1. An interview with Bernard Hooper / 1983
“As a scrambles engine, the Starmaker”, reflects its designer, Bernard Hooper, some twenty years after its completion, “was way ahead of its time”.
“This was to be the first of a new generation of Villiers two-strokes, breaking away from the old 34A type slogger’s, and approaching the motocross engines of today. But the difficulty was that we were building it for weekend riders, and they, just weren’t ready for it, this unit required new riding skills, new expertise ,and a lack of nerve“.
So, it came as no surprise, when the characteristics of this engine became apparent, and remember it was intended, primarily, for supply as a proprietary scrambles motor, to the various British marques, like Cotton, Dot, Greeves, and so on, should successfully cross the usual boundaries of motorsport and turn out to find its initial success, on the great road racing short circuits of the day, where the riders had no idea what nerves were.
The Minter Cotton tie-up for the 250cc class lasted over four years and resulted in many wins. Here Derek gets down, at Castle Combe in April 1966 / The Motorcycle 1983
On the tarmac, it started setting records, which still stand to this day; one would be in the grueling Isle of Man TT.
The first of these road racing machines was the Starmaker 247cc powered Cotton Telstar, and then its sister followed, the Cotton Conquest, both ridden of course by Derek Minter. His achievements were then continued, by his co-rider Peter Inchley, who would later create his own work of art, ‘The Villiers Special’, but then, the Starmaker also started to take off, in its intended sport, Motocross.
Bernard carries on, “I can remember one key winter scrambles, at Rollswood Farm, when to everybody’s surprise Chris Horsfield, on a Starmaker-powered James, beat the great BSA hero, Jeff Smith. He achieved this, in the slippery conditions, by feeling his way out of the bends and controlling the bike on the throttle, the average British motocross competitor, just wasn’t used to this technique, but today, it’s accepted practice”.
Chris Horsfield scores the first major scrambles win, for a Starmaker powered motocross machine on his factory James – in the TV meeting at Rollswood Farm in 1963, he beat Jeff Smith, Arthur Lampkin and Alan Clough, amongst others. At James, Chris and Eddie Kees, a brilliant mechanic and engineer, had previously packed their Villiers crankcases and used the Parkinson conversion, so they had already begun, developing new riding techniques.
Surprisingly, one of the starting points for the Starmaker was a go-faster kit, which Bernard, together with Hermann Meier, had devised, for Len Vale-Onslow. The Vale-Onslow conversion barrel, mounted on a standard Villiers bottom-end, really did boost the engines output.
“Also” says Bernard, “when Villiers put a Vale-Onslow converted engine on to their own test benches, it shock them across the room”.
Greeves Hawkstone 1960 / Vale Onslow barrel
So from this work, Villiers gave Bernard the brief of producing a modern engine, more powerful than anything in their current range, and with a 25 bhp target. What emerged was a very different type of Villiers unit, with a tiny crankcase, fitting tightly around the flywheels. This engine would be a revolution; it delivered a very peaky, high revving, power curve, instead of the old-style, flat curve, of earlier Villiers engines.
“Riders were used to taking a handful of throttle and then they waited, for the engine to catch up. With this engine they were in for a big shock, to their horror, it would instantly take off, and often left them behind, sitting on their backsides in the mud”.
“Some people knew, that this very characteristic, was what they had been waiting for, it simply cried out, Road Racer”.
Derek Minter and Peter Inchley, stepped forward, very happy to prove, just that.
“Our biggest drawback though, was that Villiers, wouldn’t allow us to race the machines ourselves because traditionally, the company just built engines, and so for commercial fairness, we had to wait for the motorcycle companies, to provide us with their personal feedback, from the machines that they put together”.
“Well, Monty Denly and Pat Onions, of the Cotton factory, excellent frame makers, came and asked us, to prepare a special four-speed road racing unit which they would put in a bespoke frame, designed for Derek Minter, this was going to be our first real test, so we eagerly awaited, his response”.
“He liked it, and Cotton came straight back to us, excitedly and demanded, a six-speed gearbox. Minter wanted to take full advantage of its superb power curve, this though, wouldn’t leave room for a kickstart, but for this type of unit, it didn’t matter, so we got straight on with it”.
“As soon as it was finished, he took it to Mallory Park, and broke the lap record, he left the Bultaco’s – the main threat of the day – as though they were standing still. At this point we were extracting 27 bhp.
“Then Peter Inchley came along, he got around Villiers commercial fairness concerns by using a Bultaco frame, inhouse, and he ‘tuned’ his Starmaker engine, to produce 36 bhp, we called this, ‘The Villiers Special’.
But that’s racing, too far ahead . . .
Acknowledgement | The Motorcycle September 1983
Bernard Hooper & John Favill / 1975 / NV Wolverhampton