22nd May 1946: A new BSA model is now making an appearance in dealers’ shops. It is named the Paratroop, the twin-tubed oval frame being based on the now-famous BSA exclusive design of folding bicycle for airborne troops that did such a fine job in the liberation of Europe. It has a 20-inch frame, with forward drop-out ends, forks with brazed-in ends, 26 inch wheels, oval cranks, rubber pedals, chainguard, North Road upturned bars, caliper brakes and Brooks spring-seat saddle.
The finish is an attractive green with gold lining and chromium plated bright parts, and a hold-all bag is supplied. This model, 904ACP, is a very smart and attractive looking machine and although it is the first new BSA to be announced since the end of the war (apart from the BSA Junior Parabike), it is emphasized that it does not incorporate the new BSA features which will not be made known until the specifications of the post-war range are published.
– Cycling Magazine, 22nd May, 1946
The BSA Paratroop ACP was more-or-less unknown in Great Britain in the 21st century, until it was researched by my friend Dave Williams in Bristol when he found one in 2002 and wrote to BSA to ask what it was. Although it was not well-documented, he discovered that as well the postwar Junior Parabike that followed the styling of the wartime BSA Airborne folding bike, the company made this full-size paratrooper-style model too. The implication in the recollection of Mr.Cave, manager of BSA at the time, was that the ACP was a continuation of the BSA Airborne in civilian form, ie using some of its parts and tooling.
Here’s the reply he received from BSA:
I’m sorry it has taken me a little while to get back to you. I carried out a few more searches myself but these proved fruitless. However, the good news is that Mr. Cave has been into the library and I have managed to discuss your enquiry with him in person. (I think I mentioned Mr. Cave to you in my last letter – he was Manufacturing Manager at BSA from 1941 to its close in 1975). He was able to supply me with the following information.
Your cycle is one of the BSA Airborne cycles which were manufactured for the British Airborne Forces between 1938/39 and 1944. 64,000 were manufactured in total. After the war, an attempt was made to carry on manufacturing this cycle in civilian form and make it available for the public to buy. Your cycle is one of these. They were made 1945/6, and only a few were made, making the few left in existence very rare!
1946 BSA Paratroop Model 904ACP
(Army Commando Paratroop)
European Export with Coaster Brake
EXTREMELY RARE CIVILIAN VERSION
of the popular WW2 Army BSA Airborne Folding Paratrooper Bicycle
BSA’s First postwar Bicycle
This is the non-folding BSA Paratroop, modelled on the wartime BSA Airborne folding paratrooper bicycle and built primarily for export at a time when Britain badly needed foreign exchange after the War. This example was found by my friend Jon in Europe, and is ready to ride.
By the Second World War, BSA had 67 factories and was well-positioned to meet the demand for guns and ammunition. BSA operations were also dispersed to other companies under license. During the war it produced over a million Lee-Enfield rifles, Sten sub machine guns and half a million Browning machine guns. Wartime demands included motorcycle production: 126,000 BSA M20 motorcycles were supplied to the armed forces. At the same time, the Daimler concern was producing armoured cars. And, of course, BSA also manufactured Mk.V and Airborne bicycles.
During the War, British industry was effectively nationalized. Though, in 1945, British vehicle manufacturers started to return to peacetime production, de-nationalization was a gradual process. Nearly all motorized vehicles were exported to bring in much needed foreign exchange: Great Britain had a massive war debt to repay to America, and much of it was repaid through exports.
Bicycle manufacturers played a major part in this export drive too. For example, in their first year of operation, 1946-1947, Mercury Industries (Birmingham) Ltd quoted £1 million in export sales.
BSA expanded greatly after the War, buying Triumph, Ariel, Sunbeam and New Hudson. As a result, they became the world’s largest motorcycle producer. They already had an excellent reputation around the world and, as well as motorcycle exports, the company shipped out their range of bicycles to far-flung corners of the world.
THE BSA 904ACP PARATROOP
This model did not appear in BSA catalogues. It was a stop-gap model, produced only in 1945 and 1946: by the time the new BSA range had been introduced, it was dropped.
These adult cycles were not successful and production ceased. It was, however, very successful when it was manufactured as a child’s bike – both as 14 and 16 inch wheel versions. Several thousand of those were made seasonally each year based on a hinge version of the bike. These cycles weren’t sold under the BSA name but the Sunbeam name.’
My assumption is that the BSA ACP was initially considered for sales abroad, particularly in America.
My reasons for this assumption are as follows: America was the primary export market, being the world’s richest country at the time. British Exports were written off against war debts. Victory was still fresh in the public’s mind, and a bike that looked like the famous BSA Airborne would have been a good marketing idea. The war was used as a marketing strategy well into the fifties: for example, ‘war grade’ tyres were sold for many years after the war, and the American manufacturer Columbia marketed a ‘Paratrooper’ model which was not even used during the war. While, postwar, the British bicycle market was an adult one, America’s postwar bicycle market was youth-orientated. In the USA, by age seventeen, kids had cars. This is undoubtedly a young person’s style of bike.
Also, compare the design of this frame with that of American bicycles of the era. By 1941, influenced by 1930s American cars and trains, the styling excesses of American bicycles had reached its zenith. I’d not thought about it before, when looking at the folding version. But, seeing this non-folding model, I wonder if the design of the BSA Airborne itself had its origins in the aerodynamic styles of prewar American bicycles?
But why was it dropped from production?
– The answer (my own assumption) is very simple. The 1946 price of the new BSA Paratroop Model 904ACP was quoted as £10 14/- 6d plus purchase tax £2 10/- 1d. That makes a total of £13 4/- 6d. Now look at the 1954 advert below: it offers a military surplus BSA Airborne bike for 70/- (£3 10/-).
The comparative saving of nearly £10 is not accurate bearing in mind that this advert is eight years later, but it does illustrate the fact that a lot of second-hand folding machines came onto the market after the war, and they would have competed directly with the Model 904ACP. Though they were second-hand, they had another advantage besides price – they folded!
A most interesting footnote can be found in Pashley’s latest model. It’s called a ‘Tube Rider.’ You can see it below. Is there something vaguely familiar about it? 🙂