c.1929 Sunbeam 493cc TT Model 90
Registration no. UK 5414
Frame no. E1127
Engine no. NN4040
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 TT 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 year's 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 Nurburgring's 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 Rudge's year at the Isle of Man, and with its Competitions Department's activities severely curtailed because of Depression-induced financial cutbacks, Sunbeam was never again on the hunt for TT honours.
The machine we offer consists of a 1928 Model 90 frame and a 1930 Model 90 engine, the latter formerly in a machine registered 'KD 5117' (see copy Swansea V5 on file). It was acquired in June 1998 by the current vendor, who had access to Dodson's 1928 TT-winning machine for guidance during the rebuild. The machine was previously registered 'BF 4141' (a Dorsetshire mark) but has been reregistered with an arguably more appropriate Wolverhampton mark, 'UK 5414'. Presented in fully restored condition, the Sunbeam is offered with the aforementioned documentation; sundry restoration invoices, notes and correspondence; a quantity of technical drawings; two expired MoTs (2005-2006 and 2007-2008); and Swansea V5C document.