Sunbeam Sidetrack

A motor-racing sidetrack centres around Louis Coatalen. By 1922 he had a fine team of racing cars, in order that his drivers could encompass one of his favourite interests - another was marrying the daughters of directors of companies who employed him...

Coatalen had had racing cars built before the war, had seen his 3-litre Sunbeams finish 1,2,3 in the Coupe de L'Auto section of the 1912 Dieppe GP, and had driven specialised cars of' this make fast and bravely at Brooklands.

When racing resumed after the Armistice, Louis had seen the 350hp V12 Sunbeam thrill the crowds at the Track. Keen to enhance this theme Coatalen had by 1922 a stable of four 3-litre straight-eights from the 1921 GP, the four-cylinder 2-litre GP cars and two specialised track cars. I have no need to say how this stable of cars from the Wolverhampton and Suresnes experimental shops fared that has been done in the late Anthony Heal's book Sunbeam Racing Cars (Haynes, 1989); it is a side-track concerning the single-seater track car I find interesting.

Early in 1922 it was announced that this car was destined for an attempt to average 100mph or more for 24 hours. Coatalen could not have forgotten the publicity that the Talbot's first hour run at over 100mph, a notable landmark, had generated in 1913. But this was to the benefit of Lord Shrewsbury and Talbot. A 24-hour stint at such high speed could hardly fail to bring the same acclaim to the Sunbeam itself. The drivers were named as K Lee Guinness and Major H D Segrave, the place Brooklands, for an enforced double 12-hour spell, as night running was forbidden. Yet nowhere can I find any report of this record run being attempted.

Was Coatalen too busy with road-racing cars? Did he reluctantly decide that maintaining 'the ton' for a day was too ambitious? Certainly when W Bentley had the same ambition his Bentleys never managed it, the final onslaught at Montlhery ending up after 16 1/2 hours. It was left to Renault's 45 racing saloon to get this all-important benchmark that same year, at I07.9mph. A dozen years later the 25.3-litre Mormon Meteor had the 24-hour record up to 152.27mph.