Grey area over 1912 Sunbeam racers

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The question of sources has a topical ring to it. My announcement that all three of the racing Sunbeams which in 1912 finished 1-2-3 in the Coupe de l’Auto race are still in existence came from La Vie de l’Auto, repeated in the STD Newsletter.

The post-race history of these side-valve 3-litre cars has been difficult to ascertain, especially as three outwardly similar cars ran in the 1913 race. But Bruce Dowell, painstaking Sunbeam investigator, reminds me that until this announcement appeared it had been held that none of the 1912 team cars remain in genuine original condition. The winning car of Victor Rigal and Jean Chassagne was apparently advertised by George Newman in 1914, for £325, Bruce tells me. Post-war it seems it was in Somerset, with a Raworth touring body, registered Y167. It later went out to Bill Hamilton in New Zealand and, with other owners, deteriorated along the years. It then came back to the UK as a 12-16hp sports Sunbeam devoid of any racing parts. Richard Baddiley reassembled it from various Sunbeam components and it was improved by Ian Polson, who sold it with no claims to it being the original 1912 racing car. André Plasch is now reported as having found this car in Germany four years ago and having restored it to original appearance, “English clubs and the NMM recognising it as authentic”.

The NMM has a Coupe de l’Auto Sunbeam thought by Dowell to have been built up perhaps with components from the spare car of the 1912 team. The third of these cars was thought to be a ‘lookalike’ utilising standard period Sunbeam parts.