The 1,000hp. Sunbeam Car.

 

Segrave’s world land speed record of 1926 only survived for just over a month because on 27th April, 1926, Brooklands racer Parry Thomas took his 27litre Liberty aero-engine car called ‘Babs’ to Pendine, and broke Segrave’s record at 169.3m.p.h. and raised it the following day to 171.02m.p.h.


The 1,000hp. car during construction.

Segrave immediately asked Coatalen if Sunbeam could retrieve the record, possibly with a car capable of reaching over 200m.p.h.

At the time there were two 420b.hp. Matabele aero engines in store in the works that had been previously used in the successful motor boat "Maple Leaf IV".

Coatalen immediately sketched out a suitable car to use them and after acceptance by the board, Captain J.S. Irving was asked to produce a detailed design.

The 12 cylinder engines would be mounted in-line, one at the front and the other at the rear of the car, with the driver in the middle. Each could deliver 500b.hp. at 2,000 r.p.m. and would drive a central gearbox with bevel gearing to a transverse shaft and a final chain drive to the rear wheels. Special wheels and tyres were designed by the Dunlop Rubber Company and a host of British manufacturers supplied specialised parts. The streamlined aluminium body was developed after tests in the wind tunnel at Vickers.
Another view of the car during construction.
A final view of the car during construction.


From "The Greatest Motoring Achievement Ever Recorded" pub. by the Sunbeam Motor Company Ltd.

Testing the specially made tyres at Fort Dunlop.

From "The Greatest Motoring Achievement Ever Recorded" pub. by the Sunbeam Motor Company Ltd.

On the special test bed, coupled to Heenan & Froude dynamometers.

From "The Greatest Motoring Achievement Ever Recorded" pub. by the Sunbeam Motor Company Ltd.


Another view of the car on the test bed.

The car is moved around the works.
Another view of the car nearing completion.
The car at Moorfield Works.

From "The Greatest Motoring Achievement Ever Recorded" pub. by the Sunbeam Motor Company Ltd.

The car at Moorfield works. Courtesy of the late Jim Boulton.
The car, known as the 1,000hp. Sunbeam was shown to the press on 21st February, 1927 and it received a lot of attention. It was decided that the best place for the attempt would be Daytona Beach in Florida where there is a stretch of flat sand, 9 miles long.

There were many significant problems to be overcome before the attempt could be made in America, and all of these were left to Segrave himself.


Another view of the car at the works. Courtesy of Eardley Lewis.


The 1,000hp. car. Prepared for a photo-shoot at the works.

Segrave had to make agreements with the relevant American Authorities and also with the American Automobile Association. He was also responsible for all shipping costs and for the wages of the team of support mechanics. To cover his expenses he arranged as much sponsorship as possible from the many accessory companies whose parts were used in the car.


Just before the car’s departure for America, Segrave’s rival Malcolm Campbell took a new ‘Bluebird’ car to Pendine and broke Thomas’s record, achieving 174.883m.p.h.

The 1,000hp. Sunbeam left Southampton on board a Cunard Liner bound for New York on 2nd March. Segrave was supported by Kenelm Lee Guinness, Lord Rossmore, and Dunlop's Experimental Engineer, Norman Freeman.

During the trip Segrave received some worrying news. Parry Thomas had immediately returned to Pendine with ‘Babs’ after hearing about Campbell’s new record. Even though he was not well he continued with the record attempt, but things went badly wrong during the return run, when a chain snapped, and the car went out of control, instantly killing Thomas. As the Sunbeam car was also chain driven, the drive system would be carefully checked before any record attempt began.

On arrival in New York the customs officials demanded £16,000 import duty for the car and equipment. The car was sent by rail to Daytona, and Segrave and the support team sailed to Jacksonville on the Clyde Line "Mohawk". At Jacksonville the party was greeted by the town's Mayor and they were invited to an official luncheon before their road journey to Daytona.

On arrival at Daytona the car received a lot of attention from the American public.

From "The Greatest Motoring Achievement Ever Recorded" pub. by the Sunbeam Motor Company Ltd.

At Daytona, Segrave decided to make three runs. The first was to get used to driving the car, as he had only previously driven it slowly around the works. The second run would be at a modest speed to see how the car performed, and the third run would be the record attempt itself. On the second run conditions were not perfect and it was decided to delay the record attempt for a week, during which time several modifications were made to the car.


The Sunbeam team standing in front of the 1,000hp. record breaking car at Daytona. Left to right: Alec Broome, Bill Perkins, Jack Ridley, Tommy Harrison, Sir Henry Segrave, Dick Slater, Steve Macdonald (Dunlop Mac), and Ernie Lavender.


The 1,000hp. Sunbeam at Daytona Beach. Courtesy of Eardley Lewis.

The record attempt was made on Tuesday 29th March and at 9.30a.m. Segrave brought the car onto the sand for the press photographers and news reporters.

An estimated crowd of 15,000 people came to view the event.

He started at the southern end of the beach and travelled northwards during the first run, which went well.


Another view of the 1,000hp. car on the beach at Daytona.

The car begins one of the record-breaking runs.

From "The Greatest Motoring Achievement Ever Recorded" pub. by the Sunbeam Motor Company Ltd.

At the end of the run the wheels were changed, although the tyres were hardly worn, and the car was rapidly made ready for its return run.

The wind was blowing at 18m.p.h. from the north east and so this aided the second run, which was faster than the first. Unfortunately the car overran the 9-mile course and the brakes seemed to be ineffective.


At speed during the record attempt.

In order to stop, he drove the car into the shallow water at the edge of the sea, and returned to the timing box for the result. It was later found that the aluminium brake shoes had greatly overheated and melted. Segrave was presented with the marvellous news that he had beaten Campbell’s record by 28m.p.h. and was the first man to exceed 200m.p.h. He thought that the car could go faster, but after consultation with Guinness and Lord Rossmore he decided to let the 203.792m.p.h. record stand.

A triumphant Henry Segrave is carried shoulder high.

From "The Greatest Motoring Achievement Ever Recorded" pub. by the Sunbeam Motor Company Ltd.

After the remarkable achievement the team returned to Southampton on the liner "Berengaria".

They arrived on 12th April and were greeted by the Mayor and Mayoress who invited them to a civic luncheon, the first of many celebrations that took place during the following fortnight.

 


The car begins it's journey back to the UK.

Henry and Mrs. Segrave are welcomed by the Mayor of Southampton, Alderman P. V. Bowyer.

From "The Greatest Motoring Achievement Ever Recorded" pub. by the Sunbeam Motor Company Ltd.

The car and Segrave make a triumphant appearance at Brooklands on 6th June, 1927.

From "The Greatest Motoring Achievement Ever Recorded" pub. by the Sunbeam Motor Company Ltd.

The 1,000hp. Sunbeam was put on display at Selfridges store in London and several thousand people came along see the now famous car.
     


A postcard produced by Selfridges to commemorate the event.

 

 

Sunbeam was now a household name thanks to Segrave, his team, and the highly skilled workforce at Moorfields. The 1,000hp. car still survives today and can be seen at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.


   
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