GP Sunbeam's varied life

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Bill Boddy

In 1956, wanting a more sporting vintage car than my worn-down light examples (a writer’s pay!) I went with Jenks to see a £90 Sunbeam advertised by a young RAF chap. But it had a very early Rolls-Royce 20 engine and a ‘boy racer’ body, and so we decided it was not for us.

One week later DSJ asked me to help him collect a car he had bought. “Where?” I asked. “Well, we went there a week ago,” was his reply.

While I had inspected the sad Sunbeam, he’d been scraping away at a front dumb-iron, to find ‘No2’ on it. Reassured by Anthony Heal, he had discovered the chassis of the car which Henry Segrave drove in the 1924 French GP and with which he won that year’s San Sebastian GP. The team cars were registered DA 8420, DA 8666 and DA 8667, and this was the second.

Count ConeIli was third with it in the 1925 French GP, after a solo drive of over nine hours, and Segrave used it to good effect on Southport Sands and at the Blackpool speed-trials.

After Sunbeam gave up racing, the car was acquired by Mr and Mrs W B Scott, Jill setting a ladies’ lap record of 120.88mph with it at Brooklands in 1928, before it was sold to E L Bouts. He also ran it quite successfully at Brooklands (best lap 123.89mph) until, by 1932, it was getting tired.

Its subsequent history is somewhat obscure, but it would seem that W E Humphries may have had it after Bouts, although I would have thought he would have been too occupied racing his Amilcar Sixes and driving Alvises for Charles Follett to bother with it.

At one time it was owned by Myles Rothwell, who ran a garage business in Byfleet with Mr Fensom; that may have been when the R-R power unit was substituted for the GP Sunbeam engine.

When D B K Shipwright and Baron Coreth zu Coredo held that 1935 bogus water-fuel demonstration at Brooklands, which I reported rather cautiously for The Autocar, Fensom had lent the demonstration car, which was wrongly thought to be a 1922 four-cylinder GP Sunbeam but with that R-R engine.

It was apparently sold to a Major Cardwell, who used it as a ‘shopping car’ in the Worcestershire area until he had a prang and said he was too old to be driving a racing car. Perhaps the GP body was replaced then with the cobbled-up one.

Jenks took his find back home to Crondall and pondered the rebuild problem. He also discovered how the fake fuel had probably been hidden.

To retain a Sunbeam link, DSJ decided on a pushrod 16 or 20hp engine of that make — I think he obtained one of each. He took detailed measurements of ‘The Cub’ over at Beaulieu and set about constructing a replica body, which I think was destroyed when a gale blew down one of his sheds.

Meanwhile, I was permitted to drive the R-R-Sunbeam, on fun runs, to Odiham, opening the car out a bit before turning back to avoid congested Alton.

That is the story of this GP chassis, as I recall it, before the R-R power unit was removed.

It was left in DSJ’s will to Roger Howard, who had a GP Bugatti and whom Jenks knew was the right person to entrust with it. He was absolutely correct, because Roger has not only begun having parts made but has studied the history of all the 1924/5 GP Sunbeams in meticulous detail.

So this historic Sunbeam rebuild proceeds, hopefully soon to become an active vintage racing car.

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