The Sunbeam MK III Saloon



The Car which won this year’s Monte Carlo Rally

In the latest Sunbeam saloon, the 80 b.h.p. Mk III version, the Rootes Group has a handsome-looking, compact car offering comfort and convenience to owner and occupants and a maximum speed of well over 90 m.p.h. with good acceleration. Perhaps even more meritorious from the fast-driver’s point of view is the fact that this well-appointed saloon handles exceedingly well and possesses powerful brakes. It thus becomes an essentially safe vehicle to drive fast under the variable traffic conditions prevailing on our inadequate roads and from this aspect is an admirable rally car, as the Sunbeam victory in this year’s Monte Carlo Rally, and similar successes by earlier versions of the same car underline.

Although the Sunbeam can be considered a five-seater saloon, the situation is happier with only four persons — Rootes make Humbers for those seeking really roomy cars — and the back-seat occupants do not have overmuch leg-room if the separately adjustable arm-chair front seats have been set fully back, in spite of which some drivers would prefer an even longer range of travel on the driver’s seat adjustment. Against this you sit high on the back seat, so that visibility is good, even for small children. That this is a close-coupled sports saloon is emphasised by the very shallow parcels shelf behind the back seat. The driver, in contrast, sinks rather low into his seat, but all seats in the Sunbeam are very luxurious and deeply upholstered, offering adequate back and thigh support and holding the occupants securely, except for a tendency to slide forward on the leather upholstery. Like investors in the Co-operative Building Society, Sunbeam occupants have something solid behind them! The front seats adjust by pulling a bar at the base of the cushion; the squab also adjusts by turning a handwheel, but the range isn’t great and hardly seems to justify the complication.

Visibility for the driver calls for no criticism, because, although the long bonnet rises slightly before one, the off-side wing is visible and the screen pillars do not interfere. The rear-view mirror blanks a view of the near-side wing and, being set on the windscreen sill instead of hung from the roof, is pretty useless when the back seat is occupied.

The Sunbeam is very fully equipped and has centre armrests for front and back-seat passengers, that at the back folding up when not required, side armrests at the back and in the front doors, the former incorporating pull-out ash-trays, the latter incorporating door “pulls,” a very handy ash-tray, with cover, placed on the floor for the front-seat passengers, twin vizors with mirror in the passenger’s, deep pockets at the base of the front doors, a large cubby hole with unlockable metal lid which can be used as a shelf, heater and air-conditioning unit, which, however, works only if the ignition is “on,” and interior lamp for the rear compartment controlled by a side switch.

Features appreciated, particularly during the sweltering July days during which the car was under test, were the Pytchley sliding roof, which slides into channels below the roof proper, and the ventilator doors on both sides of the scuttle, opened by pulling out large white knobs, which direct a stream of cold air onto the legs, from the airstream which cools the front brake drums via grilles in the front wings.

The windows have satisfactory quick-winding handles, the doors lock by pulling up buttons on their sills, with a key for the driver’s door, but no ventilator windows are used.

The luggage-boot is reasonably large but its lid, which locks, cannot be used to carry additional luggage. The door area is somewhat cramped; the front doors trail and a good point of detail is the covers over the various key-holes, while, for some reason, the top back hinges are streamlined. The doors have pull-out exterior handles, pull-back interior handles, one rather stiff, and useful inbuilt “keeps,” with metal pull-handles for the back doors.

The dash incorporates the radio panel, and switches from the long-range Lucas flame-thrower spot-lamp and panel lighting, and the starter and choke controls, with a normal lamp’s switch surrounding the ignition key. The wipers’ control knob is by the steering wheel, controlling excellent two-speed, fully self-parking wipers. On the heater is a switch for the map-reading lamp, inoperative on the test-car, and the bonnet-release knob and remote control for altering the mileage trip reading are on the right under the dash. The steering wheel boss carries horn knob and flick switches for direction flashers and over-drive control. Instruments and clock are illuminated together, the lighting being subdued, but not rheostat-controlled.

The 100-m.p.h. speedometer has a big half-circle dial calibrated in m.p.h. and k.p.h. and flanking it are separate oblong dials for fuel contents, calibrated in gallons and litres (no reserve), oil pressure (normally 50 lb./sq. in.), water temperature (normally 180 deg. F.) and ammeter. There is also a standard filler-button for special accessories, a protruding ignition warning light (inoperative after a fuse had blown) and a “flashers” indicator light which winks disconcertingly in the driver’s eyes at night. There is an electric clock on the roof above the screen, and a screen washer was fitted. A blank centre dial can be replaced by a rev-counter which costs £7 10s., inclusive of p.t.

From the foregoing the luxury and completeness of the Sunbeam’s interior appointments will be evident, the deep seats and long bonnet of which impart a sense of security to the occupants which the excellent controlability and braking enhance.

The gear-lever protrudes from the left of the steering column and is not spring-loaded ; the lower gear positions are below 3rd and top and reverse is obtained by pulling out the knob and moving the lever beyond the 2nd gear position. It is a reasonable gear-change of its kind, especially when not hurried unduly, although the gears are stiff to engage and the action sometimes tends towards brutality. The clutch needs firm pressure but engages smoothly and is slip-free.

The handbrake lever depends downwards between the front seats in an almost ideal location, a push-button releasing it. It holds securely and is quite powerful on its own. Clutch and brake pedals are man-sized affairs, with adjustment. Accelerator and brake pedal permit heel and toe action.

So much for the “static attributes” for the latest Sunbeam. On the road it becomes more endearing the further and faster it is driven. This is especially so over twisty roads, for the handling characteristics of steering-understeer and absence of severe rolling, without any change to roll-oversteer on sharp corners, makes the Sunbeam both fast and safe under such conditions. Indeed, in the hands of a capable driver it proved possible to average exactly 60 m.p.h. for 94 miles on the route Weymouth — Basingstoke on a summer evening, in daylight, with the normal amount of traffic “opposition.” This completely vice-free handling renders fast motoring in the Sunbeam anxiety-free, for besides being very stable on corners, the car has Lockheed 2LS brakes, very powerful given firm pressure on the pedal, and which, in spite of comparatively small (10 in. by 2 ½ in.) drums, only show traces of fade under really hard driving, probably because the drums are well-stiffened and cooled. The braking, like the handling, is vice-free and the 5.50 by 16 Dunlop Fort tyres protest more at low speed on tight corners than when the driver is trying his hardest on fast bends. Entering tight bends the steering is wound on early to make correct use of the understeer, stiffening against the castor action, the car cornering in a nicely balanced manner ; should the tail break away it does so cleanly and is easily brought back by steering into the slide. Application of the brakes from high speeds merely results in straight-line retardation. Altogether, an enterprising driver will like the Sunbeam better and better the faster he drives it and the Rootes Organisation deserves high praise for building such good handling qualities into a normal saloon motor car. It is a saloon car you really can throw about.

The Sunbeam is thus a very fast car from place to place, although not endowed with especially brilliant acceleration and needing some distance in which to attain its maximum speed of approx. 95 m.p.h.when the needle of the speedometer disappears off the dial. Wind noise is somewhat high at speed. Overdrive, which affects only top gear, is really an economy gear, as it kills performance under the give-and-take of English roads. The maxima on 2nd and 3rd gears are rather under 40 and 60 m.p.h., respectively, speedometer readings of 30, 40 and 70 m.p.h. being reached in 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears.

The Burman steering has very powerful castor-action which makes it heavy for cornering and even when manoeuvring, but there is hardly any lost-motion and the car can be placed accurately. Only slight kick-back is transmitted but with the tyres inflated hard for fast driving some scuttle-shake, not excessive, was evident on rough roads, which is conveyed to the steering column. Geared 2 ½ turns lock-to-lock — and the lock is generous — the steering enabled tail slides to be corrected without elaborate winding of the sprung, three-spoke wheel.

The suspension, coil spring and wishbone i.f.s., half-elliptic at the back, damped by Armstrong shock-absorbers, is on the hard side, which with the considerable weight of the car, no doubt contributes to the truly excellent handling just described, but only over really had surfaces do road-shocks reach the passengers, which, for the absence of serious rolling, is well worth enduring. The ride, too, is flat and pitch-free and the suspension well-damped for taking hump-back bridges at speed. Apart from a rattle from one back window unless it was fully closed the body is generally rattle-free.

The long-stroke, four-cylinder engine seems to revel in hard work, yet is docile and flexible in the hands of the less-eager driver, who will find it practical to start on the level in 2nd gear and to employ the easily-selected overdrive for appreciable distances. In normal top gear the car pulls away smoothly from about 20 m.p.h. Such driving methods will lift the fuel consumption above 20 m.p.g., and we obtained 18 ½ m.p.g. over twelve gallons, half of which were consumed in very rapid driving. On the other hand, at averages around 60 m.p.h., requiring almost continued use of full throttle, consumption rises to 15 m.p.g. or thereabouts, when the small capacity of the fuel tank (10 gallons), calling for refuelling stops in less than three hours’ motoring, becomes an adverse feature of the car. Under such conditions the engine displays no tendency to run-on and only the faintest trace of pinking on good petrol, while it starts promptly from cold with hardly any choke. In a mileage of 2,050 no water was needed, but just over three quarts of oil were consumed.

Reverting to static details, the jack and larger tools are carried in felt lining in the inside of the luggage-hoot lid, with a smaller tool-kit stowed in a recess in the scuttle, reached through a door on the nearside interior. The tools are not of very impressive quality for a car of this price; the comprehensive owners’ handbook is at least honest in stating: “It is important that the spare wheel is removed from its compartment before jacking-up the rear of the car as it is not possible to remove it when jack is in operating position at the rear of the car,” a point we noticed when replacing the badly-worn near-side back tyre with the spare, only to find that the spare was punctured.

A more serious shortcoming was the intrusion into the luggage boot of oil-mist which soiled a suitcase and raincoats stowed therein The accelerator also had a very unpleasantly sticky action making for jerky driving in traffic. A very black mark also to the fuel filler-cap, which allowed petrol fumes to enter the car when cornering fast with the tank full. The small screw-on filler cap on the near side has a chain “keep.”

Otherwise, in hard usage the Sunbeam suffered no troubles apart from blowing the fuse in the horn circuit (soon rectified), rattling the rim-embellisher of the near-side front wheel, and stalling its clock.

At night the lamps proved very powerful and the dipper pedal beside the clutch pedal earns a very good mark, being an excellent means of flashing a coming-past warning to slower vehicles.

The impression given of the Sunbeam Mk. III saloon is of a car which has been developed by participation in International rallies into a safe-handling car fast for its weight and size, which is well-appointed, offers comfort under long-distance driving conditions, and which will appeal to that class of motorist who needs a family vehicle which at the same time will respond to good driving and be capable of accomplishing high average speeds with a high factor of safety. The handling qualities at speed are very impressive and the Sunbeam is both excellent value for money and excellent value in the hands of the enthusiastic driver. The prices quoted in the accompanying data panel include overdrive, but with the other extras the price as tested is £1,251 0s. 8d , inclusive of p.t., but less individual fitting charges.

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The Sunbeam MK. III Sports Saloon

Engine: Four cylinders, 81 by 110 mm. (2,267 c.c.) Push-rod o.h.v. ; 7.42 to 1 compression-ratio ; 80 b.h.p. at 4,400 r.p.m.

Gear ratios: First, 12.43 to 1; second, 9.633 to 1; third, 5.811 to 1; top, 4.22 to 1; overdrive, 3.28 to 1.

Tyres: 5.50-16 Dunlop Fort on bolt-on steel disc wheels.

Weight: 27 ½ cwt., without occupants but ready for the road with approximately one gallon of fuel.

Steering ratio: 2 ½ turns, lock-to-lock.

Fuel capacity: 10 gallons. Range approximately 185 miles.

Wheelbase: 8 ft. 1 ½ in.

Track: Front, 3 ft. 11 ½ in.; rear, 4 ft. 2 ½ in.

Dimensions: 14 ft. 0 in. by 5 ft. 2 ½ in. (wide) by 5 ft. 0 ¼ in

Price: £840 with overdrive. (£1,191 2s. 6d., inclusive of p.t.).

Makers: Sunbeam-Talbot Ltd., Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Coventry.