Sunbeams (and Talbots) at Wolverhampton

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(July 1st)

It must have been back in the 1950s, when my wife was running the STD Register, that I conveived the idea of taking members’ Coatalen Sunbeams back to their birthplace in that Midlands town. We did this annually for many years, with excellent relationships with the then-Chief Constable and the Wolverhampton constabulary, even to the extent of John Rowe of Rootes being allowed to run the 1924 2-litre GP Sunbeam “The Cub” on the public roads in stripped-for-racing trim. The event has continued since without a break, I believe, but I had not attended it since 1976. So it was nice to go again this year, with my 1922 8 h.p. Talbot-Darracq which, in the interim, has been made rather more presentable than before.

Not having driven the little car for many years, I had to learn all over again. But after we had realised that coil ignition was not responding to a tired battery and had been loaned another by the Midland Motor Museum, and I had rediscovered that by pulling out a sort of tuning-fork protruding from the dash, I could make the belt-driven dynamo charge, we got along very well. Indeed, the wheels never stopped between Bridgnorth and Wolverhampton in what is thought to be the first production Talbot-Darracq of this kind, and the only example remaining. It was soon parked in the familiar terrain of the Castlecroft Hotel, long the headquarters of this rally, where cricketers perform their art on the greensward, a fitting backcloth to vintage motor cars.

In spite of petrol problems and the high cost of pleasure motoring, a fine display of STD products had assembled, for the enjoyment of a happily large number of old employees from “The Sunbeam” (factory), led by 96-year-old Mr. Mitchell of the Racing Department, and others. Oldest vehicle present was Charles Lynam’s 2 3/4 h.p. de Dion-engined 1901 Sunbeam Mabley. He had driven this strange device from Leicestershire and was awarded the splendid Rootes Trophy for winning the Age/Distance competition. Runner-up was Hugh Harrison’s 1924 14/40 Sunbeam tourer, all the way from Yelverton in Devon, but losing on age marks. However, it was very immaculate, and won the D’Arcy Clarke Trophy for best under-bonnet condition, which I was asked to judge with Max Hill, who had come in his O.M. The runner-up here was John Kaye’s 1925 14/40 Sunbeam tourer, close-run by Bruce Dowell’s huge 1928 Sunbeam long-25 fabric sports-tourer, its engine with single Zenith hanging from a great stretch of exposed inlet manifold very impressive indeed, as was the fully-stocked dashboard, but it was all a little over-brassed for the judges. Bruce had just met the person who put the special body on the car; he bought the chassis for £5 and sold the completed Sunbeam for £25 in order to buy a bag of golf clubs. Someone remarked that if the fuel shortage worsens, other old cars may be exchanged again for golf clubs and the like . . .

Which reminds me that one Talbot 65, a bogus open-bodied 1934 car, was advertising itself for sale at over £5,000. The only Twin-cam 3-litre present was Frank Selwyn’s sports three-seater, those seats brass-edged. There were the expected dignified closed Sunbeams, like organiser Jeremy Grammer’s very original blue 1928 Sixteen saloon, rescued from a field, Don Abbey’s sombre but very clean 1930 20.9 h.p. Sunbeam, Dr. Phelps’ 1931 18.2 h.p. Sportsman’s Coupe, a car used by its owner for business and possessing hydraulic brakes (and I recall how very good these 1931 Sunbeam anchors are), Ben Yates’ 1928 Mulliner-bodied 20.9 saloon with a slight-vee screen, and W. E. Barrot’s recently-restored 1930 16.9 h.p. two-tone fixed-head coupe with dummy hood-irons.

Second oldest Sunbeam to attend was Mrs. Mary Foster’s 1912 12/16 tourer, found in a farm shed in 1959 after working there during World War Two, with L-head engine having exposed valve stems. Very imposing was John Logue’s 1927 long-25 sports-tourer Sunbeam, another with a World War Two history, in which it was used, after its landaulette body had been removed, as a CD staff-car and later as an ambulance. It was bought for £100 ten years ago and rebodied by Dudley & Heath a few years later. It was displaying photographs of racing Sunbeams encountered on a visit to New Zealand but I didn’t see one of the 1922 GP car alleged to be out there . . Of the supporting Roesch Talbots, most of them were smart saloons but A. C. Hull had brought a 1935 model Darracq-bodied on a Sports-105 type BA chassis, and Peter Moores had three cars present, his ex-Esplen Brooklands 1930 open Talbot 90, his very rare 1923 12/30 six-cylinder Talbot two-seater, and his well-known 1921 24 h.p. Sunbeam landaulette which had recently officiated at a wedding. In all, there were some 30 cars present, which, after lunch, set off to visit what is left of the old Sunbeam factory in Villiers Street. Unfortunately the expected Police escort this year failed to materialise and consequently the delays at junctions and traffic lights to the convoy were such that we decided to turn back when the Talbot-Darracq began a fit of the stalls and didn’t want to recommence on the handle, a matter of carburation adjustment to obtain some slow-running. It seemed more prudent under these circumstances to get the Rover 3500 out and go in search of canned-gasoline. In consequence we missed seeing the Mabley break its driving-belt outside the Sunbeam works – it apparently has an absolute life of some 100 miles. But it was quickly repaired. Back at the Castlecroft, the prizes as aforelisted were presented by the President Mrs. Winifred Boddy, the Pride of Ownership Cup going to Ben Yates, with Frank Selwyn and Bill Barrot the runners-up. The new Walter Coombes Trophy, presented by John Coombes in memory of his father, who handled publicity for Sunbeams in the 1920s, was awarded to Roger Carter for his long and invaluable, work for the Register. He had come up from Devon in his faithful 1934 Sunbeam Twenty tourer, and John Coombe’s had come from Glasgow to see the award presented and was returning that evening . . . To conclude an enjoyable rally, the Talbot-Darracq took me willingly the 75 miles home, with but one petrol-pause. — W .B.

* * *

V-E-V Miscellany

Brooklands has been used this year for driving-tests, not only by the VSCC but last month by the ACOC. Incidentally, the June issue of the latter’s magazine Action carried an article on the differential of the gearbox-in-back-axle AC models. To qualify the requirements for membership of the energetic Morris Register, full members are required to own Morris vehicles of a type manufactured up to 1940; this lets in the Series M10 and Series E8 cars that were made up to 1948. There is, we hear, a move afoot to include side-valve type MM Morris Minors, the MO Oxfords, and the very rare MS Morris Sixes, inasmuch as these were the last genuine Nuffield cars. The Register has an excellent journal, organises meetings, etc., and details are available from the Enrolment Secretary, Arthur Peeling, 28, Levita House, Chalton Street, London NW1. Following our reference in the June issue to the Avon Tyre Museum at Melksham, it is good to learn that it does include a picture of the 11-litre Wolseley Viper racing car, creation of Sir Alastair Miller, Bt., on which Kaye Don once tested Avon tyres. It is amusing to note that in 1927 Avon were asking for offers for the old racer, which was unsold, because I was offered it around 1931 by Miller himself, for £25, on sound tyres – alas, funds then did not permit me to buy it and garage it at Brooklands, so that it could be used for evening joy-rides round the Track; as other more affluent folk took their girls up in aeroplanes. Does anyone know the eventual fate of the old car? A reader in Argyll reports that two pre-1914 cars have been salvaged from a derelict garage and asks for information relating to them. They are a Clement-Talbot number 5012, Reg. number CT 4K requiring engine and clutch parts, and a car carrying a tax disc for a 16 h.p. Rhodia, dated 1922. This has the radiator and bodywork missing. The carburetter is a Holley, the electrics are by Eisemann, and the four-cylinder power unit with unit gearbox has its cylinders in two blocks. Rumour suggests that it may have been a vehicle supplied from America to France for military use during the 1914-18 war. Letters can be forwarded.

On the Vauxhall front, a 1934 model BY Big Six that has been in almost constant use since new exists in Doncaster, work is being done in Western Australia on a T-type 20/60 Hurlingham, and what of the appearance in the VSCC Chilton Park parade of one of the now almost extinct sleeve-valve 25/70s, this one being A. T. Craven’s S-series 1926 saloon? One of those clockwork P2 Alfa Romeo tin-plate racing car models turned up at a Christie’s sale in June, its value estimated at £300 to £400 – we remember that when they were brand-new they sold here for 35/- (£1.75). The National Stationary Engine Rally at Beaulieu takes place over the week-end of August 4th/5th. Alastair Pugh’s 1928 Frazer Nash Anzani was flown to America recently by British Caledonian’s TexaCargo freight service, so that its owner could drive it the 380 miles from Bangor to Boston as part of America’s fuel economy drive. It is not the only vehicle to take part in fuel economy drives, but probably the first vintage one – although how using petrol in this way helps economy is an unexplained mystery. The Frazer Nash was credited with doing 27 m.p.g., and inevitably the hand-out from the DCA office mentioned that it is now worth “in excess of £10,000”. It was purchased in 1949 for £149. A reader tells us that part of the name Hampton can still be seen on the factory building in which these cars were once made, at Dudbridge, on the junction of B4066 and A46. A letter from Dyfed asks for information about a circa 1916 24/30 Wolseley, of which we have heard previously. It languished in a scrapyard near Cheltenham for many years, went to Romsey in the 1960s, and has now gone to Wales. The engine appears to have been attacked with a sledgehammer and is virtually beyond recovery, so another Vickers-built 24/30 or a 30/40 or 50 h.p. Wolseley engine is sought, of the kind used in boats and military vehicles as well as in cars. Other parts needed to restore this Wolseley are the aluminium bulkhead, a Rudge wheel or centre (895 x 150), instruments, etc., and any information about the car’s history would be appreciated. A gearbox case, steering column and a sound radiator have already been found for it, so the restorer sounds to be in earnest — W.B.

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