When I wrote a tribute to the late Frank Gardner in these pages I made mention of his uncle, Hope Bartlett, who had starred at the short-lived, high-banked Maroubra Speedway in Sydney, Australia, from 1925-27. He drove Bugattis and what I dated as a 1923 GP Sunbeam. Wrong. Bartlett’s GP Sunbeam was one of the unsuccessful 1922 four-cylinder works cars, not one of the replacement 1923 six-cylinder French GP winning machines, as designed by Vincenzo Bertarione and Walter Becchia (all good British names, note, creating this acclaimed ‘British winner’). While Sunbeam was the only British marque to contest Grand Prix racing at all seriously during the 1920s, it was part of the rather unhappy Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq Anglo-French consortium.
Bartlett had raced in all manner of speed events in Australia after starting his competitive career on motorcycles in 1910. He had driven a range of cars, including four Bugattis, up to 1925, when he found himself outpaced on Maroubra’s new Olympia Speedway by his great rival Phil Garlick’s supercharged Alvis. To put this right, he contacted Sunbeam’s Sydney agency, Williams Bros, to buy an ex-works 1922 GP car. It was shipped in on December 11, 1925. ‘Uncle Hope’ drove it from the wharf to the Williams Bros showroom. The press reported it as being the ‘ex-Segrave Sunbeam’, and after being disappointed by its performance at Maroubra on January 2, 1926, Bartlett fitted higher-compression pistons, and began winning. His diary recorded nine wins with the car before he sold it in 1927 to Maroubra director Russell Taylor.
By the early 1930s, Sid Staughton of Melbourne was driving it in sprints and hillclimbs. In 1935 Ash Moulden of Adelaide completely dismantled and rebuilt it. Ross Haig of Mount Gambier bought it in 1939, but in 1940 it passed to Les Robinson of Naracoorte, SA. He described how 4250rpm with the original engine gave 105mph, but when subsequent owner Kingsley Obourne fitted a Ford V8 Robinson saw 5200rpm in top gear – closer to 130!
Handling on a highly-cambered road was initially “terrible”, so when he fitted replacement bodywork he also built in a tubular superstructure to stiffen the whippy ladder chassis. In 1949 the car resold to Max Collins of Mt Gambier, a Mr Clarke owned it in the ’50s and around 1960 it passed to G R Schmidt – still in Mt Gambier. Talbot restorer Ian Polson saw it there, fitted with the Ford V8 and hiding under sports car bodywork.
Neville Webb of Adelaide bought the rolling chassis in 1964 and began hunting out original parts. Parts dealer Geoff Johnson found the front crankcase section, oil pumps and water pump in a shed at Naracoorte and Webb’s collection of components came together in 1992. The original chassis serial was found under paint on the frame’s nearside front dumb-iron, reading ‘NO I’. When Jenks had his 1924 GP Sunbeam, we found a Wolverhampton stamp upon it, reading ‘FRUNT’.
Today, Webb’s painstaking restoration of the ex-Bartlett GP Sunbeam is just about complete (above). In ’06 he published a book on these cars and associated matters, 1921-25, entitled The Strasbourg Sunbeams, and it’s a fascinating work.