News, photos and
commentary referring to Sunbeam's wider legacy
An extract from
the Wolverhampton Chronicle by Mark Walsh
(Note: photos are scanned from the newspaper article)
Thursday, 23 November 2006
Sleek Sunbeam is shining example of craftsmanship
Looking like an extra on a wartime film set, the
Black Country Living Museum's unique Sunbeam motorcycle is the oldest
surviving example of its kind. MARK WALSH talks to the man restoring the
antique machine and hitches a ride back to the glory days of Black Country
PHOTO: Ray Salisbury and Ken Norton,
restoring a 1913 Sunbeam
When the Black Country ruled the road, the sleek black machine sitting in
curator Ray Jones' shed at the Black Country Living Museum was king.
Built almost 100 years ago, the 1913 Sunbeam motorbike boasted
two-and-three-quarter horse power - 346cc in new money - and was one of the
first models to roll off the track at the Paul Street plant in
With a serial number in the 200s, the motorcycle is believed to be the
oldest surviving Sunbeam and is poised to rev into action at the museum in
the New Year.
"It was the first model ever made," curator Ray explains. "It is the only
one and as far as we know the earliest Sunbeam motorcycle in existence."
Ray and his crew of dedicated volunteers - Ken Norton, David Beere, Ray
Salisbury, Stan Davis and Derek Spencer - have spent four years lovingly
rebuilding the machine.
When finished, the unique motorcycle will take pride of place in the
museum's collection of vintage vehicles, including 38 bikes and 15 cars -
all cared for on a volunteer basis by the dedicated team.
"When you restore one of these bikes, it's all got to
be stripped down - if it isn't already in spare parts, of course, because
some of them arrive in tea chests," Ray says.
"This one arrived intact, but it was in an appalling
condition. When the museum acquired it, it was only partly restored, but we
hope to have it ready and running in the spring."
The antique motorcycle symbolises the golden period
for Black Country vehicle manufacture, when firms like Sunbeam, AJS,
Diamond, Clyno and Orbit produced the premium motors of the day.
PHOTO: Ray Jones (front) on
a 1921 Orbit and Ken Norton on a 1921 Clyno
The Sunbeam company, originally a japanning firm which
made painted tin-ware, moved into bicycle manufacture at the turn of the the
20th century and made the logical next step to motorised bikes in 1912.
Legend has it the original colour scheme of black
gloss and gold lining was used by the firm to match the Wolverhampton
Wanderers football strip.
About 30 motorcycles per week rolled off the
production line in the Twenties, supplying bikes to the British army,
belt-driven models to the French army and sidecar ambulance combinations to
In the 1920s heydays Black Country-built models also
dominated the race track, with hill sprint champion George Dance and Isle of
Mann TT winner Tommy de la Hay among the hallowed names who won grand prix
at home and abroad.
Production continued apace until 1937, when rival firm
Matchless Motorcycles bought out the company. Just two years later, the
Sunbeam brand was taken over by BSA which continued to use the name on 500cc
shaft-driven models until the late 1960s.
After roaring through the first half of the century,
the Sunbeam name then slipped out of existence without so much as a misfire.
Bramwell Payne in one of his many
roles at the museum - that of a motorcycle tester
Ray sees the conservation of the vehicles at the
museum as a crucial link to the manufacturing glory of the Black Country and
the preservation of the area's pride in its achievements.
"It's important that future generations realise what
was done in the Black Country. You can have computers and images and
pictures until the cows come home, but there's nothing like actually seeing
one, touching one and above all watching them run," he says.
"That's when you get the true atmosphere of the day
and appreciate what those engineers achieved."
Sunbeamland - the motor cycle