Founded by John Marston, a God-fearing Victorian industrialist who foresaw the growth in demand for private transport, Sunbeam was first associated with beautifully made, though expensive, bicycles. Although comparative latecomers to motor car manufacture, the Wolverhampton-based Sunbeam factory quickly established a fine reputation alongside Lanchester, Wolseley, Austin and Daimler at the heart of the expanding Midlands motor industry. Apart from the curious Sunbeam-Mabley cycle car, Sunbeam's production centred mainly around four-cylinder models, which have survived in greater numbers than any of its aforementioned contemporaries.
The company's first conventional car was largely conceived by T C Pullinger, who persuaded Marston to purchase a complete chassis from the French Berliet concern. Exhibited at the Crystal Palace in November 1902, it was marketed as the Sunbeam 10/12, but it was not until 1907, two years after the Sunbeam Motor Car Company had been formed, that the firm produced its first all-British model, the 16/20. The arrival from Hillman in 1909 of influential designer Louis Coatalen and the pursuit of an effective competitions programme enabled the marque to establish a formidable reputation prior to WWI, its superbly made products enjoying a reputation rivalling that of the best from Alvis and Bentley thereafter.
By the outbreak of WWI, the Sunbeam range consisted of four-cylinder 12/16hp and 16/20hp models plus the 25/30hp. Civilian production recommenced in 1919 with 16hp and 24hp models, the former, also produced by Rover during the hostilities, being little changed from pre-war days. Thus it continued to be powered by a 3.0-litre sidevalve engine driving the separate four-speed gearbox via a cone clutch, while other chassis details included a rear-wheels-only handbrake and transmission foot brake. Standard equipment now included electric starting and lighting, but the price had risen dramatically by some £200 over 1915 levels, the five-seater tourer (as offered here) now costing £790.
Dating from 1919, this highly original 16hp tourer is the earliest known post-Great War Sunbeam. The accompanying old-style logbook (issued 1958) records the date of original registration as 25th January 1921, this being shortly after the introduction of the Roads Act of 1920, which required local councils to register all vehicles at the time of licensing and to allocate a separate number to each. (Many vehicles, although in existence for several years in some cases, were only registered for the first time after the Act's passing).
During the 1960s the Sunbeam was displayed at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu. Correspondence on file from the NMM's Michael Sedgwick (dated June 1970 and addressed to the car's then owner, Mr Albert Ward of Turvey, Bedfordshire) states that the Museum acquired it from a garage clearance sale in Herefordshire in 1957. Apparently, the Sunbeam had been abandoned because its original owner, a British Army officer, had disappeared on India's Northwest Frontier and several years had elapsed before he could be presumed dead. According to Michael Sedgwick: 'It had certainly been off the road since 1928, and no modifications had been carried out at Beaulieu.'
Sedgwick's comments notwithstanding, there is a photograph on file of a 16hp Sunbeam taken at the REME barracks in Colchester, almost certainly at some time during the 1950s, which shows marks on the radiator core (since replaced) identifying it as this very car. The attendant squaddies are smiling proudly, possibly because they had restored it as a training exercise. Did it, perhaps, belong to their commanding officer? Whatever the case, it certainly looks very smart.
Post-NMM, the next owner listed in the logbook is one Roger Gates of Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middlesex, who acquired the car in December 1968. Acquired by the aforementioned Albert Ward in June 1970, the Sunbeam was restored by him to a very high standard, its non-standard water pump being replaced in the process with a new item to original pattern.
Used infrequently by Albert Ward, the Sunbeam was acquired from him by the current owner in May 2006. Various minor issues were addressed to bring the car up to his exacting standards, including regrinding the valves, checking and correctly setting the valve timing, and overhauling and tuning the carburettor. In addition, a new set of wheels has been made and shod with fresh rubber. Running beautifully and ready for a wealth of motoring events, this wonderful early Sunbeam is offered with assorted correspondence; numerous invoices; photocopied literature, instruction manuals and spare parts lists; copy V5 and current V5C documents; and a quantity of old MoTs (most recent expired July 2013).
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