British workhorse goes land-speeding on an Australian dry lake…
In 1947, BSA introduced the 500cc “all-iron” B33, one of their first new singles to appear in the wake of World War II. It was based on the 350cc B31 of 1945, which itself was based on BSA’s prewar pre-unit OHV singles. While racers would opt for the higher performance Gold Star — more of a race bike in street clothes — the B33 earned a respect all its own, particularly among the British sidecar fraternity:
“The B31 and B33 were never intended to be high-performance, sporting bikes. These were workhorses, meant to lay down endless miles of smooth, reliable service, often with sidecar attached.” —Classic British Motorcycles
To that end, BSA made these dry-sump engines very stout, using a built-up crankshaft with two flywheels spinning between a roller bearing on the timing side and a caged double-roller bearing on the big end of a steel connecting rod. The early bikes had rigid frames, though rear plunger-type suspension quickly became an option and swingarm frames were introduced in 1954.
“The Gold Stars and Rocket Threes get the glory. But the B33, and its stablemate B31, kept Britain, and much of the world on the move during the post-war years.” —Sump magazine
Fast forward some 60+ years, and our friend Mat Kennedy of Adelaide, South Australia — Australian Army veteran and founder of Kennedy Motorcycles — picked up this 1948 BSA B33, which he used as his daily rider from 2011-2017, when it needed an engine rebuild.
This past February, Mat and his Matt Sheppard of Sheppard Motorcycles were at the Adelaide Home Brew Festival, showcasing a few of their past builds, when Corinna of Prancing Pony Brewery approached them about attending DLRA (Dry Lakes Racers Australia) Speed Week at Lake Gairdner:
“Corinna currently holds a record on her Royal Enfield for her class, and she also is the founder of the Salt Monkeys Race Team, which as of this year holds five Australian records.”
Mat and Matt were originally going to attend there as support crew, but then, one week out from Speed Week, Mat got his BSA engine back together, bolted into the frame, and running… Why not race it? As is often the case, there was still a lot of work to be done and not much time.
They stripped the BSA down to make it as light as possible, shortened the fenders, mounted a steering dampener, and installed a pair of kill switches (a challenge in itself due to the old-school magneto setup).
“It was a long week of late nights and plenty of things to do on the bike, but between me and Matt we managed to get the bike finished the night before we had to leave to go to Speed Week.”
The entered the “Beeza” in the 500cc modified partial streamline vintage gas class, where they hoped to hit a speed of 80 mph. Though rain and fueling issues kept them below their target speed, they still managed to set an Australian record of 64 mph in their class. Matt Sheppard piloting the bike for the speed runs, trying to make himself as flat and aerodynamic as possible:
“It’s a strange feeling holding that pose head down on the tank while pinning the throttle for a mile while occasionally peeking up to make sure you’re still on course.”
Next year, the duo will be back with a target speed of the mighty ton (100 mph) — quite the velocity from a +70-year-old Beeza workhorse with cast-iron heads! Below, Mat gives us the full story behind his ’48 BSA.
BSA B33 LSR: Builder Interview
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
The donor bike is a 1948 BSA B33.
• What’s your history with this BSA? How did you decide to turn it into a land speed racer?
I purchased the BSA in 2011 in Newcastle, NSW. I used it as a daily ride till 2017, when I had a few issues with the engine so I decided to rebuild it. Fast forward to February this year, myself and Matt Sheppard of Sheppard Motorcycles had a display at the Adelaide Home Brew Festival, where we showcased some of our past builds.
Corinna from Prancing Pony Brewery approached us to talk about coming to Lake Gairdner for Speed Week. Corinna currently holds a record on her Royal Enfield for her class, and she also is the founder of the Salt Monkeys Race Team, which as of this year holds five Australian records.
Matt and I originally decided to go up as support crew but one week out, on a Saturday, I walked into my shed at home and bolted the engine back together and got it running. I loaded it up on the ute and took it to work on that Monday to finish it off; it was a long week of late nights and plenty of things to do on the bike, but between me and Matt we managed to get the bike finished the night before we had to leave to go to Speed Week. We also had Shoei Australia jump on board and give us a helmet for the event.
Both Matt and I had been keen to do land speed records for years, but due to the cost of the week we were not able to do it by ourselves — luckily we could do it this year with the help of the Salt Monkeys Race Team.
• What class did y’all build it for? What was the record you wanted to set?
The class we entered was 500cc modified partial streamline vintage gas. Matt Sheppard was the pilot this time round. The speed we hoped for was 80 mph from the stock engine. Unfortunately, due to fueling issues at the start of the week and being rained out on that Tuesday, we only managed to set the record at 64mph. By the end of day two, we had a run of 64 mph, so we were heading in the right direction to the 80 mph mark.
Next year we will be able to achieve a minimum of 100 mph.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Basically anything that could be removed we removed. Short fenders. The engine was stock with a 30mm Amal carb and velocity stack. We had to fit two kill switches, which was an issue due to the old-school magneto setup. We also had to fit a steering dampener.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike on the salt flats? What speed did you hit?
We hit a top speed of 67 mph on the fastest run, which still felt smooth enough. The salt was smooth enough to ride on even as a hardtail, and with the power we had, traction wasn’t an issue. Nearly every run we were trying different carb tuning. Matt was trying to make himself as flat and aerodynamic as possible sitting at the back of the rear fender while trying to work out what it wanted to go faster.
It’s a strange feeling holding that pose head down on the tank while pinning the throttle for a mile while occasionally peeking up to make sure you’re still on course.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
The rattle can paint job on a fuel tank that looks fresh and got plenty of compliments.