Black Country Vehicle
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!