GREAT RACING MARQUES.
By E. K. H. KERSLAKE.
THE name of Sunbeam is one which should be particularly revered among English motorists, as for a .number of years this firm has practically alone borne the entire brunt of keeping up the prestige of the British motor industry, by its performances in the great international races. It is to these enterprising firms, who try out new ideas on the severe testing-ground of the race-circuit, that we owe nearly all the progress made in automobile construction from electric ignition to supercharging. It is idle to argue that this and that was applied to a car before it was used in a race ; racing proves whether or not a new idea is practical-,-as in the case of 4-wheel brakes, which were first used on touring cars, but then went out again, until they were re-introduced for racing and proved to be the necessary fitment that they are considered to-day. It is the firms who race who make progress, and then are copied by their less
valiant rivals. The rise to fame of the Sunbeam as a first class racing III argue was amazingly rapid. In 1912 the Automobile Club de France organized a great Grand Prix 2-day race over the Dieppe circuit for cars of unlimited capacity; and in conjunction with this a light car race, for machines of under 3 litre capacity, for the Coupe de l’Auto. Sunbeam entered three cars, which were to take part in both events. These were practically standard productions with four cylinder side-valve engines of 80 x 148 mms., fitted with what was then considered a streamline body. These cars in the hands of Rigal, Resta,and Medinger finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the Coupe de 1′ Auto race, and 3rd 4th and 5th in the Grand Prix, Rigal covering the 956 miles at 65.35 m.p.h. When it is mentioned that the first and second cars in the Grand Prix had engines of 7,606 c.c. and 14,143 c.c. capacity respectively, the amazing performance of these ” 3-litres”
can be fully appreciated. The next year the Grand Prix was held at Amiens, cars being restricted to fuel at the rate of 14.12 m.p.g. Sunbeam entered a team of four cars, which were in fact 6-cylinder editions of the last year’s victorious racers, thus coming into the 41 litre category. In the race, Caillois was put out by a broken torque rod, and Lee Guinness crashed into a river after bursting a tyre, but Chassagne got home third and Resta sixth. As the two first places were taken by Boillot and Goux on Peugeots, which firm had won the 1912 Grand Prix and the 1913 Indianapolis race, and was acknowledged As the premier racing marque of the day, the Sunbeams’
sponsors might well be pleased with their performance. What was more, they were not afraid to meet their formidable antagonists again, and in the Coupe de l’Auto
race of that year, which was for three litre cars over a course near Boulogne, Lee Guinness secured them another third behind Boillot and Goux’s Peugeots. The year 1914 provided an important win for Sunbeam. That year the R.A.C. organised its Tourists’ Trophy for ears up to 3,310 c.c.,—a somewhat curious limit, whose adoption was probably due to the fact
that as the race was supposed to be for cars of touring type, it was intended to include all cars round about. the 3-litre mark. In this race K. Lee Guinness drove a 3-litre Sunbeam to victory, averaging 56.44 m.p.h. over 600 miles of the difficult Manx course. That year the Grand Prix was held at Lyons and was for cars of under 4,500 c.c. Three Sunbeams were entered, and were again six cylinder cars of the same size
as the year before. The Mercedes grand slam, in that race, after their terrific duel with the Peugeots, one of which finished fourth, is one of the best known stories in the annals of motor racing. The Sunbeams kept well up with the leaders, and, although Lee Guinness had to retire with a broken piston and Chassagne ran a big end, Resta managed to secure fifth place for England.
When the Grand Prix was revived after the war, the first race, for 3-litre cars, was run at le Mans in 1921. Sunbeam entered a team of straight-eight 65 x 112 mms. racers, but the cars were not ready in time for the race, and had to be scratched. It was not till the T.T. race in the next year, therefore, that they got the opportunity of showing their paces. Of the three cars entered for the race, Lee Guinness’ could not start as the clutch refused to grip. The other two, however, took the lead from the outset, until, on the fifth lap, H. 0. 1). Segrave was forced to retire. with magneto trouble, after putting up a record lap at 57.7 m.p.h. This left Chassagne to finish in first place, having covered the 302 miles mostly in pouring rain at 55.78 m.p.h.
For the 1922 Grand Prix, the engine size had been reduced to 2 litres, so that an entirely new set of 4cylinder 68 x 136 mms. cars were constructed. It is interesting to note, that five years ago it was generally admitted that, so far at any rate as moderately sized racing cars were concerned, although multi-cylinder engines might give better acceleration, 4-cylinders were supreme as far as sheer speed was concerned. In the race, which was held at Strasburg, however, the Sunbeams were not lucky, as all three were put out by some particular form of valve trouble. It was in this year that Kennelm Lee Guinness had the happy idea of taking some Sunbeam and TalbotDarracq racers for a sort of racing tour on his own steamer. The Sunbeams were entered in the Coppa Florio, which was run over the famous Sicilian circuit, and consisted of 2 racing editions of the 24-60 h.p. model, with 6 cylinders of 81.5 x 157 mms. (4,914 c.c.) in the hands of Jean Chassagne and H. 0. D. Segrave. Chassagne, while in second place had an oil pipe broken by a flying stone, but by buying up all the salad oil in a
village on the course managed to continue and to finish the race, although too late to be timed. Segrave, however, ran with great regularity and finally finished second behind Andre Boillot’s Peugeot.
In 1923 came the greatest victory of the Sunbeam career—the winning of the French Grand Prix. For this race a set of 6-cylinder racers had been built, which had engines of 67 x 94 mins., developing 110 h.p., and capable of propelling the cars at 115 m.p.h. Their chief rivals in the race, which was held over 500 miles of a course near Tours, were the supercharged Fiats, which were capable of some 125 m.p.h. All the Italian cars, however, drdpped out with supercharger trouble, and Segrave, Divo and Lee Guinness got home in 1st, 2nd and 4th places respectively, the winner averaging 75.3 m.p.h.
Before the year was out, Sunbeam scored another win, this time in the opening 2-litre race on the Sitges track near Barcelona, when Divo averaged 97 m.p.h. for the 248.5 miles. Though beaten in the French Grand Prix, the Fiats had shown the advantages of supercharging by their
victory in the first European Grand Prix, and so blowers were added to the 6-cylinder Sunbeams for the 1924 season, with a resulting increase of power to 135 b.h.p. That year the European Grand Prix was held at Lyons, and in practice the Sunbeams proved to be the fastest cars entered ; but fortune was against them in the race, as all three cars were held back by magneto trouble. Segrave, however, had the satisfaction of putting up a lap record at 76.25 m.p.h., and finally finished fifth. He also scored another win later on in the year in the Spanish Grand Prix at San Sebastian, when his 2-litre Sunbeam averaged 63.5 m.p.h. over 386 miles of a course on which the driver was never able to use his top gear.
The lessons learned by these races were not long in being applied to a touring car, and in 1924 there appeared the ” 3-litre” Sunbeam, which is as near as may be, fitted with a Grand Prix engine with the capacity increased by 50%. Two of these cars were entered for the Grand Prix d’Endurance at le Mans in 1925. The one driven by the Segrave-Duller team was put out with clutch trouble after leading for 140 miles, but the other, driven by Chassagne and Davis gained second place, covering 1,343.2 miles in the 24 hours.
The two litre racers were again entered for the Grand Prix, which that year was held on the new road and track circuit at Montlhery. Segrave and Conelli, two of the Sunbeam drivers were unable to finish the race, owing to a broken inlet valve and a faulty servo mechanism respectively, but the Italian amateur Masetti, who was driving the remaining car, got home in third place behind the two victorious Delages. Thus ended the last 2-litre French Grand Prix, and with the introduction of the 1500 c.c. limit for the great races in 1926, the S.T.D. combine decided that their new racers should be made in the Darracq factory at Suresnes. It is not, however, in the big long-distance races only that Sunbeams have won fame, for the name is almost as renowned in the annals of the short distance records. In May, 1922, K. Lee Guinness beoke the world’s records for the flying kilometre and the flying mile at Brooklands on the famous 12-cylinder Sunbeam of 120 x 135
mms. (18,322 c.c.), his average for the kilometre being 133.75 m.p.h. Later this car was acquired by Malcolm Campbell, who took it to Fanoe for the speed trials in June, 1923, and succeeded in bettering the previous performance by raising the figures to 136.32 m.p.h. for the kilometre and 137.72 for the mile. These records were lost to Eldridge’s big Fiat, but nothing deterred, Malcolm Campbell had the Sunbeam re-streamlined, and in September, 1924, raised the record to 146.16 for the kilometre and finally in July, 1925, to 150.87 m.p.h. for the kilometre and 150.77 m.p.h. for the mile.
In the meantime the Sunbeam Co. had constructed a new 12-cylinder 4-litre racer, whose engine consisted in reality to 2 Grand Prix units set in a V. This car was taken to Southport in March, 1926, and succeeded in capturing the kilometre record at 152.31 m.p.h., only to lose it again to the redoubtable Thomas on his Higham Special. The Sunbeam Co. have not, however, thrown up the sponge, and at present all eyes are fixed on the gigantic 1,000 h.p. 24-cylinder Sunbeam, which is being sent to Daytona to try and recapture the coveted record.