Keerthivasan has the proof of Germany's contribution to the British automobile industry — a 1959 BSA Bantam
Following World War II, Germany owed the Allies an astronomical amount as compensation. It was agreed that the Germans could pay in kind — and so began the plunder of the country's intellectual wealth. The DKW RT-125 design, which was taken over by the Allies, gave birth to the 125cc BSA Bantam in 1948. But the American automobile industry was the first to sink its fingers into the pie — adding embellishments to the DKW design, Harley Davidson produced a 125cc motorcycle in 1947.
The DKW is believed to have inspired lightweight motorcycles in other parts of the world as well, but only the BSA Bantam comes readily to mind whenever DKW RT-125 is mentioned. The exact sales figure of the BSA Bantam, from 1948 to 1971, is not available. BSA produced well over a dozen Bantam models; a common sight on British roads, the Bantam was for long the iconic symbol of British lightweights.
But Bantam did not score too well in India. Indians prefer big BSAs, and the Bantam was the last choice for anyone seeking to import a BSA. It's hard to find Bantams in the south. The 1959 Bantam that software professional Keerthivasan rides belonged, until a year ago, to a resident of Kolkata.
A two-stroke 175cc machine, it is among BSA's bigger Bantams. Classified as a Bantam D7 model, it puts out 7 bhp. The ‘Super' name branded into the engine casing reveals that it is a deluxe model. As it is a later Bantam, ignition is supported by a magneto that is integrated into the flywheel assembly. And, the three-speed gear box and the engine make one composite piece. Only the models that came in the fag end of Bantam's run featured four-speed gearboxes.
The carburetor must have been Amal, but Keerthivasan's bike has a Mikuni. Restorer Suri, who carried out minor repairs, says the spokes are of the garden variety. Each of these spokes has uniform thickness from end to end. “Bantams had what is called swaged spokes, which are thick on the ends screwed into the hub and thin on those screwed into the outer rim,” says Suri. “The bike had the old spokes, but they had been eaten by rust and were very flimsy.”
A makeshift meter marks speed. Before choosing the colour, Keerthivasan studied the Bantam colour combinations. Two were shortlisted — maple green and blackish green. The darker shade was chosen simply because the other could not be sourced.