1916 SUN­BEAM 31/2hp MIL­I­TARY MO­TOR­CY­CLE

Classic Bike (UK) - - LOT STUFF -

Cho­sen by: Ben Walker

Sold at: The Brian R Ver­rall sale, New Bond Street, Lon­don, 2008

Sale price: £12,650

World War I mil­i­tary ma­chines are not ex­actly com­mon and WWI Sun­beams even less so. Ac­quired by Brian Ver­rall in 1998, this Sun­beam mil­i­tary mo­tor­cy­cle pre­vi­ously be­longed to col­lec­tor John Moore and this well-doc­u­mented ma­chine was a great find. Most of that com­pany’s pro­duc­tion was for the Al­lies rather Bri­tish forces. The Im­pe­rial Rus­sian Army or­dered 1450 Sun­beams, France had up to 1000 4hp belt-drive so­los, only a few of which have sur­vived, and Italy asked for 500 3½hp mod­els.

The largest Bri­tish user of the Sun­beam was the Royal Naval Air Ser­vice – and this ma­chine was in­tended for them. Fin­ished in drab green paint and fea­tur­ing a three­com­part­ment tank – petrol, oil and paraf­fin (on which the bike would run af­ter warm­ing up on petrol) – this ex­am­ple has some­thing of a mys­te­ri­ous his­tory. It was sold in 1961 to John Moore, of Tile­hurst in Berk­shire, by a gent call­ing him­self Lieu­tenant Colonel Ge­orge Dawes and claim­ing to have owned the ma­chine since us­ing it an France dur­ing the war. But al­though there was in­deed a Lieu­tenant Ge­orge Dawes – with a highly re­garded and dis­tin­guished mil­i­tary ca­reer – the ven­dor cer­tainly wasn’t he.

The real first, post-war owner, Robert Kidd – also a ser­vice­man, though with a much less dis­tin­guished mil­i­tary ca­reer than the ‘real’ Ge­orge Dawes, to say the least – regis­tered the mo­tor­cy­cle in Au­gust 1916 and it was regis­tered to him right up un­til the end of 1928. The afore­men­tioned John Moore was sub­se­quently recorded as the first change of owner – pre­sum­ably he had bought the bike from Kidd pos­ing as Lieu­tenant Colonel Dawes. The Sun­beam’s next owner, from Jan­uary 1998, was An­drew Bo­jie, of Silch­ester, Read­ing, from whom Brian Ver­rall ac­quired it in July that same year. Brian must have had his doubts about the ma­chine’s prove­nance, be­cause there was some ev­i­dence of his at­tempts to trace Robert Kidd.

But de­spite a mys­te­ri­ous past owner, the bike was pre­sented in won­der­fully orig­i­nal and un­re­stored con­di­tion, with doc­u­men­ta­tion in­clud­ing mag­a­zine ar­ti­cles, a copy of a 1915 Sun­beam range brochure, as­sorted cor­re­spon­dence and pho­to­graphs, some ex­pired Mots (1996-1997) and a copy of the old-style Swansea V5 and cur­rent V5C reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ments.

De­spite prob­a­bly never hav­ing got any nearer to France than Wool­wich dur­ing World War I, BL 5072 was nev­er­the­less a gen­uine and pos­si­bly unique mil­i­taryspec­i­fi­ca­tion Sun­beam mo­tor­cy­cle owned by a serv­ing Bri­tish Army of­fi­cer dur­ing The Great War.

“This is spe­cial to me be­cause it was part of the Brian Ver­rall col­lec­tion. He was a man for whom I had enor­mous re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion. The colour­ful – though fic­ti­tious – story of its sup­posed owner is fas­ci­nat­ing, but it was in spec­tac­u­lar, orig­i­nal con­di­tion, too. A su­perb bike.” Ben Walker

A mys­te­ri­ous his­tory added to the mys­tique of this charis­matic Wwi-era Sun­beam

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