Introduction by Ed Youngblood
|It may have been in October or November 1969; I am not sure of the month, but it was blustery and cold in Chicago. I was editor of Cycle News East and had traveled there with our publisher, Chuck Clayton, to attend a motorcycle trade show. I was standing in our booth when a young man approached, wearing a friendly smile. He had long blond hair, was wearing bib overalls, and had a red bandana tied around his neck. He was, clearly, what was called in the parlance of the era, a hippie! He introduced himself as Craig Vetter, and said, "I want to show you something, but you have to promise not to write about it." I wasn't sure what he was up to, but I agreed to confidentiality, figuring that if I didn't, I wouldn't find out.|
Smiling a little more broadly, he pulled a photograph from the bib pocket of his overalls. It was a motorcycle unlike anything I had ever seen. It was sleek and graceful, and, in fact, it was the prototype for what would eventually be put into production as the Triumph X75 Hurricane. But at that point it was not intended to be a Triumph. Rather, it had the initials BSA on the gas tank.
|As for the friendly hippie who showed me this historic photograph, Craig Vetter went on to become arguably the most influential American motorcycle designer of our era. As creator of his series of Windjammer fairings, Vetter gave birth to the modern luxury touring motorcycle. |
During my years with the AMA, I often had contact with a man named Don Brown. I think Don knows as much as any American still living about the internal operation and politics of the British motorcycle industry, and during trips to California I sometimes had dinner with Don just to listen to his fascinating accounts about why and how the British motorcycle industry so quickly declined. Don eventually left BSA shortly before the comany's demise, and parlayed his experience and talent for observation and analysis into an independent market consultancy, and today counts the Motorcycle Industry Council and several of the leading motorcycle manufacturers among his clients. His advice is sought and highly respected.
The motorcycle that Craig Vetter showed me in Chicago in 1969 was introduced to the world on the cover of Cycle World in September, 1970, still displaying a BSA logo on its gas tank. Posing the question, "Is this the next BSA Three?" a feature story in that magazine went on to explain how "BSA commissioned an American designer to come up with an all-new look for the Rocket Three." The story is an excellent case study in the difference between the Truth and the Whole Truth. In a broad sense, the story was truthful, but it glossed over very important facts. It was not BSA that commissioned the design. It was an American BSA employee Don Brown who launched the project, and he did it in total secrecy, largely because he knew that being original and creative withing the political quagmire that was BSA circa 1969 could be harmful to one's career. His caution proved well-founded, because Brown's boss tried to use the Vetter BSA project as an excuse to fire him.
Although BSA continued to spend money as if it were a healthy company throughout 1970 and into 1971, it was in fact well into a downward spiral, spinning toward bankruptcy. But Vetter's design was just too good to be left to swirl down the bowl with the rest of Birmingham Small Arms, and it was rescued to be put into limited production as the Triumph X75 Hurricane. Subsequently, Don Brown and Craig Vetter went their separate ways, pursuing their respective careers. They have remained friends, but have had relatively little contact since the so-called "Vetter BSA" styling project.
Now, after more than three decades, Brown and Vetter have renewed their friendship through a dialogue that for the first time tells the Whole Truth about the origin of the Triumph Hurricane. I am honored that Motohistory has been chosen to release this story, and I hope it will be enjoyed by Brit bike lovers and motorcycle history buffs throughout the world. But a warning, my friends: "The Hurricane Dialogue" is long, in the neighborhood of 9,000 words! This is far too long for the News & Views section of Motohistory, so we have created an entirely new Feature section on this site to present this significant story. Yes, it could have been edited, but I consider it far too important, both in fact and nuance, to be sacrificed for the sake of latter-day attention spans. This, after all, is primary-source history, from the minds and mouths of the two men who created what is possibly motorcycling's most striking and influential styling breakthrough of the second half of the 20th century.
This story in a different format is simul- published on Ed youngblood's very interesting site: