1927 Sunbeam 498cc Model 90 Racing Motorcycle
Registration no. UK 2426
Frame no. D.2244
Engine no. N.1172
Already established as makers of high-quality bicycles, the firm of John Marston Ltd, of Wolverhampton, introduced the first Sunbeam motorcycle, a 350 sidevalve single, in 1912. The marque quickly established a reputation for sporting prowess, achieving second place in the 1914 Isle of Man Senior T.T. and winning the 1920 race. Overhead-valve engines were introduced in the mid-1920s, but early successes were achieved with sidevalve machines, most notably the 492cc 'long-stroke' that secured a debut win at the 1921 French Grand Prix. By the mid-1920s George Dance's development programme had moulded the overhead-valve Sunbeam into one of the most formidable racing motorcycles of the vintage era, the 500cc Model 90 in particular being a match for anything in its class by the decade's end.
With rival makes introducing overhead-camshaft models, Sunbeam went down the ohc route for 1925 with what were known in the works the Crocodiles. Unsuccessful in its debut season, the overhead-cam Sunbeam was prematurely abandoned at the years end and the factory racers went back to the well-tried ohv design. Following a disappointing 1926 Isle of Man TT, when all but two of its Senior entries retired with broken forks, Sunbeam looked forward to better results in 27. Increased participation in international events saw Graham Walker win the 500cc class at the Nurburgings Grand Prix de Europe and finish 2nd at the Swiss GP, while Charlie Dodson bagged a 2nd in the Swiss 350 race and won that class at the Ulster. Success continued to elude Sunbeam at the TT, although works rider Tommy Spann came close to a leader-board finish in the Senior event, only to retire with a broken crankshaft on the last lap while in 2nd place behind eventual winner Alec Bennett (Norton).
Despite the wholesale failure of the works 350s in the 1928 Isle of Man Junior TT, Sunbeam at last came good in the Senior event, Charles Dodson winning an eventful race after crashing and remounting, while 7th and 15th places for team-mates Francesco Franconi and Luigi Arcangeli ensured the Wolverhampton marque of the Team Prize. Dodson triumphed again in the Senior in 1929, the year turning out to be an outstanding one for Sunbeam, with wins at the French, German, Austrian and Italian Grands Prix. 1930 was Rudges year at the Isle of Man, and with its Competitions Departments activities severely curtailed because of Depression-induced financial cutbacks, Sunbeam was never again in the hunt for TT honours.
This Wolverhampton-registered bull nose Model 90 dates from 1927, the year works riders Graham Walker, Charlie Dodson and Dick Birch (the latter substituting for the injured Jock Porter) came away with the Manufacturer's Team Prize from the Isle of Man Senior TT. An older restoration, UK 2426 was acquired by noted Sunbeam collector Eric Bailey in 1999 and bought from him by Brian Verrall in March 2002. Like most old racers, the machine incorporates a number of modifications, the mudguards, 20/19 front/rear wheels and layout of the oil pipes being the most obvious. The machine was advertised in 2002 as having racing history with documents, although all that remains on file are copies of the 1927 Isle of Man TT programme and Isle of Man Daily Times dated June 17th 1927 containing the Senior race report. There is nothing on file that directly links this Model 90 with any in the race, and as Sunbeam routinely recycled works frames into production machines that were then sold as second hand, such a link would be difficult to prove in any case. However, further research may yet prove fruitful in this regard. According to Wolverhampton records, the registration mark UK 2426 was originally issued to a Morris Cowley sold by Bradburn & Wedge, a local motor dealer. It is not known when it found its way onto the Sunbeam, although the machines date of first registration is recorded as 14th April 1983.
Presented in restored condition, the machine is offered with a quantity of expired SORNs; copy, old Swansea V5 and current V5C documents; two expired MoT certificates (2000-2001 and 2001-2002); and a certificate for Best pre-1928 Sunbeam Motorcycle awarded in 1984 at the 2nd Sunbeam Pilgrimage to Tom Davis, its owner at that time.