By J.R. Cowan
No. XXXIII in Motor Sport’s popular series of “Veteran Types” articles dealt with Anthony Heal’s 1921 T.T. Straight-Eight Sunbeam. Consequently, this account, by J. R. Cowan, of his sister car’s exploits in New Zealand, will be of considerable interest. — Ed.
THE New Zealand specimen of 1921 T.T. Sunbeam, believed to be No. 7 of the original team, came out and was raced on the beach as early as 1924, in the company of one of the four-cylinder Thomas-Specials and a 2-litre G.P. Sunbeam, both of which are still preserved out here. [Wasn’t — isn’t — the Thomas a Marlborough-Thomas? — Ed.] At a later date the T.T. Sunbeam was rebuilt as a two-seater sports-car, with full coachwork and an electrical system which included a starter operating on an added flywheel. The valve timing was altered and two American Constant-Vacuum type carburetters were fitted to give a greater tractability. In this form the car gave many years’ service. I acquired it in 1947, and set to work restoring it to original form. The sports-car modifications were thrown away, with the exception of the flywheel, which will be duly discarded when the final reconditioning work is done on the engine. All authentic parts were cleaned up, after which reconstruction to the original specification began. The cleaning process brought to light much beautiful machine-finish and several interesting serial numbers, including the letters “G.P.” engraved on the frame. This chassis, tempered blue in colour, can be twisted by two pairs of hands until opposite ends are skewed by several degrees.
A massive work of turning and fitting waisted studs to replace the original rather inadequately-bedded 5/16-in. camshaft studs, involving a good deal of “heart-in-the-mouth” drilling of the sparse metal of the blocks, was carried out and the entire pipe-work of the dry-sump lubrication system was renewed. Further renovation revealed 18 cooling connections, requiring nine different rubber jointing sizes.
After we had produced a coherent chassis, a Japanese aircraft seat was strapped in about the right position, several members of the N.Z.S.C.C. complete with a Triumph gathered, and after a token twist of the handle we tied on to the tow car and began to tow. Subsequently the struggle raged over most of the local streets, no meals being taken and no quarter given. At first the car would make only strange noises, an occasional smoke ring or take fire at the carburetters. I had timed the engine to run backwards, it appeared. This was rectified, but further towing would produce only an exhaust rumble, and no power. We then realised that the large-choke Claudel carburetters gave idling cruising mixtures, but nothing in between, so that an epic effort by the Triumph was required. I wondered what had become of all my careful assembly, but have since become used to the incoherence of this engine in its lower registers, which suggests that it will never survive 2,000 r.p.m., at which speed chaos ends. As the Sunbeam reaches its very moderate running temperature the carburetter intolerance declines and a reasonably smooth output is obtained as low as 800 r.p.m.
After a period of trials, a fair copy of the original body was fitted and the car was entered for the 1948 Paekakariki Hill-Climb, a course of two miles and 898 feet ascent, with every possible type of bend. The old car went through all her runs without faltering, on occasion giving 3,500 r.p.m. with throttle in hand, and she managed a Class 1st place; 4,000 r.p.m. is the allowable limit, but one must have some respect for age