Lot 304
1903 Sunbeam 10/12hp Four-cylinder Rear-entrance Tonneau, Chassis no. 183 Engine no. 131
Sold for £321,600 (US$ 533,632) inc. premium
Lot Details
1903 Sunbeam 10/12hp Four-cylinder Rear-entrance Tonneau

Registration no. AM 1530
Chassis no. 183
Engine no. 131


  • John Marston developed his Midlands business from initial manufacture of tinware items, through cycle manufacture, where the name Sunbeam first appeared, and ultimately to motor car manufacture, building his first motor car, a 4hp, belt-driven prototype in 1899. The 2 3/4hp De Dion-engined and supposedly skid-proof Sunbeam-Mabley was in production from 1901 to 1904, however the arrival of T. C. Pullinger at Wolverhampton in 1903 saw production switch to more conventional, four-cylinder motor cars. Pullinger adopted a Berliet design for his new four-cylinder motor cars announced at the end of the 1902 season. This was a winning formula, the early models featuring automatic inlet valves, flitch-plate chassis frames, transmission via double side chains with Sunbeam's own oil-bath chain cases. Sunbeam were seriously in business with the new model which ranked for quality alongside Panhard-Levassor of France and Mercedes in Germany.

    Early examples of the 10/12hp Sunbeam were fitted with engines built by Berliet as Marston at that stage lacked the capacity to manufacture engines for this model. Later examples were furnished with the Berliet-design engine manufactured by Marstons themselves. This car is equipped with a 'Moteur Berliet Type HP XIV' engine. Cylinder dimensions were 80mm x 120mm giving a cubic capacity of 2.4 litres. The 10/12hp cars were listed from 1903 to 1904 commencing with car number 150 – this perhaps suggests that this car was the 34th example of this model to leave Wolverhampton.

    The history of this car is particularly well documented in a comprehensive file offered with the car. The car was supplied new to Capt. Sir Robert Keith Arbuthnot RN of Beach Mansion, Southsea, Hants. Arbuthnot had been promoted to the rank of Captain in 1902 and required a car befitting his new status. Records show that his Sunbeam was registered EI 8 in County Sligo, Ireland, on 18th January 1904. It was common for the more sporting 'speedster' motorist of the time to register his car overseas as that made prosecution for speeding offences more difficult.

    Arbuthnot notably campaigned this car in the first speed event held on the public highways in England, the August meeting at Bexhill. In October 1904 he campaigned this car in the Portsmouth Car Trials and later was featured in The Autocar in December 1904. Arbuthnot's car appears also in the AutoMotor Journal in June 1905 competing in the South Harting Hill Climb, organised by the ACGB&I in conjunction with the Sussex County Automobile Club.

    The Sunbeam sales catalogue for 1905 included a testimonial dated 25th October 1904 from Arbuthnot praising the virtues of his Sunbeam in the following terms:-
    "I have now run my 12hp Sunbeam car since April, a distance of 3,827 miles, and I am extremely pleased with the car in every way. The engine has given absolutely no trouble..... two Sundays ago I climbed a very steep hill, having 1 in 6 ½ in it, with the canopy and five passengers easily."
    It seems that the car passed in August 1905 to James G Riadone of Havant, Hants., and subsequently in November 1909 it passed to T Bentley of London Road, Chippenham, a baker and motor accessory dealer. The original colour of this car in all early surviving records is shown as khaki. James Riadone retained the registration number EI 8 for his replacement 16/20hp Imperia registered in August 1910. Thomas Bentley registered the car with his local Wiltshire registration office and was allocated the number AM 1530. The Sunbeam was used for bread deliveries and car hire work before being laid up at the commencement of hostilities in 1914. It was never recommissioned following The Great War and remained in the Bentley family ownership until 1950 when it was acquired by local VCC stalwart Hector Simons, later passing through the family to Anthony Simons who sold the car to the late John Carter in 1983. Upon completion of recommissioning in 1957 Simons reported that this car maintains an average speed of 25mph with petrol consumption of 30mpg. Hector Simons' Sunbeam was well written up in Daphne Bampton's book 'Rare and Exciting Cars', published in 1977.

    AM 1530 was fortunate to fall into such excellent ownership in 1983, John Carter being a keen veteran car driver who actively campaigned this car on many London to Brighton Veteran Car Runs and other events organised by the Veteran Car Club, notably including the Hereford Small Car Trials Re-enactment of 1988.

    John Carter would drive this car to Brighton on many occasions in a sporting manner, perhaps a little quicker than Hector Simons in 1957, and was invariably amongst the early finishers. The car was maintained in good order, retaining originality as far as possible although a modern clutch was installed for ease of driving although the original fittings are retained and offered with the car. Similarly a more modern carburettor is presently fitted although a Solex carburettor from the Edwardian era which was removed is also offered with the car.

    English manufactured four-cylinder veteran cars survive in very small numbers – this car ticks every box for Brighton desirability, having four cylinders, four forward speeds and four seats. It has a remarkably well-documented and complete history. The car is attractively finished in khaki livery with red and gold coachlining and trimmed in buttoned red leather – this work having been carried out we believe by Simons in 1953/56. The car is well equipped with brass acetylene headlamps, oil side lamps, a vertically-mounted double twist bulb horn and brass rear-view mirror. Dashboard equipment is minimal, including simply an oil box and pressure gauge, and the car sits on 820 x 120mm beaded edge wheels and tyres. The car was officially dated by the Veteran Car Club in April 1954 and awarded Certificate no. 389.

    Only three 1903 Sunbeams are recorded in the most recent Members Handbook of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain, making this one of the rarest surviving British veterans from a manufacturer whose name was inextricably linked with engineering excellence and, in later years, World Land Speed Record achievements.
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