The Last Oil Tanker: 1970 BSA A65 Lightning

1970 would be BSA’s last year of this model with a separate oil tank. That may sound strange, but in 1971 they went with an oil-filled frame. No, really. This 1970 BSA A65 Lightning is the last of a breed and it can be found here on Craigslist in beautiful, warm Mesa, Arizona, where I should be right now. The seller is asking $4,500 or best offer, which would be very reasonable given the values on these bikes. Thanks to Roger for submitting yet another great tip!

This is one dusty bike. Sometimes that can be a good thing and it may be here. You can see that there will be things to do on this terrific-twin to bring it back to great condition again, but the seller says that they are, ” helping my Uncle sell his beautiful 1970 BSA Lightning 650cc, dual carbs, dual exhaust. Has only 113 miles since it went through a frame off restoration about 13 years ago. She has been sitting, covered up in his garage since then. Ran flawless when parked but hasn’t been started since. She is covered in dust so she will need a good cleaning and could use some small things like new rubber and new fluids.”

Changing a few rubber parts, cables, tires, etc., hopefully, those can be done by most of us here on Barn Finds. For a general idea of value, our friends at Hagerty list a #4 fair condition 1970 BSA A65 Lightning as being worth $6,000 and a #3 good condition example as being worth $8,000 so this one may be a no-brainer for someone who is looking for a winter project bike. The A65 (650) and A50 (500) twin-cylinder Lightnings were made to try to compete with the incredible influx of Japanese motorcycles into the U.S. market. They were all-around sport bikes, so not touring, not off-road, just an all-around good riding motorcycle for those folks who were looking for a British bike.

The 650 CC twin-cylinder engine had 50 hp and hopefully it’ll be firing again soon under new ownership. Some quality troubles plagued the company and the oil-in-frame bikes for 1971 didn’t help matters. The company also used the oil-bearing frame, literally housing the oil within the hollow frame, on the Triumph TR6 and 650 Bonnevilles, since BSA owned Triumph at the time. But, they didn’t continue on for long, things went downhill quickly. By 1973, BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) was absorbed into Norton’s enterprises, although Triumph continued on for another decade. Of course, Triumph is back now. Are there any fans of British bikes out there? This seems like a good price for the last of what is an old-school BSA 650.

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Comments

  1. geomechs Member

    Wow, keep the British bikes coming! I loved all British bikes. BSA, Triumph and Norton were the most popular out west but I still saw others. I had a 59 B33 Sportsman 500 single that was slow, heavy, but handled better than most anything else on 2 wheels. Another one of those regrets in life. I wanted to find a 67 or 68 Lightning but about the time I was really looking, a 68 Norton Ranger showed up, so I ended up buying that. No regrets, except for selling that one too.

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    • Howard A Member

      When I was a kid, the guy across the alley, traded his Honda 305 in on a new BSA Thunderbolt very similar to this. Thunderbolts had single carbs ( get it, 1st comes the Lightning, then the Thunderbolt) I remember, he wasn’t too happy with it, I think the 305 had more steam, and didn’t have it long. Traded the BSA in on a Kawasaki 500. Speculating on the 113 miles, perhaps it wasn’t that much fun to ride. I know I’d sure ditch those ape hangers. I don’t understand how anyone can ride a bike with those. And oil on garage floor is more appropriate than oil in frame tube. Riding “Limey’s” are for the brave at heart.( but widely accepted by the HD crowd) You never know what’s going to happen next, kind of like old Harleys.

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      • geomechs Member

        The old Thunderbolt was somewhat of a slug compared to the Lightning. They all tended to shake, to the point where the grips felt like a couple of beer cans. I rode a friend’s Thunderbolt, and another’s Royal Star, and they were OK, but not nearly as smooth as my Sportsman. Kind of interesting considering mine was a thumper. Oil on the floor? Like a Detroit Diesel, if a British bike stopped dripping oil, you’d best check it. But as far as riding them long distances, I never had any qualms about taking the BSA (later, the Norton) over to Kalispell, or on down to Missoula. Thanks to a wonderful new invention called ‘Loctite,’ I never lost too many parts. Almost lost the license plate off the Norton…

        A ‘Kamakazi’ 500. Now that was 3 cylinders of absolute lunacy. A guy at home got one and he rode the full potential out of it, except for the day, he turned it on full, going up Main. The rear wheel hit a pocket of dirt in a small depression and spun out. The bike started to fishtail. After a block the guy got it under control but ran through a stop sign and right into the side of the local law enforcement’s new Plymouth Fury. The bike stopped but the rider went another 20 yards or so. The MAN was not impressed…

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  2. michael h streuly

    Cool old beezer lame azz handle bars

    7
  3. Fordguy1972

    British bikes are certainly very desirable today, it’s hard to beat the classic British style. I owned a 1983 Triumph TSX (one of about 370 made if I recall) for a few years but I never rode it. I found it sometime around 1996 with only 11 original miles. Trailered it to some shows but finally sold to a guy in North Carolina who had his own Brit bike museum. Made enough money to buy a Kawasaki Vulcan that I could ride, unlike the TSX. Beautiful bike but with only 11 miles I couldn’t ride it.

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  4. Ohu8one2

    I’ve owned my 67 Lighting for 22 years. And it still doesn’t have 9000 miles on it. I keep mine in the living room in my house. It’s a piece of art work right? These are great bikes and they have great parts support. I only ride my bike in the early morning hours through Temecula Wine Country. Just to keep everything lubed and flowing. Good luck with the sale.

    3
    • strawboy

      I ride mine on sunny Sunday mornings in North Fork wine country on bagel runs as there are too many clueless (and drunk) tourists later. Most obtained since the early ’80s when no one wanted one. More mileage but spread out to a single and a few twins.

      1
  5. Richard Whiting

    My first bike in 1971 was a 1968 BSA Lightning. Loved that bike. Yeah Lucas electrics failed me several times, it shook, it leaked oil. But I never cared because it meant FREEDOM to me, a 18 year old.

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  6. arizman2

    I bought a 1969 Lightening new. Great bike but the amal carbs were problematical. I had a machine shop make up two angled adapters with countersink bolts so I could mount Honda 450 twin carbs, modified the red fiberglass shields to accommodate banana type foam air filters under the covers. Ran flawlessly with the modification. Sorely tempted on this one but with ’63 thunderbird converts littering the garage my sweetheart would kill me if I added this to the stash.

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  7. WillotheGlen

    The guy did a “full restoration” and left/put /those/ handlebars on it? Wow… ;^)

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  8. Richard Whiting

    Good to see that it still has the Zener Diode on it.

  9. ACZ

    Memories of my 68 Lightening. Second best bike I ever had. Really wish I still had it. Two main problems with this one outside what’s expected. First, one sitting this long will need a new gas tank. Happy hunting. Second, those bars have got to go. Will also need tires if those have been baking in an Arizona garage all this time. Good luck. Two grand, maybe.

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    • John

      How much did you weigh after the 68 lightening?

  10. TouringFordor

    Thunderbolts and lightning,
    Very very frightening…

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  11. Doug

    My first bike was a 62 Triumph Tiger Cub that had been modiied with a Weber trials cam and some other intake mods- my buddies Honda 250 scrambler was quicker on he street, but couldn’t come close in the hills. Shortly after my return from Nam, I got the chance to ride a W series Kawasaki 650 twin, which was a clone of the early BSA. Really nice bike, and exhibited none of the finicky traits of the British bikes. ( No Lucas electrics ! ). I’ve also owned Nortons, Triumph Bonnevilles, and many other bikes over the decades. The Brit bikes had “soul” that I never found in the Japanese bikes, but the performance and reliability were always lacking. My 1971 Honda K-1 750 ended up going over 142,000 miles without ever having the head off ! It went through several clutches, a cam chain, and was smoking pretty bad at 142K- but how many other bikes could achieve even half that many miles without a teardown and top end job??? If I were to choose a Brit bike from the late 60’s-early 70’s for a road bike, my first choice would be the Royal Enfield Interceptor, followed closely by the Norton Commando. Sadly, the Brits never got the quality control where it needed to be to compete with the Japanese bikes. A friend and i were on a road trip with him on a 650 Beezer and me on a ’70 Honda 450- I got better fuel economy, and he couldn’t hang with me in the twisty bits at 120 +, or on pure acceleration.. Granted, his bike looked and sounded cooler, but mine was always ready to start and ride, and his wasn’t.
    The times they were a changin’. Still , I’ll always have a soft spot for the British Twins.

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    • geomechs Member

      The worst mistake the Brits did was to take the man who designed the bike that became the yardstick for motorcycles the world over and put him into management instead of keeping him designing. His 1937 creation went right to his head and he dismissed everything that came up after that. Other makes looked his direction to see what changes were coming. Seeing nothing they continued the status quo. Bert Hopwood, designer of the Norton Dominator, came up with a revolutionary design in the 50s that would’ve beat the Japanese to the punch by 20 years. ‘King Eddie T’ severely berated him and almost fired him for having the audacity to think that there was something better than the ‘Trumpet.’ It’s attitudes like that, that killed the British motorcycle industry.

  12. strawboy

    A50 was the Royal Star (except for the Wasp desert racer), not Lightning. That might be more of a rebuild than a restoration Wrong valve cover, air cleaners (yes and those ape hangers – blech) on a first glance. I think those Hagerty numbers are very optimistic. If not, I’ll finally start thinning the herd.

    2
    • geomechs Member

      I noticed the valve covers myself and thought that they looked pre-‘67. Makes me wonder what else is not period correct. Definitely have to trade the ape-hangers in for elkhorns.

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      • strawboy

        … and front motor mount bolt and petcocks and… I’m not a resto-nazi (none of mine are anything more than rebuilds) but the term restoration is way abused.

        For the comments on vibration, leaking and Lucas, Check you motor mounts (A50 & A65 have a rear shim that have a tendency to be left out) and keep them tight, otherwise the holes go oval and lots of vibration. They don’t leak if you take them apart , stone the burrs (usually from some ham handed in there previously) and put together with Yamabond or Hylomar to specs. Electrical? I’ve either replaced all connectors or gotten a new replacement harness. Put it together with dielectric grease.

        1
  13. ACZ

    Great advice! I never knew about the motor mount.

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