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War Department: 1944 BSA WD M20


This is a 1944 BSA WD M20 and it’s in Livonia, Michigan. It’s listed on eBay and the current bid price is $3,940 with three days left on the auction. There are only 855 original miles on this war machine!


The BSA M20 is powered by a 496cc single-cylinder with 13 hp and it was offered up for war duty (hence the WD) in 1936 but it was deemed not reliable due to excess engine wear. By 1938 the company got the reliability issues solved but they were still slow and heavy with little ground clearance. But, the war was on and transportation was needed so more and more orders were placed. BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) produced over 126,000 motorcycles for the war effort during the years 1939-1945 – about a quarter of all of the United Kingdom’s industrial production – most of which were either the 350cc B30 or the 500cc M20.


This particular example came from an elderly couple’s barn where it had been in storage since the 1960s, according to the seller. It didn’t take much work to get it working great again and supposedly it’ll start on the first or second kick! That’s more than I can say about myself. The seller hasn’t even washed it, just to keep it as original as possible, dirt and all. During the war, rubber was scarce so handgrips were made out of canvas and it looks like this bike has one of each. This is a great piece of history, and one that you could use regularly and there is no doubt that you’d get asked about it every time you topped off the gas tank. I’m a huge BSA fan, are any of you also fans of these bikes?


  1. dirtyharry

    A very nice original bike. Since it only has less than a 1,000 miles, I am surprised to see a “rebuilt engine tag” dated in 1959. I guess there could be other reasons besides a broken odometer. These are a little bit of a challenge to ride. The operative word is slow, clunky with poor brakes. Likely top speed of around 50 (I guess that describes most military vehicles from the 40’s). I think it is a great find and would love to have it. I am slow and clunky too.

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  2. Fred W.

    A true museum piece. How often do you see a military motorcycle that is not either amateurly or over restored? This is exactly what one should look like- original paint, ridden hard and put away wet, just like in wartime.

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  3. geomechs geomechs Member

    I’ve always been a fan of BSA. Some years ago I had a ’59 B-33 Sportsman. Heavy (it weighed as much as my friend’s 650 Golden Flash) and underpowered (27 hp?) but it got the job done, just as long as you weren’t in a big hurry. I’d dearly love to add this bike to my collection but my budget at present is telling me to curtail all purchases except for the toys already in my collection. But it’s sure tempting. Someone’s going to love this bike…

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  4. Busyditch

    I have always had a soft spot for the Brits. Back in the 60s you could buy a decent Beezer or Trump for $500. But my favorite tee shirt said “Triumph- turn an ordinary man into a mechanic”! You needed to know everything about these bikes in order to not be stranded on the road. A long ride involved a pocket full of tools, plugs, points, and a spare fuse. Just like the British auto industry, these bikes were plagued by the curse of The Prince of Darkness- Lucas!

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  5. Ben T Spanner

    In the mid 60’s i bought a 1946 Triumph with a bad wheel/axle bearing. The seller said none were available. I took the bearing to Bearings Inc. who looked up the number and said “this is British, we can have one in 2 weeks.” They did

    Under the upstairs landing of my student area apartment, there was an Ariel four square, a BSA Rocket? and a Norton, all rusting away. Per above, at that time,they weren’t worth much.

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  6. Bill

    A friend of my Dad’s used to buy these from surplus and race them on a frozen lake. Left a couple on the bottom when the ice got too thin. Not too many of these around in this kind of condition. Cool bike.

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  7. Robert White

    I restored a 650 BSA Thunderbolt and sold it for $2700.00 back in the 90s. Had a Triumph 500 Tiger as well. After I sold my British bikes I decided they were not big enough for my needs. They are certainly great looking bikes, but not enough HP or CCs IMHO.

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  8. Doug Towsley

    I have a number of BSA’s. Great bikes. This one sadly would best be a display or museum piece. While it may run, it wont for long. Bikes that have sat that long need a complete overhaul. The Maggie wont last long (Capacitors, and shellactitis) the Dynomo wont either. (Bearings need service and the seals will flood the armature with oil)
    Gaskets are long gone, and unless pickled carefully with oil or preservatives the internals will have bits of corrosion here and there and when run the Swarf will foul the mains and pump..
    They are cool bikes but this is a flat head with a 3 speed. Not exactly modern road friendly. You could ride it with another engine (B33 or B34 and 4 speed) and then swap it back to keep original but better to buy a actual road bike. Theres multiple projects or runners that come up all the time. Its worth about where its at now. ($3k and maybe up to $5k if really motivated)

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  9. Derek

    I eventually got over 80mph out of my M20. It now lives in sunny Finland… D.

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  10. Howard A Member

    I’ve always liked “Limey’s” myself. Sorry, I don’t believe it only has 800 miles. The wear by the foot brake , general shoddiness, I think someone rode this bike for many years with out a working speedo. Still, a wonderful find. Great alternative to the “standard issue Harley”. I’ve had many bikes, but this would be a challenge to ride. British bikes, which seemed to be under the radar for years, I’ve noticed, have started to creep up, as I’d like to have a British bike for a retirement project, but something a little more civilized than this. Here’s a WD M20 with 550 miles on it. Quite a difference. Cool find. Thanks Scotty. http://www.ewarbirds.org/vehicles/1944bsamd20.html

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    • Doug Towsley

      Where are you located Howard? I am near Portland Oregon. I have a number of BSA’s I will be selling soon. I have one I hope to have ready to put up for sale this weekend.
      Its a 1952 BSA A10 Golden Flash 650cc. Plunger frame so similar styling. But much more useable. I also have some performance parts as well if you would like a “HotFlash”.
      Or,,, more practical than a 1950s bike. I have a couple BSA 441s (Thumpers) and some BSA A65s (unit twins) Several years to choose from. ALL are project bikes, but I have extensive parts, and literature including factory workshop manuals, Parts books and service manuals. Way too many projects and I have material needs so need to be sold.

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      • Howard A Member

        Hi Doug, I’m in N.Wisconsin. The only BSA I would consider, is a Rocket 3. ( I know, good luck) I’d “settle” for a Trident though. Thanks for the offer.

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  11. bill

    BSA—-Bast##d stopped again.

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    • Howard A Member

      HA! Electronic ignition settled THAT problem. :)

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      • Doug Towsley

        Yep, I like a mix of customs and restorations but where it counts why the hell would you rebuild a bike (or car) and replicate a factory defect? There are many parts on vehicles where much more sensible upgrades or improvements were made or available.
        On most of my Brit bikes I have upgraded the ignitions (one exception is my 1948 Speedtwin and the 1959 Bonneville which are going to be 100 percent stock except for the Generator and Regulator (upgraded to 12v higher output armature and solid state Boyer power box, NOT visible externally) But both those bikes will run upgraded stock Maggie Neatos (with improved capacitors). But I used to sell a LOT of electronic Ignitions Boyers especially. Its pretty well known on the triples its the height of stupidity or sado-masochism to try and run the stock points. Im sorry Howard but you have champagne tastes and no BSA triples lurking about here on my gearhead ranch. I DO have 2 Triumph Triples sitting here (ones a runner, the other is very crusty but complete) I am storing for a friend in the UK. He was SUPPOSED to come over during the summer and he has bikes stashed all over, but life happened. I expect it will just be a while longer but If he decides to liquidate them I will try and contact you. I am not a big fan of the Triples.. Most of my collection are twins and singles. Nortons-BSA- Triumphs. And because I really like the early rigid frame stuff I have a bunch of stuff from the 1940s and early 50s but my oddball bike is a 1948 Famous James, Its got a Villiers 2 stroke motor. Snazzy and stylish. Some of my friends made fun of me for buying it. *COULD NOT HELP MYSELF, COMPULSIVE SHOPPER at the swap meets and it was SUCH A DEAL! Yet after all their ridicule I have had many offers to buy it since.
        It needs resto as well but I took it to the local ALL BRITISH FIELD MEET once and parked it next to all the restored bikes. Being old and crusty it got a LOT of attention and a lot of people took pictures which annoyed a guy in our vintage club who is a bit of a trophy whore. He moved his bike away from it. Probably worried some rust would jump off and onto his.

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  12. Jim Norman

    Old joke:

    Why do Brits drink their beer warm?

    Wait for it…

    Lucas refrigerators.

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