Veteran Types




I AVING firmly .inscribed the title of this article I may as well admit at once that I am not quite sure whether the car which I came across recently is actually the Sunbeam with which K. Lee Guinness won the last Tourist Trophy race before the war, or

whether it is one of the other cars of the team which were driven by his brother Algernon, and the late Dario Resta. At any rate the car I am about to describe has I.O.M.I. engraved on the radiator, and as Kenelm Lee Guinness’ car was always known as Sunbeam I in the Island, I conclude that it is the actual winning machine. It is rather a curious feature of motor racing history that throughout its course wiseacres have shaken their heads at short intervals and declared that racing cars were getting so far away from touring machines that they were teaching their designers and manufacturers nothing which was of any use in the perfection of their series models. What, of course, they really mean is that the study of special racing machines is furthering the advance of automobile design so quickly that manufacturers who do not race are quite incapable of keeping pace with it. Thus during the few years which immediately preceded the war much ink was spilt on the theme that as the most successful racing firms were using overhead valves on their cars, all their efforts were being wasted, as valves in this position were quite impracticable for touring cars. Looking back, the best answer to this contention is that now more touring cars have overhead than side valves, largely as a result of the lessons learnt by a few firms just before the war ; but, of course, the sponsors of the contention have now long ago forgotten it, and have since been spending their time railing against front wheel brakes and super

chargers. Just lately, owing to the lack of races for special cars, automobile design has not been advancing quickly enough for them to find anything to object to.

However, to get back to the point, the great exponent of the overhead valve principle during the years just before the war was the house of Peugeot. On the other hand Sunbeams, when they set out on their attack on the great races, decided to do so using the then conventional valve arrangement in an L head. In spite of this handicap they succeeded in scoring a grand slam in the Coupe des ‘Voiturettes attached to the Grand Prix in 1912; but they found themselves unable to beat the Peugeots in the same race, or in the Grand Prix of 1913. Thereupon, the English firm, much to the disgust of the antiprogress party, decided that for the 1914 season they too would use overhead valves. In that year the R.A.C. decided to revive its Tourist Trophy, which had not been competed for since the famous” Four Inch Race ” of 1908, the year of the great eclipse of motor racing. The race was supposed to further the development of the 3-litre car, which since Bablot’s win on the Delage in the 1911 Coupe des Voiturettes was realised as the most interesting car of the day ; but as the Isle of Man course over which the race was to be run was obviously more difficult than those usually chosen for motor races, the limit actually decided on was the somewhat curious one of 3,310 c.c. The 3-litre Sunbeam which had distinguished itself in France in 1912 and 1913 was a 4-cylinder machine of 80 x 149 mm. bore • and stroke, dimensions which have later been those of other famous ” 3-litres ” which have owed much in their design to the pre-war racing Sunbeam. Owing, however, to the increased engine size permitted by the regulations, the Sunbeams for the 1914 Tourist Trophy

had the stroke increased somewhat, I think to 160 mm. In accorAnce with the most up-to-date practice the engines had 4 overhead valves per cylinder operated by two overhead camshafts driven by a train of pinions. Dry sump lubrication was used with two oil-pumps, and the cars had cone clutches and 4-speed gear boxes.

The story of Sunbeam I in the race is soon told. The event was over 16 laps of the Manx course, a total distance of about 600 miles, and run in two halves on consecutive days. On the first lap Kenelm Lee Guinness put his Sunbeam round at 58.9 m.p.h., and appeared in first place ; and he retained this position on every one of the sixteen laps, finally proving the winner of the race at 56.44 m.p.h.

These T.T. racers had, of course, a very short life in the limelight, for the war came less than two months after the race had been run. Their later history was obscure, except for the fact that I seem to remember that one of them used to appear at Southport a few Years ago ; and therefore, when I heard that the one now in question was running as a touring car and was owned by an acquaintance of mine, I was particularly interested to have a run in it and see how the pre-war racer was running.

I had arranged to meet the owner at the Marble Arch, but when I arrived there the car which I saw standing by the park railings was very different from what I had expected. Instead of the original 2-seater with bolster petrol tank which had appeared in the Island, the car now has a 4-seater sports body of typical Sunbeam appearance, a standard type Sunbeam petrol tank between the dumb-irons, a hood, windscreen, electric lighting, starting, etc., while only the colour is reminiscent of the purple hue which Kenelrn Lee Guinness’ racer was painted. After the first glance, however, one notices the very large cord-bound steering wheel, which seems rather unusual on an ordinary sports Sunbeam, and when one opens the bonnet one discovers a 4-cylinder engine distinctly reminiscent of the 6-cylinder power unit of the present-day 3-litre sports car. However, by the time we had got into the car and moved off, one was again surprised by the character of

its performance as compared with its appearance. The engine makes that rather pleasant noise characteristic of exposed overhead valves operated by overhead camshafts, distinctly reminiscent of the racing car of a few years ago, and although unfortunately it was raining during the greater part of our run, one was able to note that the acceleration was something quite out of the ordinary.

One of the features of the car, which was most impressive, was the almost complete silence of the gearbox on the indirect ratios which was practically inaudible although the exhaust gives only a pleasant subdued boom. This feature tends to encourage one to make very ample use of third, a delightful speed on which the acceleration is terrific, and quite steep main road hills can be climbed at a pace which sends the car roaring ahead of others who think that they are keeping their revs, up ,quite nicely on top.

Unfortunately we had not got time to get far enough from London to get really clear of the surrounding traffic, and this fact coupled with the wet roads prevented us from getting an idea of the maximum speed of the Sunbeam. I am convinced, however, that it is high enough to prevent one’s using it very frequently except under what are in this country rather unusually favourable circumstances, which has the pleasant effect of making one drive the car for the most part at well below its maximum capacity.

The outstanding impression which the Sunbeam has left with me is one of continual pleasant surprise while travelling in it, that what has the outward appearance of a quite ordinary sports machine performs like the true racing car which it is. There is something indefinably thrilling about the subdued chatter of the valve gear and the surge of power on the indirect ratios of its remarkably silent gearbox. At the moment of writing this car is for sale, and I should greatly like to buy it ; but I doubt whether if I were a millionaire I should ever find adequate stabling accommodation for all the rather out-of-the-way motorcars which I should want to buy !

E. K. H. K.