Part Three – The Expensive Bit

First things first – I’m still here to carry on. I was in the room when my wife read last month’s article and it was hilarious when she suddenly stopped reading, walked directly to the conservatory, immediately came back and said, ‘You’ve got my heater, you git’! I was laughing for at least a couple of hours. She then gave me ‘the look’ when she got to the part about the oven. One hundred lines – ‘I must act like a mature adult’.

When I signed off last, I’d completed the stripdown and I needed to get restoration work done before I could start reassembly. Lots needed doing – January was going to be expensive. Therefore, the rest of this article could just be two words long, but I’m hoping you’d want more information than that. Those two words? BUDGET SMUDGET.

I’d given myself a ‘finger in the air’ budget of £2k. To be fair to myself the £2k was a total guess based on zero knowledge, so I’m not surprised that it was wrong. I now think about £3k..ish. This is more than the actual value of the bike. But, as it is in memory of Peter, my Father-in-Law, I don’t really mind. When it comes to the second bike I’m going to see how good I can get it for as little as possible. I will be able to get costs down with new skills that I have learned.

bsa c15 speedo
Smiths magnetic speedo
bas c15 bottom yoke
Powder coated bottom yoke

Before going any further though I should mention something I forgot to note when I started stripping down the bike in November. I wear glasses. I have been short-sighted since I was a kid up North. But now I’m becoming the ‘old git’ that my kids have always called me. I don’t need reading glasses (yet); however I do need to take off my ‘seeing’ glasses to look at things closely. So when working on the bike, I frequently take off my glasses so that I can see what I am doing. At first I’d pop them on the ground next to me whilst I did that bit of work. I’m sure everyone can guess what’s coming. Yup, one day, I’m working on the bike and take off my glasses and put them down on the ground. I then realise that the spanner I’ve got is the wrong size and get up to change spanner. Crunch! I stood on my glasses. Numerous swear words were spoken with great feeling. I had not broken a pair of glasses since I was at school over 30 years before. Fortunately, I had a spare pair so was able to carry on – until the next day when I did exactly the same thing with my spare pair! The swear words had great volume as well as great feeling this time. To use a good Northern word meaning a stupid person (also, really satisfying – just try it) that my Mother and wife regularly take great pleasure in using about me – what a wazzock! Glasses weren’t part of my budget.

Anyway, back to January. Due to Covid we had gone on to a rota system at work, so I didn’t need to be there all the time. This gave me loads of bike time. The first thing I needed to do was to get on the computer. I didn’t know where to get things restored. The BSA and TVAM Facebook pages yielded recommendations for most things, so it was just a matter of researching them and choosing one of each.

Firstly, I settled on Classic Speedometers in Mansfield to do a full service on the speedo. Not many people in the country work on Smith’s magnetic speedos and I have to say that Stuart did a wonderful job. It looks fantastic. A true craftsman.

Next, I wanted to look at the frame and tinware paint. The consensus was that this should be ‘two pack’ for greater originality. Ideally, I wanted to keep the original paintwork and having it restored rather than have everything repainted, even if some imperfections were noticeable. I had narrowed down my selection to two firms and decided to go and visit them. However, times being as they are, I wanted to be sure that this was allowed and that we could keep it safe. Government websites confirmed that visiting these businesses was legal. As these businesses could be open, customers may visit. Due to the specialised nature of these businesses, it also meant I could travel to visit them. Both also confirmed that these would be socially distanced meetings outside.

The first visit was an eye opener in a couple of respects. One – it wasn’t the original paintwork. It was the same colour, but a not-very-good-quality repaint. No point, nor a good idea, in keeping this paint. Two – two pack was flaming expensive. The quote from the first place was over £3k just for the frame and tinware. I knew from their website that this place was going to be expensive but £3k was a non-starter. That wasn’t happening. I felt disappointed about the paint not being original, however it did mean that I didn’t need to two pack and could consider methods that are modern and less expensive yet also yield great results. It also meant I could powder coat the frame and other relevant parts which was a lot cheaper.

The second person I visited was Mike at Triple C Paintwork in Burghfield. I had been recommended Mike by a couple of people in different Facebook groups (and have also since found out that he advertised in Slipstream last year). It was one of those situations where you just feel it is right. Mike was open and engaging, answering all my questions (even the dopey ones) without any hint of an agenda. He showed me examples of his work at various stages and explained my options, both traditional and modern. I came away feeling Mike wasn’t doing a hard sell, he wanted what was best for me and my bike. I decided to go with Triple C using modern methods at a much more reasonable rate. The only negatives were that it would be March before the work could be done and they don’t powder coat. However, I could see the positives in the wait. His work must be good to have to wait that long and these parts of the bike would be the last to go back on. Regarding powder coating – Mike recommended Tadley Powder Coaters. I called in on them the next day and they took most of the parts there and then. They couldn’t take the shock absorbers as I had not been able to take the chrome collets off, nor the footrests as the rubbers were still on. A week later I had the frame and parts back. They looked lovely. It was starting to get very real!

The next part was the engine casings which needed to be vapour blasted. Recommendations on BSA Facebook groups led me to RD Cox in Reading. For the petrol and oil tanks, Andy Kennett at Dynotech in Bramley (where I take my Yamaha), recommended a gentleman called Jeep in Waterlooville. Only the petrol tank needed work, the oil tank is fine – some money saved! The shiny bits have gone off to AK Moto in Goring – more on that in a sec. Small privately-owned businesses whose work is their calling card and their future business, apart from Jeep, who I assume does it as a hobby during his retirement. I am eagerly anticipating the return of all these items as I will then be able to start re-assembly.

I had another ‘spreadsheet’ moment when it came to the chrome parts. I was quite shocked when I got the quote through. It was significantly more than I expected. Some parts were excellent value, others way more than I thought. It was actually cheaper to buy new for several parts. This was disappointing as it would have been nice to use the original parts, but sense had to prevail – first time for everything.

bsa c15 rear wheel
Restored rear wheel

The other parts that needed looking at were the wheels. These needed a decent amount of work. I especially wanted rid of that horrible red paint on the rim that someone had used a paintbrush to throw on. I settled on Mike at Salisbury Wheel Builders. You may remember that I had broken off a bit of the rear wheel hub when I managed to get my left and right mixed up. This did turn out to cost, but fortunately not as much as first feared. Mike took one look at the rear wheel and said I needed a new hub. I managed to source an original one on Ebay and had it delivered direct to Mike. The hubs were cleaned and painted, new rims and spokes and one week later, what a result. Tyres and tubes have been ordered.

So that was all the bits in and some back. However, I could not start any re-assembly yet. I needed the engine casings back to start anything on the engine and I needed the chromed parts to be able to start putting anything of significance back on the frame or wheels. But I did have other things that needed doing. I took apart the carb and put all its bits through the ultrasonic cleaner. They have come up looking fantastic and as spotlessly clean as I believe they need to be. The forks needed properly taking apart. I’d had trouble separating the oil seal holders – a soak in petrol and the club hammer sorted that.

I was also watching a series of programmes on YouTube by a guy called Michael Waller from Britannia Motorcycles. A Yorkshireman based in upstate New York, he was restoring a C15. These programmes are great for me as I can actually see things being done. I can heartily recommend this guy to anyone interested in British bike restoration. He has made videos of many bikes and not only is he very informative but he is thoroughly entertaining. His videos, in conjunction with the Rupert Ratio books are fantastic resources for a newbie like me.

Then there were the bits that I couldn’t leave at the powder coaters as they weren’t fully taken apart, the shocks and the footrests. The shocks had chrome collets holding the spring in place and a special BSA tool was required to remove them. Of course, this tool was not to be found anywhere and is no longer manufactured. I needed the collets off to get them re-chromed and the shocks powder coated. Fortunately the beauty and generosity of those on the Facebook BSA C15 Restoration Group came to the rescue. A guy called Steve had made this tool himself and offered to loan it to me…… without knowing me from Adam – how cool is that? Steve posted it to me and off came the collets just like that. As soon as I get the re-chromed collets back I will get the shocks put back together and post it back to him. Thanks Steve.

So the collets were off the shocks, the rubbers removed from the footrests and these parts needed re-painting. I considered taking them to Tadley Powder Coaters, but as there were only seven bits I decided to try re-painting them myself. Earlier I had bought a can of chrome spray to ‘chrome’ bare metal parts, but to be frank, this looked pants. I bought some new attachments for my drill so I could polish up bare metal parts, even screw heads and washers (OCD, I greet you!). I could also remove old paint back to metal, hence me getting the idea to re-paint myself. I have primed and coated all these parts, and in my personal opinion they look fantastic. The light fixture in the lounge came in really handy.

I think this looks great but my wife wasn’t overly pleased with this, especially when my son started re-spraying his car grille in the conservatory at the same time. That solvent smell wafted through the whole house.

Towards the end of the month I needed to address the crank sleeve that Jim Bates had pointed out to me in December. This was firmly (as it is meant to be) stuck in place. As usual a special BSA tool that is no longer available was required to remove it. Advice varied from cutting it off, drilling holes and inserting bolts into it to pull it off or sending it to be removed by Mr Ratio himself. I ended up adapting a sealant gun with Allen keys attached to move it a bit, then got tyre spoons under it to move it a bit more, until I could get a gear puller under it. Off it came. True lateral thinking. And then I could only source the replacement from a British bike specialist in Austria.

Finally, there was a very exciting moment in the month – ‘First Assembly’. I had all the parts needed to do my first bit of assembly – the steering head and fork trousers. They all went on a treat and were promptly removed due to the chrome spray mentioned above looking rubbish. Chrome spray removed, metal polished, re-re-assembled and it looks great. A REALLY satisfying moment – look at that shiny finish!

So, where are we now? Waiting. Waiting for engine casings, chrome, petrol tank and March for re-painting. There’s going to be stuff to do in February, although I don’t think there will be that much to report as I’m back at work full time as well. We’ll see though and I’ll let you know. In the meantime, stay healthy and safe. Roll on the vaccination programme and good weather.

bsa c15 crank sleeve removal

Jon Case

First published in Slipstream March2021