Friday, June 10, 2016

Did '60s fashions doom the British motorcycle industry?

Facing challenges, the British motorcycle industry decided to go girlie in its advertising of the 1960s and '70s.

Out-dated machinery would look swinging when draped with young women — at least that was the hope.

The Norton girls are best known. But even Royal Enfield tried out the appeal of a leggy girl lounging on an Interceptor in 1969.

It didn't work, obviously, or Triumph and Royal Enfield wouldn't be the last ones standing.

Most observers would credit the conscientious consumers of the day for looking past the bikinis to matters such as reliability and value for money. Hello, Honda!

Not so fast.

The scantily clad young woman in a period BSA advertisement, spotted for sale on CraigsList  in Texas recently, gives me pause.

The fact that she is wielding a crowbar might be off-putting at any point in history. But, then, her jacket is open to the waist, suggesting some willingness to join you if you will only buy that BSA.

Trouble is, in the fashion of the time, the open jacket manages to be risque without being in the least bit alluring. This raises a question in my mind:

Would the British motorcycle industry have survived if its final, desperate advertising push had not directly coincided with the popularity of that trend setting model, Twiggy?

In other words, if female assets are generally considered marketing essentials, is a prevailing fashion contrary to commonly accepted female attributes detrimental to sales success?

For the record, Twiggy's childhood nickname was "Twigs." As a model, she measured a streamlined 31-23-32.

She was mini but she had maxi effect on marketing. The Daily Express called her "the face of 1966" and she was an international sensation by 1967. She retired from modeling in 1970 but her career in film and music began, extending her influence over fashion.

Meanwhile, thank you very much, the British motorcycle industry had to scrape along with advertising layouts featuring models apparently plucked from the world's least fascinating roller derby team.

I feel my theory needs further examination by scholars.

Preferably over beers.


  1. The UK motorcycle industry was like the dinosaurs, David. It failed to adapt and keep up with the times, so became almost extinct.
    Directors and designers who had no real interest or understanding, or were just looking at the bottom line of the profit and loss sheet (more loss than profit in the end)
    The Japs killed it and it deserved to die in the state it was in.

  2. The Brit bike industry died because the enthusiast-owners and enthusiast-directors died off, leaving the bean counters to run the enterprises. That they did--right into the ground. That's why people like Sid Lal, the folks at Scrambler Ducati, the Yamaha team, etal. are the point people for today's bikes. They ARE enthusiasts and successful.


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