From the ar­chive

Classic Bike Guide - - Contents -

We look at Sun­beam mo­tor­cy­cles

It is a won­der­fully provoca­tive and pos­i­tive name, Sun­beam, isn't it? It is said that Wil­liam Marston's good lady wife looked at a bi­cy­cle he had made and com­mented on the sun glis­ten­ing in the black and gold fin­ish; pos­si­bly down to the qual­ity from the train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence he had gained as a Ja­pan­ner (like mod­ern pow­der-coat or enam­elling but bet­ter). Af­ter mas­ter­ing this trade, in 1877 Marston built a suc­cess­ful bi­cy­cle com­pany and even started mak­ing cars. And the name of the fac­tory in Wolver­hamp­ton? Sun­beam­land, of course.

Af­ter early tests with mo­torised bi­cy­cles had ended in tragedy, Marston dis­liked mo­tor­cy­cles. But when the car trade slumped, there was lit­tle choice.

The name was quickly as­so­ci­ated with qual­ity ma­chines, well built and clev­erly thought out. Com­pe­ti­tion suc­cesses helped this, with tri­als and road rac­ing tri­umphs around the globe. The TT es­pe­cially helped; the Isle of Man course known as a true test of strength and re­li­a­bil­ity in the early days. Howard Davies (who went on to found HRD)came se­cond as early as 1914, while the first win came in 1920, for Tommy de La Hay. Af­ter that, Sun­beam be­came one of the bikes to have, with Alec Ben­nett win­ning in 1922 and Char­lie Dod­son in 1928, as well as a string of top 10 places.

Sales were good, but fine build qual­ity backed up with sport­ing pedi­gree was not enough - the First World War changed ev­ery­thing for ev­ery­one, as did the fol­low­ing years. The Marston fam­ily suf­fered from ill­ness and both his el­dest son and Wil­liam Marston died in 1918.

In 1919 the com­pany be­came part of No­bel

In­dus­tries, a com­pany that made dy­na­mite amongst other things, started by the cre­ator of the No­bel peace prize, Al­fred No­bel. Why did they buy Sun­beam? Who knows. Sun­beam con­tin­ued well through the Twen­ties, when in 1928 No­bel be­came part of a new con­glom­er­ate of chem­i­cal com­pa­nies to be known as ICI.Tothem, Sun­beam must have been a tiny con­cern, but bikes and cy­cles in smaller and smaller num­bers kept be­ing made un­til 1937,when what was left was sold to AMC.

And still that wasn't enough to stop the Sun­beam ra­di­at­ing. Er­ling Poppe de­signed the 57,with an un­usual, in­line car-type en­gine, com­plete with wet sump and shaft drive. It was ex­pen­sive, but nicely fin­ished and must have looked very, very dif­fer­ent to the other bikes around in 1946. The 57 and later 58 had is­sues, but con­tin­ued un­til 1956, with many still to be seen rid­den to­day. The Sun­beam story is no fairy­tale, but get the chance to ride one and en­joy - the Sun­beam still shines. CBG

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