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Just found this topic and joined the BritBike Forum

My thoughts on the subject of "Y" numbers is this. I think it is a plausible explanation of what MAY have happened.

The British Government of the time taxed anything that moved. Perhaps the BSA Company had to advise the tax office of engine numbers of bikes that were to be built in order for the Government to collect Sales Tax ( or what ever it was called ). In 1967 they advised a block of numbers, say A65LA 5000 - A65LA 8000 , and paid the relevant tax at that time. For whatever reason, these numbers were never allocated to any machines built in 1967. Fast forward to 1970 and these numbers were still unused but BSA had already paid the tax for them. Instead of using a new set of numbers and paying tax, they decide to use the already taxed 1967 numbers. However, these numbers were from 1967 production year. So to use them in 1970 for the 1970 models, all they did was add a letter "Y" to the end of the number.

I know it sounds too simple, what with all the theories about bikes held for three years, strikes and so on. But it would explain what COULD have happened.

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[Linked Image]The dispatch books list the machines as being dispatched twice, once in 1966/79 and then a second time in 1969/70.
There is a set of service sheets detailing the work required to upgrade the original 1966 machines to 1969 specification.
Speaking to Alistair Cave (who was head of the BSA production), the machines were sent to the USA in 1966, but returned unsold.

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Originally Posted by Andy Lorenz
There is a set of service sheets detailing the work required to upgrade the original 1966 machines to 1969 specification.
Thanks for posting those service sheets.

It's great to see the field upgrade information for the '-Y' (and apparently '-X') changes, which is handy information to have.

The later 'Y' (without the '-') machines are a whole different can of worms, because they have the later crankcases, etc. It seems unlikely that they were reworked at the factory to such an extent.
For whatever reasons, Al Cave's explanation seems to have some gaps. Unfortunately, he isn't around any longer to be able to provide more details, and there are probably very few remaining ex-BSA people left wh would have known the answer.

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Also doesn't explain the 68 "hybrid" Spitfires with 67 VINs but otherwise all 68 parts.

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Here are pages 5 & 6 of the 6 page service directive that Andy posted above.

[Linked Image from i.postimg.cc]

[Linked Image from i.postimg.cc]

Last edited by Gary E; 12/04/19 5:10 pm.

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Originally Posted by Changaroo
Just found this topic and joined the BritBike Forum

My thoughts on the subject of "Y" numbers is this. I think it is a plausible explanation of what MAY have happened.

The British Government of the time taxed anything that moved. Perhaps the BSA Company had to advise the tax office of engine numbers of bikes that were to be built in order for the Government to collect Sales Tax ( or what ever it was called ). In 1967 they advised a block of numbers, say A65LA 5000 - A65LA 8000 , and paid the relevant tax at that time. For whatever reason, these numbers were never allocated to any machines built in 1967. Fast forward to 1970 and these numbers were still unused but BSA had already paid the tax for them. Instead of using a new set of numbers and paying tax, they decide to use the already taxed 1967 numbers. However, these numbers were from 1967 production year. So to use them in 1970 for the 1970 models, all they did was add a letter "Y" to the end of the number.

I know it sounds too simple, what with all the theories about bikes held for three years, strikes and so on. But it would explain what COULD have happened.



The "Y" machines were random throughout the production number range. As a result, they did not apply to blocks of numbers in sequence.


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Gary, that's as good an explanation as I have seen (so far).

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Two Alpha.
Interresting thread. I have a frame, numbered A65LA18267 (no Y on the frame). First time registred in Norway August 7th 1967 as A65LA 18267Y. The Y was probably on the engine number only. As I do not have the engine, I do not know. The frame is for sure a 67.

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The Service Notes posted by Andy are dated 10/11/66.

These Service notes were referring to bikes made before that date (in 1966) but were 1967 models. The Lubrication and ignition updates to be performed were for these 1966 made bikes. Those bikes with a "Y" or "X" suffix, also manufactured in 1966, already had the improvements installed plus the suffix, to avoid any confusion as to which bikes were to be updated.

"Speaking to Alistair Cave (who was head of the BSA production), the machines were sent to the USA in 1966, but returned unsold."

I think that Alistair Cave in referring to "machines returned unsold", he meant that they were returned to Nutley in New Jersey, unsold, for the modifications to be performed. Not returned to England to be updated at huge cost to the importer and/or the BSA Company. That is why the service notes were sent out to the importers for the updates to be performed "in the field".

My own recently acquired Lightning has matching Frame and Engine numbers - A65 LA 7876 Y
This is a 1967 Number with a "Y" suffix.
This bike has a compliance sticker on the steering head of the frame showing it was manufactured by BSA Motorcycles in 02/70. The engine number is included on the compliance sticker.
This bike is clearly a 1970 manufactured motorcycle as it has all the 1970 features. The frame has the 1970 swing arm and the horizontal tubes for attaching a fairing welded to the front of the steering head. The engine has all 1970 features, 12 point cylinder base nuts, 3/8" base studs. thicker base flange, piston oil pressure relief valve. The clutch cable enters on the top of outer cover. The front brake is the 1969-70 version of the twin leading shoe brake. The clutch and brake levers have the holes for attaching rear view mirrors.

It is not credible that this bike was originally manufactured in 1966-67, exported to the USA, returned unsold at great cost to the BSA Company, then the engine, frame and front wheel were all removed and replaced with updated items with a new compliance plate displaying it was manufactured in 1970. Then it was again exported to the USA to be sold!

What happened to all the engines, frames and front wheel assemblies?

A chap in the UK re-imported a "Y" series Lightning with Engine number A65 LA 7726 Y with a compliance sticker the same as on my bike with a manufacturing date of 02/70. This is 150 numbers before my bike. It seems likely that at least a block of 150 "Y" series bikes were manufactured in February 1970. There is a restoration build started by "England-Kev" on:

https://advrider.com/f/threads/the-bsa-a65-a50-series.1171845/

of his "Y" series Lightning.

I am sticking with my theory at this stage.






Last edited by Changaroo; 12/27/19 11:01 pm. Reason: change some wording
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Originally Posted by Changaroo
"Speaking to Alistair Cave (who was head of the BSA production), the machines were sent to the USA in 1966, but returned unsold."

I think that Alistair Cave in referring to "machines returned unsold", he meant that they were returned to Nutley in New Jersey, unsold, for the modifications to be performed. Not returned to England to be updated at huge cost to the importer and/or the BSA Company. That is why the service notes were sent out to the importers for the updates to be performed "in the field".
Sometimes the blindingly obvious can elude us for years.

It makes a hell of a lot of sense that the US east and west coast distributors would get the bikes back to make the modifications rather than send the kits out to dealers (and have to pay them) to update unsold bikes. The dealer bulletin would have been for the modifications to make at the next service to bikes which were already sold.

Now, all we need is for somebody to find the relevant dealer communication regarding shipping bikes back to be upgraded.

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Although this seems to be an old thread, I have a 1968 Spitfire Mk IV that's a "Y" model. According to the BSAOC.Uk dispatch records the bike was dispatched to NJ in May, 1967, as a Mk. III, returned (to Birmingham, UK, I believe) where work was done on it on 17 April, 1968, and it was again dispatched to NJ on 19 April 1968, as a Spitfire Mk IV. I bought it in July, 1968. The serial starts with A65SA, which would be a 1967 bike, and ends with Y. It's got the zener under the steering head as in the Y models. As far as where it was returned to for modification, the note from BSAOC in 2002 just says "was returned and shipped again to BSA NJ" so I'm guessing it was shipped back to the factory for the mods. I was told sometime back that the dollar wasn't doing well against the pound in 1967 and so many bikes were unsold that year but who knows?

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The bit about being shipped back and reworked as the later model seems to involve quite a bit of wishful thinking on the part of the UK BSA Club.

Somewhere in this thread, on a trip to the UK, Gary E spent some time in the VMCC library researching the 'Y' bikes. He found a batch of Mk IV Spitfires numbered as Mk IIIs, on a separate page in the dispatch books. Prior to that, we only knew about the 1970 models.

If you have lots of free time and the associated patience, you could go back through this marathon thread to find it. Gary had a bit of a break, but seems to be posting again, so with a little luck he will provide some insight in the near future.

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Yes, I was gone for a while. First, I went to the "dark side" and built a HD flat tracker (fun bike to ride), then second, re-built and updated a 1942 WWII GE carbon arc search light (which is also fun to operate).

Without going into long detail of all of the ground we covered throughout the thread over the years, there were '67 style numbered Spitfire Mark IV's ('68's) that had all of the features of a typical '68 Spitfire Mark IV with only the exception of the number being a '67 style number.

Those "hybrid" Spitfires as we called them, were all dispatched at the end of the normal '68 model year in the months 4, 5, 6, 7 (April, May, etc.). There was a total of 468 of those 'hybrid' machines.

KevinB has one of those machines.

The "why" for those 468 'hybrids' has not been determined. The supposed reasons are all speculation, with some carrying more weight than others.


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The reason I thought the BSAOC.UK might be correct about returning the bike to the factory were the changes from Mk III to Mk IV. It wasn't just a matter of changing out the gas tank but involved a new wiring harness, putting the zener up under the forks, and changes to the engine: the Mk III had 10.5/1 pistons and the Mk IV's 9/1 as well as the reworked rocker feed and Concentric carbs. I guess all of that could have been done in NJ with an installation kit. After reading more on this thread about the "Y's" I looked at the serial numbers and only my engine has the "Y", not the frame. I never noticed that before.

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As a general rule, if only the engine number has a 'Y', it's usually a '-Y', which was just the oil feed and ignition modification.

If the bike as a 190mm sis front brake, it's probably a Mk III. If it has the 8" tls front brake, it's more likely to be a Mk IV

There were quite a few differences between 1967 and 1968 Spitfires, and even more differences between 1967 Lightnings or Thunderbolts and their 1970 equivalents. It would have made much more sense to just sell the old models at a discount than to return them to the factory for major re-work.

It was along time ago and there's no guarantee that a 50-something-year-old machine is close to original, so we're never likely to find out what the full story was.

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Shane: I just checked and the serial is "Y", just plain Y, no dash. It's got an 8" TLS front brake, zener mounted under the forks, and reflectors under the tank as required by the US version that year, but the serial is A65SA, which indicates it was originally a 1967 production. No guarantee that a 50 something year old machine is close to original? I'm the original owner, having bought the bike new in summer of 1968. It spent most of it's life in my parents' garage and the only things I did to it over the years was change the seat, put on different handlebars, put in 10.5/1 pistons at one time, and changed the paint on the tank and side covers (twice, which I now regret because stripping fiberglass is a real pain). So the bike is largely original. Thanks for all the information on the Y series you folks have provided.

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Originally Posted by KevinB
The reason I thought the BSAOC.UK might be correct about returning the bike to the factory were the changes from Mk III to Mk IV. It wasn't just a matter of changing out the gas tank but involved a new wiring harness, putting the zener up under the forks, and changes to the engine: the Mk III had 10.5/1 pistons and the Mk IV's 9/1 as well as the reworked rocker feed and concentric carbs. I guess all of that could have been done in NJ with an installation kit. After reading more on this thread about the "Y's" I looked at the serial numbers and only my engine has the "Y", not the frame. I never noticed that before.

There is more to the differences between '67 and '68 than that. The frames are different. There is an angle bracket as part of the frame under the seat on the '68's that mounts the ignition condensors.


Originally Posted by KevinB
Shane: I just checked and the serial is "Y", just plain Y, no dash. It's got an 8" TLS front brake, zener mounted under the forks, and reflectors under the tank as required by the US version that year, but the serial is A65SA, which indicates it was originally a 1967 production. No guarantee that a 50 something year old machine is close to original? I'm the original owner, having bought the bike new in summer of 1968. It spent most of it's life in my parents' garage and the only things I did to it over the years was change the seat, put on different handlebars, put in 10.5/1 pistons at one time, and changed the paint on the tank and side covers (twice, which I now regret because stripping fiberglass is a real pain). So the bike is largely original. Thanks for all the information on the Y series you folks have provided.

The classic indicators of the 'hybrid' machines is the engine "Y" (not "-Y") and the lack therof it in the frame number. The additional info you have provided, reinforces that your machine is a classic 'hybrid' Spitfire. There is nothing about a 'hybrid' '68 Spitfire that is '67 except for its numbers. Just an "A" instead of a "B"...well except for the "Y".

I maintain a registry database of '68 Spitfires. I could include your number in the database if I don't already have it, and if not, its number may provide more info as to it its history. If you wish to share the number, and not include it here for all to see, feel free to send me a PM or e-mail.


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Originally Posted by KevinB
Shane: I just checked and the serial is "Y", just plain Y, no dash. It's got an 8" TLS front brake, zener mounted under the forks, and reflectors under the tank as required by the US version that year, but the serial is A65SA, which indicates it was originally a 1967 production. No guarantee that a 50 something year old machine is close to original? I'm the original owner, having bought the bike new in summer of 1968. It spent most of it's life in my parents' garage and the only things I did to it over the years was change the seat, put on different handlebars, put in 10.5/1 pistons at one time, and changed the paint on the tank and side covers (twice, which I now regret because stripping fiberglass is a real pain). So the bike is largely original. Thanks for all the information on the Y series you folks have provided.
That's way cool. 1 owner bikes where the changes are known are as rare as hen's teeth.

That pretty much makes your machine the reference standard for "hybrid" Spitfires, or Mk IV Spitfires in general for that matter.

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For what its worth. My 67 Spit repatriated from the US is -Y. Tellingly , or not, the Y is a different font to the number. No idea how to post pics.

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Originally Posted by stanoneandonly
For what its worth. My 67 Spit repatriated from the US is -Y. Tellingly , or not, the Y is a different font to the number. No idea how to post pics.

Use a thrid party image Hosting service like postimages.org or similar (NOT photobucket) and post the image 'forum' link to your thread post. It will then show up here as an image.


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Hi Gary,

I was going to PM you the serial number but Britbike says you're over the "private" limit. Email here is [email protected] if you want to contact me directly. My frame does have the angle bracket for condensers: I'm trying to figure out how to mount a Tympanium there right now since the condensers are out and I"m using a Boyer box for ignition (but still keeping the points and condensers in a box as a backup). I'll try to find a photo storage site so I can linkk to some pictures, at least one from 1968 as it came from the dealer (Vic Pannetti Motorcycles in Glendale (Milwaukee), Wisconsin).

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Kevin,

I cleaned out some of the PM box. It doesn't hold very much. There is room in there now.


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To concur with Kevin’s frame, my 67 spitfire frame also has the condenser mounting bracket, sadly it doesn’t have a motor so I have no idea if it would have been a -Y model or not.


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Originally Posted by Allan G
To concur with Kevin’s frame, my 67 spitfire frame also has the condenser mounting bracket, sadly it doesn’t have a motor so I have no idea if it would have been a -Y model or not.

If it's a '67 number with the bracket for the ignition condensors, then it is a '68 'hybrid'. The '-Y' would not apply as that only relates to true '67's.


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Just to stir the pot a little, the new "Thunderbolts and Lightning" book by Peter Crawford has some tantalising clues about the 'Y' bikes.
Peter has interviewed quite a few ex-BSA people and gone to a lot of effort to be as accurate as possible, so I don't want to steal his thunder by quoting extensively.

Summarising, a large number of 1967 machines were returned to the factory where the engines were rebuilt at the Redditch plant using later crankcases. Truck-loads of 1967 cases were sent to a foundry as feed stock, then of course a few months later they had to tool up to manufacture 1967 crankcases for spares stock. The entire exercise apparently cost a fortune.

It would seem to have made more sense to either discount the excess machines heavily in the US or ship them to another market (Australia tended to have a lot of the previous year's US-spec machines which arrived after the US sales season ended) than to incur the additional costs of shipping them home and reworking them.

There are enough differences between 1967 and 1970 models that this is unlikely to account for the 1970 'Y' bikes, but it may be a partial explanation for the 1968 and 1969 versions.

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