Retrospective: BSA B25 Starfire 250: 1968-1970

(This Retrospective article was published in the October 2007 issue of Rider.)

STORY and photography BY CLEMENT SALVADORI

This little machine was an anomaly when it appeared on the showroom floors in 1968; though it was a rather attractive motorcycle, it was powered by an old-fashioned single-cylinder OHV engine.

BSA had been building 250 singles since 1938, and some dim bulb up in marketing thought there was still a market for a little plodder…if you dressed it up real pretty.

It was a tough engine, slightly undersquare with a 67mm bore, 70mm stroke, having an aluminum alloy head and barrel, with an iron liner, a one-piece forged crankshaft with two flywheels running to keep the vibration down, and a duplex-chain primary drive to handle all that power going to the four-speed tranny. The factory claimed over 20 horsepower at 8,250 rpm—perhaps at the piston dome, but certainly not at the rear wheel.

Back in the 1950s 250cc and smaller motorcycles abounded all over Europe, providing cheap transportation in an economy that was still struggling to overcome the aftereffects of World War II. But as the world’s finances grew stronger, the utilitarian 250 gave way to the Volkswagen, Fiat 500, Austin A40, and the market for these utilitarian machines virtually vanished.

1968 BSA B25 Starfire 250.
1968 BSA B25 Starfire 250.

In the United States during the Eisenhower years this market never really existed, as it was only schoolboys who bought basic bikes with their earnings from a newspaper route, moving up to an old Ford or Plymouth when they could. Proper motorcycles, like big Harleys and BSA Road Rockets, belonged to the small group of enthusiasts most noted for having grease under their fingernails from all the maintenance and repairs that these bikes required.

In 1968 quarter-liter bikes were still popular but as sport rather than utility vehicles. Just about every manufacturer had one or two. Lots were two-strokes, like the Montesa Scorpion and Bultaco Metralla singles, or the Yamaha Catalina and Kawasaki Samurai twins, and a few four-stroke singles, like Ducati’s Mark 3 Desmo, Benelli’s Barracuda, Harley’s Aer­macchi 250 with a race-bred pushrod engine, and the rather unexciting British offerings, the Triumph TR25 and BSA Starfire. Those last two were very similar machines, differing only in styling and badges.

1968 BSA B25 Starfire 250.
1968 BSA B25 Starfire 250.

Since this was essentially a BSA product, we should take a look at its genesis. That 1938 C10 was a flathead engine with separate gearbox in a rigid frame, and after the war an OHV C11 version soon became available, in either a rigid or a plunger frame. The C12, appearing in 1956, used a swingarm frame. 1959 was the year of big change, with a unitized engine/transmission in the C15 Star. In best British tradition the crankcases were split vertically, which usually meant leaving drops of oil wherever the bike was parked. A 26mm Amal Monobloc carb was fitted.

The loop frame used a single downtube mating with a pair of tubes cradling the engine. A shrouded fork and shocks, and a nacelle around the headlight, were the antithesis of the sporting image. Years rolled on, sales were lackluster, and BSA decided it had to change the dowdy appearance. And performance. And name. The 1966 C15 Sportsman got the nacelle ripped off the headlight, open springs on the rear shocks, and a racy little hump at the back of the long, flat seat.
Good, but not good enough. The factory decided to spend some money, and the B25 Starfire appeared on the American market in 1968. A new cylinder barrel was cast, with the pushrod tunnel enclosed behind the newly squared-off fins. (A 441cc version, the B44, was also built, but that is another story.) A bigger 28mm Amal Concentric carburetor was fitted, a “hotter” camshaft, and the compression ratio went up to 10:1. A single set of points (so easy to adjust!) sat inside a little cover on the right side of the engine, and the electrics were 12 volt.

1968 BSA B25 Starfire 250.
1968 BSA B25 Starfire 250.

The very first Starfires to come into this country had the old skinny seven-inch brake drums on both 18-inch wheels, but that was soon changed to a full-width drum on the front. The frame was little changed from the C15, though the fork was improved with a double hydraulic damping system. And the metal covers protecting the sliders had now given way to sporty rubber gaiters! Yes, yes! The shrouding had come off the shock absorbers as well. And the rather dull oblong gas tank became an artfully contrived fiberglass container holding 2.5 gallons of fuel, with glorious sunburst BSA emblems. High test, please, as that compression ratio needed the best. Abbreviated chromed fenders and sculpted side panels and oil tank finished the new look, along with the chrome headlight shell and Smiths speedometer (missing on this one). Very pretty it was, in blue and white.

Put a leg over the saddle, bend down and flip the top bit of the kickstarter out 90 degrees, pull in the clutch and kick through to free the nine clutch plates, open the petcock, tickle the carb, turn on the ignition key in the steering head, and if the battery were up the engine should start in one kick. Maybe two or three if it is cold, because the Concentric does not have a choke. Make sure your right inner thigh does not connect with the cap on the oil tank.

1968 BSA B25 Starfire 250.
1968 BSA B25 Starfire 250.

Click down into first, the cush drive in the clutch smoothes the take-up, and away you motor. In-town work is a bit sluggish as the cam does not really function well at under 4,000 rpm. The fork has over five inches of travel, the shocks almost three, but the springs are on the stiff side of plush. If the road is smooth, the ride is comfortable. Now the oil is warm and you are in the country. If you are a sporting person, you might have sprung for the optional tachometer, but if not, the engine will certainly tell you when it is near the 8,000 rpm line. The speed tops out at almost 80 mph in fourth gear; you are exhilarated and consider the $750 well spent. That is until a Suzuki X-6 250 Hustler blasts by you, shifting into sixth gear at 90 mph; that bike cost less than $700.

For 1969 BSA dropped the price to $695. And added the B25S model, with an upswept pipe, trying to pretend to be a street-scrambler. Too late. By the end of 1971 all the 250s were gone from the Beeza line.

1968 BSA B25 Starfire 250.
1968 BSA B25 Starfire 250.

13 COMMENTS

  1. hi guys, im from portugal, and i was thinking in buying a bsa b25 star fire or a b44 victors, do you know where can i find one in the UK?

  2. hi l own a starfire and am currently up dating it.

    l also use to a t350 Suzuki???

    I can assure you I get more buss out of the BSA 250 then I ever did on the suz.

    less points on my licence more fun round country lanes don’t need the ton up feeling any more done that got the T shirt and got banned ha bit younger then though.
    l would not swop it might even get some thing bigger like a bonny ??
    still dreaming and riding bikes
    ttfn
    keith

  3. I have a b25 built as an green lane and is great fun to ride. The amount of people who stop to comment on it is amazing and off road the grin factor, sound is well worth the time and effort spent. I read about how poor the engine is but found it easy to work on and this bike is miles from standard but goes like stink!
    I had a guy on a 500 enfield who was following me ask ” It is a 500 isnt it?” oh no mate 250……………………….

  4. My Dad brought home an old army 250 BSA in1964, I was 14 at the time. I spent days kicking it over and pushing it up and down the hill in front of our house. I`m shire Dad thought that would keep me out of trouble as I never got any physical or verbal assistance ,I`m shire he got a lot of amusement out of it though. One day for no apparent reason it started. I rode that bike day and night, when my friends had Honda 90s and the like, I was King. Today I live for Motorcycles, Boats,and Snowmobiles and of course my
    Grandkids.

  5. “By the end of 1971 all the 250s were gone from the Beeza line.”

    Ho hum, my 1972 B25 I’ve had for 38 years. Article is wrong right to the end!

  6. i had a c15 an ariel leader and a matchless 250 bsa bantam 175 but the best bike i EVER rode was a triumph t21 what a beautiful engine 350 and bike, john ibbertson,

  7. I had one new and whilst I loved the looks (getting off a Tiger Cub who wouldn’t) it was a vibrating unreliable pain in the backside …. I resisted Japan with a T100SS and a Bonneville shortly after but finally a 500/4 Honda got the better of me. Lots of rose tinted glasses later gets me reading this article what IS the matter with me ? (:-)) LOL

  8. I bought a BSA 250 Starfire at Elite Motors, Tooting, in London in June 1970. My buddy, who had more money, bought the 441 Victor. We had flown to London from the US….Texas actually….and spent 11 glorious weeks riding those bikes around Europe that summer, and camping. We rode as far south as Rome and finished two memorable weeks in Amsterdam. I shipped the bike back to Houston, then up to Waco and rode it for a year before selling it when I graduated college. Worst mistake of my life…..well, my first wife was actually my worst mistake…then selling my 68 Camaro. But that little bike was so special. Sure wish I had it again. So instead I own a 2007 Tiger 1050.

  9. This was back when motorcycles had character
    We had so much fun on these first bikes from our past
    I remember going to the British bike shops with my older brother
    These motorcycles were amazing machines, works of art and they mesmerized me as a youth
    Sure enjoyed mine
    Good times, good times!

  10. 441/500 a world apart and highly recommended over the 250, the Triumph version the closest thing to a hand grenade the English ever invented-both engines identical but the BSA taller by one tooth and hence insulated somewhat from all that blowing up. Triumph dealers expressing their extreme displeasure at the mounting warranty claims and their view that the company’s owner (BSA) was sabotaging their business. So 16t gearbox sprocket boys n girls. And B50 tappets. And late 3 stud B25 oil pumps! Happy puttering…

  11. I currently own a Bag of Bits that when restored and assembled will be a 1967 BSA Barracuda C25.
    I aim to build a rideable robust fun tool. I have pretty much all the parts, but they have suffered from surface corrosion. So am going to media blast every thing and have it power coated.
    Frame: Black/Red, Wheel Rims: Silver with Black/Scarlet centre stripe.
    I have Stainless Steel Mudguards that I’ll have polished and cover with power coated centre stripe in Scarlet
    and finished with a Power Gloss Clear Coat.
    I have two petrol tanks the Fibre Glass original and slightly large capacity metal both to be finished in Scarlet & White.
    I shall have the engine rebuilt by a BSA unit singles specialist with the brief to maximise Big end strength,
    Needle Roller Main Bearings, uprate Oil Pump, Improve Gas Flow of the head, lighter & larger Valves is to be discussed. Lastly, I shall fit Electronic ignition and 12V electrics.
    After that I may sell it as I really want a 1966 C15 Star, as that was my first motorcycle when 17. It was a maroon beauty with deep valanced mudguards , the antithesis of the design brief of the ‘swinging 1960s’.
    It was a plodder in comparison to the Barracuda C25 & Starfire B25. But it was perfect for cruising around the Somerset Mendip hills in the summer sunshine, stopping at a country pub for a pie and a pint!

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