There were at least two manufacturers or brands called Star. One was made by the Durant Company in the US and one was based in Britain and is the subject of this article. The Star Motor Company was started in 1898 and lasted for about thirty years into the Great Depression.
Like many compatriot companies, Star started out making bicycles in 1893 as Sharratt and Lisle, the founding families. In 1896 they renamed themselves the Star Cycle Company. Two years later they created a new company alongside the bicycle business, the Star Motor Company, to manufacture one of the first cars in Britain – the Lisle family who had control of the company had the foresight to see that cars would replace carriages and bicycles as the mode of choice for transporting people.
Their first model was heavily influenced by Benz from Germany and became known as a Star-Benz with a one cylinder 3.5hp motor, chain drive from a 2-speed gearbox and it ran on pneumatic tyres – it was a real pioneer! They were soon making one a week which meant they were an early success story. The story is that the family bought a Benz from a dealer in London and replicated it with their own bodies built in wood by a local furniture manufacturer. It was called a Star-Benz because the company purchased a licence from the german manufacturer for the basic design, although modifications were made throughout its life.
Interestingly, Star registered their logo in the UK preventing the future Mercedes-Benz star from being added to their imported cars until Star had cosmically burned out.
Star’s next model was a two cylinder version and they were keen to get their cars into competition which would prove their reliability or at least help develop the cars further. This is exactly what happened and they dropped the early engines in favour of twin cylinder De Dion motors. These cars, although with large capacity motors, still only produced up to around 20 horsepower.
In 1902, the company changed its name to the Star Engineering Company and by 1904, they had dropped all twins in favour of a four cylinder configuration with a capacity of 3.2 litres but still only producing 14hp or so. They also introduced a six litre, six cylinder based car as well and went to Brooklands with a 10-litre monster to race. Like other manufacturers such as Crossley, Star took advantage of the Empire by exporting cars to New Zealand and South Africa where they were entered in races and rallies with more success than in the UK.
Now, this is where things get a little complicated. The industry was growing fast and so the Star Cycle Company decided to compete with their sister. They were already making motorbikes, so it was a logical step to make a smaller car than their sister. These were originally known as the “Starling” with a 950cc motor and the “Stuart” with a 1.3 or 1.5 litre motor as an option. Bodywork was made by a third party coach-builder. By 1909, the Star Cycle Company had spun off another car company, called the Briton Motor Company.
In 1912, the Star Engineering Company released the 15.9, a 3-litre model that would be in production for ten years, even though the war got in the way! By the time hostilities had started, Star was making around 1,000 units a year and were in the top five British motor manufacturers. Like everyone else, they helped with the war effort by manufacturing trucks, worked on aircraft and did what they could for King and Country. Civilian production started again in 1919 with the 15.9 and also a new model the 20.1 with a 3.8 litre motor. Star were targeting the upper middle class market with high quality cars and with the bottom end of the market falling away, Briton closed their doors in 1922 leaving Star to soldier on against the fast growing Austin, Morris and others by developing a multitude of engine configurations.
An 1800cc side valve motor was redeveloped into an 2-litre for the 12/25 model and then they built an overhead valve motor. This was fitted to the 12/40 coupled to a 4-speed gearbox and brakes fitted to all four wheels – something that wasn’t an industry standard. Yet more overhead valve engines were designed and offered in their saloons, however the market was getting tight, so the company was sold to Guy Motors, a local competitor. Edward Lisle had unfortunately had a nervous breakdown during the collapse of Briton and took his own life as a result. His death also contributed to the struggles of the parent company, hence the sale to Guy.
The timing for Guy Motors wasn’t good, although they had a successful business making commercial vehicles and luxury cars, entering the lower end of car manufacturing in the late 1920s as the world slid into an economic depression wasn’t the greatest idea! Two new models, the “Comet” and “Planet” were released with lightweight pistons and conrods. They didn’t sell as well as expected so by 1932, Guy had dropped the brand and all car manufacturing in favour of their heavy duty vehicles. Guy Motors was gobbled up by Jaguar in 1961 and as a consequence, it also ended up in the British Leyland conglomerate.
Image sources: classiccarweekly.net & historywebsite.co.uk