1916 SUNBEAM 31/2hp MILITARY MOTORCYCLE
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