The story of a BSA B44 Shooting Star named Thunder, By John Pappas
Forty years ago, I walked up to a motorcycle show room window in Arlington, Virginia and gazed through the glass at the most beautiful thing my eyes had ever seen. It was a 1968 BSA Shooting Star. I had seen the same bike in a road test in the 1968 January issue of Modern bike magazine, but the bike somehow looked unreal resting on it’s center stand in the showroom window. Walking inside, I rounded the corner coming to a complete stop right in front of the big single. I was stunned at the sight of this fiberglass, steel and chrome man-made wonder. The red and ivory gas tank, side cover and oil tank weren’t just pieces of fiberglass – they were works of art worthy of being in a museum! It’s chrome fenders and headlight sparkled even in the dim, cloudy, February afternoon. No other bike had such pleasing lines and futuristic design (which holds it’s own even today!). I imagined the big single roaring to life with me on it!
I was seventeen years old and after saving every dollar from my after school job as a dishwasher, I almost had enough money to purchase a motorcycle. A salesman came up and said, “son, that’s one of the niftiest bikes we have ever had to sell.” I asked how much it cost and he replied, “oh this bike will cost ya. It’s $800.00”. I about dropped to the floor. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have enough funds to purchase the bike that day or that even that month! I managed to stutter the words, “do you have layaway?” As soon as I said it, I had a visual of the salesman taking me by the collar and throwing me out on the street while cautioning me not to ever come back. But instead he smiled and said, “for you kid, sure.” He then told me the bike would be mine as long as I paid for it in full in sixty days. I blurted out, “yes sir, I can!”. He walked away and came back with a sold sign slipping it over the handlebars of the Beeza. I was in heaven! My father dropped me off about every two weeks armed with cans of turtle wax, chrome polish and old t-shirts so I could sit on the floor and polish my newly acquired beauty (they since moved my bike to the floor amidst six or seven other BSA’S. I would sit there for a couple of hours polishing each inch. The salesman who sold it to me would come by and say, “son, you’re going to polish the chrome right off of that bike! You know it is brand new!” Then he would chuckle and walk away.
Two months almost to the day on a warm, April afternoon, I picked up my Shooting Star and drove him home to Maryland with my father following me. And so began my life-long love affair with Thunder (more on the name in a minute).
I had the only motorcycle in high school! I was the prototype for Fonzie. Guys envied me as the big single roared to life in the school parking lot and girls gathered around in hopes of an after school ride. The school newspaper featuring the “car of the month” did its first motorcycle article along with a photo of me standing along side my 1968 BSA. Thunder and I enjoyed the limelight! One day two of my friends were walking home from their shift at McDonald’s when they heard sounds like thunder. It was me riding my Thumper a couple of blocks away. One of them said, “that sounds like thunder!” When I drove up, they christened my bike Thunder.
Throughout the years (all forty!), Thunder has been with me housed outside in a shed, carport and finally the last twenty years in a warm garage. Thunder has had a new electrical system, tail light lens and new paint job among various cosmetic items replaced. The mileage is original (a little over 6,000) having not ridden Thunder often in the years I was raising a family. Now at 57 years old, I ride Thunder with my wife every two weeks or so on picturesque, winding country roads in a laid back setting which suits Thunder fine. I hope to ride Thunder for as long as I can kick start him and prop myself up on the seat because it has been one hell of a ride (and love affair) ever since we first met!
The Bike in it’s present day condition!
You can buy a full range of BSA B44 Parts from British Bike Bits