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Briton Bees ‘47 BSA B33 – “Howlin’ Wolf”

Posted on March 20, 2013 by Andrew in Bobber, Classic. 68 comments

There’s a funny feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you first start to customise a classic bike. It must be the same kind of feeling that an architect who is asked to modify a famous building gets, or an audio engineer that has to do a ‘digital remaster’ of a classic rock album feels. The excitement that builds from creating something new and original, mixed with the heavy burden that comes from modifying a classic. But there’s a simple remedy to this that I’d never considered until I laid eyes on this, the latest build from North Carolina’s pre-eminent custom bike shop, Briton Bees. And that’s to build the bike from not one, but ten different donor vehicles… including a VW Bug and a ‘30s Peugeot. Seriously. Please read on as you enjoy the world’s most recycled, um, cycle; the amazing ‘Howlin’ Wolf’ BSA.

Here’s Emmanuel, Briton’s Queen King Bee. “Essentially, it’s a 1947 BSA B33. It took over 14 months to build, gather parts, modify parts, adapt parts and a good 200+ hours of work to get to were it is now. The bike, also known as the ‘Howlin’ Wolf,’ is the brain child of me, a French madman 2 stroke builder a.k.a. Briton ‘Emmanuel’ Bees, who now lives in Asheville, North Carolina.”

As much as he’d probably like to, Mr. Bees can’t take all the credit for the bike himself. “Jake Hall of HCV Motor Sports who is an experience vintage AMA racer, Mechanic and craftsman of British motorcycles joined in the build and was instrumental in final build, assembly and tuning process. This collaborative build has seen it’s share of ups and downs; when working with vintage bikes no two are ever the same and every single one has their own unique quirks. The engine alone was rebuilt 3 times just to work out all the issues.”

“But after a long journey this old beast was given a second life, being built better than it was out of the factory. And it roars and runs even better than it looks. The build was in honor of my father. The design is based on WWII Bombers, the Blues, US hot Rods and also a train from the 1900’s that had the same exact paint pattern and colors as the Howlin’ Wolf does.” A bomber, a train, and a name that honours America’s most famous DJ bluesman. Could this bike have any better a lineage?

Naturally, the list of parts that the Bees supplied us is quite a doozy. Take a deep breath. It starts with a ‘47 B31 front frame, and a ‘50’s Goldstar plunger rear frame which they adapted to suit. There’s a ‘52 B33 bottom end and a set of ‘70’s A65 front forks, and rear springs from a ‘50’s plunger.

The gas tank is a modified, machined and silver-soldered Motobecane motorcycle tank from the ‘40’s, adapted with a Goldstar cap and breather. The speedo is a Triumph Chrono unit. The headlight is from a ‘30’s Peugeot, and the seat was made in-house. The ‘bars were an adapted and reversed BMW set.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t stop there. The exhaust has a custom made brass exhaust trumpet, and adapted Triumph exhaust cooling fins. Wheels are WM2s – 19” front and back, with Avon MKII Speedmaster tires protecting them from the road. The go is provided by a Bob Newby Racing belt drive, a Thorspark electronic ignition set-up, an Amal 32mm carb.

And the engine? It’s a B33 donk stroked to 654cc. As Emannuel puts it, “this is the only known stroked BSA B33 Iron Single with over 650cc we know of.” He modified the original crank with a 1” stoke and oversized Indian motorcycle roller bearings. Also in there is VW (yes, from the car) Chromoly pushrods which were machined and adapted especially. The lonesome piston is a 1980’s modified Goldstar jobby which was shaved down to reduce compression, and finally some Goldstar cams and oversized valves. Phew.

(Photography by Frank J Bott)

  • kr f

    Howling wolf wasn’t a DJ, he was a blues artist..Wolfman Jack was the DJ

    • Yeah, OK. You got me. Now stop fact checking and look at the bike, will you?

      • kr f

        I like the bike, great build! And I agree it is a hard decision whether to customize or restore to original. I did some minor customization mods on a B50SS and it cost me a trophy at a show “it wasn’t 100% original” even though the judges said it looked great!

      • Yves Trabac

        Devil is in the details !

  • Mahesh Lal

    I Love this. Have seen so many lovely customs on this blog, but having a soft corner for British singles, I simply love this. Hope to see more from these guys.

  • Wow!

  • revdub

    This bike is seriously stunning. So many beautiful details. The workmanship appears top-notch. This is not surprising though. Having had the opportunity to meet Emmanuel and see some of his work up close, I can say he is a very talented builder and a genuinely nice guy. I look forward to seeing what comes next!

  • OK – stop this crazyness. I’ve got work to do and a couple of carbs to clean and I can’t sit here all day looking at this bike. So, Andrew, put on something dull so I can fold up my laptop and get out of the house. Oh, btw, I really like this bike.

    • You guys! So hard to please… 😉

      • Briton Bees

        I am pretty pleased ..thanks Andrew

  • Ur Momma

    With every other custom being a Honda CB cafe with pipe wrap, Firestone repros and a bone-stock lump, Briton Bees’ BSA here illustrates that with ‘real’ customs the magic isn’t in what you can see — 654CCs is just plum crazy.

    • XJ750E-II_Dan

      Could not agree more…. Unless I did, then I suppose I could…. But never mind the bits you can’t see, just the use of the pug headlamp , that oil gauge & the railway inspired paintjob do the business for me 🙂

  • Steve

    Really really nice job – so many fine details. Love the plunger suspension. 650 single!?! A thumper for sure.
    Did a quick YouTube search and no luck – any chance there’s a video somewhere? I’d love to hear the sound this one makes.


    Love it .. and i don’t love many !!

  • prollyright

    I like this so much!

    • taka-tz

      Me too.

  • Beautifully executed

  • Spyker May

    I am by no measure the kind that enjoys bonehead comments like – “..sick…” and “…far out…” – buuuuut.., faaa cooo noooooly me twice – this baby is SICK.., she is FAAAAAR OUT.., I LIIIIIIKE..!!

    Have always been a keen fan of air-cooled single thumpers (not that the Birmingham Small Arms B33 is strictly a “thumper” – but nonetheless…). I can imagine something (sort of) similar (including the cool in-frame rear suspension) made from a Royal Enfield- or a Yammie SR500 donor…

    I am officially HOWLING..!!!

    • New Haven Neil

      You what? Not a thumper????? definition: four stroke single cylinder….and this is the best one of those I have seen for 30 years!!!!

  • Briton Bees

    I would like to make a correction : “Jake Hall of HCV Motor Sports who is an experience vintage AMA racer, Mechanic and craftsman of British motorcycles joined in the build and was instrumental in completing the engine, the rebuilding of the engine and the tuning of this beast, also because of his racing experience all the mechanical fine points of this build are thanks to him…Thanks to Jake Hall of HCV Motorsports this old boy is what it is today “

    • I’ve changed the article to reflect this. Thanks Emmanuel.

  • arnold

    You are trying to make me cry, aren’t you? Absolutely a supermodel. I need some time to myself now. I need time to look at the Plunger. I may never be right again.ald

  • Jherrid

    this bike is fucking amazing

  • MAC

    …The bike isn’t straight…

    • Art: The little lights aren’t twinkling.
      Clark: I know, Art. And thanks for noticing.

      Apologies to Christmas Vacation ;^}

      • arnold

        I think it was a sexual preference slur, Manx. What a great looking and unusual custom.

        • Right you are, sir.

          • arnold

            Manx, I like this bike, I threw it up to my Linkedin connection, to share with my limited circle of professional contacts. Most think I am nuts, but a couple of them will appreciate it.

  • ccc40821

    Customizing is a strong part of motorcycle culture, and the fact that a bike is old doesn’t really matter, unless – say – he bike in question is a very rare example of its kind. There’s still lots and lots of old plunger framed BSA thumpers around, and the vast majority of those are no doubt so original that only an enthusiast might be able to spot non-stack parts on it.

  • barney

    I think I’ve died and gone to heaven…..that bike is fabulous. Nicest bike I’ve seen in quite some time.
    Why can’t modern Mocos build a bike as nice looking as this.

  • GrizzLinn

    I’ve gotta say, 2013 has been quite the year for Pipeburn. I’ve been an avid follower for a few years now, but the bikes you fellas have showcased in the new year have been nothing short of extraordinary! This BSA especially; I’d do unforgivable things to get my hands on this bike.

  • Dan

    As a fellow Ashevilleian motorcycle builder, I’ve always admired your scooters… and now this! Excellent work sir!

    • Briton Bes

      I never built scooters 😉 a few vintage racing mopeds but thanks Dan

    • taka-tz

      I think you hurt Briton Bes feelings. But like they say “If I have to explain it, He wouldn’t understand “.

      • Dan

        Nice. Leave it to me to hurt a guy’s feelings…
        I meant no harm or disrespect by my poor choice of words.
        Ever since I saw one of your mopeds in a storefront window on Lexington St. I’ve been a fan.

        • taka-tz

          I was joking about you hurting his feelings. The guys I know call big shinny high dollar motorcycles, and most anything with a motor and two wheels “scooters”, It’s an old school term that isn’t meant to offend anyones ride or build. Sorry I confused things, and confused things even more.

          • arnold

            Thanks, tony Jr.

          • Did I miss something?

          • arnold

            No, just using you as a perfect example.

          • Ah, I’m glad I’m perfect.

        • Briton Bees

          Dan we are totally fine no offense or feelings hurt , i hear the word scoot , scooter for motorcycles and don’t think twice about …. mopeds comes from 2 words Mo (motor) and Ped (pedals) …vintage scooters are pretty awesome too ..i tried to WINK ” 😉 ” thank you for the good words .

  • itsmefool

    Bark at the moon!

  • JeroenB

    Beautiful, gorgeous, astonishing, I’m speechless. The only thing I don’t worship is the logo. But perhaps it’s meant as a contrast and I’m just stupid.

    What about the spark plug cap or cable? Why isn’t there none?

    • Briton Bees

      it’s there , black cloth rapped spark plug cable and a brass thumb nut and steel contact point

      • JeroenB

        Hmm, I’m getting old, my eyes… I Just put on my glasses and voila 😉

  • Novak Tomovic

    As my friend once said looking at a Lamborghini Murciélago (he is nuts about them) – “I would lick it from the headlight to the taillight, just to feel the curve and taste of it”
    I think that for a long time bike this complex or beautiful around here!

  • Simply stunning. Emmanuel killin it as always!

  • Now that’s a neat little bike. The “MacGyver” of motorcycles. It’s also nice to see an engine that isn’t Japanese.

  • Chad Sutherland

    Do not love the rear fender or pipe. Headlight could of been tucked in a touch? Otherwise details & color scheme are titties! Keep it up Emmanuel. The inside to this thing is surely just as beautiful as the out.

    • Davidabl2

      It is almost too arty. Almost.

      • If you’ve ever seen the mopeds they build, you’ll understand where they’re coming from.

    • gray_man

      No one loves a critic, build your own and send it to pipeburn and let us judge it.

  • FTW

    who did all the fab work?

    • Briton Bees

      I did most of the Fab. Work and Jake Hall did the rest

  • MarkR

    This is truly a wonderful Custom but even greater is the who built it, i know the future only holds bigger and better builds, well done Mr Bees, A True Artist.

    • MarkR


  • Jeremy


  • thats a piece of art guys!

  • Jagger

    Emmanuel you did an amazing job on the bike! Loved following along on the bits you posted a while back when you were buildin’ it!

  • maximoo

    absolutely awesome build mate, probably the best, most ingenious build I’ve seen on here, loved my B31 and A65 but your build is the cream, youve really inspired me to save up and go the whole hog. I’ve got a 1978 kawasaki z250 in bits and a honda h100 in bits at the mo but would love a big thumper,,,,,,,, amazing

  • aircraftmech

    Holy moly, that bike is AWESOME!

  • Bodfish Beezer

    Congrats on a fine build. The attention to detail and creativity is great to see. The safety wire on the shift lever brings back memories of when mine fell off on a UK motorway roundabout. The BSA singles are a favorite and get space in my garage.

  • Matt Candler

    Emmannuel, never jumped in here with a shout out. Epic build. Great to see it done. Congrats. Thx for the inspiration

  • nice oil gauge ,,, sweet

  • David Gabert

    Goergeous! Just gorgeous! How’s the ride?

  • yaz_ Andreas Barry