BSA 650 Lightning Clubman – British Exotic
Generally speaking, fifties-era auto technology was well ahead of the motorcycle, but when both turned the corner into the 1960s that gap narrowed. That process began when the cheap economy car and their warm heaters nearly voided bike commuters, and the market change forced manufactures (read; the ones still in existence) away from the basic transportation sector and into specialized performance machines.
Famous for them, no maker except East Germany’s MuZ produced more work-a-day punters than BSA, and those military side-valves and small singles formed BSA’s foundation as the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. Simple reason suggests Small Heath might have been hit hardest by the imposing auto makers and their sales-killing compacts, but history shows the firm’s response was strong. Framed by the greatest decade of music in world history the 1960s were dominated by the English and not just pop culture. Too few years passed before Japan’s wave dimmed the English flame, but what eventually transpired changed the core of motorcycling through buyer’s preferences, but before the collapse BSA and its fellow English makers designed, engineered and released the finest, fastest selection of models ever to carry the Union Jack. Include BSA’s 1965 650cc Lightning Clubman among those; a limited production exotic that’s both highly collectible and historically important.
The Lightning’s twin-carb, 654cc OHV parallel twin offers all the gloss and grunt one would expect from a premium, 60s-era sports bike and period tests enthusiastically support those claims. Modernized into unit construction, those now familiar pear-shaped crankcases moved the new 500 and 650cc twins away from the beloved A10’s separate component build…even if the new engine’s built up crank and full-circle flywheels followed traditional practice. A single carb A65 kicked off the series in 1962 but in a short time BSA had assembled a vast selection of differing 500/650cc models for street and dirt. Corporate cousin Triumph (purchased by BSA in 1951) also released a new unit twin in this era, and many enthusiasts believe both the T120 and A65 were high points. This is not to dismiss the classic A10/A7 series or any of BSA’s standout singles, but in terms of outright performance and modern advancements the units have a clear advantage. Speaking of Meriden, it’s no coincidence the Lightning Clubman was released at roughly the same time as Triumph’s more popular (and equally collectible) T120 Thruxton Production Racer. Like the Beezer Triumph’s new PR was built to meet homologation. Seeing as the Lightning Clubman debuted first (in late 1964) we’ll assume BSA’s side got the jump.
Truly an enclosed version of the A10, BSA held to tradition by sandwiching the two-hole iron cylinder between the aluminum crankcase and heads. The old practice continued with a single, four-lobe camshaft behind the crank driving pushrods to each of A65’s OHV. For a very distinctive 1965 model year the performance 650 Lightning fit twin Amal Monoblocs, 9.0 pistons, siamesed exhaust, chrome fenders, tank panels and a gold metallic finish. To this the Lightning Clubman (and 500cc Cyclone Clubman) added a close-ratio four-speed with reversed/racing spec 1-up-3-down shift pattern, Clubman bars, rear-sets and a Goldie-type bum-stop saddle. Depending upon the buyer’s intent or pocketbook the Clubman could be outfitted with a variety of options including a full fairing, five-gallon fuel tank (in fiberglass or aluminum) shouldered alloy rims, clip-on bars and even the Gold Star’s 190mm front drum. Except for carb type, the A65 Lightning/Clubman and Cyclone/Clubman share specifications.
Being a high-output 654cc twin the Lightning Clubman doesn’t offer the nimble handling of the legendary Gold Star single or even a Dommie Featherbed, but the A65LC’s tried-n-true steel tube cradle is tough and true. Taking into account period practice of bushed swingarms and the development of hydraulic suspension technology the exotic Lightning Clubman feels a bit dated measured against standards ten-years ahead. Otherwise, any good 650cc BSA unit is more than up to the task of extended stays on secondary roads, and even a touch of interstate. In the BSA’s case, endurance has more to do with rider skill than mechanical toughness. Timed at 120-mph plus the A65 isn’t thrilled being pushed past 80mph, but the fork and twin-shocks are willing with a careful set up. Good enough for Mike Hailwood to finish ahead of Phil Read’s favored Thruxton at the 1965 Hutchinson 100. So while Mike the Bike was the best ever, the victory proved BSA’s flashy Clubman up to the task.
With a production run of 200 total, genuine A65LCs are very rare. Factor in the varying options and things get even more complicated. Many standard A65 Lightnings have been converted to LC spec, and because the two are so similar it’s difficult for even a well-trained BSA buff to spot a forgery. Many now insist on documented registration records before any money is exchanged. Our advice hasn’t changed; do your homework. Highly desired along with Norton’s Commando PR and the T120 Thruxton as true factory production racer, you need a sack full to secure a factory-tuned Lightning Clubman. Happily, the following A65 Spitfire (1966-68) offers a second chance at true British exotia, and the standard Lightning is a capable fill-in…especially late versions in racy home market spec. Standing tall alongside the GoldStar single and A10 Royal Gold Star the A65 Lightning Clubman is the very best BSA had to offer. Consider that high praise. Nolan Woodbury
1964-5 BSA A65LC
Engine: Air-cooled 2v 654cc parallel twin,
Intake: Two Type 389 Amal Monobloc
Ignition: 6v points/condenser
Transmission/drive: Close ratio four-speed/chain
Brakes: 8” or 190mm front drum, 7″ rear
Weight: 395-lb (dry)
Top speed: 120-mph
Special features/options: racing seat, rear set footrests,
Clubman or clip-on bars, 2-into-1 or 2-into-2 exhaust,
five-gallon fiberglass or alloy fuel tank, fairing