Bentley, Sunbeam or Vauxhall?


Your recent article about the 3-litre Sunbeam and the Sunbeam Club’s register of these cars was of great interest to me because I owned the car GF 8534 in the mid-thirties. Perhaps I could comment on it and two of its rivals.

In those days it was possible to buy these fine classics second-hand for very little money and as a young bachelor RAF officer I could afford, just, to indulge in a hobby of buying and selling at frequent intervals one after another, and thus could compare them.

Taking three of the most famous among many others, I ran a 30/98 Vauxhall, a 3-litre Bentley and the Sunbeam. In some ways perhaps the 30198, being by far the oldest car, was the most interesting. Mine was a 1920 model with the side valve engine with priming taps on each cylinder. I bought it for £20 in 1933 from its original owner, an ex-RN AS pilot who was delighted to see it go back to a flying station. It had, I well remember, five new India tyres on new well-based wheels, worth the whole £20. These early models had an outside handbrake operating small drums on the back and a foot brake on the transmission, neither of which had much effect. No matter, roads were clear, one’s reactions were quick and provided one “thought” about a quarter of a mile ahead all was well. Cornering as one now understands the word was non-·existent, but on a straight, open road what a joy that big, thumping, low-revving engine was. At tickover at perhaps 200 revs one could almost count the heavy beats from the enormous tailpipe emitting faint whiffs of Castro! R, faint because it used none.

My Bentley, on the other hand, cost me £100, but by then I was a Flight Lieutenant and a little richer. Bentleys did hold their price better than most others. This was a 1925 VDP model. It did stop and it could be slid round corners nicely under control. It was sheer delight just to gaze at with its lovely lines and its classic o.h.c. engine.

My 1929 Sunbeam was very different, a more gentlemanly car, the d.o.h.c. 6-cylinder engine smooth and quiet. My car had those fascinating cycle mudguards moving with the wheels and one could watch the front suspension rising and falling with every bump.

None of them ever went wrong except that the fierce foot brake on the 30/98 snapped the prop-shaft, quickly replaced from a car breaker. Each had its own special fascination and appeal. My old photographs show these registration numbers: the Vauxhall was PB 7646, the Bentley XX 70. As my Sunbeam has survived I wonder if either of the other two have. Does anyone know? If all three went to auction now I wonder which I. would (if I could) buy to join my Alfa Spider and my Sud. I think it must be the Bentley. After all these years the thrill of driving XX 70 (the twin of XU 8859 on the cover of your Jubilee issue of August 1975) has never faded.

Bourne, Lines. Gp. Capt. J. B. ALTHAM