1962 BSA A50 Royal Star

The last of the "utilitarian" 500s

| July/August 2011

1962 BSA A50 Royal Star
Claimed power:
28.5hp @ 6,000rpm
Top speed: 90mph (est.)
Engine: 499cc OHV air-cooled parallel twin
Weight (dry): 385lb (175kg)
Price then: $775 (est.)
Price now:$4,000-$6,000

In the late 1950s BSA was in a bit of a pickle. The Brits, still convinced their motorcycles were the world leaders, believed gentle improvements would keep them in the lead until the cows came home. Pushrod vertical twins, around for a quarter of a century already, would be the king of the hill for the foreseeable future.

Yet motorcycles were being hyped as ever bigger and faster, especially in the U.S. And while BSA had plenty of competition success to crow about, with wins at Daytona and Catalina Island, to name just a few, it was losing ground to higher performance, more modern twins from Triumph and Norton. Power was king, yet many of BSA’s conservative marketing types thought surely there were still sensible lads who would appreciate the reliable, easy to start, half-liter plodder. Good for commuting, maybe a trip to the continent, perhaps some low-speed sport on the week’s end. What to do? In the end, they tried to satisfy both, and this led to the development of the BSA A50 Royal Star.

New beginnings

The big news from BSA came in 1962, with the arrival of new unit-construction engines, available in the 500cc BSA A50 or the bored-out 650cc BSA A65. In England these were known as Star models, whereas in the U.S. they were called Royal Star. Curious that, since we Americans had fought a bloody revolutionary war to get rid of the monarchy, and now we appeared captivated by anything that smacked of royalty.

This had all begun a few years before, when the BSA suits finally realized that something had to be done to upgrade BSA’s famous parallel twin engines. These had been around since 1947, when the 500cc A7 Star Twin was introduced, followed by the 650cc A10 in 1950. The A7 stayed rather benign in the Fifties, though one version of the A10 was hotted up to become the best-selling Super Rocket in the U.S., competition for the Triumph Bonneville.

BSA had an understandable love/hate relationship with Triumph. Both were owned by the same company, but their badges kept them very much apart. In the U.S., Triumph consistently outsold BSA, which the Small Heath gang did not appreciate.

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