Ask any motorcycle enthusiast about BSA and their immediate response would be along the lines of “You mean the Gold Star?”
The BSA Gold Star was not only the most successful motorcycle throughout the Birmingham-based company’s 111 year history, but one of the most successful British motorcycles of all time, both on and off the track.
The “Gold Star” name eventually became synonymous with the BSA brand itself. Its loyal following gained over its 36 year production lifetime and the years beyond saw to that.
BSA Gold Star History
The Gold Star came to be in 1937, when motorcycle racer Wal Handley came out of retirement to take part in the Brooklands TT. Aboard a racing modified BSA Empire Star, Handley won the race and clocked the fastest lap with an average speed of 107.5 mph to earn him the coveted “Gold Star” pin, which was awarded to any racer who could average over 100 mph on a single lap.
BSA were so proud of this achievement they renamed their flagship bike the BSA Gold Star, and so a legend was born.
The first Gold Star produced began life as a BSA M24. The engine, frame and gearbox were all upgraded and manufactured in a lightweight alloy to improve upon the speed, torque and handling of its predecessor.
Sadly, the Gold Star did not make the initial impact on the market that BSA had hoped for, selling fewer than 500 before the Second World War halted all production.
During the war, the British Government required BSA to redirect their manufacturing from civilian to strictly military. The British forces immediately took possession of the 690 in stock 500cc M20 machines and ordered a further 8,000 units. Several other Allied countries also placed large orders for the military-spec M20.
Upon reaching the conclusion of the war, BSA had become the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. With the embargo on producing civilian machines lifted, BSA transformed their production lines to fulfil the demand the war had created.
In 1948, BSA revived the Gold Star with the 348 cc B32 and 499 cc B34. As the premium model in BSAs line up, the Gold Star could only be purchased as a custom order, hand-built to the customers preferred style of Touring, Trials, Scrambles, Racing or Clubman.
A raft of upgrades adorned both the 348 cc and 499 cc models until 1956, when changes occurred within the company and Gold Star range. The Trials, Touring and Road models were dropped from the range and followed in 1957 by the Road Racing model and entire 348 cc range.
By this time the only bike to still bear the Gold Star name was the new 499cc DBD34 Gold Star Scrambles and Clubman. BSA did later revive the 348 cc DB32 Gold Star in 1959 however it was only offered as a custom order.
By 1963, the “big single” had truly been left behind in the world of motorcycles. The newer twin-cylinder machines were now the kings of road racing, and off-road had been completely taken over by the lighter and faster two-stroke machines.
As usual, what was winning on the track was winning in the showrooms. The last nail in the coffin for the Gold Star range was the discontinuation of the ignition magnetos by electrical manufacturer Lucas. With other motorcycle manufacturers developing their latest bikes with the newer battery and coil ignition system, BSA decided to retire the Gold Star.
The DBD34 was the final Gold Star to be produced by BSA and is currently the most desirable Gold Star to collectors.
1961 BSA B34 Gold Star Clubman Specifications
- Engine: Air-cooled OHV single cylinder
- Displacement: 499cc
- Power output: 38 hp @ 7000 rpm
- Fuel capacity 4.8 US gal / 18.0 L
- Dry weight 384 lbs / 171 kg
- Top speed 110 mph / 177 km/h
BSA Gold Star Track Wins
Ever since Wal Handley’s historic victory at the Brooklands TT gave birth to the Gold Star, BSA was dedicated to developing it to be a purpose-built racer.
The official 1961 BSA catalogue quoted “The Clubman’s model Gold Star had been developed for competitions in road and short circuit events, and its specification is such that it is neither intended nor suitable for road use as a touring motorcycle.”
Despite these claims, BSA sold the Gold Star to the public as “street-legal” with lights, rear-set pegs and low bars and an impressive top speed of 110 mph straight off the showroom floor.
When civilian production and racing resumed after the war time postponement, BSA wanted to enter the new B32 Gold Star into the 1949 Isle of Man TT.
In order to satisfy the homologation rules, they built over 100 of the 348 cc machines and entered 21 of them into the Junior category. The next 8 years would see a BSA Gold Star win every Isle of Man Junior TT.
In 1954, BSA entered the Daytona 200-mile beach race to help boost sales in America. The BSA factory team, on a collection of Gold Stars and Shooting Stars, took 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th and 16th places, completely dominating the event.
The Gold Stars would continue to dominate the American off-road racing, motocross, scrambles & desert racing scenes even after the end of their production in 1963.
In 1956, the DBD34 Gold Star dominated the Isle of Man TT with the entry list made up of 53 BSAs, 1 Norton and 1 Velocette.
In 1956, BSA entered a modified DBD34 Gold Star into the Catalina Grand Prix, a 100-mile race on the island of Santa Catalina off the coast of Los Angeles, California. Over 1,000 bikes entered the race, but the Gold Star took the win. A replica of the winning bike was produced from 1959 to 1963 named the BSA Gold Star Catalina.
Buying an original Goldstar
The Gold Star was BSAs most successful motorcycle for 36 years and this is directly translated into the secondhand market. Despite there being a reasonable quantity available, a good quality early 1950’s model will cost between £10,000 – £15,000.
If you’re in the market for the most desirable model, the DBD34 as shown below, then you’ll need to save a bit more as these are currently selling for around £32,000.
Restoring a Goldstar
There are several specialists online that provide most, if not all, parts for the Gold Star range. Most of these parts are specially made new using modern manufacturing methods and materials, which comes with a price tag.
A Fuel Tank for a DBD34 will cost between £360 – £595 depending on which finish you prefer, even a single seat will set you back nearly £180. So no, the parts are not cheap, but they are available and there are many secondhand parts on auction sites at a fraction of the cost.
BSA part supplier links:
Is the Goldstar a Good Investment?
It’s a bit of a mixed bag with the value of the Gold Star currently. Good quality 1950s models have increased in value by 10% – 25% in the past 3 years, whereas the same quality 1960s models value have dropped 15-25% in the past two years alone.
This doesn’t mean that buying a Gold Star now would be a poor investment, however you should expect to wait several years for its value to improve.
I always love seeing any BSA Gold Star at classic bike shows, especially up at Jurby during the Isle of Man festival of motorcycling (Classic TT/Manx GP). On a sunny day, that distinctive chrome tank is like a lighthouse beacon from afar, causing a crowd of people to beeline towards it, I’m usually one of them.
There was nothing pioneering about any BSA model, in fact, where technology was concerned most other motorcycle manufacturers always seemed to be ahead.
Yet it was BSA that became the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world and won countless races on and off-road. How? By perfecting what they already had.
Utilising the technology and engineering they already understood to the absolute maximum resulted in having not just fast machines but the most reliable ones on the market.
After the war, Britain was in debt and public spending was at an all-time low, with this at the forefront of people’s minds, they expected anything they purchased to last.
BSA had used the past decade along with its war-time effort perfecting the M series to be the most reliable bike on the market, and with thousands of spares available from the decommissioned or scrapped military models, those looking to buy a motorcycle went to BSA.
I normally favour those who push boundaries and try new, if unsuccessful, ways of doing things. This was not BSA, yet their legacy on the Isle of Man speaks volumes of what they were capable of, so this time I think I’ll make an exception.