Walter Worsch Masterpiece: 1938 BSA GoldStar

by Joe Michaud
                        click on small images to view large one

The years between the world wars are a pivotal time in the history of European motorcycle racing and also in the history of one particular manufacturer of motorcycles...Birmingham Small Arms. The BSA motorcycle factory had previously removed itself from racing after years of legendary failures including one ruinous season in which all 6 factory race bikes failed to finish the Isle of Mann Senior TT.

However, their fortunes would be due to change. Legendary racer Wal Handley was lured from retirement on June 30, 1937, to ride a 'one off' prototype BSA machine loosely based on the 1937 BSA M23 Empire Star. This new bike, slated to be run during a nondescript weekday club race at the famed Brooklands track, was heavily tuned to run on alcohol and featured a new cast-iron cylinder and head. Curiously, for spectators that day, Handleys bike had a pit crew staffed almost entirely by members of BSA’s new experimental division.

Handley, on that auspicious Wednesday, was able to run three laps around the rugged, wickedly bumpy Brooklands concrete bowl at an average speed of 102.27mph with one stellar lap of 107.57mph. This was no small feat for the BSA factory.

At that time, it was the habit of the British Motor Cycle Racing Club to award a cherished lapel pin featuring a ‘100’ designation inscribed inside a six-pointed gold star to any rider who could manage a 100mph Brooklands lap. That day, Handley and BSA joined a very elite club with their 'ton-up' lap and a motorcycling legend was instantly born.

Almost immediately, the secret was out among excited motorcycle racers. BSA was back with a performance machine. In the next production year of 1938, a new BSA model was released capitalizing on this 'ton-up' lap and was called, in commemoration of Wal Handley’s dramatic lap times, the M24 Gold Star. This new Gold Star model was a revolutionary design by BSA styling legend and innovator Val Page and featured a single cylinder 500cc engine with twin pushrods in a cast-in-place tapered pushrod tube which operated double-coil springs and overhead valves. The ‘38 Goldie featured a 'quick-detach' rear wheel with a finned brake drum. Carburation was by a single Amal TT carb. The gear case was constructed of Elektron magnesium alloy and the cylinder barrel and head were cast aluminum. Oil was drained from the head assembly by external oil lines. Lighting was a large headlamp fixture featuring an eight-inch fluted glass lens.

The front brake was a seven inch drum and front suspension was girder design featuring an adjustable friction damper. The frame, with its rigid rear section, was built from new thin-walled tubing for lightness. Each engine was scrupulously hand-built and bench-tested (as it was to be throughout the manufacturing history of the GS models) and power was rated at 30bhp at 5800rpm for 1938.

All these mods made the 315 pound 1938 M24 Gold Star a true Super Bike of its era easily attainable of 90mph road speeds in standard trim and capable of stopping from 30mph in under 29 feet. These are very impressive figures considering the tire compounds and road surfaces of 60 years ago. Also, reflecting true super bike style, the Goldie was not inexpensive.

The advertised purchase price quoted in 1938 literature was £82 10s in an age when the average British worker probably earned less than £3 per week...that would put the bike in the price range of 7 months salary. Consider that today...$25,000 or more? That would put the machine into the heady strata of modern Bimota or other hand-built two-wheeled exotica.

Local motorcycle buff Walter Worsch recently finished his immaculate ‘38 Goldie restoration, one of only 400 made in the pre-war years of 1938-1939. Production of the Gold Star was halted in 1939 during the War and was not to resume until the late Forties. This bike is one of the 4 pre-war models known to survive according to British sources.

Worsch discovered the machine as a partial restoration in the hands of another US collector and decided to start from fundamentals. Basically, the machine was acquired as a 'basket case'.

First, Worsch loosely bolted the engine cases together then installed them to check frame dimensions. The frame required serious cutting and rewelding to cure bent sections and the engine cases themselves needed delicate welding repairs since the bearing bosses were cracked from years of hard usage.

All the ancillary bits then had to be loosely installed to check fit and availability. Tedious work and long hours make up this part of any restoration since information is lacking on many of these old machines. Walter spent long hours on the telephone or poring over old photos checking authenticity and acquiring obsolete parts.

According to Worsch, the most difficult pieces to source were fenders and fender stays. Luckily, the fuel tank was restorable since the ‘38 Gold Star fuel tank is the only model year produced with an integral tool box...this piece would have had to be made had it not been present.

When asked the bikes current value, Worsch smiles and considers the '7 months salary' number to be a fairly accurate sum in todays’ collectible motorcycle market...quite a nice touch. ...some things do retain their value. Walter says the fini shed machine represents three years work with some interruptions for domestic projects although the last year of work was 'one long push.'

It’s a great job and a great rare bike. Val Page and the BSA team would be proud of their engineering excellence from 61 years ago. This machine has garnered critical acclaim on the restoration circuit and CycleWorld recently awarded Walter a new Hinckley Triumph as recognition of his work for what the magazine called 'The Best Of The Best From 1999.'

©Joe Michaud 1999, reprinted from San Diego-Union

Back to Table of Contents

Design & Maintenance: T C Enterprises ,  Publisher of Phantom Oiler   Contents ©1999 Joe Michaud