Precious Metal: 1956 BSA Gold Star Dirt Track Racer

The BSA Gold Star was a formidable racing machine from the start, dominating competition and creating an exciting reputation for its company.


| May/June 2015


1956 BSA Gold Star Dirt Track Racer
Claimed power:
44hp @ 7,500rpm
Top speed:
120mph (depending on gearing)
Engine:
499cc air-cooled OHV single, 85mm x 88mm bore and stroke, 9:1 compression ratio
Weight:
325lb (147kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG:
2gal (7.5ltr)
Price then/now:
$1,100/$10,000-$25,000

Probably the best thing to come out of the Crimean War was the founding of British rifle manufacturer Birmingham Small Arms (BSA), in 1855. BSA made its first motorcycle in 1905, and 50 years later, it was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Yet for the first 30 years, BSA didn’t have much of a reputation when it came to sporty or exciting motorcycles. That all changed in 1937.

Gold Star Origins

The legendary BSA Gold Star was named after the famous medallion awarded to any rider who lapped England’s famed  Brooklands banked race track at an average speed over 100mph. Wal Handley did it in 1937, riding a BSA M23 Empire Star powered by a 500cc overhead valve, single-cylinder engine designed by the great Val Page. Running a 13:1 compression ratio and burning methanol, the bike achieved an average speed of 102.27mph during the three lap race. The BSA Gold Star was born.

Thanks to extensive post-war development work by Bert Perrigo, BSA’s competition manager, and a group of talented racers and engineers including Billy Nicholson and the McCandless brothers (of Norton featherbed frame fame), the 500cc and 350cc Gold Stars became formidable racing machines on pavement and dirt. Throughout the 1950s, the trials and scrambles models dominated international offroad competition and formed the basis of the Gold Stars that were eventually made specifically to compete on the dirt in America.

Racing in America

The American economy was booming in the late 1940s and 1950s, and the appetite for motorcycles was growing. Big V-twins from Harley-Davidson and Indian served the cruiser/touring market, leaving British and European manufacturers eagerly poised to meet the growing demand for lighter, faster, more nimble sporting machines for the road and competition.

The highest profile motorcycle race in the U.S. in the early 1950s was the 200-miler held in Daytona, Florida, the Daytona 200. In 1954, BSA made huge headlines when its riders filled the top five spots. Four were on A7 Shooting Star twins while Tommy McDermott finished third on a Gold Star. McDermott’s Gold Star used a special rigid frame based on the factory bikes prepared for one-day trial events, in which the company had been so successful. BSA actively supported its U.S. dealer network, sponsoring many racers and providing parts for free or at a deep discount. The company subscribed to the notion of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” and BSA’s stellar showing at Daytona certainly boosted demand for Gold Stars in the U.S.





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