Sorting out the Sunbeams

What happened to the 1924 Grand Prix Team?

NO ONE MAKE of British car was as prominent as Sunbeam in the vintage racing years, or, for that matter, before the Kaiser War. In particular the 1924 2-litre supercharged team cars were notable, because it was only misfortune that cost them victory in the French GP of that year, which would have been Sunbeam’s second consecutive success in this race. They were the fastest cars at Lyon, Segrave’s leading the opening rounds and making fastest lap. A last-minute change of magnetos robbed him and Resta of almost certain domination over the new P2 Alfa Romeos. K. Lee Guinness’ Sunbeam took up the chase but retired. Later, while successfully attacking Class E short-distance records at Brooklands, Resta’s car burst a tyre and crashed, killing him and injuring Perkins, his mechanic. This left two cars for the 1924 Spanish GP, in which Guinness’ car crashed, killing Barrett the mechanic. But Segrave at last proved the worth of these Italian-designed Coatalen-inspired cars, by finishing first.

Already these 1924 GP Sunbeams had made f.t.d. at some of our classic speed-trial courses, before Resta was killed, and in 1925 continued to do so, with f.t.d. at Shelsley-Walsh, Kop, Southport and Blackpool. Their main purpose, GP racing, was continued with the entry of Count Masetti, Segrave and Count Conelli in the 1925 French GP at Mondhery, but the best they achieved was third place, by Conelli, Segrave having valve trouble and Masetti brake failure. Masetti asked to be allowed to run the best of the survivors in the Spanish GP and got up to second place behind Divo’s V12 Delage before retiring, He had previously set a new record for the Klausen hill-climb course.

After that, apart from impressive sprint appearances during 1926 in the hands of Segrave, Cyril Paul and the Earl of Cottenham, the cars were not used. Nevertheless, they had established themselves as the most outstanding British GP cars of their period and we are fortunate to have one in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. Their significant place in history makes it important to try to discover what subsequently happened to this team of works racers.

The task of those of us who dabble in racingcar history is by no means as that of aeroplane historians, because records relating to racing cars have usually been lost, if they were ever kept, and although some cars may have carried Reg. Nos., as did the Sunbeams, these can be changed from car to car, engines can be swopped around, and thus these factors are not necessarily an infallable guide. I admit that the heading to this article is misleading. All I can attempt to do is to try to sort out these Sunbeams. What follows is partly surmise but I publish it in the hope that it will help in unravelling some of the loose ends, the mysteries, which inevitably crop up when racing-car history is investigated. I have been fortunate in obtaining from Anthony Heal, who has made almost a life-long study of Sunbeam racing cars, his ideas on the subject, I would not have dared otherwise to embark on it.

Before the end of their first season two of the 1924 Sunbeams had crashed, Resta’s at Brooklands, Guinness’ in the Spanish GP. It seems reasonable to suppose that Segrave’s car, the most successful at Lyon and winner at San Sebastian, was returned from Spain to the Paris STD factory, and, being intact, was probably the one he used, aided by Parry Thomas, to attempt the World’s 12 and 24-hour records at Montlhery at the end of February 1925. There is no proof of this. But it was customary for drivers to retain their own cars, and this was Segrave’s in both the Grands Prix entered. And, as we have seen, both the others had crashed badly late the previous year. A snowstorm and engine trouble stopped the record attempt, with some records in the bag, after the car had been running for just over three hours. Segrave used No. 2 Sunbeam in the French GP and one wonders if the valve trouble was a legacy from the record run, although five months should surely have been sufficient for it to have been eradicated?

Continuing with the career of No. 2 Sunbeam, it was taken back to England, where Segrave used it effectively for sprint work and sand racing. This seems to make sense, because Segrave had finished his Continental racing engagements for the year and would need his car in England for these minor fixtures. At Blackpool he was beaten by Davenport’s GN Spider over the half-mile but was unbeatable over the kilo. He and the Earl of Cottenham used the same car at separate Southport sand race meeting, car’y in 1926.

Meanwhile both the crashed Sunbeams had been rebuilt, for Masetti used Resta’s in the French GP and Guinness’ had returned to England, Segrave using it, repainted red, to record f.t.d. at the Kop and Shelsley-Walsh hill-climbs early in 1925, presumably to save bringing his car back from France, as it would be wanted for the Grand Prix later on. In fact, it seems likely that Segrave’s car had never been in England since it was built at Wolverhampton, if it were the one used at Montlhery.

By 1926 Coatalen was concerned with his Land Speed Record bid with the 4-litre V12 Sunbeam and the French factory with the new 4-litre Talbot-Darracqs. The GP Sunbeams were idle except for the few home appearances. By 1927 the Sunbeam Motor Company was in a bad financial position and had ceased to race, although Coatalen rustled up enough money to build the crude twin-engined Sunbeam record-car which made Segrave the first driver to exceed 200 m.p.h. It seems, however, that new chassis frames were fitted to at least two of the GP team cars at the end of 1926, probably as a precaution against metal fatigue, as it was intended to race them at Brooklands in 1927, where they had so far not been used, apart from record bids. To this end I think Kaye Don probably entered into an arrangement with Wolverhampton, and took over the rebuilt Guinness car, Segrave’s car being held as spares for Don.

Arrangements were completed by Whitsun 1927 and Don’s red Sunbeam, its power output considerably increased by using special fuel and with a choice of tyre sizes and gear ratios, was ready for its Track baptism. Don had had many successes with an old 4.9-litre Sunbeam and was immediately successful with the smaller car, winning the Gold Vase from a very heavy handicap at 118.58 m.p.h. for the 25 miles, the fastest of Brooklands’ longer races at that time. “The Cub”, as Don called the car when he began an equally successful career with the 4-litre VI 2 Sunbeams in 1928, became one of Brooklands best-known cars. Before he used it early in 1928 for recordwork, the engine from the Segrave Car was installed, or this may have been done at some time during the previous season, even before Don took the car over. It might have been that in chasing the Delage at San Sebastian in 1925 Masetti had so wrecked the engine that Don was obliged to use the other one before he could race the ex-Guinness car, although why he should not simply have taken over the Segrave car complete constitutes another of motor racing’s mysteries. Both cars were in England but perhaps Segrave, busy as he was with the Daytona trip, had a use for the car and did not care for it to be made over to Don and taken to Brooklands? This is, I confess, pure surmise and if anyone can do better . . .

Kaye Don used “The Cub” at the Track until 1930, gaining two Gold Vase wins, among others, and the Class E lap-record at 126.73 m.p.h. It was driven in the 1929 500-Mile Race by George Eyston and Segrave’s old riding mechanic Paul Dutoit, because Don was sharing the 4-litre “Tigress” with Froy; it went very well until a spring broke. Eyston and Don used it to take Class records in 1930. It had been offered for sale by Sunbeam’s in 1927 and I rather think had later become Don’s property. It was now, it appears, sold to Purdy, who after one meeting changed it from red to green. He was partnered by Cushman in the 1930 500-Mile Race, the now aged “Cub” winning its class. Purdy next decided to attack records but as those in the 2-litre class for which the Sunbeam was most likely to be suitable had already been elevated by Don and Eyston, he had the cylinder blocks bored-out, to give a capacity of 2,012 c.c., which made the car eligible for Class D records, where the upper limit was 3-litres. In this form several records were taken at Brooklands, including the hour at 114.74 m.p.h.

After 1930 the Brooklands’ authorities banned most of the older racing cars and “The Cub” vanished. Anthony Heal found what was presumably “The Cub” in the Birmingham area during the war, and took it into his stable of historic racing cars—it formed the subject of a “Veteran Types” article in MOTOR SPORT in November 1943.

The engine was not in very good condition but Heal ran it in VSCC meetings between 1947 and 1950, winning at least one race with it. It was then sold by Heal to the Rootes Group, who had a collection of historic cars. In 1956 they took it to an STD Register Wolverhampton Rally. They later had some engine repairs put in hand by Jack Brabham Motors and the Sunbeam made a number of publicity appearances. I had a stirring ride through Wolverhampton in it, driven by their John Rowe, with the connivance of the Police, during the 1965 STD Register Rally to Sunbeam’s birthplace. It now had an SU carburetter. In 1968 it was feared that this historic British racing car would find its way into Prince Rainier’s collection in Monaco. Fortunately the protests of Cecil Clutton and others were sufficiently vehement to prevent this; and I do not think “The Cub” ever left the country. It had been lent to the Montagu Motor Museum and is now one of the foremost racing-car exhibits in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, to whom it was presented by Chrysler UK, which is why Lord Montagu chose a small-scale replica of it as a presentation to the Son of HRH the Duke of Kent, when he opened the new Museum buildings last year. That brings the story of the third of the team Sunbeams up to date.

When Sunbeam’s sold the cars at the end of 1927 Miss May Cunliffe (now Mrs. Millington) was looking for something faster than the supercharged 3-litre TT Bentley which she had driven so well at Southport and in other events. She found the car she wanted in the ex-Resta Sunbeam. This was the first of the three to be completed in 1924 and seems to have had a narrower front and rear (crab) track and a longer wheelbase than the others. It seems to have had slightly different valve timing from “The Cub” unless the latter’s timing was altered by Don and it was handed over with lower gear ratios and with various Rapson and Dunlop tyres of 28″ 29″ and 31″ diameter. The original engine had been changed for a spare one at some time, perhaps because of the damage incurred in Resta’s unhappy crash. Since Masetti had taken third place in the 1925 French GP Sunbeam’s had apparently used this car only at Shelley Walsh where it was no match for the GN “Spider” when driven there by Paul in 1926 and by Perkins in 1927, as Segrave’s car had been, although it won its class on the former occasion when Cottenham also drove, presumably using Segrave’s car.

In Miss Cunliffe’s hands the Sunbeam was very successful on the sand and in speed-trials. On one occasion at Blackpool she ran into a barrier and was injured and then tragedy intervened, when she overturned the car while going well in a Southport race, her father, who was riding with her, being killed.

Her mother sold the car, it seems to Kaye Don.

It is from this point onwards that the unravelling becomes complex. From 1928 to 1932 the following drivers raced these Sunbeams at Brooklands: Don, Mr. and Mrs. W. B. Scott, Jack Dunfee, E. M. Thomas, H. Purdy, C. Paul and E. L. Bouts, apart from the times when, as recounted, Eyston, Purdy and Cushman shared Don’s “Cub” in longdistance races. To decide who had which car is difficult, with records destroyed and the drivers dispersed. However, the NMM apparently has “The Cub” for no evidence has been offered to the contrary.

What, then, of the remaining two? We know that the engine from No. 2 went into “The Cub”. By 1929 the original “Cub” engine, or a spare engine, was available, because all three cars were raced at the Track. I think it likely that when W. B. Scott was seeking a car in between racing a straight-8 Bugatti and one of the straight-8 GP Delage cars, he bought No. 2 Sunbeam, at much the same time as Don or Thomson & Taylor’s sold the ex-Cunliffe car to Jack Dunfee. At the Easter 1929 Meeting Don and Dunfee both drove a red Sunbeam, but, not in the same race. Dunfee could have been trying out “The Cub” to see whether he wanted to purchase the other Sunbeam, or he could have been in the Cunliffe car. Proof that these were different cars might have been provided at the Whitsun Meeting, when Don and Dunfee ran in the AMU race. But the way of the historian is strewn with pitfalls . . . Don’s car was now blue, with cream wheels. Could it have been another car not “The Cub”, and, if so which? This I feel to be discounted by the handicapper obviously thinking it was as quick as “The Cub” and by lack of evidence that the famous red car had suffered any recent mechanical derangements. But as the entry lists are not available, I have no proof of this. I would have thought that the change of livery was to denote Don’s personal ownership of “The Cub” at this time the 4-litre V12 Sunbeam was now painted likewise, except that by 1930 Don’s Sunbeams were again painted red! We must, I suppose, allow that the “The Cub” had a fit of the blues in 1929, for no apparent reason! All three 2-litre Sunbeams ran together in the Gold Star race at the August Meeting, Don’s blue car, Dunfee’s red car and Mrs. Scott’s black and green car driven by E. M. Thomas, the last-named being the Scott colours. It looks, therefore, as if Dunfee had the ex-Cunliffe car, probably brought up to “The Cub’s” state of tune, because, the following season, both cars did two flying laps in the same race at precisely the same speed, although Don’s accelerated better. Dunfee’s car was the same colour as the Cunliffe one. When he went for records with it he failed to declare a chassis number, perhaps because he couldn’t find one, ha ha. But he did give the engine number as “4”, which again lines up with the Cunliffe Sunbeam. The Scott car was slower (see table) and one wonders whether this was because it was then still using a sprint axle-ratio, a legacy of Segrave’s last appearance in it at Blackpool in 1925?

Dunfee used his car for a record-bid at Montlhery in 1930, its engine bored-out to just over 2-litres, to put it into Class-D, as with Purdy’s record run at Brooklands. Anthony Heal has told me that he was able to get some spare oversize cylinder blocks for his Sunbeam from T & T’s, so they presumably carried out the work for Dunfee and Purdy. At the end of 1930 T & T’s advertised some racing cars for sale in MOTOR SPORT and unless my eyes deceive me one of the cars in the accompanying picture is a 1924 GP Sunbeam, with the name “Puppy” on the bonnet. It was not in the sales-list but would, I imagine, have been Dunfee’s car, named for comparison with “The Cub”. The Dunfee brothers had driven it in the 1930 500-Mile Race, when a half-shaft broke, before it went out to Paris for the record-bid. Jack Dunfee ceased racing it after 1930 and it was presumably the car which W. T. McCalla used so effectively in Ireland in 1934, including winning the County Down Trophy race from more modern MGs. This was a Formulae Libre handicap, so the oversize engine may still have been in use. I think, though, that the car was declared as 1,988 c.c., so either it was never measured by its new owner or T & T’s had replaced the original size blocks when overhauling it prior to selling it. The engine seems to have blown-up when McCalla was defending his title in the 1935 County Down race. During the war Barbour took over the car and installed a push-rod 2-litre MG engine. I understand it is now being rebuilt in Belfast. The engine is said to be the damaged one that was in the NMM at Beaulieu.

What of the Sunbeam which E. L. Bouts ran at Brooklands from 1930 to 1932? As “The Cub” and Dunfee’s car were running at the same time, this blue and white Sunbeam presumably must have been the No. 2 car, which Thomas had ceased to race, after painting it black with a yellow chassis. These were Thomas’ colours, used on his 2-litre Bugatti II, so even if Bouts could stomach them, he would have been obliged to repaint the car! He had been successful with a 4.9-litre Sunbeam bought from Don and to acquire another of the make was natural. He bought it from Malcolm Campbell’s London showroom, Campbell having perhaps taken it in, when selling Thomas his Bugatti. Bouts usually refers to it as “my white car” but it was later painted blue. The 1973 calendar issued by Bouts Motors Ltd. shows him in a blue Sunbeam which is captioned as an ex-Segrave car, which No. 2 was, so this makes sense. Cyril Paul sometimes drove the Bouts car but by 1932 it had become undependable, and was no longer raced old cars now being unpopular with the BARC officials, anyway. I was to meet this No. 2 Sunbeam under amusing circumstances at Brooklands in 1935. This was during a demonstration of running a car on water and some mysterious chemical, a show put on for the inventor by D. B. K. Shipwright, who had won a race in an Armstrong Siddeley 30 in the 1920s and returned to the Track to try to revive the Dunfee/Joan Richmond Ballot. He used this Sunbeam, thought at the time to be one of the 1922 GP cars, lent by Myles Rothwell of Byfleet and owned by a Mr. Fensom, now using an early three-speed Rolls-Royce 20 power unit. (Why the original body had been removed is another mystery, as one of the cars is known to have been crashed in recent years.) Other than finding the ride very hard and being dubious that the car was really running on water-fuel. I thought no more of this at the time. After the war, a vintage Sunbeam was advertised in MOTOR SPORT and D.S.J. and I went to investigate. It turned out to have a R-R engine and a “boy’s racer” body. As there was a choke of vintage cars in those days and the price of £90 was then somewhat high, I decided against it. To my surprise, soon afterwards D.S.J. said he would buy it and I went with him to get it home. He had recognised it as one of the 1924 Team Sunbeams . . .

It seems that Bouts had sold it to W. E. Humphries. Someone had subsequently made it it road-worthy with the R-R power-unit and an old gentleman had used it as a shopping car in the Worcester area. I think he then had a prang with it and, deciding he was too old for old racing cars, had disposed of it. This was the car D.S.J. bought, from a young RAF man. He ran it for a time with a replica tail, reregistered DA 8666, and is now carefully rebuilding it. Incidentally, without wishing to cast aspersions, with the R-R engine installed there was no call for the under-floor oil tank as there had been with the Sunbeam dry-sump engine and this could have held petrol while the car circulated the Track with the water-fuel in its petrol tank . . .

Incidentally, Mr. Bouts thinks his car went to Ireland and disappeared, but he may be confused by not knowing of the presence of the No. 2 car in Hampshire.

That is the best sorting out I can do. Much of it is surmise and if anyone can do better I shall be delighted to hear from them. I confess it would have been nicer if the absence of the Sunbeam engine and original body on the Myles Rothwell car could have been explained by the engine having gone into “The Cub”, as it did, and the body being used to replace either the one on the crashed Resta car or on Guinness’ wrecked car, back in 1924, the bare chassis being found years later and re-registered as a Rolls-Sunbeam . . . This does not seem to have been the case, although the whole of the foregoing could be put in jeopardy if we accept that there were four of these team cars, a theory that no less an authority than T. A. S. O. Mathieson does not discount. Obviously Sunbeam’s laid down spares—the No. 4 engine is proof of this—and could have built a complete spare car. Bouts, who lived in Wolverhampton, might have found so many bits at the factory in 1929, after Sunbeams had given up racing, that he was able to cobble up a complete car. Where was “The Cub” from 1931 to 1943? And why was one chassis re-registered?

The mysteries are many! But because these Sunbeams were the most significant British road-racing cars, as well as being very successful at Brooklands, it seems worthwhile trying to unravel their individual histories, especially as three of them still exist.—W.B.

The best lap-speeds by different drivers in the 1924 GP Sunbeams in BARC Races.

Kaye Don . . . 126.73 m.p.h.—Class V
Jack Dunfee . . . 125.77 m.p.h.
E. L. Bouts . . . 123.89 m.p.h.
C. Paul . . . 122.97 m.p.h.
E. M. Thomas . . . 117.19 m.p.h.
H. Purdy . . . 114.75 m.p.h.
Mrs. Scott . . . 113.97 m.p.h.
W.B. Scott . . . 109.22 m.p.h.

V-E-V Odds & Ends.—A pre-war Ford V8 Commercial vehicle chassis endowed during the war with an ambulance body is available in North London “for the price of a drink”, and should be easily restorable. In Ireland a 1937 Type 135/V1 Delahaye with Abbey d.h. coupé body is being restored and the owner needs advice about engine and gearbox technicalities. This is the 3 1/2-litre model with Cotal box, Reg. No. DXE 66. Commenting on our Brighton Run story in the December 1972 issue, a reader says the Darracq’s Salsbury-Dietz lamps were presumably oil and not gas headlamps, and he asks how the names came to be combined, saying that whereas Dietz were rather cheap American lamps, Salsbury was an English firm making good-quality lamps. A 1933 832-c.c. Vale Special is being rebuilt in Sussex and parts are required. Someone has found an old Clyno cast-aluminium maker’s plate and will give it to anyone who would appreciate it. The proud owner of a 1950 Ford Anglia living in Eire sends a newspaper cutting showing the first kerbside petrol pump to be operated in Ireland. It was installed at the Nassau Motor Co. in Nassau Street, Dublin, in 1923 by Esso, hand-operated from a 500-gallon tank. The picture shows a Rover Eight two-seater being fuelled, the car devoid of mudguards. This correspondent says that Sidney Sheanes’ garage, where some of the cars taking part in pre-war Leinster Trophy races were garaged, is now the Wire Rope’s factory. Also in Ireland, information is sought about a 2.3 Alfa Romeo Zagato, engine and chassis number 211107, which was apparently supplied to Ferrari in 1931, bought by a Mr. Benjamin Water in 1947 and sold by him in about 1958.

The Frazer Nash Section of the VSCC remarks in its current Chain Gang Gazette that the VSCC Bulletin and MOTOR SPORT can both be regarded as “compulsory supplementary reading” to its own magazine! We return the compliment, by saying that we found David Thirlby’s article on the singleseater Frazer Nashes particularly interesting and much appreciated the double-page picture of “The Terror” being towed to Craigantlet in 1931. The Chain-Gang is planning another Raid to the Alps this summer.

The current issue of the Bugatti OC magazine Bugantics contains news of a hitherto undiscovered 1912 eight-valve Type 17 Bugatti seen in France by Hugh Conway, and an article on modelling Bugattis. There is an article about a pre-war BaliIla sports Fiat in Pronto, the new Fiat magazine. Peter Garnier is resuscitating a First Series 1939 Lancia Aprilia. Belling Heaters’ Golden Jubilee catalogue contains a picture of their 1920s transport fleet, which consisted of three Model-T Fords, two vans and a truck, and what looks like a Dodge Brothers van.

V-E-V Miscellany.—The Railton OC Monthly Bulletin for last December carried an interesting interview with Reid A. Railton, their President. The pre-1940 Triumph OC is very much alive (to answer a query in a recent letter) and issues a monthly newsletter. The Sec. is: A. C. Cook, 8, Partridge Road, Wollaston, Stourbridge. The 1926 14/40 Vauxhall owned by the Registrar who looks after all vintage Vauxhalls other than 30/98s, was used right through the nineteen-thirties to tow a small caravan and sometimes a dinghy, which probably ensured its survival when such cars had no monetary value. Last year it again proved a pleasant tow-car, on holidays in Cornwall and Yorkshire. This Register lists five M-type Vauxhalls, 24 LM-type 14/40s, ten D-type 25 h.p. models, ten OD-type 23/60s, and eleven pre-1932 20/60s, as well as eight “Prince Henrys” and five vintage and Edwardian Vauxhalls. The Registrar still hopes to hear of others. He is J. Price, 22a, Leyland Road, Lee Green, London, SE12. One of the best Vauxhall rebuilds, comprises an OD-model converted into a short-base tractor in 1952 but now back to its proper length and seeking 880 x 120 tyres for its new lease of life.

The Journal of the Morris Register continues to serve these cars well, and eschews advertisements for Morris cars that are for sale, which strikes a dignified note. The issue for last Autumn had much on the Morris Isis and this year the Register is planning a special 60th Anniversary activity in conjunction with the Bull-Nose Morris Club. The Secretary is: B. D. M. Hicks, 13, Avenue Close, Southgate, London, N14. A 1929 Morris taxi, converted to run on TVO, was found on Salisbury Plain a few years ago and is being restored. The Shuttleworth Collection opens its active season on March 25th, with one of its popular Flying Days and plans a Festival of Historic Transport at Old Warden on June 24th. The Jackson brothers of Huntingdon are restoring the third-oldest civilian-registered Tiger Moth in the country, G-ANEU. To enlarge its rather limited scope, the ABC Register plans to embrace in future Bean, Swift and Vulcan vehicles, all of which were at some time financially controlled by Bean, as well as Granville Bradshaw ABC products. To this end a rally for these rare makes is visualised in the Bristol area in September but the Registrar. D. Hales, 20, Langbourne Way, Claygate, Surrey would like to know if there would be any response, so that entry-forms can be prepared. At present only about six veteran, three vintage and one commercial Vulcan are thought to exist. Last December’s issue of Blackwood’s Magazine contained an enthralling article about touring Wales in the midnineteen-twenties, in an Armstrong-Siddeley described as a coupé which was “of a type old-fashioned even then”, which the author’s father preferred to run on Pratt’s High Test. It is said to have had a magdyno, which caused speculation as to its model, because we believe the 30 h.p. and 18 h.p. models had separate dynamos and magnetos. The Hon. Alan Clark has acquired the 38/250 SS Mercedes-Benz which is apparently the car Sir Malcolm Campbell raced on the Mountain circuit at Brooklands in 1931-32. We heard the other day from G. J. Jackson who used to race an aged straight-eight 3-litre Sunbeam at Southport.