The BSA Daytona Days


After the debacle of the 1923 TT, when a full BSA works entry failed so completely and embarrassingly, it took the commercial opportunities offered by racing success in the US market thirty-years later for BSA to forget, swallow their pride and try again.

In the late 1940s, with the British economy still struggling after the war, the government encouraged manufacturers to export or die. By the early 1950s, North America was becoming BSA's biggest market, and after fact-finding missions to US dealers in 1951 and 1953, BSA embarked on a program of systematic development to produce motorcycles specifically for the American competition market, motorcycles which could be used on long 200-mile races like Daytona or mile and half-mile oval tracks.

Roland Pike, then a BSA development engineer, was given the go-ahead to produce prototype Gold Star and Shooting Star models to race at Daytona in 1954. These had to be production-based to comply with US class 'C' AMA race regulations of the time. A welded trails frame with a rigid rear, alloy mudguards, rims, top yoke and removal of excess brackets substantially reduced weight. Both used Daytona gear ratios to deal with the unusual combination of sand and tarmac. While the BSA Gold Star was already being produced as a competition motorcycle, for Daytona a pre-production CB engine was fitted inside the shell of a BB engine.

Although living in the shadow of Triumph, BSA were just as able to produce fast twins. In the early 50s Fred Rist was a BSA works rider competing in sand races at Pendine and St. Andrews in Scotland on a tuned, iron head A10 650 twin running on dope and TT carburettors that could reach 225km/h. A close relative was used by Gene Thiessen at Bonneville in 1951 to set a class 'C' record at 230km/h. The Daytona twin used the new for 1954 Shooting Star alloy head, twin carburettors, sports cam and larger Road Rocket inlet valves. All motorcycles were prepared by separate teams of fitters working in healthy competition within the BSA development and competition departments. The result was motorcycle weighing less than 127kg that could reach 187km/h on the timing strip. 1954 found four singles and four twins – and with these BSA were in first eight places with twins the first three.

In 1954, the Daytona circuit was half sand, half tarmac, so was essentially a drag race with two tight corners at either end. To be successful, the motorcycles had to be as light as possible, geared to cope with either surface but operating at maximum revs and power for most of the race while on either straight.

Consequently, riding a Daytona motorcycle now on any other track can be a bit of a handful. Restored examples of both a BSA Gold Star and the A7 twin have competed at classic motorcycles races around the world, where mostly every gear seems to be the wrong one for every corner.

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