During the Swinging Sixties, the BSA Gold Star was Great Britain’s ultimate café racer and today is one of the most famous and instantly recognizable British bikes of them all. In a time of Rocker gangs, a “Goldie” offered the possibility of the magic 100 mph “ton”, and it was the motorcycle of choice.
The BSA Gold Star was originally derived from the alcohol-fueled factory-run Empire Star that Walt Handley rode to a win at the Brooklands race track in 1937. Handley had retired the year before, but he roared back at an average speed of 102.27 and a fast lap of 107.57 mph. Riders who went over100 mph at Brooklands received a gold star lapel badge, and Handley’s performance inspired the name of a new BSA model.
By the middle part of the 1950s, Gold Stars were dominating the Clubman’s TT race at the Isle of Man, and after Bernard Codd won both the Senior and Junior Clubman’s events for 1956, the class was dropped.
With that kind of racing success, just about every young man with a need for speed dreamed of owning a “Goldie”. The Gold Star was hard to start, uncomfortable to ride and deafeningly loud – all irresistible traits to a young man wanting to make a statement and get attention.
First gear was set up deliberately high so that almost 60 mph was possible, but this came with having to slipping the clutch to 30 mph. Also successful in trials and scrambles, the Gold Star was dropped in 1963, with BSA claiming it was too expensive to build.
The Goldie first appeared in 350 cc form in 1948, but a 500 cc model was introduced only a year later. The most sought after version of the BSA Gold Star is the DBD34 Clubman that was introduced in 1956. Of the 15,000 Gold Stars manufactured 5,100 were DBD34s. These improved the architecturally elegant overhead-valve engine with bigger valves and included an RRT2 gearbox, with ultra-close ratios and Torrington needle bearings at each end of the layshaft.
The DBD34’s exhaust pipe was significantly swept back to a much-copied trumpet silencer and induction was by a huge 1.5-inch Amal carburetor. In shopping for a DBD34, it is wise to beware of fakes and make sure that any bike claimed to be a DBD34 has the RRT2 number on the gearbox.
As for riding a Gold Star, some piston slap is acceptable at startup, but no bearing rumble from the bottom end should be audible on a healthy motor. As these bikes were often abused in period, it’s wise to look closely for repaired crash damage. Parts shouldn’t be a concern, as almost everything is available, and careful long-term ownership is preferable to one that has changed hands several times.
It is also wise to remember what the riding experience is like. A Goldie is hard to get started, and once it is running the combination of Amal carburetor and magneto makes it hard to keep idling. The clutch is heavy and the exhaust pulsates up to 3,000 rpm, but then explodes with a roar that only adds to the excitement.
The Gold Star was sold in decent numbers in the United States, but the Clubman’s trim was never very popular here and it is much easier to find DB Touring and Catalina scrambler examples. These aren’t as collectible and are more modestly priced