National Motor Museum takes record-breaking Sunbeams back to the Midlands for the Classic Motor Show
All three vehicles were manufactured in factories in Wolverhampton by two companies that started life as one firm. Sunbeam was the brand name of John Marston Limited, a Wolverhampton bicycle maker. They made some cars from 1902 and by 1905 the Sunbeam Motor Co became a separate entity. The Sunbeam Motor Co later became part of the influential Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq combine, and Sunbeam cars had many racing successes and gained various speed records from 1909 to 1927.
The Sunbeam 1000hp, nicknamed The Slug, was powered by two aircraft engines. With its iconic red bodywork, the car is an incredible example of pioneering motoring - an amazing vehicle which was one of the first cars built for the sole purpose of breaking the record. The National Motor Museum are restoring the vehicle with the ambition of returning to Daytona Beach in Florida for the 100-year anniversary of Sir Henry Segrave’s 203.792 mph World Land Speed Record on March 29th, 2027.
The Sunbeam’s two 22.5 litre engines, which each produced 435bhp, have not run since before World War II more than 80 years ago – after corrosion attacked internal workings. With painstaking rebuilding, using specialist knowledge and bespoke parts, National Motor Museum engineers aim to recapture the sounds, sights and smells of this ground-breaking machine and help to preserve it for future generations. Curators and the Learning Team at the Museum aim to discover more about the team that built the vehicle and engage young engineers with the work of the Museum as part of the restoration project.
Restored by the National Motor Museum, the 350hp Sunbeam is another significant Land Speed Record car, holding the record on three occasions. It was designed by Sunbeam’s chief engineer Louis Coatalen and built at the company’s Wolverhampton works during 1919 and early 1920. Power came from a modified 18 litre Sunbeam V12 ‘Manitou’ aero engine. Famous drivers such as Harry Hawker, Rene Thomas, Jean Chassagne and Kenelm Lee Guinness raced the car, with Guinness driving it to its first Land Speed Record, achieving 133.75mph at Brooklands on 17th May 1922.
Captain Malcolm Campbell purchased the car from Sunbeam in 1923 and repainting it in his famous blue livery as it became the latest in his line of cars to carry the name ‘Blue Bird’. In September 1924, Campbell claimed the Land Speed Record with a run of 146.16mph at Pendine Sands in Wales. He returned to Pendine the next year and on 21st July became the first person to break the 150mph barrier with a new record of 150.76mph.
Having painstakingly rebuilt its complex V12 engine, the National Motor Museum workshop engineers triumphantly took this landmark vehicle back to Pendine Sands in South Wales in 2015, for a low-speed reconstruction of its World Land Speed Record 90 years earlier.
Sunbeam Standard Model 3 Motorcycle
The 499cc motorcycle was first seen on the Sunbeam stand at the 1924 Olympia Show. It was sold by Graham Walker, then competitions manager of John Marston Limited. The Model 3 motorcycle was manufactured by John Marston in Wolverhampton at their ‘Sunbeamland’ works. The company began making motorcycles, alongside bicycles, from 1912.
Motoring heritage and stories
Jon Murden, Chief Executive of the National Motor Museum says, “Visitors to the Classic Motor Show this year will be able to witness emblems of vehicle engineering and speed at the National Motor Museum stand. It’s fitting that we should be bringing these iconic vehicles to the Midlands, where Sunbeam had their factory, so that we can celebrate the ingenuity of the manufacturer and the bravery of those who drove these World Land Speed vehicles which led to giant leaps in motoring technology.”
In addition to the Sunbeam vehicles the Museum will also be featuring the first book produced by National Motor Museum Publishing, Goldie by John Mayhead – the story of Goldie Gardner, WW1 war veteran, racing driver, and the world’s most prolific speed-record holder.
Limited edition posters and t-shirts will be on sale to raise funds for the Sunbeam 1000hp restoration campaign.
The National Motor Museum stand at the Classic Motor Show is number 1-580 in Hall 1 at the NEC. Further information is available at www.nationalmotormuseum.org.uk or on the museum’s Twitter or X social media account, @natlmotormuseum.