A Sunbeam's Identity

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The 3-litre twin-cam Sunbeam is one of the outstanding vintage models of this illustrious make, for those seeking a sports performance rather than the luxury travel for which these Wolverhampton cars were also noted. The exciting twin-cam 3-litre was announced in May 1924, described then as the 3-litre Super Sports version of the 16/50, for high speed touring, with the top pace of 87mph at 4000 rpm, on a 4.5 axle ratio.

The twin-cam 3-litre was no doubt Coatalen’s answer to the Bentley win at Le Mans in 1924, and it served Coatalen well by finishing second in the 1925 race, driven by Sammy Davis and Jean Chassagne, when both Bentleys retired. The long wheelbase and cantilever rear springs gave a touring appearance to these Sunbeams, which was good publicity, and the second place Sunbeam was 2.18mph quicker than the winning Bentley the previous year. My query arises because, after Segrave’s great victory for Sunbeam in the 1923 French GP, de Hanc, who was a professional driver, was, in addition to his earnings, given as a token of this success a 3-litre Sunbeam. No fuss seems to have been made of this but a photograph was published of the driver, in lounge suit and trilby hat, and his wife Doris with their bull terrier, standing behind the car on a wet day – the top pane of the windscreen is open in a decidedly non-photogenic background.

As the car was described as a 3-litre it might be assumed that Segrave’s bright red tourer was a very early twin-cam car. However, the picture appeared at the end of August 1923, following his win at Tours in the British-built Sunbeam on July 2, so what he had been presented with could have been a prototype of the sports version of the fine 20/60 model, which had a wheelbase a few inches shorter, at just over lift, than that of the touring model 20/60 and the 3-litre push-rod sportscars. Or was it a normal 20/60 tourer? In which case its speed would not have greatly exceeded 60mph, rather tame for the man who five years later, was to drive a Sunbeam at over 200mph!