The Sunbeam which ran on water...

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Steve Cropley’s recent reference in Autocar to a Daily Mail story about ‘A car that runs on water’ sparked a distant memory. Back in 1935 there was to be a demonstration at Brooklands of a water-blend fuel invented by an Austrian chemist, Baron Coreth zu Coredo, and The Autocar asked if I would like to earn half-a-guinea and do a story.

The person behind this demo was Capt Denis E A K Shipwright, who had gained some fame in 1926 with a handicap race-win in a 30hp Armstrong-Siddeley, a heavy car not normally associated with motor racing. Minus mudguards and running boards, the massive 4968cc motor lapped at 77.09mph.

Shipwright returned to the Track in 1935 running a drivers’ school, with little flags stuck on a map in his shed to show where the Brooklands bumps were! His note-paper was headed ‘Brooklands Expert 15 years’… Here I encountered the Professor mixing his vegetable-and-water brew in a large glass jar, from which an attractive brunette took occasional sips. The assembled pressmen were then given runs in a Sunbeam into which some of this ‘Corethstoff had been poured. I was far from convinced and wrote sceptically of this performance. In races staged between the ‘water-propelled’ Sunbeam, a blower-4½-Bentley, and a 3-litre Lagonda, the Sunbeam always drew ahead, but as I timed it to be lapping at about 55mph, an inference could be drawn…

This Sunbeam was actually one of the 1924 2-litre GP cars, by then with a Rolls-Royce 20 engine and 3-speed gearbox and a crude 2-seater body. At that time Shipwright had a 3-litre GP Ballot, so much modified that Sam Clutton referred to it as the ‘Shipwreck Special’.

The solution to the water-fuel affair was revealed after the war, when Denis Jenkinson bought the Sunbeam, still in the same form as in 1935. While working on it he was puzzled by the run of the pipelines from the under-floor oil-tank. They had been altered, it appeared to pressurise the contents (petrol?) from the fascia air-pump and supply it to the Rolls-Royce carburettor, while the ‘Corethstoff’ brew rode undisturbed in the Sunbeam’s tail tank…