Classic British Motorcycles – The BSA Rocket Gold Star

The BSA Rocket Gold Star

Manufactured by The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited, the Rocket signaled the final stage of development in this classic line which was based on the BSA A10 twins. At its peak, BSA was the largest motorcycle producer in the world. By the 1950s they were producing more than 75,000 bikes a year. Loss of sales and questionable investments in new product development in the motorcycle division (which included Triumph Motorcycles) led to problems for the whole group.

Featuring a specially-tuned A10 Super Rocket engine in the rock solid BSA Gold Star frame, BSA had created a very fast bike for its time. The Rocket line featured exceptional handling and are they are now much sought after. Survivors in original condition with matching numbers are now in such demand that forgeries cobbled together using Super Rocket parts are on offer as originals.

The initial production run in February 1962 of the BSA Rocket Gold Star was 1,584 bikes, 272 of those being were off-road “scrambler” versions. The 9:1 compression Super Rocket engine was used with a BSA Spitfire camshaft and an Amal Monobloc carburetor and produced 46 bhp. The model line included options like ‘Siamese’ exhausts and the close-ratio RRT2 gearbox which jacked up the powerplant output to 50 bhp.

This hop-up kit also added 30% to the price.

The Rise to the Top and the Precipitous Fall

As the 1950s came to a close, BSA Motorcycles was the preeminent marque in motorcycling.The BSA Gold Star was an unqualified success on the track and they flew out of showrooms. The BSA A7 (500cc) & BSA A10 (650cc) non-unit twins shared a great reputation for reliability, handling and flat-out speed. At the time, BSA also owned Triumph Motorcycles and Ariel Motorcycles – all much-admired for their track prowess and styling.

From there, it was all downhill for the next two decades…

By 1970, the once-dominant BSA was shattered and nearly irrelevant as a motorcycle company. Triumph, the acknowledged world leader in BSA’s stable, was showing signs of disaster and was taken over by its workers in a failed attempt to keep the lines solvent.

The Lessons Learned From the BSA Debacle

Politics and poor management aside, BSA did create great lines like the BSA Gold Star, BSA A7/A10, BSA Lightning, BSA 441 Victor, the BSA A65 and the radically-conceived three-cylinder BSA Rocket 3 which were highly refined machines and the clear class of their day.

After starting out out as an alliance of craftsmen in the Coventry area who produced rifles for the English Army during the Crimean War during the mid-1850’s, BSA were among the first concerns to realize modern production techniques and wide-ranging product lines were their only hope for industrial survival. By 1884 the company was building bicycles, starting to envision a motorized bicycle line, and then graduating to building true motorcycles by 1905.

During a time when most motorcycles manufacturers were literally ‘cottage industries’ relying on parts brought
in from other manufacturers, BSA was a large enough concern to manufacture nearly every part for its bikes in-house.

As with nearly every other western manufacturer, war was a good break for BSA’s motorcycle division. The British Army was a built-in market and it provided a welcome boost to production. BSA quickly built a reputation for cranking out reliable, rugged, motorcycles. They weren’t necessarily the fastest things on the road, but they were as buletproof as an anvil.

The introduction of the Triumph 500 Speed Twin was the company’s watershed moment.

The bike was narrow and light like a single cylinder, but packed the punch of a V-twin. In 1946, BSA introduced a 500 vertical twin, the BSA A7, which was designed by the iconic mad genius Val Page. Four years later and blown out to a 650cc monster, came the BSA A10 and a star was born. The A10 led to the development of the the BSA Gold Star, and throughout the 1950s, BSA Gold Stars were dominating on the track and selling fast enough to make them an unqualified winners for the company.

It all turned ugly when BSA acquired Triumph Motorcycles in 1951 in an insider deal with Ariel Motorcycles and owner
Jack Sangster. Sangster made sure he secured a seat on the BSA Board of Directors, a position he held until the
early 1960s. More than any other single factor, the arrival of Sangster spelled the end of an industrial giant. Sangster began systematically paring down and selling off various BSA assets, and by the time of his retirement, the once-mighty BSA industrial conglomerate was a hollow shell. With all the assets gone, the talent responsible for a great generation of motorcycles was scattered to the wind as well…

What followed was a startling string of blunders and missteps which hastened the company’s demise.

Emboldened by the success of the A7 and A10 model lines of vertical twins, the honchos at the company decided to redesign them following the latest “unit construction” model. As Triumph had done with its 500 twin in 1959, BSA introduced A50 and A65 unit construction twins which debuted to universal apathy.The bikes were just plain ugly, were plagued by vibration problems and effectively killed the line.

Triumph went unit-construction with more satisfactory results. The Triumph 650 twin proved to be a piece of genius.

In yet another baffling move, during 1963, BSA killed off the best-selling line in it’s arsenal, the BSA Gold Star. With no viable replacement, BSA spent the rest of the 1960s producing a product line with no hope of success against increasingly sophisticated competition and failed to address serious issues like poor styling.

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