c.1925 Sunbeam 3½
From the Tresham Collection; a quality machine from the Golden Age of motorcycling; current owner 17 years; older restoration with attractive patina and intriguing aspects
John Marston reluctantly entered the motorcycle business in 1912 when he was 76 years old. A keen cyclist, he had been making bicycles under the Sunbeam brand since 1877 and they were soon famous both for their quality and for their distinctive black and gold livery – perfected after many years’ experience producing japanned tin goods, for which Marston was equally famous. He disliked powered two-wheelers and considered them dangerous. Luckily for us, this didn’t stop him from making some of the finest motorcycles of the era.
Marketed as ‘The Gentleman’s Machine’, Sunbeams were a delight of mechanical engineering; their side-valves, as here, being no exception. The sporting side-valve was rivalled for speed only by the equivalent Norton of the 1920s, although to many the 'Beams had the edge, possessing arguably the finest side-valve engines ever produced.
Sunbeam justifiably advertised their 3½ hp models as the fastest side-valve motorcycle available to the public. Numerous race wins and sprint records all ensured Sunbeam's popularity with the racing and sporting set of the 1920s, a new model numbering system being introduced in 1924, from Model 1 through to Model 11.
This particular Sunbeam is something of a mystery. According to records held by The Marston Sunbeam Club & Register, the frame number is O 8947 (although this is incorrect as it is clearly stamped 08047 on the bike and recorded as such on the V5C) and they have it listed as a Model 5 Light Solo from 1925.
However, the engine number indicates that it is probably from 1926 and is correct for a Light Solo, but the 492cc capacity quoted and the appearance of the cylinder barrel indicate a Longstroke engine. A common numerical sequence was used for the Model 5 (499cc, 85x88mm ‘square stroke’) and Model 6 Longstroke (492cc, 77x105.5mm) so it is hard to know the exact engine type without pulling it to bits.
In addition, although the numbers indicate a Model 5, the cycle parts are styled on the more sporty Model 6 Longstroke: low handlebars, 'blade' mudguards, single toolbox without rear carrier. It also has a later primary chaincase from 1928-on suggesting the machine has the later six-spring clutch, as opposed to the original large single-spring type. The footrests are also repositioned to fit the 'through-bar' used with this chaincase.
The eagle-eyed will already have spotted that the tax disc is for a BSA so that is a complete red herring! The transfer on the front mudguard suggests that it was supplied new via SG Comfort & Co of Merstham, Surrey, but who knows?
A lot can happen to a bike over the course of a century so although this is undeniably a 3½ hp Sunbeam, it may equally be a very nice ‘bitza’. It does come with a VMCC Dating Certificate issued in 2005, the 1925 year of manufacture being based on the 08047 frame number stated on the V5C and stamped on the bike. Bidders are encouraged to form their own opinion as to the exact nature of the model.
Our vendor acquired the machine by accident in 2005 from an elderly gentleman in Presteigne. He had gone to buy a mint Austin A35 as a present for his lady friend but spotted the Sunbeam in a corner of the garage and instantly fell in love with it – making the Austin “the most expensive A35 on record”, as he wryly observes! The Sunbeam has spent the last 17 years on static display among a collection of fine machinery that the vendor also owns so it will doubtless benefit from a degree of recommissioning before venturing forth once more. We are told that it has been started occasionally to keep everything free.
Any Marston-era Sunbeam is a gorgeous motorcycle to own and admire, and to be admired by others. More importantly, get this one checked over and enjoy the ride…
We are indebted to The Marston Sunbeam Club & Register for their help in compiling this description.
This is one of nine Lots entered from the Tresham Collection.
For more information contact James on 07970 309907 or email [email protected]
Reg No: SV8547
Chassis Number: 08047
Engine Number: 281/16482/S
Engine Size: 492cc
Docs: V5C; old style V5C; VMCC Dating Certificate
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