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For the motorcycle marque, see Sunbeam (motorcycle).
Sunbeam Car Company
Successor Rootes Group
Founded 1888
Founder(s) John Marston Co. Ltd
Headquarters Wolverhampton, England
Products automobiles

Sunbeam was a marque registered by John Marston Co. Ltd of Wolverhampton, England, in 1888. The company first made bicycles, then motorcycles and cars from the late 19th century to circa 1936, and applied the marque to all three forms of transportation. The company also manufactured 647 aircraft during World War I. A Sunbeam was the first British car to win a Grand Prix race, and set a number of land speed records. The company went into receivership in 1935 and was purchased by the Rootes Group, which continued to use the Sunbeam marque.

Early history

John Marston was apprenticed to the Jeddo Works of Wolverhampton as a japanner (metal lacquerer). In 1859, at the age of 23, he bought two existing tinplate manufacturers and set up on his own, John Marston Co. Ltd. Marston was an avid cyclist, and in 1877 set up the Sunbeamland Cycle Factory, producing bikes known as Sunbeams. Between 1899 and 1901 the company also produced a number of experimental cars, but none of these was offered to the market.

The first production car named as a Sunbeam was introduced in 1901, after a partnership with Maxwell Maberly-Smith. The Sunbeam-Mabley design was an odd one, with seats on either side of a belt-drive powered by a single-cylinder engine of less than 3 hp. The design was a limited success, with 420 sold at £130 when production ended in 1904. At that point the company started production of a Thomas Pullinger designed car based on the Berliet mechanicals. They introduced a new model, based on a Peugeot motor they bought for study, in 1906 and sold about ten a week.

In 1905, the Sunbeam Motorcar Company Ltd was formed separate from the rest of the John Marston business which retained the Sunbeam Motorcycles and bicycles.

The Breton car designer, Louis Coatalen, joined the company from Humber in 1909, and became chief designer. He soon reorganised production such that almost all parts were being built by the company, as opposed to relying on outside suppliers. He quickly introduced his first design, the Sunbeam 14/20, their first to use a shaft-driven rear axle, upgrading it in 1911 with a slightly larger engine as the 16/20.

Sunbeam made a small number of Veterans, and by 1912 were making very nice conventional high quality cars. Direct competitors to Rolls Royce, a Sunbeam was considered to be a car for those who thought an RR a little ostentatious!

Louis Coatalen in the Nautilus at Brooklands in 1910.

Coatalen was particularly fond of racing as a way to drive excellence within the company, noting Racing improves the breed. After designing the 14/20 he started the design of advanced high-power engines, combining overhead valves with a pressurised oil lubrication system. In 1910 he built his first dedicated land-speed-record car, the Sunbeam Nautilus, powered by a 4.2 litre version of this engine design. The Nautilus implemented a number of early streamlining features, known as wind cutting at the time, but the custom engine suffered various problems and the design was eventually abandoned. The next year he introduced the Sunbeam Toodles II, which feature an improved valve system that turned it into a success. Coatalen won 22 prizes in Toodles II at Brooklands in 1911, and also achieved a flying mile of 86.16 mph (138.66 km/h) to take the 16hp Short Record. Sunbeam cars powered by more conventional (for the time) side-valve engines featured prominently in the 1911 Coupé de l'Auto race, and improved versions won first, second and third the next year. Sunbeams continued to race over the next few years, but the company had moved on to other interests.

Coatalen also designed a number of passenger cars, notably the Sunbeam 12/16. By 1911 they were building about 650 cars a year, at that time making them a major manufacturer.

World War I

Starting in 1912 they had also branched out into aircraft engines, introducing a series of engines that were not particularly successful commercially. Louis Coatalen seemed to be convinced that the proper solution to any engine requirement was a design for those exact specifications, instead of producing a single engine and letting the aircraft designers build their aircraft around it. Their most numerous designs were the troublesome V8 Sunbeam Arab, which was ordered in quantity in 1917 but suffered from continual vibration and reliability problems and only saw limited service, and the more successful V12 Sunbeam Cossack. Meanwhile Coatalen continued to experiment with ever-more odd designs such as the star-layout Sunbeam Malay, which never got beyond a prototype, the air-cooled Sunbeam Spartan and the diesel-powered Sunbeam Pathan. The company was fairly successful with the introduction of newer manufacturing techniques, however, and was one of the first to build aluminium single-block engines, a design that would not become common until the 1930s.

During World War I the company built motorcycles, trucks and ambulances. The company also participated in the Society of British Aircraft Constructors pool, who shared aircraft designs with any companies that could build them. Acting in this role, they produced 15 Short Bombers[1] powered by their own Sunbeam Gurkha engines, 20 Short Type 827s[1], 50 Short 310s[1], and others including Avro 504 trainers; they even designed their own Sunbeam Bomber which lost to a somewhat simpler Sopwith design. In total Sunbeam had produced 647 aircraft of various types by the time the lines shut down in early 1919.


Sunbeam 14/40 Tourer 1926

On August 13, 1920, Sunbeam merged with the French company Automobiles Darracq S.A.. Alexandre Darracq built his first car in 1896, and his cars were so successful that Alfa Romeo and Opel both started out in the car industry by building Darracqs under licence. In 1919 Darracq bought the London-based firm of Clement-Talbot to become Talbot-Darracq in order to import Talbots into England. Adding Sunbeam created "Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq", or "STD Motors".

In addition to quality limousine, saloon and touring cars, Coatalen was pleased to build racing cars for Henry Segrave—who won the French and Spanish GPs in 1923/4. He also built a Brooklands racer for K L Guinness—based on a V12 27 litre 350 hp (260 kW) Sunbeam Manitou engine, originally designed to power the R34 airship. This famous car (Sunbeam 350HP) established a new Land Speed Record at Brooklands and in Malcolm Campbell’s hands at Pendine Sands where it achieved 150.766 mph (242.634 km/h) in 1925 after renaming it the Blue Bird and painting it blue. The same year Coatalen’s new 3 litre Super Sports came 2nd at Le Mans—beating Bentley—this was the first production twin cam car in the world. In 1926 Segrave captured the LSR in a new 4 litre V12 Sunbeam racer originally named Ladybird and later renamed Tiger. Coatalen decided to re-enter the LSR field himself, building the truly gigantic Sunbeam 1000HP powered by two 450 hp (340 kW) Matabele engines. On 29 March 1927 the car captured the speed record at 203.792 mph (327.971 km/h). The car is now at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, UK.

Sunbeam's great age was really the 1920s under Coatalen’s leadership with very well engineered, high quality, reliable cars — and a great reputation on the track.

A later land speed record attempt, the 1930 Silver Bullet, failed to achieve either records, or the hoped-for advances in aero engines. It is now almost forgotten. Sunbeam did not really survive the depression and in 1935 went into receivership and was sold to Lord Rootes. The last true Sunbeam was made in 1935. The new entry model “Dawn” was a typical mid 1930’s design with independent front suspension whereas other models, the 18.2HP and Speed 20 were based on Vintage designs and qualify as PVT under VSCC rules.[clarification needed]

Coatalen’s obsession with improvement meant that there were numerous small changes in models from year to year. This means that although all his designs are basically similar, very few parts are interchangeable!

In the Vintage period, typically two models dominated production volumes at each period:

  • 1920–24 16hp, 16/40, 24hp, 24/60 & 24/70 all based on pre war designs.
  • 1922–23 14hp The first highly successful post war 4 cylinder.
  • 1924 12/30 & 16/50 only produced in small numbers.
  • 1924–26 14/40 and big brother 20/60 developed from 14hp with 2 more cylinders added.
  • 1926–30 3 litre Super Sports, highly successful and much coveted, the first production twin OHC car in the world.
  • 1926–30 16hp (16.9) & 20hp (20.9). Two new designs with integral cast iron block and crankcase. Both produced in large numbers, the 20.9 being noted for its performance has many shared components with the 3 litre Super Sports (brakes, axles, transmission).
  • 1926–32 20/60 developed into 25hp with bore increased from 75 to 80 mm. A few 8 cylinder cars produced in this period, 30hp & 35hp.
  • 1930–32 16hp bore increased from 67 to 70 mm, (16.9 to 18.2hp).
  • 1931–33 New model 20hp introduced with 80 mm bore and 7 main bearings rated at 23.8hp. Very smooth and powerful engine.
  • 1933 18.2hp engine installed in Speed 20 chassis and renamed ‘Twenty’.
  • 1933–34 20.9hp engine resurrected and installed in new cruciform braced chassis for the Speed 20. Highly desirable model especially the 1934 body style.
  • 1933–35 Twenty-Five introduced with modified 1931–33 23.8 hp engine.
  • 1934 Twenty given the 20.9 engine in place of the 18.2.
  • 1934–35 Dawn introduced. 12.8 hp (9.5 kW) engine and IFS. Nice little car but not a great success.
  • 1935 Speed 20 renamed Sports 21 with redesigned body style.
  • 1935 Sports 21 given a high compression version of Twenty-Five engine.

The most successful, judged by volumes, was the 16hp (16.9) followed by 20hp made from 1926-30.[2] Whilst the 16 was solid and very reliable, it was a little underpowered at 2.1 litres, the 20.9 made a big jump to 3 litres and 70 bhp (52 kW/71 PS) with similar body weight and vacuum servo brakes and was capable of 70 mph (110 km/h).

Sunbeam built their own bodies but also supplied to the coachbuilder trade; many limousines were built on Sunbeam chassis. The sales catalogue illustrates the standard body designs.

Rootes Group

Sunbeam-Talbot Saloon 1947

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 4-Door Saloon 1948

Sunbeam Alpine MK 1

Sunbeam Alpine series 4 roadster

STD Motors went into receivership in 1935. By this point only Talbots was still a success, and in 1935 that portion was purchased by the Rootes Group. William Lyons of "SS Cars," who was looking for a name change, given the rising Nazi connotations, tried to buy Sunbeam but they were also purchased by Rootes. After World War II SS Cars changed their name to Jaguar. Car production at the Wolverhampton factory was terminated.

Rootes was an early proponent of badge engineering, building a single mass-produced chassis and equipping it with different body panels and interiors to fit different markets. They ended production of existing models at all the new companies, replacing them with designs from Hillman and Humber that were more amenable to mass production.

In 1938 Rootes created a new marque called Sunbeam-Talbot which combined the quality Talbot coachwork and the current Hillman and Humber chassis and was assembled at the Talbot factory in London. The initial two models were the Sunbeam-Talbot 10 and the 3-litre followed by the Sunbeam-Talbot 2 litre and 4 litre models based on the earlier models only with different engines and longer wheelbases. Production of these models continued after the war until 1948.

In the summer of 1948, the Sunbeam-Talbot 80 and Sunbeam-Talbot 90 were introduced, with a totally new streamlined design with flowing front fenders (wings). The 80 used the Hillman Minx based engine with ohv and the 90 utilised a modified version of the Humber Hawk with ohv. The car bodies were manufactured by another Rootes Group company, British Light Steel Pressings of Acton, however the convertible drophead coupé shells were completed by Thrupp & Maberly coachbuilders in Cricklewood. The underpowered 80 was discontinued in 1950. The 90 was renamed the 90 Mark II and then the 90 Mark IIA and eventually in 1954 the Sunbeam Mark III, finally dropping the Talbot name. With the model name changes, the headlights were raised on the front fenders and an independent coil front suspension and the engine displacement went from 1944 cc to 2267 cc with a high compression head and developing 80 bhp (60 kW/81 PS).

There was one more model of the Sunbeam-Talbot that appeared in 1953 in the form of an Alpine, a two seater sports roadster which was initially developed by a Sunbeam-Talbot dealer George Hartwell in Bournemouth as a one-off rally car that had its beginnings as a 1952 drophead coupé. It was named supposedly by Norman Garrad, (works Competition Department) who was heavily involved in the Sunbeam-Talbot successes in the Alpine Rally in the early 1950s using the Saloon model. The Alpine Mark I and Mark III (a Mark II was never made) were hand built like the Drophead Coupé at Thrupp & Maberly coachbuilders from 1953 to 1955 when production ceased after close to 3000 were produced. It has been estimated that perhaps only 200 remain in existence today. The Talbot name was dropped in 1954 for the Sunbeam Alpine sports car, making Sunbeam the sports-performance marque. In 1955 a Sunbeam saloon won the Monte Carlo Rally. Production ceased in 1956 and replaced by the sporty Sunbeam Rapier.

In 1959 a totally new Alpine was introduced, and the 1955 Rapier (essentially a badge-engineered Hillman Minx) was upgraded. After several successful series of the Alpine were released, director of US West-Coast operations, Ian Garrad, became interested in the success of the AC Cobra, which mounted a small-block V-8 engine in the small AC Ace frame to create one of the most successful sports cars of all time. Garrad became convinced the Alpine frame could also be adapted the same way, and contracted Carroll Shelby to prototype such a fit with a Ford engine. The result was the Sunbeam Tiger, released in 1964, which went on to be a huge success.

The Chrysler era

Sunbeam Rapier fastback coupé.

But by this point Rootes was itself in financial trouble. Talks with Leyland Motors went nowhere, so in 1964 30% of the company (along with 50% of the non-voting shares) was purchased by Chrysler, which was attempting to enter the European market. Ironically, Chrysler had purchased Simca the year earlier, who had earlier purchased Automobiles Talbot, originally the British brand that had been merged into STD Motors many years earlier.

Chrysler's experience with the Rootes empire appears to have been an unhappy one. Models were abandoned over the next few years while they tried to build a single brand from the best models of each of the company's components, but for management "best" typically meant "cheapest to produce" which was at odds with the former higher-quality Rootes philosophy. Brand loyalty started to erode, and was greatly damaged when they decided to drop former marques and start calling everything a Chrysler. The Tiger was dropped in 1967 after an abortive attempt to fit it with a Chrysler engine, and the Hillman Imp–derived Stiletto disappeared in 1972.

The last Sunbeam produced was the "Rootes Arrow" series Alpine/Rapier fastback (1967–76), after which Chrysler, who had purchased Rootes, disbanded the marque. The Hillman (by now Chrysler) Hunter on which they were based soldiered on until 1978. A Hillman Avenger–derived hatchback, the Chrysler Sunbeam, maintained the name as a model rather than a marque from 1978 to the early 1980s, with the very last models sold as Talbot Sunbeams. The remains of Chrysler Europe were purchased by Peugeot and Renault in 1978, and the name has not been used since.


Sunbeam car at the Black Country Living Museum.

Early fire engine on display at the Black Country Living Museum, preserved by the Marston Wolverhampton Heritage Trust.

Sunbeam cars


  • 1901–04 Sunbeam Mabley
  • 1903–10 Sunbeam 12hp
  • 1905–11 Sunbeam 16/20 and 25/30
  • 1908 Sunbeam 20
  • 1908–09 Sunbeam 35
  • 1909 Sunbeam 16
  • 1909–15 Sunbeam 14/20, 16/20, and 20
  • 1910–11 Sunbeam 12/16
  • 1911–15 Sunbeam 18/22, 25/30 and 30
  • 1912–15 Sunbeam 12/16 and 16
  • 1912–14 Sunbeam 16/20

Inter-war years

1935 Sunbeam Model 25 Saloon

  • 1919–21 Sunbeam 16/40
  • 1919–24 Sunbeam 24, 24/60 and 24/70
  • 1922–23 Sunbeam 14 and 14/40
  • 1923–26 Sunbeam 20/60
  • 1924–33 Sunbeam 16 (16.9 and 18.4)
  • 1925–30 Sunbeam 3 litre Super Sports (Twin Cam)
  • 1926–32 Sunbeam Long 25
  • 1927–30 Sunbeam 20 (20.9)
  • 1930–33 Sunbeam 20 (23.8)
  • 1933–35 Sunbeam Speed Twenty
  • 1934–35 Sunbeam Twenty
  • 1934–35 Sunbeam Twenty-Five
  • 1934–35 Sunbeam Dawn

Rootes Group Cars

  • 1936–37 Sunbeam 30
  • 1938–48 Sunbeam-Talbot Ten
  • 1939–48 Sunbeam-Talbot Two Litre
  • 1938–40 Sunbeam-Talbot Three Litre
  • 1939–40 Sunbeam-Talbot Four Litre


  • 1938–48 Sunbeam-Talbot Ten
  • 1939–48 Sunbeam-Talbot Two Litre
  • 1948–50 Sunbeam-Talbot 80
  • 1948–54 Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Marks I, II & IIA
  • 1954–57 Sunbeam 90 Mark III
  • 1953–55 Sunbeam Alpine Mark I
  • 1955–67 Sunbeam Rapier Series I, II, III, IIIA, IV & V
  • 1959–68 Sunbeam Alpine Series I, II, III, III, IV & V
  • 1963–64 Sunbeam Venezia by Carrozzeria Touring
  • 1964–67 Sunbeam Tiger
  • 1966–76 Sunbeam Imp Sport
  • 1967–72 Sunbeam Stiletto
  • 1967–76 Sunbeam Rapier Fastback & Sunbeam Alpine Fastbacks
  • 1977–81 Talbot Sunbeam
  • 1979–81 Talbot Sunbeam Lotus
  • 1982–82 Sunbeam Lotus-Horizon

Double Decker buses

  • Pathan 1930-1938
  • DF2 1936-1948

Double Decker trolleybus

  • MS2 1934-1948
  • MS3 1934-1948
  • MF1 1934-1949
  • MF2 1935-1952
  • W4 1943-1967
  • F4/F4A 1948-1965

Sunbeam Motorcycles

A twin Cylinder Sunbeam S7 seen at Rushden Transport Cavalcade 2010

  • Sunbeam S7
  • Sunbeam S8

Export only

  • Sunbeam Minx
  • Sunbeam Vogue/Sunbeam Arrow
  • Sunbeam Funwagon/Sunbeam Highwayman

Sunbeam-Coatalen engines

  • Sunbeam Crusader V8, 150 hp (110 kW)
  • Sunbeam Zulu V8, 160 hp (120 kW), developed from Crusader
  • Sunbeam Mohawk V12, 225 hp (168 kW)
  • Sunbeam Gurkha V12, 240 hp (180 kW), developed from Maori
  • Sunbeam Cossack V12, 320 hp (240 kW), 18.4 litres
  • Sunbeam Nubian V8, 155 hp (116 kW), 7.7 litres
  • Sunbeam Afridi V12, 200 hp (150 kW), 11.476 litres
  • Sunbeam Maori V12, 250 hp (190 kW), 14.7 litres, developed from Afridi
  • Sunbeam Amazon Straight-6, 160 hp (120 kW), 9.2 litres, developed from Cossack
  • Sunbeam Saracen Straight-6, 200 hp (150 kW), 11.2 litres, developed from Amazon
  • Sunbeam Viking W18 "Broad Arrow" 450 hp (340 kW), 33.6 litres, developed from Cossack
  • Sunbeam Arab V8, 200 hp (150 kW), 11.8 litres
  • Sunbeam Bedouin inverted V8, 200 hp (150 kW), 12.3 litres, developed from Arab
  • Sunbeam Manitou V12, 325 hp (242 kW), 14.7 litres, developed from Maori
  • Sunbeam Tartar V12, 300 hp (220 kW), 15.4 litres
  • Sunbeam Kaffir W12 "Broad Arrow" 300 hp (220 kW), developed from Arab, 18.3 litres
  • Sunbeam Spartan V12, 200 hp (150 kW), 14 litres, air-cooled
  • Sunbeam Matabele V12, 400 hp (300 kW), 22.4 litres, developed from Cossack
  • Sunbeam Malay Five-pointed star arrangement of 20 cylinders, 500 hp (370 kW), 29.4 litres
  • Sunbeam Pathan Straight-6, 100 hp (75 kW), 8.8 litres, diesel
  • Sunbeam Dyak Straight-6, 100 hp (75 kW), 8.8 litres
  • Sunbeam Sikh V12, 800 hp (600 kW), 64.1 litres


Owners club

The Sunbeam Talbot Darracq Register has membership with about 200 Sunbeams, there are probably another 200+ outside the register. A comprehensive forum contains archive copies of all STD Register journals published since 1950.[3]

The register has experts ready and able to answer questions and provide assistance. A maintenance manual is available along with digital copies of period owner's manuals, spare parts lists, sales catalogues, road tests and engineering drawings.

The register funds cooperative production of limited batches of critical spares from time to time, specialist restorers occasionally manufacture parts on their own initiative. This means that most parts needed in general running are available. The excellent materials used mean that re-manufacture or repair is generally possible on failed components. Enthusiasts today build cars from bare chassis, gathering parts from wherever they can, with some success.

The register runs local monthly meeting across the UK and a limited number of events each year.

Known vehicles

Please list basic details of any known vehicles here, with a registration number wiki link. If you have more details and photos please start a page for the individual vehicle via the reg no. link.

See also



External links

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