“Nothing brought a smile to his face like a one-kick start.”
From 1968-1971, BSA imported their A65FS Firebird Scrambler, a 650cc parallel-twin street scrambler with gaitered forks, double-leading-shoe front brake, twin 32mm Amal Concentric carbs, 3-gallon fiberglass tank, and a factory-claimed 55 horsepower at 6,800 rpm. Then as now, desert racers and street scramblers were the hot ticket in the ex-colonies, and BSA looked to have a winning formula in the Firebird:
“It looked tough, it rode tough, and the BSA ad campaign, featuring very good-looking women, was tough for the young men of the day to ignore.” –Clement Salvadori, Rider
The Firebird was born from the 650cc A65 Star of the early 1960s, whose new vertical twin unit-construction engine had a nearly square configuration (75mm bore x 74mm stroke), firing every 360 degrees. Head, manifold, pushrods, and connecting rods were all alloy, though the engine had a vertically-split crankcase like the British twins of old.
The BSA A65 Spitfire came along as a race replica, and the A65 Hornet as an off-road scrambler.
“Dual-sport bikes are hardly new. By some accounts, BSA launched the category in 1965 with its offroad-styled 500cc A50 BSA Wasp and 650cc A65 BSA Hornet. Three years later, the company introduced the BSA Firebird Scrambler, its latest — and arguably best — variation on the theme.” —Motorcycle Classics
The BSA suits hoped the bike would sell like hotcakes, boosting the company’s crippled financial shape. Unfortunately, at a hefty price of $1360, the Firebird Scrambler proved a bit too pricey for the young American riders who could buy a Japanese scrambler for around a grand — a bike that would be cheaper and easier to maintain, even if it didn’t have the same charisma. BSA was on its way out anyway, shutting their doors in 1973.
The ’69 Firebird Scrambler you see here is a concours level restoration by none other than California British bike specialist Don Harrell, who passed away just this January. Born in 1934, Don was a contractor who specialized in cabinetry, working on both custom homes and commercial properties.
Then, in the early 1970s, he got into flat track racing. The memorial published by his family says it best:
In the early 70’s Don raced dirt track bikes throughout the valley. His sons all inherited his love for motorcycles and continue to ride to this day. When Don quit racing, he continued to support the boys as a spectator and sponsor. The love for riding has passed on to his grandsons.
In the late ‘70s Don started collecting vintage British Motorcycles. This hobby transformed into a second business in retirement. He eventually started restoring bikes himself, taking a box of rusted parts, and breathing new life into them. His restorations are highly sought after due to his attention to detail and maintaining the integrity of the original bike.
He has been featured in many news and international magazine articles for his craftsmanship and knowledge of BSA’s, Triumphs and other British models. He has won countless awards for his entries in motorcycle shows throughout the state. He drew a crowd and record prices at the annual Mid-America and Mecum Motorcycle auctions in Las Vegas for over 25 years. He eventually built his own paint booth and machined parts while he restored at least five bikes every year for the event. Coming together in Vegas in January became a family tradition.
Another well-known tradition was his British Motorcycle Works Annual Open House ‘out at the shop’. It all started with about 10 friends, some hot dogs, chips and beer the night before the Hanford Swap Meet. The Open House grew each year and by the 25th Anniversary, there were over 400 people in attendance to check out the 50+ restorations and partake of the deep pit beef, Gen’s chili beans and potato salad, and Texas Sheet cake. And, beer.
The highlight of the night was when Don would fire up a bike or two. Nothing brought a smile to his face like a one-kick start. Don was happiest when he was around his bikes and those who shared the same love for them.
This BSA Firebird Scrambler just crossed the Mecum auction block at their Monterey 2021 event. You can learn more and see the results at Mecum.com.