Living art: 60-year-old motorized cutaway BSA Gold Star to break auction records
A 60-year-old, fully-functioning "cutaway" BSA Gold Star motorcycle looks set to become one of the stars of the coming auction season for collectible motorcycles, which gets underway in Las Vegas in the first week of January.
Built by BSA for the 1956 Earls Court Motorcycle Show in London, the "living art" exhibit began with a 1956 BSA B34 Gold Star Clubman motorcycle, which was then fully sectioned and motorized to show drivetrain function, including the movements of the piston, crankshaft, clutch and valves.
If that wasn't enough, a separate electric motor drives two eccentric discs, which not only simultaneously turn the front and rear wheels, but also articulate wheel and suspension movement.
Static sectioned parts include the petrol tank, the oil tank, the toolbox, gearbox and front fork legs – even the Lucas horn! Brakes are also sectioned and the rear suspension damper bodies are reproduced in clear Lucite to show the flow of their oil supply when working.
Originally built for the 1953 Earls Court show and based on the 1953 CB model, the exhibit was completely updated to for the iconic (and then new) DB/DBD model Gold Star for the 1956 show.
The life journey of this fully functioning exhibit and a host of other cutaway models after their show days is predictably obtuse, but Bob Schanz, owner of DomiRacer vintage bikes and parts in Cincinnati, Ohio, was surprised to discover the cutaway Goldie in the motorcycle shop of Rod Coleman in New Zealand in 1986.
Long-term negotiations ensued as the Colemans were reluctant sellers, but Schanz persisted and eventually the BSA display stand became the pride of his collection and was on display at DomiRacer Distributors in Cincinnati, Ohio for a long time.
In Schanz's care, lettering on the base was redone in time for the BSA to be loaned to the AMA Museum for exhibit, but when Herb Harris acquired the display in 1999 much work needed to be done.
The BSA Gold Star exhibition stand is just one of many priceless motorcycle artifacts from the Herb Harris Collection that will go to auction at Bonhams' January sale in Las Vegas.
Harris is the Texan attorney whose love of motorcycles created the Harris Vincent Gallery, an elite rare motorcycle agency and restoration service that discovered and restored the Rollie Free Bathing Suit Bike we covered extensively in our article on the world's most valuable motorcycle last year. For many years, Harris was responsible for the world's most valuable motorcycle, which sold for US$1,000,000, and the Harris Vincent Gallery is synonymous with motorcycles of the finest quality.
Now fully operational again, the Earls Court BSA mechanism is powered by its two original British electric motors, rebuilt to plug into US 210-volt outlets. In the process, it was geared down so it now turns at approximately 9 rpm,which is half the original speed, and doubly captivating.
The investment required to create such a meticulously detailed, fully motorized and articulated display could only have been covered by a manufacturer as big as BSA, which was one of the largest motorcycle manufacturers in the world at the time. While such detailed working cutaway motorcycle displays have sometimes been displayed by Honda for significant models at important shows (usually the Tokyo Motor Show), nothing like this display exists for the pre-baby-boomer motorcycling era.
The display is expected to fetch between $250,000 and $350,000, roughly 10-20 times the price of a well restored example of the model displayed in the sectionalized masterpiece.
It will be interesting to see the contrast in the price between a perfectly restored example of the Gold Star and the sectionalized display machine, because at the same auction, from the same collection, there is what can be reasonably claimed to be a perfectly restored Gold Star.
It's a matching- numbers 1962 BSA DBD34 Gold Star Clubman built in the last year of regular Gold Star production with a complete history from new.
Herb Harris purchased the BSA from the estate of its original owner in the early 1990s and a complete restoration was undertaken, with the engine farmed out to old-time BSA dealer Stovall's Cycle in Dallas for a full rebuild, using only NOS spares in the process.
Top suppliers like Ken Bell rebuilt the magneto, redid the chrome-plating, etc. The Amal 1½ in. GP carburetor was repainted in the correct factory color and remounted. A fresh seat from Britain's top saddle-maker was supplied. The Goldie's gearbox was the last NOS close-ratio RRT2 box in America, located at a shop in New Jersey.
During most of its time in Harris' care, the Gold Star enjoyed pride of place in the collection's display room, only removed for the occasional outing, including a trip to California for the old Del Mar Concours, then the top US classic bike show, where it took top honors in the super-competitive "1960s British" class.
In 2013 the BSA was chosen as one of the featured machines in "Ton Up," a Sturgis, South Dakota exhibit exploring the roots and significance of the café-racer movement.
This Gold Star, without doubt one of the best in the world, has not been run since its rebuild and presents as a fresh restoration.
It will hence be the most pertinent test yet as to the appreciation of the value of a perfect restoration of the model in its last incarnation.
Recent sales by Bonhams of BSA Gold Stars almost identical to the display stand bike illustrate the remarkable value one can achieve buying fully-restored examples at auction.
The above 1957 BSA 500cc Gold Star was sold on June 7, 2014 for £9,430 (US$14,560) and the 1955 BSA 500cc Gold Star below was expected to fetch £14,000 – 16,000 (roughly US$ 22,000 – 25,000) at the same Banbury Run auction, but failed to meet reserve.