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The First Gold Star
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The First BSA Gold Star

Wal Handley astride a very special 500cc BSA at Brooklands in June 1937


Chances are that you have not seen this historic picture before. It shows Wal Handley astride a very special 500cc BSA at Brooklands in June 1937, the day that he captured the coveted 'Brooklands Gold Star' in the 500cc class by completing a race lap at over 100mph. It looks as though the picture was taken when he was relaxing after the race was over.

The tale of Wal and the BSA 'Gold Star' race at Brooklands has been told many times. Jack Amott, Len Crisp and others prepared a very special 500cc Empire Star at Small Heath and Wal was persuaded to ride it at a race meeting on 30th June in the high summer of 1937.

'The Motor Cycle' reported that Brooklands was buzzing with conversation. "The cause of it all was a very standard looking 497cc BSA with Wal Handley up. To all intents and purposes the model was standard, except for a 'racy' riding position and a big fishtail on the end of the standard silencer. But somebody must have known that it was hardly a showroom model, for Wal was handicapped at nine seconds with a set of fast riders.

"The race was a three-lap outer circuit event. On the first lap Handley weaved his way through most of the field and was most spectacular as he came through a bunch of competitors coming off the Byfleet banking. Second time round and he had caught everybody and he went on to increase his lead on the last lap, so that he finished several hundred yards ahead of the second man, R C Appleby (500 Excelsior). He had covered the three laps at an average speed of 102.27 mph with a fastest lap of 107.57 mph. This gave Handley a Gold Star in the 500cc class".

The race was a low-key event on a Wednesday, and I doubt if any of the regular Brooklands professional photographers were there. So I believe - until someone else finds one - that this could be the only decent photograph of Wal and the BSA on the day in question.

The original print came from Jack Amott's son Richard. He and his wife Joan have recently moved to France and while they were sorting everything out, they found this photograph and Richard recognised what it was.

He sent me the print which measured just 2 by 1 inches and I have enhanced it on the computer. So there you are, the original BSA Gold Star venture more than seventy years ago, and a memory to be proud of.

By Bob Light.
Acknowledgements: The Vintage Motorcycle Club (UK) and Richard Amott.
 

Len Crisp, Wal Handley and Jack Amott


WAL HANDLEY - THE MAN WHO EARNED BSA THE GOLD STAR

"None Ever Passed This Way More Bravely".
That's the inscription on the seat erected to Wal Handley's memory in 1948 at Quarter Bridge on the TT circuit in the Isle of Man. Some of his greatest races were in the island, and most of the rest of his battles were on circuits far distant from his native Birmingham.

That was inevitable really, for the TT was all important in the 1920s, and there was racing abroad, and Brooklands of course. At different times Wal would excel in all three areas, but there was nowhere within striking distance of his home city where he could be seen in action.

His father worked in Birmingham's industrial heartland and died suddenly in 1912, leaving a widow and three young children of which Wal was the eldest. He left school in 1915, before his thirteenth birthday, starting work in the Verus factory and moving on to junior tester at the Hall Green works of Humphries & Dawes who made OK motor cycles (as they were known before the 'Supreme' tag was added). He rode an OK in the 1920 Victory trial and in the ACU Six Days where he was noticed by none other than H R Davies.

Then when OK boss Ernie Humphries was looking for a rider for the 1922 Lightweight TT, the story is that HRD remembered the lad he had seen riding in trials. Handley got the ride, broke the 250cc lap record by nigh-on 5 mph on his first circuit from a standing start, but retired soon afterwards and Geoff Davison won on a Levis.

In the next ten years Wal won four TTs - the 1925 Ultra-Lightweight and Junior, the 1927 Lightweight (all on Rex-Acmes), and the 1930 Senior on Jim Whalley's privately entered Rudge when he chopped forty seconds off the lap record from a standing start. However two of his most memorable races were ones that he did not win.

In the 1926 Senior Wal rode the Rex-Acme with v-twin Blackburne engine, and suffered serious handling problems in practice. Come the race and he was in the top three with Jimmy Simpson and Stanley Woods when the Rex Acme went on one cylinder on the second lap. Changing the rear plug cost him some seven minutes and at the end of the lap he was in 22nd place. The ride that followed was the stuff of Handley legend as he fought his way up to second place at the finish, 4 minutes 21.5 seconds behind Stanley Woods.

In the Senior three years later it was a very different story. On the first lap he dropped his AJS at Greeba, and within moments Doug Lamb (Norton), Jim Simpson (Norton) and Jack Amott (Rudge) also came to grief. Wal could have re-started, but this was a serious incident and he helped the other riders as much as he could and did not continue. Acknowledging his actions, the ACU sent him a letter of appreciation. Wal gave particular help to his great friend Jack Amott on the long road to recovery from the serious injuries to his right arm that Jack had sustained in the accident.

There's a Handley story from Brooklands too. About to start the 1926 200 mile race on the 350 Blackburne-engined Rex Acme, Sammy Jones found a cut in the front tyre some three inches long. It took about fourteen minutes to change the tyre and Wal joined the race as it started its eight lap. At the finish he was just 2 minutes 2 seconds behind winner Bill Lacey who had averaged 81.20 mph, while Wal 's average was more than 88 mph. During that race he broke seven world records.

As he eased up his motor cycle racing in the mid thirties, he competed more on four wheels. He had opened his motor cycle business in Suffolk Street in Birmingham in 1929 and took up flying in the same year, taught by the vastly experienced Tommy Rose.

The tale of Wal and the BSA 'Gold Star' race at Brooklands has been told many times. Jack Amott, Len Crisp and others prepared a very special 500cc Empire Star and Wal was persuaded to ride it at a Wednesday race meeting on 30th June in the high summer of 1937.

'The Motor Cycle' reported that Brooklands was buzzing with conversation. "The cause of it all was a very standard looking 497cc BSA with Wal Handley up. To all intents and purposes the model was standard, except for a 'racy' riding position and a big fishtail on the end of the standard silencer. But somebody must have known that it was hardly a showroom model, for Walter was handicapped at nine seconds with a set of fast riders.

"The race was a three-lap outer circuit event. On the first lap Handley weaved his way through most of the field and was most spectacular as he came through a bunch of competitors coming off the Byfleet banking. On the second lap he had caught everybody and he went on to increase his lead on the last lap, so that he finished several hundred yards ahead of the second man, R C Appleby (500 Excelsior), having covered the three laps at an average speed of 102.27 mph with a fastest lap of 107.57 mph. This gave Handley a Gold Star in the 500cc class".

Geoff Davison knew him well and in his book 'Racing Reminiscences' recalled 'He certainly saved my life once in the air. We were flying a twin-engined monoplane I had just acquired, and when doing a left-hand circuit of the airfield before landing, with the left wing properly down, the left engine stopped. In a flash we were in a power spin, at about 300ft only. He snapped the throttles back and said, quite casually, "All right Geoff, I've got her," and fetched her out of the spin with about 20 feet to spare'.

Wal was in the Air Transport Auxiliary and in charge of the base at Hawarden in Cheshire, and on 15th November 1941 he was piloting an Allison-engined Airacobra out of Kirkbride near Carlisle. Shortly after take-off he crashed into a ploughed field and lost his life.

Acknowledgements: The Vintage Motorcycle Club (UK), Bob Light and Richard Amott.
Submission: Ashley Blair. 10/09
  

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