Fragments On Forgotten Makes No 1 -- The Star

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It is always stimulating to meet someone who remembers intimate details, however few, of a forgotten or defunct make or model. Such was our feeling during a chat we enjoyed recently with Mr. St. C. Salmon, of Salmon Motors, Guildford, for he was agent for Star cars from 1922 until the demise of that famous company over ten years later.

Mr. Salmon recalled Joe Lyle, Managing Director of the Star Engineering Co., Ltd., at Wolverhampton, and Mr. Currie, the Chief Engineer, very well indeed. In 1922 the 11.9 Star was a very good car but it had one shortcoming—after about 16,000 to 20,000 miles it developed a mysterious engine rumble. When the 14/30 model was introduced this trouble arrived earlier, after about 9,000 miles. As customers couldn’t be persuaded that this was just due to wear and tear, Mr. Salmon drove three offending cars to the factory and confronted Mr. Currie with them. “Well, let’s get some lunch,” was the reaction. And, after lunch, Mr. Salmon was always able to drive away in a quiet car but he was never told what had been done. So he put his best mechanic on to the problem and the trouble was traced to a loose centre-main bearing, the cure being to drop the sump and take it up a shade, which the factory mechanics had been doing while Mr. Currie lunched Mr. Salmon!

The 14/40 o.h.v. Star, introduced in 1926, was a fine car but the early ones, too, had a mysterious shortcoming—they would stall in traffic. A Daimler engineer, after demonstrating that his poppet-valve Daimler would stand in Mr. Salmon’s showroom and idle happily for an hour, diagnosed the Star’s trouble as too big an air-orifice for the Autovac. Some solder in the union and all was well.

Armed with this knowledge, Mr. Salmon confronted the factory, who denied any knowledge of the trouble and demonstrated on the test-bed, where no Autovac was used! But with a complete car the engine stalled as anticipated. Mr. Salmon told them the cure but they never admitted the need to adopt it!

Otherwise the 14/40 was a grand Star and Mr. Salmon bought the actual Sahara expedition example driven by Diana Strickland and sold it to a famous R.A.F. pilot. The 18/40 side-valve Star had but three bearings for its crankshaft and developed the aforesaid rumble. Once, asked by Mr. Lyle at an agents’ conference what improvements he could suggest, Mr. Salmon suggested more bearings. Promptly the Scots Managing Director retorted “How many?”, which Mr. Salmon topped with “As many as you can spare!” And the 18/50 Star did have seven main bearings. The 20/60 model has been likened to a Sunbeam and Mr. Salmon agrees a crib probably occurred, these power units being almost identical, although Star had their name on the valve chest and usually a central gear-lever was used.

Mr. Salmon’s scrapbooks recall interesting sidelights on Star history—of Mr. Cathie’s successes driving a 12/40 model in the Ballybannon speed hill-climbs, of W.D. tests of the 14/40 in 1926, and of how the factory worked a 24-hour shift in 1928 to meet the demand for the o.h.v. 18/50 (which cost only £330 as a chassis) while proudly proclaiming that mass-production methods were not tolerated. Components were invariably machined from the solid, Mr. Currie refusing to use castings. Steel stampings were employed in preference to malleable castings, the chassis frame was of nickel-steel, every gear wheel was heat-treated five times and the duralumin con.-rods were balanced in three ways. Indeed, each car was individually built and Star made most of their own parts and their own bodywork.

A smart two-seater on the 12/40 was known as the “Pegasus,” with the “Athena” saloon on the 18/50, and, later, the “Cetus” coachbuilt saloon and, in 1929, the smart “Nestor” fabric saloon with fashionable waistline. In 1928 wet cylinder liners were adopted for the new 18/50 engine.

Star commercial vehicles were very sturdy, Farnham United Breweries providing a testimonial in 1925 indicating that a 50-cwt. lorry had given them ten years of virtually no-trouble service. About 1927 Selfridges ordered 50 Star vans. That Star disliked proprietary components was brought home to Mr. Salmon when he demonstrated to Mr. Currie a Star he had had fitted with front brakes by Hydraulic Cable Brakes Ltd. The Chief Engineer admitted they functioned well but f.w.b. were not adopted until Star fitted their own, made under Lanchester patents.

Mr. Graham, chief of the body shop, was quite happy altering seats to customer’s requirements. Sales were in the hands of Mr. Slater, at Long Acre. Eventually a ribbon-radiator, copied from Chrysler, was adopted but overheating was then not unknown. The last model made was the 14-h.p. six-cylinder 2-litre, a very pleasant car with Star’s own synchromesh gearbox. An attractive saloon body helped to sell it but technically it met competition from the 1½-litre Invicta. Anticipating a big demand Star worked a 24-hour shift and the Guy factory assisted, but perhaps too much material was bought. At all events, the Star Company, founded in 1896, faded out after 1934.

Mr. Salmon was left with a 20/60 in his showroom and was astonished when someone came to buy it at £100 under list price, especially as this gentleman offered a new CMX Chrysler in part-exchange at a very low price. He turned out to be a band-leader whose big-drum suffered from the weather when tied to the luggage-grid of the Chrysler, and the Star was the only current saloon with back doors sufficiently wide to pass it . . .!

After Star went into liquidation Mr. Salmon bought the last five 14-h.p. sixes they were able to assemble and sold them successfully. After which he took on Graham and Lea-Francis agencies. Today, mellowed by Star memories, he still runs the garage business in Guildford founded long years ago by his brother. If you own a Star you now know where to get it serviced … — W. B.

*

Having commenced this series called “Fragments on Forgotten Makes,” the Editor fears this may be misconstrued as fragments of forgotten makes! Not so. But he is always pleased to receive those sort of fragments from truly historic cars, for addition to his “museum” of such pieces, just as he will be pleased to hear from anyone with further fragments of history to impart.

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