The first time Keith Bunce set eyes on his 1950 BSA Gold Star, it was just a frame and a jumble of parts piled into three tea chests.
It was summer 1970, and he’d just passed his test on a 200cc Ducati Desmo – not a bad first road bike for a 16-year-old.
He’d been using it to commute to his first job as a plumbing and heating apprentice, but after a few months he fancied a change.
“A friend of my brother’s had progressed from bikes to cars, and he had this bike in bits in his shed,” says Keith, now 67. “He decided he wanted to get rid of it, so I sold the Ducati for £75 and bought the BSA for £25.”
The bike in question was a 348cc ZB32GS, a relatively early full-production Gold Star, but mixed in the tea chests were parts for a 500cc BSA A7.
Putting the Gold Star together was a “mix and match”
“It was all there, and more. Putting it together was a little bit mix and match,” says Keith. “I think there were three gearboxes in the chests, and I probably put the wrong one in to begin with. I only realised because the chain sprocket is a thinner one on the 350 compared to the A7.
“I bought it on a Wednesday and I got it all together and took it for an MOT by the Saturday.”
After two or three years as a daily rider, the Gold Star was then stored in a variety of sheds for more than 40 years without turning a wheel.
But Keith never seriously considered selling it and, after a year-long recommissioning, it was back on the road in 2017.
“It was probably mentioned to me at the time from my good lady – ‘what are you doing with that bike? You never use it, you want to get rid of it’. But I’d say ‘no, no, no, I’m going to do something with it…’.
Gold Star has so much sentimental value
“It’s got so much sentimental value. Every nut and bolt that’s been put on it, taken off it, a number of times, was done by me, and in the early days on a very, very low budget.”
Keith, the youngest of three biking brothers, cut his motorcycling teeth in his early teens, riding around the local fields in rural Buckinghamshire from the age of 13, first on an NSU Quickly before moving on to a Raleigh Runabout RM1 and then a 200cc Norman.
“I’d just buy them either in bits or together but broken, then get the bits and pieces together and get them working,” he remembers. “My brothers would be out and about on the road on their bikes, and I’d be tinkering in the shed and then pushing a bike up to the field and thrashing it around.
“I did occasionally try them out on the road, and then got nicked for it, but that’s another story – I try not to go there, my misspent youth!”
Once he turned 16, Keith enjoyed the freedom afforded by first the Ducati, and then the Gold Star.
Charging about with friends
“Living out in the sticks, you always need a bit of transport to get to where you want to go,” he says, “charging about locally” with friends.
“I had a lot of friends who were on bikes, so we used to meet up and then go to different places, whether it was a pub run or just a ride around. It was a very social thing, as well as using it for work.”
Keith’s one and only accident on the BSA came in those early days, on his way to see a friend who lived down a single track lane, with two tyre tracks and uneven stones in the middle.
“When something came the other way I had to try and stop and I ended up laying it on its side, grazing my knee, and taking the skin right off, straight through my jeans,” he says. “I carried on riding to my friend’s house and hobbled in there. He made me go to hospital, where I had a tetanus jab and then another 10 jabs – one in the morning and one at night – in the bum. I’ve still got the scars on my knee to prove it.”
Rebuilt, then laid up
After a two or three years, Keith moved on to cars and the Gold Star was mostly consigned to the shed, but not before he’d rebuilt the engine, fitted new mudguards, and refurbished the petrol tank and other bits and pieces.
“It was sparkling and shiny when it was first put away,” he says. But it didn’t stay that way…
With marriage to Ruth, and the births of three children, Keith says there was “no time for bikes” for many years.
“You’re busy with everything else, running them here and there, so the bike just stays in the back of the shed or garage,” he adds. “We moved house five times, and the bike followed. Out of five house moves it probably just got put in the back of the van with all the stuff, rolled out and put in the back of the shed again. It didn’t even get ridden between houses, even though we didn’t move very far.
“I was always saying ‘maybe when I get older I’ll be able to pop-pop round these vintage shows and I can show it off’, that was my plan back then, but it didn’t happen until very recently.”
It was his brother George who gave him the nudge he needed to finally start getting the bike back on the road
“He got on at me, saying ‘you want to do something with the bike, get it back together and we can do this and that’,” says Keith. “I thought ‘well, yes, it gives me a project to do rather than sitting about, I can tinker with that’ and that’s what I did.
“I had a bit more time because the house was all together, and I needed a project. So off I went to the shed to get out of my good lady’s hair!”
From shining to rotten
When the covers came off the bike that had been shining brightly in 1973 when it was first put into storage, it wasn’t a pretty sight.
“Because it had been stood in the shed, with the damp and everything else, it was pretty rotten. The mudguards, headlamp, seat, even the tank, were all in very poor order, so it all needed replacing.”
Before the BSA could be taken apart though, it needed to be verified by the Gold Star Owners Club so that Keith could obtain a new V5 log book.
Happily, engine and frame numbers married up and, after a wait of six to eight months, the new V5 arrived.
By then, work was underway, with Keith hunting for parts in person and online.
“Back in the early ‘70s it was difficult to obtain parts for a 20-year-old bike, and with all the modern bikes coming along nobody wanted all the old stuff,” says Keith. “It was just an old bike. But now there seems to be more of the old bike stuff available from jumbles and online, and suppliers that do pattern parts from the old BSA drawings.”
For example, a newly-manufactured pattern petrol tank was sourced from India.
“The engine was all good because it was rebuilt before it went into the shed,” adds Keith, “although I did have to replace the magneto on it, which is quite an expensive item. I’m not sure if it had got dampness in the coils inside it, but I ended up having to decide whether to get the old one rebuilt – 50-year-old tech – or buy exactly the same looking modern electronic one, which is more expensive but more reliable, and decided that was probably the better way to go.”
“Daunting” Harley ride
During the rebuild, Keith’s son Robert decided he and his dad would hire a couple of Harley-Davidsons for a jaunt in the West Country.
Having not ridden anything for about 40 years, let alone a Harley, Keith found it “quite daunting”.
“We picked the bikes up from Bristol at 9am, and it was tricky because the gear and brake pedals are the wrong way round compared to the BSA,” he says.
“Coming out and going into traffic I was not that steady, but it was interesting just the same. I was a bit rusty and getting your balance anything like right is not easy. Robert, who is used to modern bikes, was straight on and roaring away and I’m popping up the road trying to keep my balance and not fall off. It came back to me pretty quickly though.”
Finally, after the best part of a year, the old Gold Star was ready to hit the road again, with the blessing of Keith’s wife Ruth.
“Hoping I’d calmed down”
“She was happy I had something to do, but she wanted to make sure I was being particularly careful, maybe knowing how I was so long ago and hoping I’d calmed down, which I had!” he laughs.
“It was mostly off the road when we met in 1975, though I remember going to see her on it a few times because the car had broken down. She was not allowed to go on the back of it, though – strict instructions from her parents! She’s still never been on it.”
So how was that first ride back in the saddle? Did the memories flood back?
“Yes, but not completely,” says Keith. “I always remember it being a lot faster than it is, maybe because the power to weight relationship is not the same as it was back then! As you get older you tend to put on a few pounds.
“Hang on for grim death”
“Also, I can honestly say that I don’t remember having to hold on to the handlebars like I do now. I just used to get on and away I went. Now, as soon as you get to 40 or 50mph, I feel like I’ve got to hang on for grim death!”
Keith joined the owners club and attended meetings with his brother George, who sadly died in 2019, first at Egham and then at the better-attended Bletchley.
“I’ve made a lot of new friends, he says. “It’s like an old boy network, and it’s surprising their wealth of knowledge for knowing how to do various things that I may have struggled with in the past. They’re full of very useful tips.”
Outings included trips to the Ace Cafe, but with the onset of Covid-19 in 2020, and various levels of lockdown, such meetings have been few and far between.
“I haven’t been back since Covid-19 started, but hopefully we can get back into it in the summer,” says Keith, who may finally part with the bike that’s been with him for his whole adult life if he doesn’t use it enough.
“I’m completely undecided whether to keep riding it once a fortnight, or once a month, or whether to cut my losses if I’m not doing it. If I’m not using it, do I really need it? In one respect I could have decided that 40 years ago, but then it wouldn’t have been such an interesting project that I’ve carried out.”
Hopefully, with restrictions lifted, Keith can resume his biking life and hang on to the Gold Star he’s rebuilt twice, nearly 50 years apart.