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This article supports the BSA (DT) displayed at the High Beech annual Celebration of Speedway held at the National Speedway Museum in February by the owner and renovator Mr George Thompson. BSA (DT) information does vary, what is not in doubt is their efforts to capture the vogue (DT) machine, and it is our endeavour to present the most accurate account possible. It is natural to think the large BSA Company, known worldwide as motorcycle and armament manufacturers, could quickly supply a machine from their product range to command the new dirt track business. The same opportunity existed for more than 15 other British motorcycle manufacturers as no special dirt track machine was available in 1928.

To enter this new motorcycle sporting discipline meant production roadsters were stripped of un-necessary weight, and already the Douglas DT5 was the machine to beat.  An enthusiastic press heralded this new exciting sport from Australia although its origins began years before in South Africa and USA.  Britain’s introduction to the sport is said to be a meeting held on February 19th 1928 on the edge of Epping Forest organised by the Ilford Motorcycle Club.

The focus of this article refers to the BSA attempt to enter the sport and it begins at the Birmingham BSA experimental department, where two gentlemen were at the forefront of this effort, Bert Perrigo, an accomplished 1927 grass track champion, he later became known as Mr BSA. Working alongside Bert was a young Jack Parker, already successful trials and sidecar rider with his brother Norman. Reportedly Jack was either sent, or went to the High Beech event and reported his findings to BSA. We can assume they discussed a sport similar to grass track, but with the added art of broad siding and what machine requirements would be required for success in this discipline. It was considered, by some, this sport would not last and perhaps large companies viewed it that way as well.

It is said, as a private effort, Jack took the BSA S-model Sloper, in dirt track specification, to a High Beech meeting on the 26th May 1928 and returned home with £55, a large sum for that era, money was to be made. Jack was an excellent rider but the Sloper had handling problems, a better solution should be found. Without the privilege of asking we can assume the forward cast iron weight of the Sloper engine had a detrimental effect on its handling, because, on their own volition Jack and perhaps Bert set about building there own vertical single cylinder model using parts from the Sloper and other models. A crankcase from a 1927 side valve was modified to take the Sloper flywheel assembly, the Sloper cylinder head was heavily modified to meet the vertical mode, a contrived high compression piston for methanol fuel with matching cams, the magneto was moved from the behind the cylinder to the front and chain driven, with frame and forks from two different 350 models.

Initial tests were encouraging and younger brother Norman, who was also Jack’s sidecar rider, raced the trial machine at a local meeting, alas the improved power to the rotating parts was too much and the crankcase exploded. Mr Harold Briggs, then BSA technical manager took Jacks efforts seriously and from the prototype idea a works effort was forwarded. Given this was decades before ISO manufacturing standards and MRP planning, someone would have to convince BSA management the proposal was viable.

As it happened BSA took the prototype idea seriously and built the vertical S-29 single cylinder roadster model alongside and in support of the (DT). The (DT) engine differed due to the use of methanol; the sump oil pressure system was converted to total loss, by a hand operated oil pump primed before each race, then drained after. The 3-speed gearbox was maintained and (DT) crankcases identification was a stamped letter (T). The 1929 selling prices were £49-10s for the roadster and £65-00 for the (DT).

In the last half of 1928 Jack was beating the best the sport could offer and making money, also during that period Jack and Bert successfully rode at the London tracks together covering a number of meetings over any one weekend. We are not able to identify the exactly machines they rode at the time, but definitely Jack rode the established Douglas DT5 long wheel base horizontal twin and the lighter weight single cylinder four valve Rudge, both these machines had power advantage over the BSA.

All photos below that can be enlarged are available courtesy of the photographer
Mike Ricketts.

To view a larger image please click on the thumbnail

The image above the right hand side of the machine Mr George Thompson is restoring.

And the below, the left side of the same engine showing the primary chain.

Below the gearbox and transmission arrangement on the BSA DT (please note that gears are not used on the present day speedway machines) but at this stage they were, a hangover perhaps of the ‘stripped down road bike’

Below the whole green machine, to me it is interesting to note how far forward the engine is compared to the J.A.P. of much the same period. It would seem in some part to be necessary because of the arrangement of the frame tubes, although if designed as a unit this would be design and not necessity.

BSA DT - Dirt-track Machine

By Rotary Roy (T.A.G. Allison)

Photo courtesy John Somerville
shows possibly the only photograph of Jack Parker on a BSA DT circa 1929

BSA had success at new northern tracks during 1928, in both solo and sidecar. Another successful solo rider was Cyril Lord a TT rider who rode BSA and Norton. At Barnsley in 1928 George Wigfield was the man to beat, he rode BSA solo and sidecar. The same applied at Salford with J Porter and Cyril Manson but again not certain of the BSA models used, most probably the S range OHV and SV mix.

Coventry Lythalls Lane track opened in 1929 with Jack Parker as team captain and Cyril Lord in the team both riding the twin port BSA (DT) Unfortunately we have no performance reports, but as Jack continued riding Douglas or Rudge again indicating the BSA (DT) performance was not comparable. It may be for this reason BSA sold a large quantity of the vertical cylinder models to their overseas distributors. BSA had made its mark in dirt track racing but like other British manufacturers not enough to control the sport and command the business.

The sport grew in stature during the 1930s, dirt track became known as speedway, rider style went from leg trail to the foot forward, cinder tracks were replaced with shale and league teams with supporters clubs were formed. Machine development became more standardised with the development of the JA Prestwich (JAP) engine fitted into a Rudge or Excelsior frame. There was further development after WW2, frames were constructed in lightweight T45 tubing by singular engineering enthusiasts rather than large companies, but still with the JAP engine and that remained the situation for decades.

Those who knew Jack Parker confirm his shrewd business mind and more than ample self-assurance, he continued his career to become Britain’s greatest speedway rider and the sports ambassador from 1928 to 1954; Jack remained active in business until he died in 1990 aged 84.

Enthusiasts wishing to loose themselves in time with speedway information, the wonderful Scottish Speedway Researcher is the place to look, for hardware spend a day at the Speedway Museum at the Wild Life Park Broxbourne Hertfordshire,  apart from these there is all the Internet information.                      

Some information came from Motorcycle Sport----Speedway Researcher----Story of BSA Motorcycles

The notes on the photos are by the webmaster and any errors or omissions are mine. They are in no way the responsibility of Rotary Roy, who kindly wrote the article.  

On the left
Cyril Lord on a
BSA DT in what appears to be an advertising photograph

Circa 1929

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