In the January Motor Sport, we were able to describe the origins of the Darracq “Genevieve”. Here is Dr Bill Pumphrey’s story of how a veteran Sunbeam, believed to be the first of that make, also emerged from Jack Wadsworth’s yard. W B
From mid-1946 to late-1949 I was a research student in the Metallurgy Department of Birmingham University. One of my fellow researchers was Don Shewell, the proud possessor of a 1900/1901 Argyll that had been in his family since new, and one or two excursions with him fired me with an irresistable urge to have a veteran car of my own. Don was a member of the VCC and heard, through the Club grapevine, that there were several “old cars” lying in a yard at Isleworth owned by a Mr Jack Wadsworth. We drove there early in 1947, to be confronted with a mouldering heap of vehicles, more rust than metal, but all, we were told, of pre-I905 date. Despite the absence of most of its body, a reputed 1903 four-cylinder, chain-driven Sunbeam seemed to us the most restorable of the lot and my offer of £25 for it was accepted by Mr Wadsworth.
We returned to Isleworth the following weekend with Don’s low-loading trailer. Mr Wadsworth, obligingly, had separated it from the heap and had rigged up an overhead block-and-tackle to hoist it on to our trailer. What he failed to tell us, perhaps he was unaware, was that the Sunbeam had a wooden chassis, much rotted after forty and more years. When the car was hanging in mid-air the chassis collapsed, depositing a pile of broken bits on to the trailer. Nothing would induce Mr Wadsworth to refund my £25 — a considerable sum to an impoverished research student in those days — and so we carted the load of junk, as I thought it, to Don Shewell’s house in Belbroughton and dumped it in one of his barns. I slunk back to my home in Birmingham to lick my wounds and think what on earth to do with my purchase.
I could not bring myself even to look at it for several weeks but, luckily, I had an engineer friend, Chris Lilburn, who was interested to see what I had bought. To satisfy his curiosity I took him to Belbroughton, where he picked over the bits. To my astonishment he said there was a car there, just waiting to be re-assembled and that, furthermore, he was certain we would get the engine going without too much difficulty. With his prodding, we disentangled the engine, put it on a couple of wooden boxes, cleaned-up all the vital parts, rigged up a gravity-feed petrol tank using an old petrol can, gave the starting handle a twirl and — it started! We let it run for only a few seconds, of course, but those seconds were the prelude to months of hard, intensely enjoyable, and rewarding, restoration work.
Needless to say, when we stripped the engine down we found that it was in a poor state of health. The crankshaft was cracked and had to be re-welded and ground, all the bearings had to be renewed, the clutch needed re-lining, and we had to fit expansion rings to the pistons to accommodate the wear on the cylinder bores. The starting-handle needed replacing and I cast a new brass one in the University foundry. With the aid of the Belbroughton blacksmith/coachsmith we built a new chassis of ash, using the bits of the old one as a pattern, and assembled the frame of the body along the lines of the original, as pictured in various books and sales-pamphlets we borrowed from the VCC and Mr Anthony Heal. The side lights came from my father’s garage in North Wales and were of 1920’s vintage. Unfortunately, the new wooden chassis cracked during its first trial run and we had to reinforce it with 3in angle-iron, which may still be in place for all I know.
At this stage the car was in running order if not concours, and what is more had been identified by the VCC and Sunbeam Register as the earliest existing Sunbeam-engined Sunbeam — No 1, in fact. We over-reached ourselves, however, in entering it for the 1948 Brighton Run, which was a disastrous failure for us. The ignition timing developed a mind of its own and we had five punctures in the first ten miles — after which we gave up — because we had omitted to fit protective bands to the wheel rims, re-built by the Belbroughton blacksmith, to protect the inner tubes from the projecting spoke-ends. With these faults remedied, and a discreetly hidden lubricating pump fitted, Chris and I had a glorious 1949, taking part in many Club events and winning much-prized cups for the VCC Bagshot Trial and the Southport Rally.I had registered the car as JOH 2 when it became road-usable but during 1949 I changed this to A 13, at a cost of about £7, on the hunch that it had been a London-based vehicle originally.
Sadly, in 1955 or thereabouts I had to dispose of it to raise money for school fees and sold it to Dr Fellows of Ware for £600. He, in his turn, re-sold it some years later. Since then I have neither seen nor heard of it and all I now have to remind me of those exciting long-ago days are some old photographs and the original Sunbeam Register badge. W I P
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