Last month, a Vauxhall occasion. This time something Sunbeam-orientated. It was to celebrate the refurbishing by I-Mex Properties Ltd of the old Sunbeam Motor Car Co’s premises in Wolverhampton. As other heritage Motor Industry sites in this country are so neglected, it is marvellous that I-Mex, instead of demolishing the Sunbeam Experimental and Racing building, are proud to have restored the site at a cost of over £5m. The Sunbeam Street Studio is now 47 rentable trade and office suites of from 600 to 1500 sq ft and the larger site now comprises units of 200 to 10,000 sq ft. Wolverhapton Council has landscaped the area at a cost of £50,000.
The original factory dates from 1899, for making making John Marston’s Sunbeam bicycles, and the racing department from around 1915-1919,if not pre-WWI. It is to the credit of I-Mex, architect Paul Jenns, and contractors Lavelle that this vast three-story building (now listed Grade II), where Louis Coatalen played with his effective toys, remains much as it was apart from new windows. Even the lift which took Sunbeam racing cars on the first stage of their victorious journeys (and perhaps aero-engines up and down in time of war?) still works; marks where eared hubcaps gouged its wall can still be discerned.
It was here, on July 24th, that local councilors, businessmen, bankers, the Press, and STD Register members assembled for the opening of these Sunbeam Studios in Sunbeam Street. Lord Montagu had that very morning dispatched from the NMM the famous 350hp V12 Sunbeam back to where it was created, for the first time in 70 years. A great attraction, it now has a replica of the long tail used by Campbell for the LSR of 146.16 mph at Pendine in 1924, and more appropriate 34 x 4 1/2 Dunlops (originals, 800 x 120), but the radiator cowl is perhaps a trifle too wide (a longer cowl was used for the 150.76 mph record run of 1925). Wonderful to see the great car in Wolverhampton again — it returned to the Museum that evening.
It was supported by the 1903 12/16 hp Sunbeam “Fi Fenella”, a 1928 Model 7A 599 cc Sunbeam combo, and an early Sunbeam sidecar-outfit, all from the nearby IMI Marston Heritage Museum, Chris Minor’s 1929 Sunbeam 16 coupe and Basil Wilding’s 1934 Sunbeam Dawn saloon, all immaculate. Wilding worked at “The Sunbeam”. Also there was Mike Ridley. whose grandfather was a key figure in the racing department; Mike had supplied some of the photographs which adorned the luncheon room and brought a tin-plate model of the twin-engined Sunbeam which was the first car to exceed 200 mph, at Daytona in 1927. Ably organised at short notice by I-Mex’s marketing manager John MacColl, what a nostalgic occasion! I shouldn’t be surprised if Sunbeams of the STD Register one day rally at this historic site. W B