During the 1950s the European motorcycle-racing scene changed. The Germans and Italians began to dominate Grand Prix racing as their new breed of exotic multi-cylinder machines rendered the traditional British singles obsolete. But as the ever-resourceful British manufacturers dropped out of the Grand Prix game they began to concentrate on producing specialised motorcycles for a variety of sporting uses. England’s World Championship dominance came to an end but the average weekend club racer and sporting road rider benefitted mightily.
One of the most popular and successful of these new-generation sporting bikes was the BSA Gold Star. Here was the perfect bike for clubman races for standard sporting road models or as an ultra-sporting roadster, and this was epitomised by the DB series introduced in 1955. They were available in 350cc and 500cc versions and were specifically Clubman and racing models.
Setting the Clubman apart were the clip-on handlebars and light alloy Dunlop 19in wheel rims.
The pushrod overhead-valve single was continually developed – the 500cc DB34 produced 29.4kW (40hp) by 1955, and 30.9kW (42hp) in the ultimate DBD34 of 1956.
With a bore and stroke of 85mm x 88mm, an 8.8:1 compression ratio and a huge 1½in Amal GP carburettor, the DB Gold Star was a challenging beast to kick start. And once underway the Gold Star was even more demanding. Disinclined to run below 2000rpm, a Gold Star with the infamous RRT2 close-ratio gearbox was difficult to get off the line. Then there was the vibration, which was so bad the carburettor float-bowl needed to be remotely mounted on rubber bushings to prevent the fuel from frothing. Although the engine provided exhilarating performance the handling still left something to be desired, partly due to the rather considerable weight of around 180kg. The bike was a little top heavy too and the effort needed to control it was exacerbated by the clip-on handlebars. It was also hard going at slower speeds. The Gold Star was really too radical for street use.
It may have been a temperamental beast but despite its foibles in many ways the Gold Star epitomised the sporting British single.
Melbourne-based wheel restorer Phil de Gruchy had hankered after a Gold Star since he was 18 years old. "My first bike was a 1957 BSA A10 Gold Flash but I simply couldn’t afford a Gold Star," says Phil.
So instead of trying to buy a complete bike he set about acquiring all the parts. Once the frame arrived Phil was able to start the process of building a bike around it.
"The motor came from Mike Reilly in Queensland and it was fortuitous that it turned out to have been built within one week of the frame’s build date, which was in July 1955," said Phil.
Years of searching the world eventually unearthed all the components to build a complete bike.
"The Internet and eBay have revolutionised the recreation of bikes like this," commented Phil. "Gold Star experts the world over will provide advice on authenticity and the parts eventually become available."
In its day the BSA Gold Star wasn’t especially exotic or horrendously expensive, but it was accessible to enthusiasts and produced in reasonable numbers. Now there is a clan of followers who believe the Gold Star was the last real English motorcycle. And Phil de Gruchy is one of them.
Many thanks to Phil de Gruchy of Lightfoot Engineering, Melbourne, for the use of the 1955 DB34 Gold Star featured.