BSA BB, CB and ZB Gold Stars
1956 BSA DBD34 Gold Star Specifications
BSA Gold Star chronology
Top specialists and links
Type: Air-cooled OHV single
Capacity: 499cc (500cc)
Bore & Stroke: 85mm x 88mm
BHP: 42 @ 7000rpm
Compression ratio: 8.75:1
Transmission: 4-speed, multi-plate
Brakes: 8-inch front, 7-inch rear
Electrics: 6-volt, magdyno
Front suspension: Telescopic
Rear suspension: Swinging arm,
twin shock absorbers/dampers
Wheels/Tyres: 3.00 x 19-inch front,
3.50 x 19 rear
Weight: 384lbs (dry)
Maximum speed: 110mph
1937 M23 Empire Star
1938 M24 Gold Star
1939 M23 Silver Star
1949 ZB Gold Star
1953 BB Gold Star
1954 CB Gold Star
1955 DB Gold Star
1956 DBD Gold Star
1963 Last production DBD Gold Star
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WHEN THE DBD34 CLUBMAN GOLD STAR was launched in 1956, BSA must have known even then that the bike was nearing the end of its reign, both commercially and technically speaking. The company had, after all, done just about everything to its Gold Star predecessors that it was possible to do. And in this, its final (and arguably best) incarnation, it had become so highly strung that you needed to be a violinist to play it.
Which, naturally, didn’t stop a lot of ordinary less-musical guys from trying; guys who knew that when these temperamental, uncompromising, two-wheeled, testosterone hot-rods were on song, there was little else on the street, track or dirt to touch them.
With its race proven pedigree and that legendary Gold Star exhaust ‘twitter’, the 110mph, 384lb DBD34 was to motorcycling what Arnold Schwarzenegger is to politics.
Meaning lean, mean, brash and loud.
It was a superlative machine that, ultimately, was to become something of a victim of its own success. Which was why by 1963 it was deemed too expensive (and time-consuming) to build, too anti-social too countenance, too hot to handle—and generally out of step with the current vogue for twins and lightweights, which was where BSA saw its industrial future. Moreover, for all its improvements it was (understandably) becoming less and less competitive against the Triumph and Norton twins of the day.
Additionally, it's often said that the Gold Star was scrapped largely because Lucas stopped producing magnetos—which sounds an unlikely excuse in view of the other ignition options available at the time. More likely, BSA simply recognised that it was chasing an increasing share of a shrinking market and took the quick exit when Joe Lucas held open a convenient door.
Either way, the Goldie was scrapped and shunted aside in favour of the new ‘C’ series lightweight kids on the block. And because, like Elvis, it died a sudden death before it had outgrown its appeal, its classic status was ... well, enshrined in gold.
Nowadays, the fortunes of this classic street hooligan— following a few years in the doldrums—are climbing again. The wheel of fashion has gone full circle, and big money appears to be changing hands for genuine—and sometimes fake—machines. But the Gold Star market had been a curiously volatile one, so take care not to mistake a blip for a trend.
If you’re seriously thinking of buying one, take a tip and get yourself a health check before you book that test ride (notably around the left wrist and the right ankle, and pretty much everything in between). Because ownership of a DBD34 Gold Star, with all its quirks and foibles, is nothing if not a challenging experience.
BSA had lit the Gold Star fuse as far back as 1937 when Wal Handley lapped the famous Brooklands race track in Surrey at over 100mph. He was riding an M23 Empire Star. BSA, quick to capitalise on that achievement, hurriedly released an M24 Gold Star.
The engines of these early Goldie were heavily worked-over; a time-consuming and therefore expensive process which included polished ports, conrod and crankcases. Then the motors were dyno tested and certified as being not merely warm but hot.
Riders of the day quickly seized the opportunity that BSA had presented and, with great success, began campaigning Goldies.
And then the war.
Post hostilities, BSA produced a B31 348cc single (1945), a B32 350cc single primarily for the trials market (1946), a B33 500cc for sidecar and touring (1947), and another competition model, the B34 (1947).
In 1949, the (348cc) B32 became available as a B32GS, "GS" for Gold Star; a package that included an alloy top-end. The same year, the B34 got the Gold Star treatment.
The aforementioned (348cc) B32 Gold Star soon became referred to as the ZB type, which in turn prompted a more muscle bound stablemate; the ZB34 Goldie (499cc).
These bikes, note, were still being built around plunger frames. But that changed in 1953 when the swinging arm models made their first appearance. This was the arrival of the BB Gold Stars.
In 1954, the big-finned Goldies, known as the CB models, arrived on the scene, and the DB upgrade appeared in 1955.
Complicated? You bet. With all the changes and options, it's a wonder any potential customer could stay awake long enough to make up his or her mind as which bike to buy. Regardless, the 350 and 500 Gold Stars (of all types) had been knocking out most of the competition—even in the hands of average clubman racers—and looked set to continue for some time to come.
A wide range of camshafts, gearsets, compression ratios, exhausts and other components gave these awesome BSAs a distinct competition edge and refined the package to the nth degree. Which meant that by the time the (final) 1956 DBD34 appeared on the drawing board (which, incidentally, dominated the Clubman TT of that same year), there wasn’t much about the fundamental architecture of the bike that the company didn’t understand. What prevented further development beyond the DBD envelope was nothing other than commercial expediency underpinned by, amongst other things, the law of diminishing returns.
At the heart of the beast was an all-aluminium, single-cylinder 39bhp-42bhp, OHV, timebomb. Two valves, two pushrods and one heavily breathed on high compression (8.75:1) piston were all that was needed to propel this bike from zero revolutions to around 7000rpm—with maximum power coming in at 6500rpm (figures from Gold Star specialist Phil Pearson). But remember: Each bike is different, which means that they'll dial in different numbers with a potential detonation point at varying positions on the rev counter.
With an 85mm bore and an 88mm stroke, the next key ingredient—some would argue the main ingredient—in this fantastic motorcycling adventure was the massive 1-1/2-inch Amal GP carburettor which sucked fuel like a 747 and spat the burnt mixture through the now legendary Gold Star megaphone.