Sunbeams at Wolverhampton
THE annual rally ot the S.T.D. Register to Wolverhampton will never reacts the impressive proportions of one-make gatherings like the Rolls-Royce and Bentley assemblies or the invasion of Austin Sevens at Beaulieu. But it has become an institution, nevertheless, and one which. I think, enjoys the distinction of being the first “return to birthplace” rallies, at all events in recent years.
This time the Star Register was asked to join in, the Sunbeams and the Roesch Talbots that accompany them acting as hosts to these other Wolverhampton-built cars. the earliest example present being a 1908 12 h.p. 2-seater. (When this was tried once before it met with little or no response but at the present rate of interest it should soon be possible to have Clyno, A. J.S. and other local makes joining in—as it was, a 1912 Turner, also made in Wolverhampton, was present this year.)
The Sunbeams made a brave show. as they left the grounds itl the pleasant Mount Hotel in Tettenhall to drive through the town to West Park, with full Police approval and escort. As has become traditional, a brief halt was called in Villiers Street, outside what was once the factory of the Sunbeam Motor Co. Ltd., before the assembly in the Park for the judging of the Pride of Ownership contest.
The judges were Mr. Howarth, formerly with the old Sunbeam Co., and his son, and E. L. Bouts, who used to race a 2-litre G.P. Sunbeam and a 5-litre Indianapolis Sunbeam at Brooklands.
The public turned out in impressive numbers to look at the assembled cars. These included an impeccably rebuilt 1912 12/16 Sunbeam found derelict in a farm shed some years ago, a 1919 Sixteen tourer, accompanied by the ex-Lady Mary Grosvenor Le Mans Replica Frazer Nash as a tender car, Peter Moores’ well-known. lofty 1921 6-cylinder 24-h.p. limousine and Ken Fidgen’s regular transport—a 1923 Fourteen tourer of throaty’ exhaust note.
There was another 14-h.p. Sunbeam tourer, on rather small wire meels, Burley’s 1927 16.9-h.p. tourer, which was ordered at the Motor Show and served one family until 1963, a 16.9 saloon bedecked in flags and flowers and a Taxicord spare tyre, an original-condition 18.2-h.p. saloon driven by a lady, which was advertising the Dunlop and Englebert tyres on its off-side wheels whereas those on the near-side were anonymous, and the 1930 Sixteen which brought the Register’s President to the scene and which was a mixture of ancient and modern, combining the bulb-horn, pneumatic headlamp dipping, one-shot chassis lubrication and Autovac-fed Claudel Hobson carburetter of a Sunbeam of this period with a post-war body, hydraulic brakes adapted from a 1931 Sunbeam, with duplicated master cylinders, and such mod. cons. as flashers, stop-lights, battery master switch and aircraft petrol gauge and water thermometer.
Phelps’ 1931 18.2-h.p. coupe stood out in pale blue, Hughes was using a 1932 Speed Twenty bought for spares but too serviceable to break up. Pearce-Boby’s 1933 18.2-h.p. saloon had an immaculate engine, Joyce’s Speed Twenty with over 130,000 reliable miles behind it had its roof ventilator open in the hot sunshine, whereas the two roof vents of Weaver’s 1931 Twenty saloon had transferred themselves from roof to the top of the bonnet.
Many of these Sunbeams had modern spot lamps and other indications of being used for normal, daily motoring, as indeed at least half-a-dozen of those present are used. It was also interesting to discover how long Sunbeams tended to remain in one family; for instance, the lady who ordered Phelps’ car, as a replica of that used by Sir Malcolm Campbell, kept it from 1931 to 1958, Frost’s “big-bore” Sixteen has had only two owners since 1931, Stones 1934 Twenty-Five saloon was a wedding present to a member of the Wills’ family, who used it until 1949 and Newman’s 1929 Sixteen saloon was in one person’s ownership for 25 years. They are also much travelled, Phelps taking his to Yugoslavia in 1964, Pearce-Boby’s going to Turkey before its rebuild. Alexander’s 1926 14/40 sports tourer covering 2,660 miles on tour in France and Italy last year and Lund’s 1934 Twenty-Five saloon having attended every Wolverhampton Rally since 1953. The Sunbeams were backed up by some excellent Talbots, from Wiggin’s very smart 1924 10/23 tourer to Peter Moore’s 1936 Show model Freestone & Webb 110 saloon with the Roesch automatic clutch and pre-selector gearbox. No twin-cam 3-litres were entered, but Smith’s came along to spectate. Unfortunately Collis’ 1927 Sunbeam Twenty tourer refused to start for Wolverhampton, perhaps because it has been given twin S.U.s, raised c.r. and a lightened flywheel, where-upon his son, aged four, shed tears of disappointment! Collis arrived in a modern car, however, and helped with the judging.
So, with inhabitants of Wolverhampton admiring the old products of the town, enthusiasts exchanging experiences and Mr. Sanderson from Australia exploding, with photographic evidence, the myth that the Coupe de l’Auto racing Sunbeams were almost identical to the standard 12/16 cars—in fact they had cored out blocks, larger big-end journals, bigger valves, a camshaft giving much greater dwell to the valves, and larger exhaust ports— the afternoon wore on.
Ron Carter won the Rootes Trophy for distance covered to the rally, his 1934 Twenty tourer, one of the last open Sunbeams built at Wolverhampton, which had its rear screen erect, having journeyed 191 miles.
Back at the Mount Hotel the prizes were presented by Mrs. Boddy, the Bill Perkins Trophy for meritorious upkeep being won by L. Lancaster for a quite remarkably thorough rebuild of a 1934 Sunbeam Dawn saloon, commenced five years ago. All the work, except the re-bore, was done by the owner and the car is now immaculate. The runner-up was R. Pearce-Boby (1933 Sunbeam 18.2-h.p. saloon). The Pride of Ownership first prize went to E. May, for his 1931 23.8-h.p. Sunbeam tourer, a very smart car on huge Dunlop Highway tyres, marred only by a non-original “Sunbeam” name-plate on the bonnet side and the electric petrol pump under the bonnet. Second prize went to D. T. Newman’s 1920 16.9-h.p. Sunbeam saloon, now repaired alter dropping a valve last year, and third prize to P. Moores on behalf of his 1921 Sunbeam limousine. After which the Sunbeams. Talbots and Stars dispersed, everyone vowing they would do it again next year.
I must say, having driven a vintage Sunbeam 150 miles to the rally and home again that, although the lesser old cars of the ’30s and ’40s may possess a certain charm that merits their preservation, the Wolverhampton product is much superior in respect of steering, braking and gear changing to two post-vintage non-p.v.t. vehicles I have sampled recently.