC and was a keen mountain climber in his day.
The paint dabs on machines that competed in the Scottish Six Days Trial – It was a method used for many years by the event organisers to stop competitors replacing components on their machines. They were marked by machine examiners during the Sunday ‘weigh-in’ by painting a square of paint about 15mm x 10mm on the component with a special paint which was mixed by Edinburgh paint manufacturer, Craig & Rose. It was believed that this paint ‘flouresced’ when examined under a UV light. The examiner would scribe the riding number of the machine into the centre of the paint dab with a pencil shaped wooden ‘scribe’ so that riders could not swap compenents from another machine during the event. Every year the paint shade changed slightly from a blue to green colour.
News on JTS139 – May 2018
Having heard of the article, Bruce Johnston met with Trials Guru’s John Moffat at the 2018 Scottish Six Days and explained that the number, JTS139 was indeed for sale and asked that the current owner, Steve Owen make contact with Johnston to discuss the number. This was achieved on 10th May and a deal was done and the original number would see it back on the BSA C15T. Indeed a happy ending brokered by Trials Guru and the little trials machine had its original identity restored.