Racing car development

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The Sunbeam Tiger

When the Sunbeam company withdrew from Grand Prix racing in 1925, after racing their 2-litre supercharged six cylinder cars they turned their thoughts to the Land Speed Record with a car developed from the Grand Prix car. This was a 4-litre V12 using two Grand Prix cylinder blocks on a single crankcase with a large supercharger driven off the front of the crankshaft. A chassis and body were built on similar lines to the 1924 Grand Prix cars, but big enough to take the power of the 4-litre engine. In 1926 Major Henry Segrave drove this V12 car, called “Ladybird”, and took the Land Speed Record at 152.33 mph on Southport sands in March of that year. The design of the car was on Grand Prix lines, so that it was also used in Formula Libre road races and was a pretty impressive vehicle for its time. In 1927 a second one was built and subsequently Kaye Don acquired them and raced them very successfully at the Brooklands track. He named them Tiger and Tigress and raced them up to the end of 1930, sometimes using one, sometimes the other and occasionally running both of them, so that exactly which car was which became a bit muddled, but nonetheless they were the two ex-works V12 Sunbeams. By the time he gave up racing them he had pushed the Brooklands lap record up to 137.58 mph and had been timed over the flying kilometre at 140.95 mph, so it can be appreciated that for their time the V12 Sunbeams were pretty potent machines. The engines ran on a 60/40 mixture of petrol-benzol and developed 305 bhp at 5.000 rpm with a supercharger pressure of 8 psi. Running on straight petrol the engines gave 291 bhp. at 5,000 rpm and in this state they could be driven on the road from the Wolverhampton factory, down to he Brooklands track in Surrey.

At the time that Kaye Don gave up racing them another of the Speed Kings of the day was Malcolm Campbell and he was engaged on a “Buy British” campaign to support the flagging economy (sounds like 1980, but it was actually 1931). At the time he was racing Delage, Mercedes-Benz and Bugatti cars, and in support of his “Buy British” campaign he sold his foreign cars and bought the two Sunbeam V12 cars, while he was also at work on new British Land Speed Record cars. He had Thomson & Taylor. the Brooklands engineers, rebuild one of them into virtually a new car, with the other being re-built as spares. It was Tiger that emerged in 1932 as a Campbell Special, though it was still called a Sunbeam V12. T&T’s made a new chassis frame, a new front axle assembly, new hydraulic brakes, and installed a pre-selector gearbox. The engine and rear axle were unchanged. The body was more or less unchanged, and the outward appearance was still that of the original V12 Sunbeam, but it was virtually a new car.

It should have made its first appearance at the Brooklands August Bank Holiday meeting of 1932, but it was not ready; it did appear the following month when Malcolm Campbell won the Brooklands Mountain Championship race with it. That same month it ran in the Brighton Speed Trials where it was matched against the 101/2-litre V12 Delage, which it beat, covering the standing start half-mile in 23.6 seconds to the 24.0 seconds of the big Delage. It lived at Brooklands for the rest of its competition life, being raced by Campbell and Staniland in the International Trophy and Campbell in Mountain races. In 1936 John Cobb raced it on the outer circuit, winning one race at 125.61 mph with a lap at 130.72 mph. In 1937 Charles Brackenbury and Anthony Powys-Lybbe drove it in the BRDC 500 kilometre race and lapped at 132.8 mph, and today Powys-Lybbe recalls it as being a very nice car . .

Just before the war put a stop to Brooklands racing Charles Mortimer bought the car, but never raced it, and after the war it appeared in club racing at Silverstone and then passed into the VSCC scene of historic racing, a regular competitor for many years, remaining virtually unaltered from its Campbell days. Today it resides in the Midlands Motor Museum at Bridgenorth, looking the same as ever, which is to Campbell specification, with hydraulic brakes and pre-selector gearbox, with the T & T front axle and chassis frame. The 1926 Wolverhampton Sunbeam version disappeared during the rebuild in 1931/32.— DSJ