Produced in Great Britain from 1988 to 1981, Sunbeam vehicles were introduced in various models. The emphasis was always on up-market, rather than sporting models. Sunbeams models were also quite successful in the many facets of motorsport.
A marque registered by John Marston Co. Ltd of Wolverhampton, England. The company was originally famous for producing bicycles. It eventually branched into the motorcycle production before moving onto the car line. The Sunbeam marque was applied to all three forms of transportation.
Apprenticed to the Jeddo Works of Wolverhampton as a japanner (metal lacquerer), John Marston purchased two existing tinplate manufacturers in 1859 that he set up as his own. An avid bicycler, Marston began producing bikes known as Sunbeams.
In 1901 the first production car named as a Sunbeam was introduced. It was a strange design with seats placed on either side of a belt-drive that was powered by a singe-cylinder engine of less than 3hp.
The Sunbeam Motorcar Company Ltd. Was formed in 1905 to distinguish the separation between motorcycles and bicycles from newly produced cars.
Sunbeam aero engines could be found in a number of record-breaking cars during the immediate post-war era.
Sunbeam merged with the French company Automobiles Darracq S.A. on August 13, 1920. In order to import Talbots into England, Darracq bought the London-based firm of Clement-Talbot to become Talbot-Darracq. The addition of Sunbeam created 'Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq', or 'STD Motors'.
Alexandre Darraque built his first car in 1896. Alfa Romeo and Opel both began in the car industry by building Darracqs under license.
During the height of the Great Depression, STD Motors went bankrupt in 1934.
Talbots were still a success at this time, and in 1935 was purchased by the Rootes Group. Eventually selling the remainder of the company to William Lyons of 'SS Cars', Rootes purchased Sunbeam from under Lyons just as the deal was supposed to close. Justifiably upset, Lyons changed the name of SS Cars to Jaguar.
The existing British Talbots were re-badged as Sunbeam-Talbots from 1938 on. The following Talbots used a Talbot badge and grille rather than the traditional Sunbeam badge and grille.
An early proponent of badge engineering, Rootes equipped different body panels and interiors that fit with different markets by building a single mass-produced chassis. Ending production of existing models at all new companies, Rootes replaced them with designs from Hillman and Humber. The 'Sunbeam-Talbot' marque was used on their upscale versions for many years while Hillman was used on base models and Humber on trucks.
The bankrupt Sunbeam and Talbot marques were bought by the Rootes Group headed by brothers, William 'Billy' and Reginald in 1935. Quickly introducing a new marque in 1938 called Sunbeam-Talbot, it was a combination of current Hillman and Humber chassis and quality Talbot coachwork.
The first two models introduced were the Sunbeam – Talbot 10 and the 3-litre. The Ten was launched in august 1938, and was an upgrade from the previous Talbot Ten. It had a 1185cc sidevalve Minx unit engine with an alloy head, and a chassis that had its origins in that used in the Hillman Aero Minx. The Ten was available with four-door saloon, sports tourer bodywork and drophead coupe.
The Sunbeam-Talbot 2 litre was introduced in 1939 and was based on the Ten, though it used the 1944 cc sidevalve engine from the Humber Hawk and Hillman 14. Due to the advent of the war, these models were rare. They were available in the same bodyworks as the Ten.
A rebadged Talbot 3 Litre was the 3 Litre based on the Humber Snipe. It shared the same chassis and 3181 sidevalve six with an alloy head. It was available in the saloon, sports saloon, sports tourer and drophead coupe.
Another new model for 1939 was the 4 Litre that was based on the Humber Super Snipe. The 4 litre shared the same chassis as the 3 Litre and the Super Snipe. It came with a 4086cc sidevalve six and alloy head. The 4 Litre was available in the saloon, sports saloon, touring saloon, sports tourer, drophead coupe and touring limousine.
These models continued to be produced after the war until 1948.
All Sunbeam-Talbot production was suspended for the war, though Rootes continued to build Minxes and Snipes for military use. At this time there was no use for sporting Sunbeam-Talbots.
Rootes was responsible with providing Britain with 14% of its bombers, 5000 aero engine, 300000 bombs and 60% of its armoured cars. For all of his efforts, William Rootes was knighted and given a new factory at Ryton-on-Dunsmore.
In 1945 when production again resumed, only the 10 and 2-lire were continued. Never revived, the 3 and 4 litre models died.
The following year, production moved from the ex-Talbot London plant to the new Ryton plant. (Eventually the old plant was transformed into the set for Thames Television.)
The post-war Sunbeam-Talbot 80 and 90 were introduced during the summer of 1948. They were built at the new Ryton factory. Both came with a new streamlined design with flowing front fenders, and the 80 used the Hillman Minx based engine with ohv. The 80 was also fitted with an overhead valve version of the old 10 engine. The 90 had a modified version of the Humber Hawk with ohv that was derived from the engine of the 2 Litre.
Both were available with saloon bodywork from British Light Steel Pressings or drophead coupe bodywork done by Thrupp & Maberly.
The Talbot 80 was discontinued in 1950.
Renamed as the 90 MK II, the 90 continued on in production with a new chassis with independent front suspension. Completely redesigned, the headlamps were raised by three inches to meet American regulation. Replacing the front driving lamps with a pair of small air intake grilles the 90 MK II also had an increased OHV engine with 2267cc.
Eventually renamed as the 90 MK IIA in 1952, the only main update on this model was the deletion of the rear wheel spats.
The Sunbeam MK III was introduced in 1954. The newest model came with much larger front air intake grilles and three portholes along the sides. The engine now developed 80 bhp, amazing compared to the 64 bhp that the Mk I 90 achieved.
Due to the confusion with the French Talbot concern, the 90 finally dropped the Talbot name. In 1957 production of the MK III ceased.
The 90 proved itself to be a very effective rally vehicle and its success surprised many people
Appearing in 1953, one final Sunbeam model was the new sports model the Sunbeam Alpine. This two-seater roadster was developed by George Hartwell in Bournemouth, a friend of the Rootes family. The Alpine was named in honor of the success of the Sunbeam-Talbot team in the Alpine rally. Dropped in 1954, the Sunbeam Alpine sports car ceased after nearly 3000 were produced.
Sunbeam models have both competed in and won numerous international rallies, most notably was the Monte Carlo. Continuing in the tradition of STD, under Rootes Sunbeam-Talbots competed in various motorsports. They concentrated mainly on rallying rather than racing.
The very first British car to win a Grand Prix race and set a land speed record was a Sunbeam. The Sunbeam has set four World Land Speed Records and won the World Rally Championship in 1981.
- Jessica Vaughan