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Bike Review - Posted 17th September 2012

BSA A7 Shooting Star
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BSA's pre-unit 500cc twin offers a very civilised classic ride. In Shooting Star spec, the A7 will put a spring in your step although your wallet may feel a little lighter...

BSA's initial post-war production 500 twin was originally equipped with a long-stroke engine with its roots in the 1930s, which came from the pen of Val Page (see RC99 for full history and roadtest). That design was adapted, overhauled and updated to serve first as the A10 in 650 form, and then as the revised A7 from 1951. The new 497cc OHV vertical twin engine measured 66mm by 72.5mm and ran 6.7:1 compression for a top speed of 88mph, which was probably as much as the plunger rear suspension and seven-inch, single-sided hub brakes could handle.

On sale somewhere for 4500 quid. Bargain? BSA A7 Shooting Star

A couple of years later, BSA introduced its answer to Triumph's Tiger 100, in the shape of the A7 Shooting Star. This sporty, 32bhp version of the A7 used an alloy cylinder head, as also fitted to the 650 Road Rocket version, with special valve seat inserts, higher comp pistons (up to 7.25:1), sports cam and manual ignition control, operated by the rider's left hand. The Shooting Star also incorporated full width aluminium hubs and central cast-in alloy drum brakes. BSA claimed these were 'extremely powerful' and indeed they could stop the A7SS from 30mph in 29 feet on dry tarmac.

From 1954 the A7SS used BSA's swinging arm suspension with silentbloc bearings and hydraulic dampers, combined with the firm's duplex frame which possessed 'great lateral rigidity for high speed performance'. The A7SS cost typically £19 more than the standard A7 and came with a QD rear wheel and a 'thief-proof' steering head lock as standard - but if you wanted the full rear chain enclosure then that was a cost option.

Proud owner proudly display trpohies...

The example you see here was a RealClassic concours winner a couple of years ago. When Claude Southall laid paws on his 1957 Shooting Star back in 1985 it was in reasonable nick, but done up to look like a Rocket Goldie (as you may be able to tell from the 'classic' blurry photo from the family album!). Over the following three years Claude returned the Beesa back to Shooting Star spec, doing all the work himself apart from the chroming, painting and wheel building; the latter was handled by Central Wheels. In fact, the Beesa was so far from standard that the forks, headlight, mudguard, tank, seat, wheels, exhausts and silencers all needed to be replaced before Claude was happy with the result.

The classic blurry photo from the family album...

The Motor Cycle magazine tested a very similar machine back in 1957 when it was brand new. They said that 'ease of handling, sweet transmission and smooth low speed pulling make the Shooting Star a delightful machine to ride in traffic, while zestful acceleration and steering cater admirably for the rider who wants something out of the ordinary in 500cc performance.' The A7SS reached 98mph and covered a standing quarter mile in 16.9 seconds; the earlier, standard A7 had been times at 17.6 seconds. So although the SS was significantly heavier (it weighed about 12lb more than the A7 of 1951), its performance had improved by a considerable margin for the time.

Practicality had not been sacrificed for this extra performance, however. The A7SS had a slightly larger turning circle than its predecessor (by six inches), but the engine was just as tractable at low speeds, pulling smoothly from as low as 13mph in top gear - helped there by the manual ignition control. The swinging arm machine was inevitably taller, however, and its seat height rose to 32-inches but ground clearance also improved by an inch. The A7SS retained its excellent economy and would return 77mpg at 50mph - 5mpg more than the slower, older model…

The Motor Cycle decided that the Shooting Star was a 'supersports model with punch and charm; high performance combined with docility, quietness and economy.' Never as glamorous as the Triumph 500s, the A7 nonetheless exudes a smooth charm and is arguably better suited to sustained high-speed cruising than the T100s. The A7 went out of production in 1962 when it was replaced by the unit-construction A50.

'Star' BSAs on

Prices for ready to ride, road legal Shooting Stars currently vary from around £3500 for a tidy bike on a private sale, to a giddy £7000 for an early (plunger frame) SS from an optimistic dealer. £5000 should buy a very good example with some kind of warranty from a trader. Just two years ago in 2010, similar bikes were selling for £3000, so values of this model have certainly accelerated of late - which means you should not expect an A7 which you buy now to appreciate dramatically in the near future.

Claude Southall is certainly happy enough with his Beesa. His Shooting Star has been a regular prize-winner at events since its restoration. As well as an RC prize, it has been presented with Best Motorcycle and Best BSA trophies, the George Burrows Memorial Cup and - 17 years after its restoration - it took the Best Post War prize at the Stafford International Classic Bike Show in 2005.

You'd be smiling too...

Spurred on by this success, Claude fitted a Steib S500 sidecar, one which dates appropriately back to the early 1950s. The underside of the chair had to be replaced then the whole sidecar was shotblasted, powder-coated, and sprayed the correct shade of green to match the bike. Finally, a friend helped Claude to complete the upholstery and he was ready to take the outfit into the public gaze once again.

'It's a good solid bike' says Claude; 'and very reliable.'


Words: Rowena Hoseason
Photos: RC archive

All these features, *and* a front wheel (not shown)..


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