Classics BSA Gold Star
24 March 2022
WORDS & PHOTOS: RHYS JONES
Twenty-one years ago a reborn Triumph company launched a new and revised Bonneville. It was a modern motorcycle, but with a distinctive 1960s look. Now a reborn BSA company is launching a 2022 BSA Gold Star. Again, this will be a modern motorcycle with a look inspired by the 1950s to 1960s. The fact that these iconic classic motorcycles are so admired that modern versions of them are in demand makes it obvious that classic designs are here to stay.
MODERN BSA GOLD STAR
The 2022 BSA Gold Star’s 652cc, liquid-cooled, dual overhead cam, single cylinder engine, makes a claimed 45 horsepower at 6000rpm. It has a five-speed gearbox. The suspension consists of a 41mm telescopic fork up front and twin shock absorbers in the rear, which have a five-step adjustable preload setting. Braking duties are performed by a Brembo two-piston floating caliper in front, along with a single 320mm floating disc. The rear features a Brembo single-piston floating caliper, as well as a 255mm brake disc. ABS comes standard, front and rear - as it must with today’s regulations. Wheels are 36-spoke alloy units, with an 18-inch wheel in front and a 17-inch wheel in the rear.
The original Gold Star started life as a 350cc B31 push-rod single, which became a B32 tuned version, and eventually an even more highly tuned Gold Star. The origin goes back to 1937 when four times Isle of Man TT winner, Wal Handley, won a Brooklands Gold Star at the famous Surrey circuit with a race time of 102.27mph (163.63km/h) on a factory prepared BSA M20 Empire Star. The Gold Star was awarded for lapping at over ‘the ton’, or a hundred miles an hour. His fastest lap was 105.57mph. It was a huge marketing coup for BSA, so the 1938 Empire Star became the Gold Star. Plans were underway for a Gold Star Handley Replica, but the Second World War intervened.
After the war, the Gold Star became known as the Boy Racer. It was a bike that could be ridden on the road and also raced. It captured the hearts and minds of 1950s motorcyclists with a passion for sporting prowess. The ‘Goldie’ was almost all things to all motorcyclists. It was described as the ultimate clubman’s racer, and the definitive single-cylinder street racer. The Goldie’s exalted reputation began with victory in the 1949 Junior (350cc) Clubman’s TT on the Isle of Man at an average speed of 75.18mph, using immediate post-war 73 octane pool petrol. The model went on to claim thirteen victories in the Isle of Man, making it the third most successful British bike in Isle of Man history, behind Norton with forty-three, and Triumph with fifteen victories. Following the win in 1949, the 350 Gold Star won every Junior Clubman’s TT until the class was abandoned in 1957. In 1955 of thirty-five entries in the class, thirty-three of them were Goldies, and the following year the model was first and second in the Junior, and first second and third in the Senior Clubman’s. Many believe the domination of the Goldie was the reason the Clubman’s class was dropped from the TT calendar.
ULTIMATE CLUBMAN RACER
In the book ‘The History of the Clubman’s TT Races’ the authors say “It is not difficult to imagine the rival manufacturers, having seen their own highly vaunted sports models publicly humiliated by the Gold Stars year after year, lobbying the ACU to find a reason to call a halt to the clubman’s races”. The Goldie was the ultimate clubman’s racer to the extent that by 1956 any rider wanting to be competitive in the class had to buy a Gold Star. Add to road racing the Goldie’s success in scrambles and other disciplines; for example, eleven gold medals at the off-road ISDT in 1949. The qualities and flexibility of the Gold Star became obvious. Not a happy situation one can imagine for manufacturers producing purpose built race bikes, which customers couldn’t use on the road.
YAMAHA R1 OF ITS DAY
The Gold Star remains one of the most admired and sought after classic British single cylinder motorcycles of the 1950s. Norton and AJS produced the goods in dedicated single cylinder race track machinery, but I think it is fair to say that the Goldie was unmatched as a road going sports bike, and clubman’s racer. Parallels can be drawn with modern sports machines like the Yamaha YZF-R1 and Suzuki GSX-R, which can so easily be used on the road or track. The last Gold Star was built in 1963 when BSA found it too expensive to continue making them. Obviously that is no longer the case...
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