The Birth of a Legend



On 30th June 1937 the competition department at BSA, managed by Bert Perrigo, entered a modified M23 500cc OHV Empire Star machine in 2 races at a mid-week BMCRC meeting at Brooklands motor racing circuit. The bike was ridden by none other than W.L. (Wal) Handley, who had been persuaded by his friend Perrigo to come out of motorcycle racing retirement for this event. Handley had retired from motorcycle racing in 1935 after an illustrious career, which included a number of TT & Ulster GP victories, and had opened a motor dealership in Birmingham as well as taking up 4 wheel racing & flying. He and Bert Perrigo were both members of the Midland Aero Club.  The bike was built by Len Crisp, and the engine work done by Jack Amott, in the competition workshop at BSA. The engine, with a standard iron cylinder head and barrel, was highly tuned, with a 13:1 high compression piston, special cams, a racing magneto, and ran on methanol fuel. Gear ratios were altered to suit the Brooklands circuit. Power output was estimated at 34bhp. Handley started the first 3-lap race with a 9 second handicap, and by the second lap had taken the lead. He went on to win the race by a huge margin, with an average speed of 102.27mph, and averaged 107.57mph on his fastest lap. He was awarded a Brooklands Gold Star for achieving 100mph in the 500cc class. In the next race, a two-lap affair, he again roared through the field after a handicap start, but on the second he collided with another rider and crashed, fortunately without serious damage to himself. The Empire Star was damaged beyond repair. Meanwhile, BSA were developing an all-alloy 500cc single cylinder sports motorcycle, and it seemed only natural, in the wake of Handley’s achievement, to call it the “Gold Star”.
Production of the new machine started during the summer of 1937, and the first prototypes were ready in the autumn. One of these was used for publicity photographs, and displayed at the Olympia Motorcycle show in November. There is no record of how many pre-production bikes were made.

Wal Handley and the 1937 Brooklands Empire Star
As built in 2012
Goodwood 2014, now fitted with a front brake

The Brooklands M23 Empire Star recreation

I built this replica of Wal Handley's Brooklands bike in 2012 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of his 100mph+ Gold Star winning lap and it first ran on 30th June 2012 at Brooklands. In 2014 I rode it at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the company of a number of historic race bikes and riders.Since 2013 the bike has been on loan at the Brooklands Museum, and is ridden regularly alongside other bikes in their collection.

BSA pre-production publicity for the new Gold Star