A contemporary (I must not mention names, but I respect Mike McCarthy for running a slick ship!) published a story recently that has a ring of mystery about it. The correspondent responsible calls it “the strangest tale I have heard for some time, and somehow something just didn’t ring true”. It concerns an original Ulster Austin 7 that was advertised for sale, and which was seen very soon afterwards by a photographer. But when would-be purchasers enquired about it, they were told apparently that the car had been run over by a builder’s lorry and completely destroyed. Could they see the remains? No, they could not!
I am reminded by this of another car which seems to have had a mysterious career. It was that rather exciting amalgamation of a 1921 3-litre straight-eight GP Sunbeam chassis and a 1472-litre 275 hp Rolls Royce Falcon aero-engine, on which J W Burnand was working when war broke out. Burnand had a garage business in Buxton and ran as his road cars an Alfonso Hispano Suiza, which was notably reliable over a very big mileage, and a 1922 ex-saloon Bentley converted into an open 3-litre, with a Minerva front axle. He was a keen competitor in speedtrials and Southport sand races with his JWB, which in its final form had a twin-SU Riley 9 engine in a chassis using A7 axles. It was towed to meetings behind an Alvis Speed 20.
To build his aero-engined hybrid, Burnand had acquired the Sunbeam campaigned at Southport by George Jackson,which after enduring much tuning and supercharging, blew up in 1935, and the R-R engine from the RAF. War put paid to this interesting project, after the engine had been installed.
Some years after peace had broken out, I heard that the car had been acquired by H H Stisted, who had raced an MG Midget at Brooklands. It was said to be in a South Coast boatyard. DSJ and I went down to investigate, but of the monster-engined Sunbeam, there was no sign. We were directed to Stisted’s home, only to find the one-time racing driver ill in bed, although I think his wife was flattered that I mistook her for his daughter! She conveyed our message and Stisted bellowed back that the car should be in a nearby boatyard. Further enquiries, however, proved fruitless…
Then, sometime in the 1950s, I received a letter from a young man, living not far from the boatyard, who said he had an aero-engined chassis that was without tyres and did I know if suitable ones were available? Living then in Hampshire, about an hour’s run from his address, my wife and I set off to tell him the good news that Dunlop’s could indeed find him 820 x 120 tyres, or whatever. The young man was out, teaching his girlfriend to drive in the family Ford. We were invited in by his mother. Time passed and he had not returned, so I asked if I could see the unusual car, making it clear that I was not trying to buy it but was very interested in old racing cars. It seemed apparent that the lady (who was, I believe, associated with the then Alfa Romeo Social Club in Baker Street, which had no direct connection with Alfa Romeo cars) had the key of the shed beside the cottage in which the Sunbeam resided. But my request was refused, as she could not show us the car without her son’s permission…
So we left without seeing it. But some years afterwards I heard that it was in the possession of the owner of a late model Marendaz Special, who lived in Byfleet. Following a Brooklands Reunion, we located the gentleman and after admiring his Marendaz, I turned the conversation to the older and bigger car. Yes, he owned it. He told me quite a lot about it and, when I expressed a desire to see it, I was told it was in London and if I would like to ring him when next I was going there, he would show it to me. (did this very soon after our conversation, only to be told a strange tale. The car had been in a lock-up in Brentford, near the river. But since my very recent visit, builders had put up a block of flats on the site and all trace of the old car had vanished.
Possible, of course, and I am not suggesting otherwise; but I did get the impression, rightly or wrongly, that when it become known that I was a journalist (I prefer to say I am a motoring enthusiastwho writes rather than a journalist who motors, but no matter!), I was dissuaded from pursuing the matter. Coming to 1990, the R-R trust would like to locate a Falcon engine for their collection and Anthony Heal, author of that splendid book about Sunbeam racing cars, might wish to learn of the eventual fate of this particular Sunbeam. So if anyone out there has anything to add (however insignificant as they say on the “Crimewatch” programmes) we would like to hear from them. WB