Yes – the setting is Brooklands in the 1920s. Yes, that is Malcolm Campbell in characteristic pose. For an automotive historian, those identifications are readily made. But any ‘Snapshots’ visitor identifying the make of his car should proceed to attempt the truly impossible – give him- or herself a pat on the back!
Malcolm Campbell had an on-off relationship with the conservative Star Engineering Company of Wolverhampton. Guy Motors bought the firm, heretofore owned by the Lisle family, in 1928. Discontinuing the four-cylinder Stars, the new owners continued manufacturing and extending the range of six-cylinder models until the adverse trading conditions of the depression years combined with an up-market product that offered no great advantage over too many rivals to see the Official Receiver called in. Manufacture of Star cars ceased in March of 1932, the stylish models of Star’s final two years being offered under the ‘Comet’ range name. Malcolm Campbell retained an agency for Star cars until the end, and himself ran – no doubt, among many other cars, a Star ‘Comet’ 18 saloon, painted in ‘Bluebird Blue’, of course.
In 1924 Campbell was racing several cars at Brooklands: a 5-litre Sunbeam, an Itala and this Star, quoted in William Boddy’s revered book, The History of the Brooklands Motor Course as a ‘sports-type 12/40 of 1795cc’. At the Easter Meeting that year, he lapped at 79·3mph in the ’75 Short’ race, winning it at 73·25mph, and he also had his Sunbeam out at this same meeting. Campbell’s Star had another success in the Autumn Meeting, again taking the ’75 Short’, this time at 79·5mph. The clothing and foliage seen in our photograph suggest that it is more likely to have been taken on the latter occasion.
Quoted capacities in the Brooklands records are accepted to be accurate. Star’s 11·9hp model of 1921-3 was indeed 1795cc, 69 x 120mm, this engine having a two-bearing crankshaft. In the latter year, a redesign saw three main bearings provided for the crankshaft, making for a longer and indeed much changed engine. At the same time, the stroke was increased to 130mm, and the new 1945cc model named the 12/25hp. Both the 11·9 and 12/25 were side-valve power units. Converting a conventional side-valve to push-rod ohv necessitates the valves being moved across to the other side of the engine in the new cylinder head, normally accompanied by the inlet and exhaust systems. In the side-valve Stars, the camshaft and valves were on the nearside. So we know that the Star we see here has an ohv engine. The 12/40hp ohv Star was first publicly announced in May of 1924, so a mystery exists over whether Campbell’s Star had a one-off ohv conversion of a two-bearing 11·9hp engine, or was wrongly declared at 1795cc, unless a 3-bearing crankshaft delivering a shorter throw and therefore 120mm stroke in the new 12/40hp engine was felt to offer some racing advantage.
Other photographs of this Star exist in the LAT archive. Unexplained, too, is the placing of the track rod forward of the front axle. The steering column is canted to a give a central position and although Campbell’s car itself has long gone, its single-seater body found its way to Belfast and was fitted to another standard 12/40 Star chassis that raced over in Ulster at Magilligan Strand, and, after subsequent removal, this minimalist body amazingly survives in remarkably good condition today.