Junkyard Star

Posted December 06, 2017

By Dean Larson

Photos courtesy of John Taylor

Imagine a world where more people had race cars. Where they were as common as motorcycles, snowmobiles and other recreational vehicles. That’s just the kind of idealized thinking that brought about the Polaris Star Car, a bright idea for a little open-wheel racer that would make racing more accessible. Unfortunately, head honchos at Polaris realized they had way too good of an idea on their hands and squashed nearly every last Star Car built, except for just a handful.

I’m a huge fan of recreational vehicles. I’ve got more vintage snowmobiles and bikes than I have time to fix them. But my odd collection has made me a lot of friends on the web who are also gluttons for the same kind of punishment. I was aimlessly sliding through Instagram when I came across this goofy looking little race car that was posted by someone I follow. The description was brief, but it was just enough to hook me.

Jdhdt1996, or John Taylor in the real world, is a 21-year-old from Toronto who drives truck and helps run the family truck salvage yard. They have a knack for coming up with cool old junk, (and plenty that’s far from junk) and John's Instagram account is full of projects ranging from snowmobiles, to old cars and big rigs. John hauled the Star Car home recently (yeah it fits in a pickup truck bed) after a finding a chance ad in a classic car classifieds publication. But it’s really quite rare that John should find one for sale at all.

Star Car 2

Concocted by Polaris Industries back in 1965, the Star Car was your cheap ticket into racing that used your snowmobile's engine, which spent the summer months languishing in the garage anyway. The idea was feasible too, as the air-cooled 400 cc single cylinder engine was held by just a few fasteners, and a snowmobile-type CVT clutch was simple to adapt to other vehicles.

Quickly, the Polaris R&D division cooked up a steel tube chassis and a fiberglass body with a full-length belly pan for the project. While it bares some resemblance to a go-kart from its proportions, it’s clear that the Star Car is not a toy. Polaris loaded the project with some well thought out features to make sure the tiny two-stroke could be handled skillfully on a course.

The front suspension utilized an advanced double torsion bar setup, and the rear used partial leaf springs. The front king pin pivots were located in the center of the wheels for easier steering, and coil springs in the tie rods eased up harsh road feel through the steering wheel. The engineers also kept all the heavy components as low as possible in the car, and ground clearance was just 3.5 inches.

Star Car 3

If these features don't change your mind about the Star Car, maybe the performance will. With a measly 18 hp on tap from the single-cylinder engine, the car was capable of speeds in excess of 80 mph. If that wasn’t enough, the engines could easily be modified, or a larger engine all together could be mounted in its place.

Polaris built around 100 Star Cars before the project was halted. In 1968, the company was purchased by Textron, which axed all personal watercraft, lawn tractors and the Star Car. A recall was issued and almost every Star Car was returned to Polaris and crushed. All except for the 20 or so renegade cars that were not returned, or kept by dealers.

The latter is the case for John’s Star Car. A dealer in Ontario held onto the car instead of crushing it, and gave it a slightly different paint scheme to disguise it. Over the years, the car went through a few owners, who took care of it and preserved the car as it had come to them.

As a connoisseur of classic Polaris vehicles, John always kept an eye out for a Star Car and couldn’t be happier with the one he bagged.

“The car has all its original hardware. The wheels are a three-piece like a semi truck from the ’50s, they are the correct wheels for this car. Even the tires are the original ones it came with new.”

Sooner or later, everything that’s old is new again, and the vision for the Star Car recently came to fruition with a twist. These days, Polaris is the largest player in the UTV market. These side-by-side ATVs are geared more toward off-road and trail use, and aren’t designed to use off-season snowmobile engines, but with 1,000 cc turbocharged engines and intensive engineering, the comparison isn’t a tough one.

Furthermore, Polaris brought back the Star Car name this year. Unfortunately it's only a program for celebrities to try out the RZR side-by-sides in desert racing, and not a new tiny, open-wheel race car, but interesting nonetheless. 

So Polaris, if you can build the RZR, you can build a modern Star Car. Bring open-wheel racing to the masses!

Star Car 1

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