In our last feature we described the BSA Gold Star as the greatest all round motorcycle of all time. Such a bike deserved a rider who could get the most out of it, A rider like Eddie Dow, who rode with great success in places as diverse as the Isle of Man, the Austrian Alps and the Scottish Highlands. He did it all on BSA Gold Stars and then created a flourishing business around the brand, So much so that back in the nineteen-sixties he was known worldwide as ‘Mr. Gold Star.’
From his motorcycle dealership in the North Oxfordshire town of Banbury he offered a mail order service that kept the local Post Office busy shipping out parts around the globe on a daily basis that improved either the performance or the visual appeal of the famous single cylinder BSA 350 and 500cc ‘Clubman Racers’. And that was really quite an achievement considering that the ‘Goldies’ were already amongst the fastest, the best-looking and most-admired of the sports bikes of their day. Not only that, in addition to his enhancements of the big singles it was Eddie Dow’s vision that led to the creation of another classic British bike icon from BSA’s Birmingham factory – the 650cc Rocket Gold Star twin.
Even so, Eddie didn’t earn his ‘Mr Gold Star’ name by being just a clever marketing man. In the nineteen-fifties, it was not uncommon for riders to compete in various disciplines of motorcycling competition and excel at them all. And Eddie Dow was one of the very best. He won the 1955 Clubman’s TT in the Isle of Man and co-piloted the Thruxton Nine Hours Race winner just a month or so later. Added to that were three ISDT Gold Medals and First Class Awards in the Scottish Six Days Trial, always riding his beloved BSA Gold Stars whether on road or off.
These successes marked him as one of literally a handful of great all-rounders who earned their stripes by victories or top-rated performances in both on-road and off-road events. The others were trials great and factory team Grand Prix road racer Sammy Miller; European Motocross Champions Johnny Draper and Les Archer (both of whom took podium places in the Clubman’s TT on the Isle of Man) and British Sidecar Trials Champion, Ron Langston who, when he competed on just two wheels, was a leading rider in both the Isle of Man and European Grand Prix races. All of them, along with Eddie Dow were also successful medal-winning members of British teams in the International Six Days Trial.
How Eddie came to be one of this pantheon of all-round greats is an interesting story as it stemmed directly from his Army career. In June 1945, he was called-up to do his National Service and this led to a commission as a young officer in the Royal Army Service Corps where a fellow Second Lieutenant in his company was a certain Roger Moore – yes, that Roger Moore – “the name’s Bond, James Bond!”
Next for Eddie was a posting to Trieste in Italy, where he remained for some three years – a move that had a large effect on his eventual motorcycling career. This was because in 1951, the Army decided to enter a Club Team in the International Six Days Trial and asked for volunteers with motorcycle experience. Eddie Dow was first in line as he had been riding in scrambles since being posted back to Colchester in England but his Commanding Officer was lothe to let him go for the necessary length of time for the selection process and pre-event training as he had by then risen to the rank of full Lieutenant,
That, however, was the year that the trial was to be run around San Remo in Northern Italy – so Eddie persuaded the powers-that-be that his long stint in that country, plus his acquired fluency in the language, would make him the ideal man to be on the team and help organize the project while in Italy. This, in fact, was what happened and Lt. Dow helped assemble a team of proficient motorcycle riders that actually included one of our aforementioned ‘all-round greats’ – Second Lieutenant Les Archer, who five years later would be crowned as European Motocross Champion!
The Army team on parade for a motorcycle kit inspection before heading to Italy for the International Six Days Trial. Lt, Dow and Second Lt. Archer are the two riders at far left.
The team was mounted on BSA ZB Gold Stars with rudimentary ‘plunger sprung’ rear suspension, They were provided by the factory and the riders were advised by Bert Perrigo, head of the competition department, that they should take the seemingly unusual step of removing the fabric filters from the oil tanks. This was because those components were likely to clog up completely with ingested dust due to the nature of the dry terrain.
Unfortunately, Second Lt. Archer didn’t do as recommended and his bike stopped part way through the event because the crankcase had filled with oil that, because of the clogged filter, could not find its way back through the system and into the tank for re-circulation. Les was stopped by the trail contemplating his problem when veteran expert ISDT rider and AJS/Matchless team leader, Hugh Viney, stopped to aid his compatriot and asked “did you take your oil tank filter out, Les?” Once the mistake was realized it was soon rectified and Archer got to the end of the day right back on time. Unfortunately he had been late at a control while dealing with the problem and his chance of an ISDT Gold was gone.
Two of the Army team riders did get Gold Medals for unpenalised performances, however, and one of those was Lt. W.E. Dow, along with Staff Sergeant Ernie Arnott who got his third ‘Gold’ in succession. The Army team finished fourth in Club team points and the exercise was judged worthwhile.
After getting a Gold Medal in the 1951 ISDT in Italy, Eddie got another in Austria in 1952
So much so that the Army squad was back for the 1952 event that was to be run in Austria. This time their machines were very special ones that BSA had prepared for the event. The factory was using the ISDT as part of extended testing for a new Gold Star model that was planned for public introduction in 1953. This was to be the first BB Gold Star model, with a new die-cast cylinder barrel and head plus a new duplex tube frame featuring pivoting fork rear suspension.
Eddie Dow (227) in the speed test over the Austrian cobblestones in the 1952 ISDT
“They steered like a dream” remembered Eddie “even though they had quite a steep steering head angle that was later lessened by a couple of degrees on the production bikes. The event itself was somewhat on the miserable side with plenty of rain and mist in the mountains” he continued “but the bikes went well and I got a Gold Medal again, as did a couple of other riders on the team”.
As the following season got underway, Eddie – having now risen to the rank of Captain – led an Army team entered for the Scottish Six Days – the ultimate in observed trials – and gained one of the coveted First Class awards – still Gold Star mounted, of course.
Eddie Dow on his way to a first class award in the 1953 Scottish Six Days Trial
Over the previous winter, however, Eddie’s mind had become turned to faster competition. He had always enjoyed storming the roads of the mountain passes in the ISDT’s that had been held in the Italian and Austrian Alps so he felt ready to tackle another famous Mountain – one by the name of Snaefell in the Isle of Man!
He purchased a Clubman’s Gold Star production racer for his own use and soon after the Scottish Six Days headed for the Island to begin practice for the 1953 500cc Senior Clubman’s TT. Up to that point, the 500cc Gold Stars had been overshadowed in the Senior Clubman’s by the Triumph Tiger 100s and International Nortons, even though the 350cc version had been winning in the Junior class since the 1949 event. Imagine the surprise, therefore when the name of Captain W.E. Dow, riding a 500cc Gold Star, appeared on the leader board of the early practice sessions for the Senior race. Although a complete novice at road racing, Eddie actually topped the times in the third practice session with a lap of the 37 ¾ miles public roads circuit at 81.1mph – the fastest Senior Clubman’s class lap of the whole of practice week!
Eddie's first race in the Isle of Man ended with a major crash and a long spell in hospital
In the race, he finished the first lap in third place and on the second lap, he broke Geoff Duke’s four-year-old Clubman’s TT lap record and went into second place. Bear in mind that he was a first-time rider on the fearsome Mountain Circuit. No BSA had ever lapped so quickly but it was too good to last….
“I overdid it in a big way in one of the worst possible places” Eddie recalled ruefully. “It was at Laurel Bank, with a rock face on one side of the road and a stone wall on the other. As a result I was hospitalized for three months with nine different fractures and a collapsed lung”.
Evidence of his quite phenomenal race pace for a BSA rider came from the fact that, once Dow was out, the next fastest Gold Star came home in 17th place…
There was one positive factor to take from it all in that Eddie’s speed proved to BSA that the 500cc Gold Star did have a potential to be a race winner like its smaller 350cc brother. Master BSA engineer Roland Pike was delegated to work on the engine’s development and came up with the CB model, the first to feature the now iconic Gold Star engine look with big square finning on the cylinder barrel and head. There were various modifications including reducing the weight of the valve gear and replacing the Amal TT carburetor with that company’s new and more efficient Grand Prix unit.
Horsepower figures for the CB engines went up by some three or four bhp – to 30 for the 350 and 37 for the 500 – while usable rpm went up from 6400 to 6800 for the smaller motor and 6600 for the bigger one. By comparison, Eddie Dow’s 1953 BB engine had put out 33bhp – and Roland Pike reckoned that no-one had ever lapped the Island so fast on so little horsepower…!
The result of all this development was a Gold Star double in the the Clubman’s TT classes for 1954. Alastair King won the Senior and Peter Palmer the Junior. Eddie Dow was back but finished down in 10th place. “People figured I was put off by my crash the previous year” said Eddie “but that wasn’t the case. Whereas my 1953 bike had been a flier, the new one just didn’t want to go”
When the ISDT came around again later in that year it was to be run in mid-Wales around Llandindrod Wells and Eddie was deputised to put together the two British Army teams. . Living in nearby Army barracks, the teams put in eight weeks of local riding and were rewarded with third and fourth places in the club team’s competition. Individual riders took eight Gold Medals – with Eddie Dow getting his third in four years (having missed the 1953 Six Days due to his TT injuries of course).
In 1955, BSA came out with the ultimate Gold Star – the DB series, with power enhancing modifications that included a larger inlet valve and bigger Amal GP carburetor to match.
Eddie Dow was one of the first customers for the new model and it was delivered in time for him to give it a pre-TT shakedown in a Silverstone production race. Despite problems kick-starting the big single, he finished second and things looked good for the Island.
“The Clubman’s race that year had been switched to the shorter Clypse course” remembered Eddie “though I would have preferred another crack at the full Mountain circuit. But it was what it was and I set out to learn the shorter but perhaps more tricky circuit".
"It was around ten miles long, so I decided that to be as precise as possible was the way to approach the race. It turned out to be the right approach and I moved into the lead on lap three, passing a couple of Triumph riders. From that point on it was just a matter of maintaining full concentration for the rest of the race. For the last six laps my times varied by less than a second and it turned out to be just a fast ride to the finish rather than a race”.
With his Gold Star spinning to 7,000rpm and timed at 110mph, Eddie was well in control of the situation and won at a comfortable 70.3mph average.
A happy Eddie Dow with his wife after the finish of his winning ride in the Clubmans TT
The bike finished the Isle of Man race in perfect condition. So much so, in fact, that it was entered for the Thruxton Nine Hours endurance race a few weeks later, where Eddie would share it with Eddie Crooks. Nothing was done to the bike apart from a check-over and minor adjustments to brakes and chains. Both the primary and rear chains were the same components that had completed the Clubman’s TT…as were both front and rear tyres!
In an amazing display of Gold Star reliability combined with fast and consistent riding, the bike ran faultlessly through the nine hours around the Hampshire airfield circuit and the two Eddies won comfortably at an average speed of 67.86mph. The TT and Thruxton double was obviously the high point of Eddie’s road racing career and the 1955 competition season was his last intensive one.
In 1956 he left the Army with a thousand pounds gratuity as a ‘demob’ present and embarked upon his business career. Within a very short time, his motorcycle dealership was by far the world’s leading supplier of Gold Stars and sold no less than 49 of them in 1959 alone! Eddie was well on his way to becoming “Mr. Gold Star” and there is no doubt that a major reason for this was his devotion to the marque while establishing his reputation as one of the best all-rounders in British motorcycle sport.
A couple of years later he again proved what an asset he was to the BSA brand by coming up with the concept for another of BSA’s most famous and genuinely iconic sports machines – the Rocket Gold Star.
This came about after some of the riders who purchased Gold Stars from Eddie for road rather than racing use had become frustrated with being unable to get to grips with the technique needed to kick-start the big singles and with having to slip the clutch to cope with using the ultra-high first gear (good for almost 60mph on the five-hundred!). These riders happily traded their Goldies back in for BSA’s equally fast and much more tractable 650cc Road Rocket and Super Rocket twins, although they did admittedly miss the racy look of the Clubman’s Gold Star with its clip-on handlebars and rear set footrests.
Eddie Dow being a smart marketing man, it didn’t take him long to realise that there was an opportunity to make some money from this situation. So he had his faithful service manager, John Gleed, go through the BSA parts lists and assemble the part numbers of all of the many individual components needed to assemble a Clubmans Gold Star with a Road Rocket twin motor in place of the single cylinder unit. He placed an order with BSA for the parts and in 1960 assembled the first Rocket Gold Star.
The BSA 650 Rocket Gold Star in Clubmans racing trim
At the time, the BSA management showed only a polite and passing interest in the project but a year later they jumped on what had proved to be a most profitable bandwagon and put the RGS into production until 1963. Nowadays many pedantic people make much of the fact that any true Rocket Gold Star should have the correct factory engine and chassis numbers. But there are many more who claim that one of the original dozen RGS machines built by Eddie Dow (and all first registered in Oxfordshire) are even more important in the grand scheme of things. Especially as they have a direct link with the model’s creator – the man who deservedly became known as ‘Mr. Gold Star’.
Eddie Dow also offered special equipment for both the Gold Star and Rocket Gold Star.