The BSA Spitfire Scrambler was developed in the late 1950s with a singular goal – to compete with and defeat the Triumph TR6 Trophy “Desert Sled” in the hotly contested world of Southern California desert racing.

The Spitfire Scrambler was never meant to be road legal, it was a race machine only, and as such it had no headlight or blinkers, no exhaust silencers, and no provision for a license plate. Modern versions of this bike would be called enduros, but back in the 1950s they were called scramblers or desert sleds.

Fast Facts – The BSA Spitfire Scrambler

  • The BSA Spitfire Scrambler was introduced in 1957, specifically designed to cater to the American desert racing scene, aiming to challenge the dominance of Triumph twins in this category. This move was at the behest of BSA’s West Coast distributor, Hap Alzina – underscoring the significance of the American market to British motorcycle manufacturers at the time.
  • The Spitfire Scrambler used the engine from the BSA Road Rocket, it underwent several modifications to make it suitable for off-road racing. The major changes included an increase of the compression ratio to 9:1, the fitting of a larger Amal Monoblock carburetor, the adoption of a “357” race camshaft, and a pair of straight-through exhausts with no silencers.
  • Initially, the Spitfire Scrambler used the lightweight frame, forks, and wheels from the Gold Star Catalina. Midway through its first production year, it transitioned to an BSA A10 frame, equipped with a bash plate and a two US gallon petrol tank.
  • Over time, the Spitfire series evolved with the introduction of models such as the Mark II, III, and IV Spitfires. These models featured further improvements in suspension, braking, and carburation, reflecting BSA’s continuous effort to stay up at the pointy end of the desert racing scene in the USA, particularly in California.
  • The 1961 BSA Spitfire Scrambler you see here has been refurbished, it’s finished in the factory-original color scheme with a red fuel tank that has chrome sides, chrome fenders, black side covers, and a black vinyl seat with white piping. It’s now being offered for sale out of Woodland Hills, California.

The Spitfire Scrambler: Building A Better Desert Sled

By the late 1950s there were few off road racing motorcycles in the world as successful as the Triumph TR6 Trophy, nicknamed the “Desert Sled.” The success of the TR6, specifically the TR6C variant, would continue unabated well into the late 1960s by which time the two-stroke revolution, largely led by Husqvarna, would finally unseat the parallel twins from Coventry.

BSA Spitfire Scrambler Vintage Ad

Image DescriptionThis is a BSA Spitfire Scrambler advertisement from the Omaha Cycle Co. Interestingly it shows the West Coast BSA distributor Hap Alaina’s name on the lower left side, the man who is said to have convinced BSA to actually build the model. Image courtesy of BSA.

All of this success enjoyed by Triumph would not go unchallenged. All of the major British motorcycle manufacturers would challenge them at one time or another, and it was the British who were king of the hill at the time when it came to motorcycle production.

One of the key rivals for the Triumph TR6C would be the BSA Spitfire Scrambler that debuted in 1957. BSA developed this new model specifically for the desert racing scene of Southern California, at the behest of their West Coast distributor Hap Alzina.

Alzina had made it clear to BSA that he needed a motorcycle that could take the fight to the Triumph TR6 and win. BSA did what any sensible manufacturer would do, they examined the TR6 and then took a look through their own parts catalogue to see what they could use to make a better motorcycle.

What they came up with was a Gold Star Catalina frame, forks, rear shock absorbers, and wheels fitted with the BSA 646cc parallel-twin Road Rocket engine that had been modified with higher-compression (9:1) pistons, a “357” race cam, a pair of straight-through exhausts with no silencers, and a head modified to accept the 1 1/16″ Amal Monoblock carburetor.

The BSA Gold Star Catalina had proven successful in scrambles racing previously, having won the Catalina Grand Prix in 1956, a 100 mile race on the island of Santa Catalina off the coast of Los Angeles. The downside to this model was the fact that it was powered by a single-cylinder 500cc engine producing 42 bhp.

This lightweight, race-proven frame and suspension was therefore the obvious choice for BSA when looking for their new TR6 killer. They fitted it with the race-specification 646cc Road Rocket engine which considerably increased power as well as a smaller two US gallon fuel tank, then deleted the headlight, blinkers, exhaust silencers, mirrors, and license plate mounts. This would be a strictly off-road motorcycle only, for serious desert racers.

BSA Spitfire Scrambler 1

Image DescriptionAs you can see, the Spitfire Scrambler is missing many of the parts needed for road use, including the headlight, blinkers, brake light, license plate holder, and exhaust silencers. This machine was intended for off-road racing using only.

The new model would debut in 1957 and it proved competitive immediately, but BSA would remain on their toes, continually improving the model right the way through its production run.

The Gold Star Catalina was swapped out for the stronger A10 frame, in 1958 the “big valve” head was fitted as standard, a shorter seat was fitted in 1959, and soon after a modified exhaust began to be used.

The model would remain in production from 1957 until 1963. Relatively few were made when compared to BSA’s road-legal production models, and today the original examples of the Spitfire Scrambler are highly sought after.

The 1961 BSA Spitfire Scrambler Shown Here

The motorcycle you see here is a 1961 BSA Spitfire Scrambler that benefits from a recent refurbishment. It’s finished off with the correct red and chrome fuel tank, black side covers, and chrome mud guards front and rear, as well the the correct black vinyl seat with white piping.

BSA Spitfire Scrambler 11

Image DescriptionThis is the modified version of the Road Rocket engine that was used in the Spitfire Scrambler. It has a higher-compression (9:1) pistons, a “357” race cam, a pair of straight-through exhausts with no silencers, and a head modified to accept the 1 1/16″ Amal Monoblock carburetor, and larger valves.

It’s worth noting that it’s powered by the correct engine, but that it’s a non-matching numbers unit – this will impact its collectibility but it does likely increase the likelihood that the new owner will actually be able to use it for desert sledding without being too concerned about it losing value.

It’s now being offered for sale out of Woodland Hills, California on Bring a Trailer with a bill of sale. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.

BSA Spitfire Scrambler 12 BSA Spitfire Scrambler 10 BSA Spitfire Scrambler 9 BSA Spitfire Scrambler 8 BSA Spitfire Scrambler 7 BSA Spitfire Scrambler 6 BSA Spitfire Scrambler 5 BSA Spitfire Scrambler 4 BSA Spitfire Scrambler 3

Images courtesy of Bring a Trailer

Published by Ben Branch -