I currently own a 1970 Firebird, actually just rebuilt from a box of bits. I note the sarcasm about the electrics; mine have failed on a number of occasions, and only last Sunday 80 Klm's from home, caught fire at the ignition switch. Apart from that what a great bike.
I'll guess the vibration inherent with the vertical twin is a possible cause for trouble with the electrics. Anything not insulated from the vibe could be shaken to death.
On my way to Kansas from Tulsa, the beezer lost a bolt out of the headlight. When fixing this, I discovered stress cracks in the headlight assembly. I had to cobble the thing back together against the day I find a headlight can that belongs on it.
I was reading that recent Triumph Bonneville models have a vertical twin 865cc that is internally counterbalanced. Much smoother, however, it vibrates at higher speeds. I think they all do to some extent.
I bought it brand new in 1970. The Thunderbolt came in black or red that year. I wanted a black one, but the dealer only had one, and it was red. I would stop by on my way home after work every night when my, 4:00pm until 12:30am shift was over. I just had to look in the window to make sure it was still there.
I finally had enough saved up to make a down payment on that $1,300 BSA. Soon I was riding 50 miles round trip, back and forth to work every night, after having spent hours during the day polishing it. It dripped oil all over the garage floor. The gas cap never sealed well, so when full, it would spew gasoline all over the red top and down the chrome sides of the tank. At freeway speed it vibrated so bad it put my butt to sleep, and eventually the one mirror broke off and landed somewhere on the freeway.
The lights would invariably shut off on the way home in the middle of the night, and I’d have to replace another headlight bulb. Another night not far from home, the electrics went out and the engine shut down.
A rocker arm broke on a trip home one night. Rather than chain it to a pole or something sane like that, I walked that Thunderbolt the last 8 miles I had left to get home. I loved that bike.
A few years later a co-worker asked if he could try it out. Stupidly, I said okay. He promptly crashed it into a curb, broke the bike and that broke my heart. I knew that bike would never ride the same, nor would I ever feel the same way about it. When he offered to buy it if I would help fix it, I did and he did. I’ve had other bikes since then, but none like that red Thunderbolt.
In 1970 I bought a brand new 650 Thunderbolt. I paid $1200.00 for it. I still own the bike to this day and it is a rider. I had no garage for it for the first 9 years of ownership. It has been garaged kept since then.
I have had to change the carburetor and of course all the rubbers parts.
It is still has the original paint (red) and seat. It has the original brakes (no problems with stopping) and original cables. I have maintained this bike very well, along with a shop run by Beno Rodi in Winder, Ga. It also has the original engine. The bike has 21610# miles on it right now.
It has been ridden on long trips when it was younger (2 week tour of Canada in 1973). Today I live 5 miles from the ocean, so when the weather is good I crank it up and head to the beach.
2 years ago we spent the weekend in North Carolina on the Tale of the Dragon. Believe me that bike turned a few heads as I ran past big old lumbering American bikes, and of course some Japanese machines.
I love this bike. What an unbelievable classic machine.
People who have had problems with their machines obviously did not treat them with love and care.
A British motorcycle is like a woman. You have to know when to stroke it and when to leave it alone.
BSA in Savannah, Ga.
I had a mid 60s 650 Lightning. The bike was about 20 years old when I bought it. I did a bit of restoration work. The Lucas electrics were the worst. You had to drive about 40mph to charge the battery, and since the speed limit in town was 25-35, I was always running it out of battery and leaving it in front of some tavern all night to be picked up in the morning. I finally replaced the Lucas ignition with a capacitor electronic ignition. Just kick it and go.
Very distinctive exhaust note. One late night the cops (I knew them all) heard me coming, stopped me and made me sit on the curb for an hour to sober up while they pretended to check every number on the bike and openly admiring it. This was back in the early 80s. Now they just take you to jail. But I don't drink anymore.
Seemed like I was always maintaining something, got tired of it and sold it. Before the guy picked it up I took it for a last drive. While going down the boulevard I watched the decorative chrome head bolt slowly revolve and fly off the bike. At the time I was happy to get rid of it, but I wish I had it today. Sold it and bought a 1950 Cadillac hardtop coupe. What a chick magnet that was.
I just cut a deal on a 1970 Thunderbolt today. It was part of a huge collection that is slowly being sold off by the owner. The bike is all original and spent most of its time with him on his museum floor, until other bikes relegated it to the basement. It was in good company surrounded by a 64 B50, a 650 scrambler, a Scott Flying Squirrel (just back from the AMA museum) and close to 400 Bultacos, many of them former roadracers. Will be picking up the bike this week.
Always lusted after a red Beezer when I was a kid in high school, and my friend had a red Royal Star. I'll be 57 in March and I finally got my Beezer. It will keep my 76 Bonny and my 47 Harley company.
I also have a 1970 Firebird and the vibrations that give all the vibes in the wrong places caused so many electrical breakdowns that were hard to find. It wasn't until the bullet connector in the headlight came apart and welded itself to the shell, causing a short in the wiring around the zener and the horn. Once the culprit was repaired, no more problems. Great bike!
I have a 1971 Thunderbolt. I inherited it from my brother. I'm only 43 years old, and not being mechanically minded, I'm having a lot of fun riding and keeping it running.
I've read all the comments on the page, and yes I agree with the whole lot.
My bike is red and silver, it keeps on burning plugs, and I think the tappets need adjusting; maybe I should look into a new carby, not real sure. But I'm having a lot of fun anyway..
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