Veteran Edwardian Vintage, January 1980

A section devoted to old-car matters

Star Story

At the suggestion of Jeremy Collins, whose 1921 11.9 h.p. Star Scorpio two-seater is a well-known performer in VSCC Light Car Section and other events (it now belongs to his wife), I went with him to “talk-Star” with Mr. Wallace Marsh, who was a premium apprentice at the Star Motor Company in Wolverhampton from 1910 to 1914, and who keeps another well-known Star, his 1908 12 h.p. two-seater single-phaeton, at his house in Chipping Campden.

Collins became interested in Star affairs when he was serving with the RAF in Cyprus, where Staff-transport was provided by an old Star Fourteen. After the war he kept an eye open for such a car and in 1958 found the Scorpio in Darlington and purchased it for a pound (yes, £1). He began using this little car, after he had resuscitated it, in VSCC events and in 1965 he acquired the ex-Michael McEvoy Zoller-supercharged Star, which he is still in process of rebuilding. Then, in 1974, on a used-car lot, he came upon the 1931 18 h.p. Star Comet Sports saloon which he has used since as practical transport, to supplement his big-mileage Lancia Fulvia S2 which he purchased as a new car direct from the Turin factory in 1972 — but that is another story.

The 18/50 Star Comet was in original condition and paintwork, with all its correct equipment, and after acquiring it Collins found a spare engine and gearbox for it in Colchester, from a similar car in which the owner had installed a diesel engine. He has since found yet another spare engine. Appropriately, it was in this Star Comet that I set out from Abingdon to meet Mr. Marsh, accompanied by Mrs. Pat Lacy, who married one of the many sons of Mr. Edward Lisle, founder of the Star Company. The history of this particular Comet is rather interesting. The Star Motor Company had been taken over by Sydney Guy in 1928 and by March 1932 it was in financial trouble, with a Receiver appointed. It was then that this Comet was supplied to Mr. Broadhurst, an Aldershot coal-merchant. He had originally ordered a Little Comet, which order had been taken by Sydney Guy himself, early in September 1931. This was changed to the 18 h.p. Comet in November 1931, offered to Mr. Broadhurst for £310 nett, whereas a new Comet was priced at £495 — perhaps one of the reasons why Star folded was the modest prices asked for their high-quality cars. The order number tallied with the car number — D970— and the Comet did not reach its purchaser until March 18th, 1932, after the Receiver had been appointed. Which suggests that it “came out of the factory by way of the back door”.

The Broadhurst family used the car continuously for some 149,000 miles but after the war it went into a breaker’s yard, but was given a reprieve and was then discovered in a barn with a seized engine by Melvin Jones of Wallingford, who got it going and used it for appearances in Television advertisements, etc. Collins saw it at a local garage and a second rescue operation was put in hand. . . . When new the Comet would do some 70 m.p.h., and 57 m.p.h. in third gear. Today, in deference to its age, one changes quickly from 2nd into 3rd, and on into top, to cruise at about 40 m.p.h. — I was somewhat surprised the car wasn’t faster — when Collins gets about 18 m.p.g. The Star-built four-door saloon body offers great comfort, with a useful boot behind. All the doors are front-hinged and the driver’s possesses an ingenious window, the lower pane of which can be pushed up easily if a hand-signal has to be given. The leather upholstery and wood fillets look almost new and provide a vintage aura, although the dashboard has a later connotation, with all the instruments in one central panel, with the speedometer in the middle and a vertical tube-type petrol-gauge below the detachable ignition-key. Small, oblong-dial gauges for dynamo-charge (5 amps.), and oil-pressure (20 lb./sq. in.) flanking the big dial. The car’s equipment is generous indeed — built-in hydraulic jacks, automatic chassis lubrication, a sun-roof, picnic-tables in the backs of the separate front seats, smokers’ companions: in the parlour, stowage for six spare sparking-plugs beneath the bonnet, together with, an inspection-lead-light, a tinted sun-vizor over the openable windscreen, a reserve fuel-tap by the driver’s right leg, a cigar-lighter, a starting handle under the dumb-iron apron — all original and working. The six-cylinder 69 x 110 mm., 2,470 c.c. push-rod o.h.v. engine idles very slowly and quietly, like that of a 1930 Sunbeam Sixteen I used to drive. It has a big SU carburetter on the n/s. A weakness lies in the water-pump, from which the tandem dynamo and magneto are driven; it tends, apparently, to dribble into the sump. The gearbox on this Comet does not have “silent-third”, you change gears with a long r.h. lever working in an open gate arranged as on a vintage Vauxhall with the lower gears outboard of 3rd and top. There is a r.h. brake lever, quite short and very well placed, so that it is easily located yet does not rush up one’s trousers-leg when entering the car. The brakes are the notorious Bendix-Perrot type, but with a fair prod they are quite powerful, without pulling to one side. The moulded centre of the large wheel which controls light steering carries the hand-throttle and ignition advance-and-retard stubs.

It was in this interesting car, sighting over the long, shouldered bonnet, past a big mascot and a six-pointed star on the scuttle, that I drove off to meet Mr. Wallace Marsh. The history of the Star Motor Company is fairly well documented, so what follows is more in the nature of items extracted from our conversation than a condensed history of this British motor manufacturer, who started to make autocars in 1898, the first Star looking somewhat like a Benz of the period, as did other pioneer makes. Actually, it had all started much earlier than that, when Edward Lisle, aided by a mechanic called Sharratt, made velocipedes. These bicycles were based on the French machines of the time and a book published in 1869 spoke very well of them. At that period Mr. Lisle was offering a tricycle intended for rural perhaps postmen for as little as 35/-, when normal velocipedes cost from about £8 to £20 and more.

Apparently no-one at the Star car factory had much knowledge of engineering, apart from the designers, but high standards were set and maintain under Edward Lisle. These designers included Cecil Cathie — he was also a Director who looked after the sales-side of the Company, and who taught Joe Lisle to hunt. Another was F. A. S. Acres, and J. A. Irving came in to develop the Comet engine. Star cars were sold under various other names along the years. For instance, Charles Friswell used to she delivery of them before the 1914/18 war sans the famous star badge and sell them as the Knight of the Road, and there were the Thistle, Starling and Stuart, and Edward Lisle, junr. was allowed to make the Little Briton, which was really a simplified Star. and might have beaten William Morris to light-car sales-successes.

In pre-WW1 days the Company turned out past 14 or 15 cars in a good week, laying off workers when times were bad. It had its own foundry, but the larger alloy castings were supplied by outside firms, down to the end of car-production. It was left to the Chargehands to run the different departments of the works, as distinct from appointing Foremen for this purpose. The engine-building shop had long rows of individual bays, where four or five men would assemble the engines. There was a well-equipped machine-shop, with Tommy Haines in charge. A Mr. Graham looked after the body-shop, Mrs. Richards was the Company Secretary, and F. R. Goodwin managed the London depot in St. Martin’s Lane. In this not over-large, scattered factory two operatives, Billy Down and his mate Charlie, would be seen walking slowly one behind the other, carrying a ladder; their task was to lubricate the overhead-shafting that carried the pulleys for the belt-driven machine-tools. There is the delightful story of how, one day, Edward Lisle was in the factory, checking up on things, in his gruff voice that made even the most conscientious employee jump to attention when addressed. Seeing the two men walking slowing, one behind the other, Lisle said to Billy “What are you doing?” “Taking a ladder to oil the shafts, sir”, came the timid reply, to be followed by the voice of Billy’s mate, standing some few feet behind, saying: “We’ve forgotten the b***** ladder!” One can imagine the scene; yet old Edward Lisle, the perfectionist, treated his workers to free coal and free turkeys every Christmas. Incidentally, when he was told that the belfry of Sr. Luke’s church in Wolverhampton lacked a clock he supplied both clock and bells — which continue to function to this day, I believe.

The Star made a name for sound design and good workmanship. When the RAC opened a driving school before WW1 it ordered Stars for the pupils to do their worst on. In places such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, where the going was hard, Stars sold well, and after the war authoress. Mrs. Diana Strickland, drove her 14/30 Star tourer “Star of the Desert” the 6,000 miles from Dakar to Khartoum with a notable absence of trouble. Star entered cars for the 1903 and 1905 Gordon Bennett races, one of the latter racing cars having recently been restored to running order for Nick Ridley of the VCC. Stars were also raced at Brooklands and elsewhere with considerable success. Mr. Marsh recalled Cathie dressing his hair with a horrid mixture of starch, water and perfume so as to drive at Brooklands bare-headed. Members of the Lisle family also competed, Joe Lisle, the General Manager of the Company, crashing one of the two huge 1905 GB cars when testing it at Wergs Road, in Wolverhampton, and later driving a special 20.1 h.p. Star at Brooklands, and Dick Lisle, whose normal duties were covering sales in the North of England and in Scotland, ran a 1912 4.3-litre Star called “The Comet” at the Track. Mr. Marsh recalls it as unsuccessful; its best lap seems to have been at 65.61 m.p.h. It had a streamlined body with slab-tail and two external exhaust pipes merging into a cylindrical silencer. However, that year Dick Lisle put the class 12-hour record to 66.82 m.p.h. and in 1913 the same driver again successfully took long-distance records, with a bigger Star. Stars had also run in the 1906 and 1907 TT races, without distinction.

The Company nevertheless entered two cars for the 1914 TT race in the IoM. Although, in Mr. Marsh’s opinion, Star cars had suffered all along the years from restricted breathing, due to poorly-designed induction manifolds, in the TT cars an effort was made to improve matters. The cars were bright red four-cylinder side-valve two-seaters of 90 x 129.5 nun. (3,308 c.c.), which their designer, C. Cathie from Sunbeam’s (he was killed in the war), had endowed with large tulip-shaped valves and curious hoop-shaped inlet-piping. It was deemed desirable to cool these big valves by fitting water-cooled valve-caps above them, rubber rings sealing these at the base. Star I was driven in the two-day contest by Dick Lisle, with Wally Marsh riding with him, and Star II was driven by R. F. L. (“Tiny”) Crossman. A Heenan & Froude fan brake was installed in the test-shop specially to test these racing engines, as up to then the Star Company had no such equipment, although they retained it afterwards. On one occasion the arms and fan of this brake carried away and went through the test-shop roof, narrowly missing one of the Lisles and flying across Frederick Street, a bolt falling through the roof of the body-shop and damaging the bonnet of a brand-new car, to the disgust of Mr. Graham! The missing arms, etc mysteriously vanished, being found years later in one of the test-shop overhead water-supply tanks. . . .

In the race Star II suffered from leaks at the valve-cap joints and soon retired. Dick Lisle was going well in Star I on the first day. However he had been delayed by a slipping cone clutch, cured by jamming bits of twig between the cones and by throwing in handfuls of earth, after which the clutch wouldn’t withdraw, making gear-changing difficult. Then there was difficulty in passing Burgess in the Humber on the narrow course, Lisle having to wait until the tarmac section down from Bray hill. In making up time he approached a corner by the golf-course too fast, and skidded into a wall, bursting a tyre. A garage-type jack was carried, clipped to the side of the car, so the tyre was quickly changed, timed by Julian Orde of the RAC. However, unknown to Lisle or Marsh, the brake gear had been damaged and when they came fast into the then-blind S-bend through Ballig Bridge, still trying to wash out the time-loss caused by the slipping clutch and the skid, the car touched the kerb. At that moment Lisle yelled that he bad no brakes, telling Marsh to try to pull on the cables. To no avail — the Star went backwards into the bridge, its back axle being rammed under the gearbox. Both men went to a near-by doctor’s house, where they were well looked after. But by then Marsh had lost interest in the race, which was won by K. Lee Guinness in the Peugeot-type twin-cam Sunbeam. However, the Dunlop and Rudge-Whitworth people were able to advertise the accident, as tyres and wheels on the crashed Star were still intact. Apparently these TT Stars were tested on Brooklands and driven to competition venues. Lisle did well with his at the 1914 Caerphilly speed hill-climb and also ran it at Porthcawl, in Wales, etc. Grossman, a Major in the Royal Marines, died at Antwerp during the war. . . .

Although Mr. Marsh left Star to serve in the Army during the war, and later went out to India, he maintained his links with the Company and his faith in Star cars. In 1922 he was told that there was a car at the works that he could have cheaply. It turned out to be an odd animal! It was a disc-wheeled 11.9 h.p. chassis with a two-seater body, which retained the normal chassis frame, but with nothing connected to the dumb-irons. This was because, instead of half-elliptic springs, very long cantilevers were used, rather as on the then-new Trojan, but in conjunction with Gabriel snubbers. The car — NT 2484 — was very comfortable but lacked lateral stability, and Star never put the idea into production.

Another special Star offered to Mr. Marsh at a low price was one of two built when Malcolm Campbell, who had a Star agency, wanted to race a car of this wake at Brooklands. Outwardly a standard o.h.v. 12/40, the engine had ball bearings instead of plain bearings. This was obviously a worthwhile move, as Campbell won the 1925 Autumn 75 m.p.h. Short Handicap at 79.5 m.p.h., lapping at 87.84 m.p.h. Sir Malcolm Campbell by the way, was driving a Bluebird-blue Star Comet sports saloon in 1932, at which period I believe Norman Creed was Star’s Public Relations man. On this special 12/40 Mr. Marsh built a body based on that of the 1914 TT car, as it was simple to make.

Mr. Marsh taught Mrs. Alex Lisle, wife of Edward Lisle, to drive, on a box-bodied Star test chassis. She later had five Scott motorcycles in succession, and used to take her husband about in the sidecar of one of them! He also remembers being with Cathie in a 1926 20/60 Star, brand-new from the body-shop, on a steep hill near Llangollen which was so slippery that nothing would arrest the downward path of the Star except rubbing it along the banks beside the road — and as they thus progressed more and more bits of the car were torn off and left strewn in the road! Another recollection is that when HRH The Prince of Wales wanted a chauffeur one was sent to him from the Star Company, which may have been why he later used a Star tourer.

Mr. Marsh had just put an Hispano Suiza V8 acre-engine into an ex-RFC Crossley tender at Farnborough after the war when he was posted to India and never saw it again. But in Kaula Lumpa he had a sports-car made from Overland Whippet parts and a Type 37 Bugatti, etc. — but that is another story. Back in England, at Hook on the A30 in about 1960, he found his now beautifully-restored Edwardian Star in an antique emporium and acquired it for sentimental reasons. We talked also of Star aeroplanes. The Company made two monoplanes as early as 1907, which Granville Bradshaw and Joe Lisle flew, from the race-course near Wolverhampton. The engine used was a 40 hp water-cooled four-cylinder with a carburetter at the back, feeding through a very long induction-pipe. This was acquired by F. Ludwick Bartlett, JP, in 1910, when he was interested in a very odd four-wheeled 12 cwt. flying-machine with flapping wings of over 32 ft. span. These wings were driven by chains from the engine, whose propeller boss had been converted into a flywheel, to provide a drive. This machine was built by the Polysulphin Co. Ltd. of Brislington near Bristol and was apparently exhibited at the 1911 Olympia Aero Show, but I doubt whether it ever flew. Years later the Star aero-engine was discovered by Mr. Marsh during a car-rally at Henlow and it is now in the RAF Museum at Hendon. — W.B.

V-E-V Miscellany.— Chris Bixith, who runs that primarily-Morgan-three-wheeler-orientated Motor Museum at Rolvenden in Kent, has acquired a mysterious Morgan about which he seeks information. It was used by the late Geoff Harris, well-known Morgan trials exponent, but appears to have beer built specially for track racing, and is believed to have run in an MCC High Speed Trial at Brooklands, circa 1930. It has a basically 1928/29 Super Sports chassis specially adapted to a rare Blackburne KMB engine dating from about 1925 (No. KMB 333) of which only three are reputed to have been modified to accept high-level exhaust pipes, as on some post-1930 Morgans, and the track is 2″ wider than on a standard Super Sports. Track rod and drag-link are much heavier than normal, are stamped “Brico” and have ball-joints. Newton dampers are fitted at the front, with a Hartford shock-absorber over the back wheel, the B-type bevel-box has extra strengthing webs cast in, the rear wheel is an M-type with internal-expanding brake, and the front brakes are larger than usual, having 8 ribbed drums. There is an outside hand-brake sans ratchet, operating the front-wheel brakes, the fuel tank is air-pressure fed, the steering wheel is large and there is a hump over the rear wheel. It sounds something like a copy of the famous Harold Beart record-breaker, but no Reg. No. or chassis number has been found. It was in poor condition when rescued but is to be rebuilt. Information about this Morgan or any racing done by Geoff Harris would be welcomed by Mr. Booth. Letters can be forwarded.

It s sad to learn that Bob Peacey, who was contributing to our correspondence quite recently, died last year. He was a Bugatti enthusiast and had also worked with his father, the Rev. W. H. Peacey, on rotary-valve engines, which he patented. In addition, he prepared a number of motorcycles and cars for Brooklands races, such as Cottins and the HP three-wheeler which was described in Motor Sport’s “Fragments on Forgotten Makes” series. Peacey worked at Bristol’s during the war, afterwards becoming a REME Captain, serving in Normandy. From the 1930s he had had a Riley agency, which was continued in Cheltenham until increasing paralysis forced him to discontinue this activity in the 1950s. To the end Peacey lived in that town, never far from his beloved engines, and he contrived to drive a Citroen 2cv adapted to take a wheel-chair, which he would run down a slope from his house and into the car unaided. We understand that his 1929 Model-90 Sunbeam with rotary-valve engine is to be presented to the National Motor Museum.

Apart from requiring a quote for panel-bashing a new body for “Babs”, Wynn-Owen would also like to hear from anyone who could spin him wheel-discs for the car, these needing to be of 16-gauge aluminium, 24″ in diameter. Cancelled last year due to the petrol shortage, the VSCC has cancelled this strenuous night trial again this year — it was scheduled for January 12th 13th. Old-time road scenes seem popular — the cover of the Vintage Austin Magazine, official organ of the Vintage Austin Register, recently depicted an Austin 16/6 negotiating Piccadilly Circus in about 1932 (with several Morris cars in close company!), this being a picture from the archives of the London Transport Executive — see last month’s Book Reviews — and in the Austin Seven Clubs’ Association Magazine No. 1979D there was a double-page spread of an early Austin 7 saloon in Smethwick High Street, Birmingham, in June 1930, when that thoroughfare still had its tram-lines. Incidentally, this Club journal has been looking at Austin 7 dynamos, cut-outs and switch-panels, with useful illustrations and wiring diagrams. The respective secretaries of these two Austin organisations are: Frank Smith Marshbrook, Butts Road, Ashover, Derbyshire and Phil Basildon, 167, Groby Road, Leicester.

The Vintage Motor Cycle Club can now claim more than 6,000 members. The Alvis Register Bulletin has come out in a new format and the October 1979 issue contained an illustrated piece about a 12/50 Alvis beetleback that competed at the Craigantlet hill-climb in the mid-1930s before its engine and radiator were used for the Sullivan Special “Himmelwagen”. The last issue of Sphinx, the magazine of the Armstrong Siddeley OC, to reach us contained a fine picture of a 1926 Armstrong Siddeley Twenty saloon at a wedding, its Sphinx mascot serving to anchor the festive ribbons. Some unusual cars appeared on last year’s Bean CC Harvest Tour, such as the Hampton coupé, a Sizaire Berwick coupé, a 1915 Overland and a bull-nose Morris-Cowley on beaded-edge tyres. From that Club’s magazine we learn that several ABC motorcycles have been changing hands recently, with two more coming to light in Norway and another in Denmark, that a rare 1930s Vulcan military chassis is being restored in Berkshire and that an OK-Bradshaw with the 1920s oil-cooled 350 c.c. engine has been found in London and is being restored. A very original 20/60 Vauxhall saloon has also been discovered, sheeted up in a garage. — W. B.