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Black Country Vehicle Rally
Black Country Living Museum, Sunday 27th July 2008

If, as the story has it, John Marston’s finely enamelled bicycles acquired their name because of the way they reflected the sunshine, gleaming sunbeams were certainly in evidence today, reflecting off the black gloss of even the most age-worn finish of the Sunbeam motor cycles present.

There was a scorchingly hot sun in the sky! Temperatures were somewhere in the high 80s, to use ‘old money’. And, with the sunshine came the crowds which is a good thing. At 1.30 pm, at the height of the midday sun, those gathered were treated to the day’s highlight - a fine display of Black Country-made vehicles taking to the museum’s roads. Amongst them an array of Sunbeam motor cycles from the 1920s and '30s.


The museum itself, as the setting for all this messing about with old motor vehicles, has been growing since last year’s event. The most notable addition is a monumental, Arts and Crafts-looking Workers' Institute which is linked to plans by the museum to provide hotel accommodation on the site. This sounds very exciting and could turn the museum into something similar to Clough Williams-Ellis’s Port Merion in North Wales, or the picturesque harbour town of Clovelly in Devon. Good luck to them.


Of more interest to the historic vehicle buff is the other significant new addition – a reconstruction of A W Broome’s 'Conway Garage' from the 1930s (above). The original was on the Dudley Road in the Fighting Cocks area of Wolverhampton. Its proprietor was famous locally as a Sunbeamland mechanic who had worked in the company’s legendary Experimental Workshop. He ran the garage into his eighties.


To my own personal delight, I had my photograph taken seated on this fine looking 1926 Longstroke (above). Many thanks to the staff. Plus I had an offer to return in a couple of week’s time to assist in firing-up the replica of Thomas Newcomen’s first steam engine. Could be a big kick-start lever involved there - must remember to put on hefty boots!

The pageant of vehicles really does bring the museum to life – all part of its ‘living museum’ approach to history and heritage. As always, it is good not just to see the machines at rest but to see and hear them doing what they were designed to do. For the old motor cycles, the rounded ‘bop-bop-bop’ of the lower compression, lower revving older machines provides an audible contrast to the crisp rortiness of later sporting overhead-valve models. Trying to guess the models with closed eyes is no good if you are taking photos!


Today’s Sunbeams include a good array of older ‘flat tanks’ and side-valve machines from the 1920s. So, there is a fair amount of very pleasant sounding ‘bop-bopping’ going on around the track. Music to our ears. Blurry action shots below.


The motor cycle pageant over, it’s time to wander through the museum towards its café to find lunch. The café at the far end of the site overlooks a wonderfully grimy canal boat dock workshop. No rose-tinted version of heritage here. It seems to be a real working site for repairing the museum’s canal boats. The café serves some fine nosh, including the local Black Country delicacy of faggots ‘n’ peas. We chose to stuff ourselves on three-bean hotpots with chips. Most enjoyable.


Then, it’s back through the museum, walking off our dinner and making our way back to the entrance to see the display of motorcycles at rest.

My favourite for the day has to be this Model 2 (above). A tidy looking flat tank machine of c.1928 with its 350cc, side-valve engine connected to a sweeping straight pipe with closed end and lines of breather holes. Very nice! This looks just right with the non-valanced mudguards and open rear chain case which mark it out as the sportier Model 2, rather than the similar Model 1 touring version of the junior side-valve. But, if in doubt, the giveaway as always is to look at the carburetter – clearly marked ‘M2’.


Close behind it, in terms of favourite on the day, is what I reckon is a Model 5, 500cc, side-valve machine of about 1925 (above). That's when the Model 5 had a short-stroke 3½ horse power engine in sporty, Longstroke cycle parts.  It looks light, sporty and well-sorted. Its rider looked the part, too, earlier taking to the museum's roads with his sweater emblazoned with the Sunbeam logo. Great to see!


There are also a couple of side-valve combinations from the 1930s, both with sporting chairs. We saw a 1936 Lion in action today (above) but the earlier machine of c.1932 didn't run. We suspect it was still drying out from its appearance at the recent rain-soaked Marston Sunbeam Register annual rally!


Amongst the overhead-valve machines an immaculate Model 95 of 1934-35 was very striking (above). A ‘beefy’ sports machine that saw a couple of seasons as the replacement for the Model 90 and is very rarely seen. Sadly it isn’t given an outing today so we don’t get to see it fired-up and in action, but even at rest with its bronze cylinder head it looks fast!

Not one but a matching pair of 500cc Longstrokes of c.1926 (two photos above). They looked great, too, standing next to one another. Seeing two together like this is a real treat, ready for Tommy de la Hay and Alec Bennett to step out to take them for a spin!


Amongst the late-20s’ machines is the flat tank, side-valve Model 5 (above) that can be found  featured by its owner on the Internet photo-sharing site, www.Flickr.com (the link is: www.flickr.com/groups/sunbeam-motorcycles ). It seemed well-sorted and had run strongly through its circuits of the museum. A delight to watch.


Geoff Stevens, son of Joe Stevens Junior one of the four founding brothers of AJS Motor Cycles, was present. He was coping well with the day’s oppressive heat, dressed in his white flannels and looking over the machines ‘med by ‘is owd mon’. I hope he was pleased by their contribution to the day's pageant, putting on a good show in completing circuits of the museum’s roads. Only fitting to include an Ajay, and this workmanlike model caught my eye (above).

On our way out we bumped into Trevor Davies, Marston Sunbeam Register organiser and roving marshal for the today’s pageant. We agreed a good day was had by one and all. And after the deluge that washed out the Register’s annual rally, today was a real lift for the spirits. Although, the danger today was of engines over-heating rather than of water-soaked magnetos. Trevor confided there had been some worryingly high temperatures registering on the cars' gauges - as well as a few over-heated drivers! But, rather sun than rain!


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