Motorcycle Restoration Projects
Tiger Lily – a very rare BSA
This BSA B18 is probably the last genuine survivor of the Class of ’36. BSA made only 250 bikes to this specification in 1936 and very few survived World War II. This bike was an active participant in that conflict.
Regular viewers of the TV program, Antiques Roadshow, will know that there are two key drivers of the value of old wares: rarity and provenance. This BSA B18 has both…in spades. Let’s look first at its rarity.
A rare beast
The go-to agency the world for BSA bits and pieces – as well as Triumph, Ariel and Sunbeam – is the UK’s Draganfly Motorcycles. After many exchanges of photos and serial numbers, the experts at Draganfly assured the current B18 owner, Kevin T, that his bike is, indeed, a genuine BSA B18 2.49hp OHV Light de Luxe Motor Cycle: “The only genuine one in the world we know of”.
That’s as rare as you can get.
It’s not crystal clear why the B18 was produced in such small numbers, but it’s possible that the arrival of Val Page at BSA as chief designer was the catalyst. When he arrived, in 1936, after extensive experience with Ariel and Triumph, Page discovered that BSA had 18 models in its catalogue, of which six models, including the B18, were ‘new’ introductions.
The B18 combined a 1933-vintage 249cc four-stroke single with a four-speed box and Lucas Magdyno ignition. It also boasted an eight-inch head lamp and separate oil tank, to replenish the total-loss oil supply to exposed overhead valve gear.
The B18 seemed aimed at the working man and possible military use, but Val Page saw its engine torque limitations if required to mount a sidecar or carry any armament. He quickly designed the 496cc, side-valve 1937 BSA M20 motorcycle, of which 125,000 saw wartime use.
Val Page set about rationalising and redesigning the BSA range and it’s probable the 249cc, overhead-valve engine that had powered several models since 1933 was not viewed as a future working-duty engine.
So the B18, 2.49hp OHV Light de Luxe bike was a limited-production, short-lived model.
The B18 had a long stoke of 80mm and 63mm bore, in common with all 250cc BSAs up until the late 1950s. The air-cooled single was mated to a four-speed hand-change gearbox. The lubrication system had a Pilgrim pump drawing oil from a 3.5-pint (1.7-litre) tank above the gearbox.
The B18 used a diamond type frame and BSA girder forks. A quirk was the rear brake cable passing through a hole in the mudguard, to get an even pull on the brake.
The factory finish was black frame, chrome plated rims with black centres and chrome plated petrol tank with green panels and black rubber knee pads.
The provenance of this bike is extraordinary, beginning in 1942, when it was bought by an adventurous Englishman, Maurice Cadogan. As an example of the classic case of ‘history making the man’ a 16-year-old Maurice and one of his good friends wanted to assist in the war effort, but they were both too young.
Undaunted, they purchased two motorcycles: his friend obtained a 1936 AJS 350 single and Maurice purchased this 1936 BSA B18. Maurice removed the original sprung-saddle from the BSA , fabricated a steel/plywood frame to mount a much longer seat and fitted a set of clamp-on foot rests to the rear of the ridged frame, for a pillion passenger.
What the boys did with their bikes came out long after the War, when Maurice told the current B18 custodian, Kevin T, that he and his friend somehow got to France with the two motorcycles and spent the remainder of the War locating and transporting injured downed aircrew and parachuted Allied insurgents to members of the French Resistance.
These survivors were hidden in caves along the French coast and then transported back to England.
During this time the B18 was christened Tiger Lily, in honour of Mathilde Carré, who was a leader of a Franco/Polish espionage network, known as Interallié. Mathilde was nicknamed La Chatte, (the Cat) and Lily, and her code name was Victoire.
Following the War, a light-hearted Maurice and his friend, accompanied by their girlfriends, spent several months touring Scotland and Ireland on the two bikes. A family member later ‘dobbed’ that the girls said they’d spent more time pushing Tiger Lily up hills than they spent riding on her.
In the mid-1950s, Maurice stripped down Tiger Lily for a much needed overhaul and rebuild, However, due to changed circumstances, the maintenance didn’t proceed much past stripping-down the parts and vat-dipping the frame and front forks in gloss black paint.
Come the late-1960s, Maurice migrated to Queensland and the BSA, still in parts and stored in old 303 ammunition boxes, was left with his best friend in England. Ten years later, his friend passed away and it was written in his will that both motorcycles were to be sent to Maurice Cadogan in Australia.
In the meantime, Maurice Cadogan had established himself as an author of some note, writing novels under the pseudonym, Chanter Reed.
Skip forward another 10 years and Maurice’s friend’s widow arrived in Queensland, on a holiday and asked what had happened to her late husband’s 350cc AJS. As it was still boxed up in the garage they agreed that it should be freighted back to England, to enable its restoration.
It was always Maurice’s intention to have his son assist him with the restoration of Tiger Lily, but his son had other interests, so the venerable BSA remained boxed in the Queensland garage until mid-2007.
By happy coincidence, Maurice was a member of the same writer’s group as Kevin T’s mother in Brisbane. Kevin’s mother spoke of her son’s motorcycling passion and also of the fact that he’d suffered a life-threatening illness. The Cadogans told Kevin’s mother that the Tiger Lily project would be handed over to Kevin, who had the engineering ability to do the job and whose recovery would be boosted by the project.
The only condition imposed on Kevin’s custodianship was that Maurice be taken for a ride on the bike when it was restored.
Kevin began rough assembly of Tiger Lily in 2008, to ascertain what was missing and thus began a global hunt for parts.
Sadly, Maurice didn’t get his pillion ride on the back of his beloved B18, because he passed away in 2010. Kevin sent a photo of the part-restored bike to the Cadogan family and it had pride of place at the funeral, beside a photo of the man himself, one of his books and his hat.
An extract from his obituary stated: “Maurice Cadogan was a member of the Arts Alliance of Pine Rivers and one of his last works, a bitter-sweet story of the start of WWII, will appear in an Alliance Anthology”.
The final assembly
Kevin T had several projects on the go, including the restoration of an Ariel Square Four he’d owned since he was 16, so the BSA B18 project was slow to gather tempo. However, by early 2020 he’d assembled nearly all the missing parts he needed and the final rebuild got under way.
His mission was to rebuild the bike with minimum disturbance of its historic patina.
There were unforeseen issues along the way, of course, like the left hand twist grip that wouldn’t work. Yes, the BSA B18 came with a left-hand twist grip that controlled timing advance and retard. Kevin couldn’t locate a replacement, so he made a replica.
A drive sprocket, cush spring and clutch spring proved elusive, but Kevin eventually tracked them down, after a global search, to a mechanical workshop not far from his home.
We all love Lucas, Prince of Darkness and so it was with the B18’s non-sparking Lucas Magdyno that he manage to disassemble after making up a custom armature-puller. Seeing the extent of the electrical work required, Kevin opted for a rebuilt replacement.
The engine needed a full rebuild, but fortunately the crankshaft was OK. Kevin noted the unique piston gudgeons, with brass retainers at each end.
The ‘dipped’ frame and front forks were rust protected, but gummed up, so the assembly needed to be pulled apart and rebuilt. The centre stand had had a hard life, but was refurbished by Kevin’s local blacksmith.
The headlight reflector was cloudy, but responded to some of Kevin’s clock polish. (He’s an antique clock fanatic, as well.)
Kevin didn’t have so much success with the old pillion seat cover that was beyond repair after its adventurous life, so he had to settle for a beautifully made, new vinyl cover over the original foam rubber.
A new battery and set of tyres finished the job.
Tiger Lily responds to a little manual choke – hand over the carbie trumpet – and bursts into life quite happily these days. Maurice would be proud.