Friday, November 20, 2020

That '60s BSA of your dreams is back, and it's beautiful

Meguro K3 motorcycle on stage.
Meguro built BSAs of the glory days under license in Japan.
This is the new Meguro K3; the glory days of BSA are back.

A YouTube video (in Japanese) confirms that Royal Enfield could get a powerful competitor in the market for retro-looking, Brit-style motorcycles, and from a company with a real legacy of building them.

The legendary BSA motorcycle is coming back.

Reader John Donlon, of Illinois, predicted years ago that this would happen, so we'll let him explain. You see, BSA is returning in more ways than one, and it gets a little confusing. 

We already knew the BSA brand will begin appearing on motorcycles in 2021, built in Britain by Classic Legends, a unit of India's giant car maker Mahindra. This outfit recently brought the revered Czech brand Jawa back to India, with motorcycles clearly meant to challenge Royal Enfield in the retro-look department.

It's not clear yet what Mahindra's new BSAs will be like but it's logical to think they will play off the great BSA motorcycles of the past and that they could come from Britain to the U.S.

But John spotted another competitor on its way. There's a company that actually built some of those great old BSAs, under license, under the brand name Meguro. It's Kawasaki. John found a video of a spectacular new Meguro K3 coming in February, 2021 to the Japanese home market.

New Meguro and original from the 1960s.
New Meguro K3 with a Meguro K2 of the 1960s.

This is a new motorcycle that looks so much like its namesake of the 1960s that I briefly had trouble telling it apart from an original in a photo of them side-by-side on stage.

But let John explain. He has been telling me about the return of Meguro to the U.S. market since at least 2019, when Kawasaki filed trademark applications for the name Meguro in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the Philippines. Here's what he wrote me, in January, 2019:

"Meguro is the forerunner company of today's Kawasaki Motorcycles. They made under license BSA A7 and A10 models that (a BSA executive) said were every bit as good if not better than the UK-manufactured ones.

"Kawasaki has been building their W800 for a number of years and it never had a true 'fit' in Kawasaki's marketing plans, sold in small numbers in Europe's niche market and never made any sort of dent in the U.S. market. The current standard version (sold mainly in Europe not in North America) W800 is a dead copy of a late 1960s BSA Spitfire. 

"And why not? Kawasaki's W650 and W800 have been unabashed BSA clones for years and every retro motorcycle enthusiast knows it. Now they have a bike, a very very good bike, that's been in production for years and they are going for broke into the retro market. With only some 'badge engineering,' that W800 and Kawasaki's reputation has the potential to put the screws to any retro Mahindra BSA and Royal Enfield had better cast their future plans with an eye on this."

In February, 2019, John added this:

"Because the Meguro has the real pedigree of  'made under license' BSA,  Kawasaki will thwart Mahindra from being successful in relaunching their brand engineering badged BSA just by giving the facts to the riding/buying public. 

"The other stone is the sheer size of Kawasaki's total operation including their North American dealer network. They are way bigger than anybody else and can move products far quicker with greater accessibility than anyone else. No, they are NOT 'partners on the road.' They are the competition and have the potential to make things very challenging; especially fielding a machine that's been in constant production with periodic upgrades for nearly 60 years."

John's "partners on the road" reference is to Royal Enfield boss Siddhartha Lal's oft welcoming statements about competition in the market for retro looking motorcycles. 

Lal commented recently that "imitation and trying to copy doesn't work, it just boosts the original. It's in a way them saying that 'we're putting our hands up and we can't do it, and so (we) will copy you.'"

Close-up of Meguro logo on tank.
Meguro's name on an original K2 of the 1960s.

John's point is that no copying is necessary for Kawasaki, with a motorcycle (the W800) developed from the BSA  and only in need of a classic old name on the tank to secure its identity. Again, in February, 2019, he wrote:

"The solution I'll bet they came up with was to resurrect Meguro as the banner under which these bikes will be produced and marketed. Parts and machines sub assemblies are already in production and this was done with the stroke of a pen and a filing fee. Folks at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business would be proud."

He added: "Now if I were Royal Enfield,  trademarking Constellation and Super Meteor monikers now makes a lot of sense...  The clock's ticking and your competition has awoken."

In August, 2019, John reminded me: "And at the end of the day, Kawasaki has the real BSA pedigree."

I'm sure I've lost some of his emails along the way, but just two days ago John laid down why all this is important to Royal Enfield:

"Royal Enfield is successful because in no small part of its pedigree with the past machines and the continuity of the thought process that successfully moved from Redditch to Chennai. Here is why who you are is important. What you make is important. Your marque's legacy is on the line with everything you build and your following knows it. Interceptor - Meteor - Bullet - Himalayan - Continental GT - and possibly Constellation is RE's family and heritage. Watching what transpires between Classic Legends BSA and Kawasaki's Meguro should prove the point."

Then, just a few hours ago as I write, John saw his prediction come true:

"Motopinas, the motorcycle website from the Philippines, just broke the the story on the new Meguro K3 for the Japanese home market. Looking at it, replete with white piping on the seat, and you are looking at an oh-so-slightly modified mid-1960s BSA Spitfire."

He called it. Let's give him the last word:

"Baby boomers looking for the BSA that got away 50 years ago still have one last crack at the real thing." 


14 comments:

  1. Donlon says the Meguro is an oh-so-slightly-modified mid-'60s BSA Spitfire? David, is that a statement of alternative fact? One could list the significant differences on two typed pages, single-spaced...maybe.

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    1. Sorry pal, it is a pretty close clone of a BSA Royal Star. I stand corrected. That is fact and Meguro is made a while lot better. Plus, people with money will want quality, not a badge. The day is coming so get your your wallet. The tossers can split hairs while the rest of the world rides.

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    2. Maynard, thank you for your comment. I am no student of BSA models of the past. They all look marvelous to me. Bear in mind, if you will, that John's comments to me were in casual emails between friends. He allowed me to publish them as a favor. So you might read them as just a couple of guys talking, speaking in general. The specifics may differ. All best.

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    3. David, my comment was not a reflection on you or your site. The Meguro (Kawakaki) is a chain-drive vertical twin as were the old BSAs, but very little else is the same. Is a new 350 Meteor a near-clone of a '60s Bullet? Well...not really.

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    4. Good point. The Royal Enfield 650 twins are parallel twins with chains, wire wheels and upright seating positions like the Interceptor of old. Better brakes, turn signals. They're evocative, I suppose we could say.

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    5. Lest we forget: The new twins have 12-volt electrics and start on a button. They have lights that actually illuminate the road. They have long maintenance intervals instead of requiring an hour's work for every two-hour ride. They require one grade of oil. It goes into one hole and eventually drains out of another. The old Interceptor required three grades of oil, each went into a separate container, two of those typically leaked and had to be topped up after rides. The new twins are sold to women. No women or very few bought the old Interceptors. They were difficult to kickstart and needed constant maintenance. An owner of a new twin can depend on his/her dealer for maintenance. No way could you do that in 1965. You'd never be able to leave his shop.

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    6. All true! Women, unlike men, are never fickle, especially with expensive purchases. It better perform as advertised or you're gonna hear about it....forever.

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    7. Aint it the truth. Never satisfied, house, car, furniture, husband.
      Signed, her husband.

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  2. I don’t get the connection of a Kawasaki shaft driven OHC engine to anything BSA ever made. The pre-units were A7 500, the A10 650 were under barrel cams. And they were strokers.
    The unit twins were the A50 500 and the A65 line were 650s. They were big bore. The A50 was a single carb. The A65T Thunderbolt was a single carb. The A65L was a dual carb. In the US the fuel tanks were mostly the chrome with the center painted. The A65S Spitfire appeared in 1966. It had a fiberglass tank in red and white. It ran a full width brake hub, it shared with the Gold Star.

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  3. The W800 has been on the market in Germany for a number of years now, but I've rarely seen one. I'm sure they're good bikes, but I can't imagine calling them Maguro is going to make them a lot more popular, and price-wise, they are more like a Triumph Bonneville, so I don't think Royal Enfield has too much to worry about.

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  4. Ahh, here we go then... the water will be muddied and the bandwagon overloaded with retro knock offs trying to catch a ride on the success coat tails of the RE Interceptor.
    The winner will be the one with a good combination of price and after purchase support. If an owner has to go 100 miles to get parts and service, methinks they will soon fall out of love with their retro beauty.

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    1. As true as ever, the supply of parts is life.

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  5. Meguro will be the motorcycle equivalent of Lexus, Infinity and Acura in order to justify the price of building them in Japan rather than Taiwan.

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