PRE-WAR SUNBEAMS TWO FAMOUS
WINNER STILL RUNNING IN NEW ZEALAND
GRAND PRIX CAR AND T.T. WHENEVER old-time racing comes up in discussion, someone is almost certain to remark ” Won
derful cars those must have been. I wonder what’s happened to them now ? ” Many famous cars have been re-discovered in the columns of MOTOR SPORT, in the ” Veteran Types” series and elsewhere, even up to the February issue, in which Mr. Powys Lybbe’s historic TalbotDarracq was described. In the course of a visit to New Zealand last year I came across two cars which were equally famous in their time, one the Sunbeam on which Rigal won the 1912 Coupe de l’Auto, and the other the car which the late K. L. Guinness drove to victory in the 1914 T.T.
The cars formed part of a ” stable ” of racing Sunbeams formed by two cousins, Mr. Bill Hamilton and Mr. Matthew Wills, whose sheep stations adjoin one another high up in Central Otago. This bracing and undeveloped count:y is just the place for a fast car, and between them, just after the War, these two sportsmen assembled four of the fastest which had left the Sunbeam factory. Wills had the eight-cylinder car driven by Chassagne in the 1922 T.T. race and one of the 1912 3-litre cars described below, while Hamilton had the 1914 T.T. winner and the second of the 1912 ears, this the actual one which headed the Sunbeam one-two-three at Dieppe. Wills sold his racing-cars back to England, but Hamilton still retains the T.T. Sunbeam, and the earlier car, though in other hands, is still in the district. Though perhaps less interesting technically, the earlier car has an equal claim to fame. In 1912 the more progressive designers were beginning to appreciate the ad vantages of the light and efficient racingear as opposed to the towering monsters which had dominated Grand Prix racing
in previous years. The Automobile Club de France likewise showed its appreciation of the changing order by instituting a race for cars up to 3-litres and with a minimum weight limit of 18 cwt., to be run concurrently with the Grand Prix. The race itself was strenuous to a degree, and was a two-day event held on a triangular and by no means well surfaced course near Dieppe, the total distance being 954 miles. Four Sunbeams were entered, driven by Rigal, Resta, Callois and Medinger. ‘ Reversing the normal procedure of pre-War days the 1912 racers were evolved from the standard 12-16 Sunbeam touring ears. These had 3-litre side-valve engines with dimensions 80 x 149 nun., and the racing-cars differed from standard in having larger valves and much lightened flywheels. Claudel was at that time the Great White Chief of carburetter designers and one of his new ” diffuser ” instru ments fed the engine. A fantastic in duction pipe was used, shaped like the letter ” ” in side view, with the carburetter hung below and the inlet stubs
leading off the flattened extremities. The stems and springs of the side-by-side valves were all exposed, and the fumed exhaust manifold was the forerunner of identical types on post-War Sunbeams. The outside of the car was neat and
business-like. From a plain radiator protected by a stone guard the bonnet swept up to the dash, and a thin tapering tail accommodated the 32 gallon petrol tank. The body was decidedly a closefitting one, and the gear and the brake levers, the latter operating rear-wheel brakes by means of cables, were carried outside the body. The cars complete weighed some 20 cwt. Five were built, and were equipped
with steel-spoked wheels. Discs were originally fitted to improve the streamlinings but they made the cars difficult to hold under racing conditions. Louis Coatelen the ever ingenious was even at that period the Sunbeam designer, and he calculated that the maximum speed at which the Dieppe circuit could be lapped was in the neighbourhood of
70 m.p.h., and that a speed of 95 to 100 m.p.h. would be required on the Straights. He aimed at producing 80 h.p., an almost unheard of -figure for a 3-litre engine of that period, especially when an engine speed of 3,090 r.p.m. was considered the height of daring. When the cars arrived in Prance and practising began, 80 m.p.h. was their maximum, but further tuning raised this to over 90 m.p.h., with a lap time of 41 mins. or just under 70 m.p.h.
Space does not allow of an account of the magnificent Grand Prix of 1912, in which Bruce-Brown at the wheel of the terrific 14.-litre Fiat had at last to yield the day to Boillot on the Peugeot, with an engine half its size. In the Voiturette race Rigal, Resta and Medinger carried off the first three places on their Sunbeam’s, the first-named completing the 954 mile course at an average speed of 65.1 m.p.h. In addition to this the Sunbeams secured third, fourth and fifth places against the big cars,
being only beaten by Boillot, who averaged 68.45 m.p.h., and Wagner on the other Fiat. A famous victory tor Sunbeams and the cause of the small engine. Stopping for petrol in Pairlie, a small town in Central Otago, New Zealand, I was regaled with exciting tales Of the more spectacular 1914 T.T. Sunbeam, but never realised that not half a mile away the great little 3-litre car was lying, all assembled after a spot of bother in the gearbox department and selling at a modest sum. Before my next visit to Fairlie another lover of old-timers had bought it up and I had to be content with tales of its performance. “No flywheel and practically no springing it had, but it will still do close on 85 m.p.h.” The present owner it appears has only modified it to the extent of fitting a vacuum tank to replace the pressure petrol feed, and used it regularly throughout 1936 for fishing expeditions around the lakes. The car
is far away now, but I still have designs on securing it and restoring it to its pristine tune and outline.
So much for the “Three-Litre.” A few days later I set off in search of the 1914 T.T. car and found it ensconced in a garage which would fulfill the wildest dreams of the tuner-enthusiast. Lathes, grinders, shaping machines, all were there. Engineering is Hamilton’s hobby, and he had designed an ingenious excavator, in appearance like a boiler eight feet in diameter, with a stationary centre segment. With this apparatus he had scooped out a dam (and a skating rink) 200 feet square, and with the water from this, though thirty miles from the nearest town, had enough power to run a heavyduty welding plant. But to return to the car. Originally this type was fitted with a small two-seater body with a bolster tank, but Hamilton replaced this, for use on the road, with light sports two-seater body with room for luggage in the tail, and four outside exhaust pipes a 1a Mercedes. At other times the car had been degraded to carrying what was virtually a small truck body and used for transporting potatoes and feed to the sheep pastured in the paddocks round the house. In spite of these humiliations, the chassis was as good as new, and while speed trials continued to be held in New Zealand, put up some magnificent performances. On the famous Muruwai Beach, near Auckland, the car covered five miles at an average of 100.5
m.p.h. and at Wairiti, a beach-track in the South Island, was timed at 109 m.p.h. over a flying mile. Being so well known in New Zealand the car was usually so heavily handicapped that it Stood little chance, but in 1926 Hamilton pulled off a first in an 18 mile handicap at Muruwai after a 560 mile journey by road from the South Island. Unfortunately since the ” slump years ” no important car races have been held in New Zealand, and the Sunbeam only finds employment as an ultra-rapid sports-car. As it was, the Owner was away in England and I had no chance of a run it in, but plenty of stories of ” a hundred on the road “
were current in the surrounding district. Compared with the simple “threelitre ” of 1912, the T.T. Sunbeam represented a tremendous advance in design and with its two overhead camshafts and the exposed valves the engine was a most intriguing sight. The camshafts were enclosed but the valves, four of them per cylinder, were operated through short tappets projecting from the camcases, with light fingers interposed between cams and tappets to take the :sidethrust. A certain amount of oil leaked out and the sparking plugs had to be shielded to protect them from unwanted oil. Steel pistons were used, and four
cylinders with dimensions 81 x160 mm. gave a capacity of 1,298 c.c.
The camshafts were driven by a train Of spur gears, most of them mounted on ball-bearings, from the front end of the crankshaft. The crankshaft, which was in two portions and balanced, ran in three ball-bearings and dry-sump lubrication was used. The magneto and water pump were driven off the camshaft geartrain and the Claudel carburetter fed the engine thrOugh a long V-shaped induction pipe. A cone clutch with a large clutch stop as usual transmitted the power to the
four-speed gearbox, behind which was a large transmission brake projecting through the floor-boards. The propellershaft was open, with two joints, and the final ratio was 3.4 to 1. The brake-lever operated on the transmission and the pedal actuated the rear-wheel brakes, which had narrow ribbed drums and were compensated by means of cables and pulleys.
Three of these interesting cars were made and were driven in the Isle of Man by K. Lee Guinness, Resta and A. L.
Guinness. The T.T. circuit was a real test of cars in 1914, with the mountain road little better than a stony track, cut up ruts made by the wheels and hoofs of horse-drawn vehicles. Again a two day race was run, sixteen laps in all, with a total mileage of 600 odd miles. Twenty-three cars faced the starter on that wet morning of May 1914, but amongst them were such interesting cars on the one hand as the Vauxhalls and the Straker Squires, while at the other extreme was W. 0. Bentley, still very much to the fore as designer of the latest twelvecylinder Laciondas, driving a tiny
D F. P. ” ” got into his stride right from the start, and after a first lap at just 59 m.p.h. moved into the lead. He kept this position throughout the race, and averaged 56.44 m.p.h. over the whole distance. Resta fell out with a broken big-end bolt after two laps, but Algy Calinness supported his brother so ably that he lay second, only 3 mins, behind at the end of the first day. In the 13th lap, however, “Sunbeam III” followed Resta’s car into retirement owing to the failure of a universal joint, leaving Lee Guinness to maintain his victorious progress to finish 20 mins. in front of Riecken on a Minerva.
This then was the history of the T.T. Sunbeam. The outbreak of war a few months after the Manx race prevented further use of the cars, though similar machines but with longer chassis and 4l-litre engines were run in the 1914 Grand Prix in July. A similar car fitted with a sports four-seater body was described in the ” Veteran Types series in MOTOR SPoRT some years ago. This car, which I understand is still going well, must I think be the one driven by Resta. The New Zealand one is probably the only one existing in its original state, for the old racing body still remains hung up in the rafters of Mr. Hamilton’s wool shed awaiting the revival of racing in New Zealand”’.