|During the year the Rootes Group Archive Centre Trust, based at Wroxton near Banbury Ox., hold theme days celebrating the great names and cars that comprised the Rootes Group of companies. Today it was the Sunbeam marque that was being celebrated.
John Marston’s Sunbeam Cycle company, based in Wolverhampton, produced its first car in 1899 and therefore was a pioneer of the British car industry. The company went from strength to strength in developing its range of cars. These were aimed mainly at the middle class, eschewing the cycle cars produced by the French manufacturers and the small cars produced by Austin and Morris.
Many of their competitors failed but Sunbeam established itself in the affections of the country’s growing band of motorists by building a car capable of gaining a new World Land Speed record for Britain. Malcolm Campbell drove a 18.3 litre, 350 hp. ‘V12’ Sunbeam to that success in 1924 and again in 1925.
They also built Grand Prix cars for both their own racing team and gentlemen racers during the 1920s. Sunbeam cars were to be found in all the prominent Grands Prix races around the World but especially in Europe. There is not doubt that in the car buying public’s eye the name Sunbeam was associated with motor sport success.
But in 1935 events had caught up with Sunbeam, events too complicated to go into here but sadly they led to the demise of the company. The enterprising and ambitious Rootes brothers saw the opportunity to gain the prestigious Sunbeam name for a relatively small outlay. There was no question of continuing to produce the, by now, outdated Sunbeam range, it was more a question of how to use the famous name to best advantage. In 1938 Sunbeam was married to the Talbot name which Rootes also owned. Thus was born the still highly regarded Sunbeam – Talbot range of cars. See examples below. The Talbot name was dropped in 1954 for the Mk.III ’90’ models and then for the launch of the stylish Sunbeam Alpine two seater sports car.
After Chrysler took over the Rootes Group in 1967 the Humber, Singer and Sunbeam brand names were gradually phased out leaving only Hillman models which in 1976 were badged Chrysler. However, in 1977 Chrysler reintroduced the Sunbeam name for a new rear wheel drive three door hatch back model to effectively replace the rear engined and relatively expensive to build, Imp model.
In the true spirit of the Sunbeam name, a Talbot (used by Peugeot to replace the Chrysler name when it bought the American company’s European assets in 1979) Sunbeam Lotus won the World Rally Championship in 1981.
Back to today – it was a very enjoyable experience for me because I met, or was reacquainted with, some very interesting people. For instance – David Tarburn, great nephew of Don Tarbun who was a renowned development engineer of the Rootes/Chrysler era. He was particularly involved with the development of the Sunbeam Tiger model. Mike Webb a former Chrysler distribution manager who has donated some interesting artefacts to the Rootes Archive Trust. Ron Atherton, chairman of the Sunbeam Rapier Owners Club and his wife. We discovered that we had both lived and worked in Detroit, U.S.A. and knew the Birmingham district well. And of course the ever present and enthusiastic, Andy Bye, Rootes Archive Trust trustee.
Say it quietly but one of the reasons I was there today was to meet Neil Bacon from Hythe in Kent and the renowned author of books with automotive themes,Terry O’Neil of Stourbridge. The reason for that meeting was for Terry to assist Neil in proving the provenance of his Austin Healey 100 BN1. It was a great meeting which will, I have no doubt, prove positive in the long run.
Here are photos of some of the cars that were at the Rootes Archive Centre today, in no particular order –
The car that wasn’t there but perhaps should have been, given the sporting connotations of the Sunbeam name –
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