4. Cotton, James and D.M.W. Starmaker’s
If anything is destined to bring scrambling to the boil this summer, the Villiers Starmaker 247cc power unit must rate pretty high in the reckoning. Since the engine first saw action, weather conditions have been “anti” to say the least.
No matter, final development has gone ahead fast and Chris Horsfield’s brilliant ride on the Starmaker James at Rollswood Farm at the end of February (this is now March 1963), when he licked BSA ace Jeff Smith, shows just how successful they have been.
So much interest has been aroused, by this completely new unit that when offers came to ride not one, or two, but three models using it, I jumped at the chance.
And what better place to go for a triple test, than Rollswood Farm.
From James came sales manager Bob Bicknell, competition manager Norman Moore and scrambler Chris Horsfield; his machine incidentally, was fitted with the first production Starmaker engine.
Villiers publicity manager Ron Price and training school chief Lionel Hudson came with scrambler Alf Nicklin of their experimental department. They brought a Cotton with a prototype unit, which serves as a mobile testbed.
Alf also collected a DMW powered by another prototype Starmaker that had made its debut recently in the hands of Brian Nadin. In fact the three engines differed only in minor details. The thaw had begun to make its presence felt, the circuit was sticky, oozy, slimy, the best mud. To avoid cutting up the ground too much we confined our activities to a loop measuring about 300 yards to the lap.
Chris Horsfield / James Starmaker / 1963
This entailed a sharpish rutted climb up through trees followed by a tricky left-hander on some remaining ice and a decent back into the field. A second-gear, left-footed-forward-and-slide corner on rutted mud completed the lap.
Surprisingly, perhaps, all three models started very easily, whether hot or cold. Bearing in mind the 12 to 1 compression ratio, a good sharp jab was required, but no subtle tricks were needed. The Starmaker has more power and a lighter flywheel than the Mark 34A and as a result some modification of riding technique is required.
Chris Horsfield likened it to riding a five hundred. Instead of keeping the power on through, say, a second-gear corner, a different line was chosen. The corner was taken more tightly and full power used as soon as the bike was pointing in the right direction. The lighter flywheel meant that the power built up far more quickly. You had to be careful on slippery downgrades to ensure that you didn’t ‘lose” the engine because of the lack of flywheel effect to keep it spinning.
Best results came from letting the engine go right up the scale in each gear. Do not be misled into thinking that this means that power is developed only at high revolutions. There is plenty of punch lower in the range. Actually power peak can be varied to suit the requirements of the rider or the demands of each track. This is achieved quite simply by exhaust pipes of differing lengths. The shorter one puts peak power up the scale for fast courses, the longer drops the scale for twisty circuits with many corners. The difference is about 1,000rpm.
James Starmaker and Cotton Starmaker / 1963
Having absorbed this intresting and useful background information my next move was to sample the three mounts. Each was fitted with an exhaust system ending in two small diameter pipes from a resonance chamber. This certainly had the effect of reducing the noise level, compared with the short open megaphone commonly used with the Mark 34A variants.
First I rode the James.
Power was there immediately on banging open the throttle; it was eased on the hill to control a slide. Delivery was smooth and the engine sang, right through the rev range, without effort.
I tried rapid starts in both first and second gear. With a big throttle opening and the spinning rear wheel sending a stream of turf skywards, the James would simply hurl itself off the line.
The Norton front forks gave a comforting, positive feel and an aviated front wheel never became unmanagable. Sliding through a slippery corner when really trying, the James exhibited no tendency to take command, it could be placed just so.
A slightly longer exhaust was fitted to the Cotton and although the difference in power characteristics was slight, the conditions should be taken into account. On a dry course with less wheelspin the effect would probably be more evident.
As on the James, clutch operation was very light. Gear selection was easy and positive and, I thought, a marked improvement over the Mark 34A. The engine displayed the same effortless power output and the Cotton coped with slippery ruts in exemplary fashion.
Straddling the DMW, I could not help thinking that, whatever the model, there is little compromise on what makes a good riding position. All three machines had straight handlebars and footrests just where I thought they should be. Dimensionally there may well have been a difference, but the relationship remained constant.
As on the Cotton and the James, the Starmaker unit produced lively power and the DMW would accelerate rapidly without any need to “wait for it’ after changing up.
On uphill ruts the model displayed certain skittishness and while sliding round greasy corners there was a tendency for the back wheel to break away unless particular care was excercised with the throttle. For me, at any rate, a wheelbase, an inch or so longer, might be advantageous.
These three Starmaker models all possessed overall gearing approximately the same as that used with converted Mark 34A engines. One point worthy of mention is that the effect of two throttle slides on the twistgrip operation was barely noticeable.
There then, is the Starmaker in action. A light, potent and robust engine that is as good as certain, to live up to its name.
Future stars, will only need bring their own riding talent ……