A Section Devoted To Old-Car Matters
A Memory of “The Sunbeam” at Wolverhampton
The other day I had an interesting chat with Mr. J. L. Cozens, MBE, TD, about the old days at “The Sunbeam” in Wolverhampton. Mr. Cozens’ father, L. V. Cozens, joined that great Company in 1903, and two of his uncles, Norman Cozens and Vic Cozens, were also with the Company, in the respective capacities of Service Manager and Head Tester of the Experimental Department. Mr. Cozens, Senr., was the Sales Manager, and he also acted as reserve racing driver, when required, to men like K. Lee Guinness, Chassagne and Divo. There is a photograph of him in the 1914 TT Sunbeam with which he won three classes at the Liverpool Speed Trials in 1920 and another picture of him with the 4.9-litre Sunbeam in which he took the 5-litre class at Saltburn in 1922, at the meeting at which Malcolm Campbell did over 134 m.p.h. in the 350 h.p. V12 Sunbeam.
Mr. L. V. Cozens had come to Sunbeam’s from the Star Company, and he developed the twin-cam 3-live sports Sunbeam, under Louis Coatalen, the Chief Engineer. They had houses opposite one another in Wolverhampton. There was also Geoff Cozens, apprenticed at Guy’s, who went on to become Managing Director of Commer Cars. Thus J. L. Cozens was brought up very much among the happenings at the Sunbeam works. He remembers going to see the 200 m.p.h. LSR car being built and the all-night roar of car and aero-engines being run on the test-beds. Sunbeam’s at Moorfield was a very well-equipped factory, with its own large canteen and a sports-ground with a very good cricket-pitch, football field, etc.
After his father’s death the young Cozens went to “The Sunbeam” as an apprentice in 1932, going right through the works, from the foundry onwards, and being treated like any other pupil. In those days the “Holy-of-Holies” was the Experimental Department. It consisted of a long ground-floor shop, with an upstairs workshop at right angles to it. In this upstairs shop the special projects and the racing cars were assembled and access was only by the car-lift, unless one sneaked in via the fire-escape. Ben Cooper was then the slide-rule foreman in charge, who worked, for instance, on the racing Sunbeam Tiger for Kaye Don. Under him were Reg Harold, fitter Alec Broome, Blackshaw, and Tommy Harrison who was transferred later to the gearbox and axle assembly section. This, incidentally, was partitioned off from the main assembly shops with sound-deadening walls, so that a noisy axle could be detected.
As the young Cozens progressed he was put on to machining, for hours on end, Sunbeam crankshafts from solid billets of steel. He also remembers holding a friction-driven tachometer on the flywheel of the Sunbeam Tiger racing engine when this was on test after having been rebuilt before dispatch to T & T’s at Brooklands for installation in one of the two special chassis, with pre-selector gearbox and hydraulic brakes, that Reid Railton had designed for Sir Malcolm Campbell in 1933. They were not satisfied that the test-bed tachometer was accurate, hence Cozens being told to set-up the hand-held one, amid all the intense noise, smell heat, and occasional flames from this racing engine on test! He had to raise a hand at every increase of 250 r.p.m. and recalls how pleased Perkins, who was in charge of the racing cars, was that they got a top b.h.p. figure of 320, higher than when these 4-litre V12 engines had been first prepared for Brooklands in 1928. Cozens sometimes had rides to Brooklands with Perkins in the 1924 2-litre GP cars, a journey that took quite a time, going via Stratford-on-Avon and Oxford. It was also, he says, distinctly exciting when the car weaved along the Gatacre straight on the Bridgnorth-Kidderminster road — this being another favourite test route, near the factory.
In those days Sunbeam’s worked to very high engineering standards, rivalling Rolls-Royce. Engines would be run on the test bed for one hour on petrol for check-ups, then for eight hours on mond gas to run them in, after which the sump would be removed and the bearings checked, following which there would be a half-hour run at full throttle on petrol. The lads in the test-shop included Osbourn, Lee and Tom Whitlock: Fred Barnes being in charge of final testing. Chassis would be taken out on test over one of four different courses, and could be away from 1 1/2 to 4 hours. But you couldn’t stay out longer than scheduled, as the next chassis due for test would be dispatched to locate the one that was overdue. The test rig was a simple seat, wooden mudguards, and bonnet of hessian. On one test run Cozens’ Sunbeam ran out of power after the fast trip down Crackley Bank, on Watling Street. Investigating, he found a bird’s legs sticking out of the carburetter. The bonnet had blown open and it had got inside! Another unfortunate demise was that of a cat, which was demolished by the front axle of the Tiger, which Kaye Don was testing at Brooklands — no cat.
On the publicity side Mr. Coombes and the meticulous Mr. Johnson were in charge. Many of their photographs show Mr. Cozens, Senr., with the handsome 24/60 h.p. sports Sunbeam cures, DA-3815, which he tested exhaustively all Mee Scotland. He also took it to Ireland in November 1920 to visit the Dublin agent, Andy Nolan, with whom he was very friendly, at the time of the troubles with the Black-and-Tans. It was involved in an accident with an Austin and extensively damaged, although later repaired at the factory — the picture of this reveals a bullet-hole through the screen. Mr. Cozens, Senr. took part in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1929 with a four-bearing Sunbeam Twenty grey and blue saloon, and Alfred Pass took a Sunbeam 25. In 1930 Cozens drove a Sunbeam Twenty again, with a very well-appointed black and grey Sunbeam-Weymann saloon body, and Pass a Sunbeam Twenty-five, numbered respectively GC-6 and GC-2, as Pass liked a short number-plate! For 1931 Mr. Cozens was too ill to go on the Rally and the Sunbeam that had been prepared for him was driven by Humfrey Symons and Bertie Browning, Pass having another Twenty-five, these engines having the seven-bearing crankshaft. High awards were scored in the Comfort Contest and each year is memorised by separate photograph albums now in possession of the present Mr. Cozens. Another publicity photograph shows Ramsey Macdonald on the Sunbeam stand at the 1930 Olympia Show.
Mr. Cozens enjoyed working on the Sunbeam Tiger, at the rate of 7d.-an-hour, but in the Racing Department this could involve a working week of 96 hours. Before every run he had to warm the Castrol-R, and after every run drain the engine immediately, to avoid the castor oil gumming it up. Cozens, naturally, has many happy memories of the old Sunbeam racing days, and I spent an afternoon looking at some of his old photographs, in the company of the great Sunbeam authority, Anthony Heal. Fragments of that past were recalled such as when C. A. Bird, who lived near the foot of Shelsley Walsh, made f.t.d. in the 4.9-litre Indianapolis Sunbeam in 1920 (incidentally, this was the first occasion on which Cozens, who today is the immediate Past-President of the Midland Automobile Club and a member of its committee, visited this famous hill); Malcolm Campbell losing a Phoenix Park race he was confidently expected to win with the supercharged 3-litre twin-cam sports Sunbeam, because he slipped its clutch and finally retired; how it was intended to use the Sunbeam Tiger to open the course before the 1929 Ulster TT (Kaye Don having won the 1928 race in a Lea-Francis), when Cozens would have been the passenger: it didn’t work out, because when Perkins (who seeing Birkin’s name on the passenger list for the crossing, thought the cabin was his!) tried the car in Belfast it misbehaved and as the TT course was 13 miles to the lap, it was thought prudent to substitute a standard 3-litre Sunbeam tourer. By the way, thinking in terms of sports Sunbeams, you can distinguish the rare sports Fourteen by the way in which the windscreen frame turns up away from the scuttle, instead of being supported by it. Mr. Cozens said that because of their size both the 1,000 h.p. twin-engine LSR Sunbeam and the “Silver Bullet” had to be built on the ground floor of the Experimental Department. He still passes by the old factory quite frequently; only recently was the house, once occupied by General Huggins, the bowler-hatted liaison man of the Technical Department, pulled down.
After leaving “The Sunbeam” Mr. Cozens had a distinguished career in the Motor Trade. He has only recently retired. His present car is a big Datsun. — W.B.
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