Racing Tragedy and Success 


Dario Resta had driven for Sunbeam for several years. He was originally recruited in 1912, and when racing was banned in Europe at the outbreak of war, he continued to race for Sunbeam in America. After a little while he moved with his family to Bakersfield, California and created a small racetrack at Buttonwillow. In 1923 he returned to Europe as a Sunbeam team member for the Spanish Grand Prix at the Autodrome Nacional, Sitges. The race took place on October 28th, but unfortunately Resta had to retire after 150 laps.


1924 was a bitter-sweet year for Sunbeam’s Experimental Department, many racing successes were achieved during the first half of the year, but tragedy soon followed. On March 29th, Resta came 2nd in the Kop Hill Climb, and on April 21st he finished in 3rd place in the 37th 100 mph. Long Handicap at Brooklands. On May 17th, driving one of the 1924 Grand Prix cars, he won the Aston Clinton Hill Climb, and also in the same car, finished in first place in the South Harting Hill Climb, on May 31st. His last international race took place on August 4th when he finished in 9th place in the Grand Prix de L'Europe, at Lyon, France.

Kenelm Lee Guinness at the wheel, with mechanic Bill Perkins. Courtesy of Jan Jeavons.

His last race was at the International Class ‘E’ Records meeting at Brooklands on September 3rd. Dario Resta competed for Sunbeam along with mechanic Bill Perkins in their 6 cylinder G.P. car. Things went well until a tyre came off a wheel rim on the 4th lap. Resta lost control of the car, whilst was travelling at around 115 mph. The car collided with a corrugated iron fence, and Resta was instantly killed. Bill Perkins ended-up in hospital, due to his injuries. At the inquest it was mentioned that a rear tyre had been punctured by a security bolt that had been broken after hitting a bump in the track.

Kenelm Lee Guinness in his car at the Grand Prix de L'Europe at Lyon, France.

The specification for the 1924 two-litre Sunbeam cars.
Sunbeam’s next major event was the Spanish Grand Prix at Lasarte, San Sebastian, on September 27th. Two of the company’s drivers, Henry Segrave and Kenelm Lee Guinness took part in the race along with their mechanics. Guinness’s mechanic should have been Bill Perkins, but he was still in hospital recovering from his injuries received at Brooklands, three weeks earlier. He was replaced by Tom Barrett.

Kenelm Lee Guinness and Tom Barrett before the race. Courtesy of Jan Jeavons.

All went well for Guinness and Barrett until the 11th lap, when Guinness lost control of the car on the slippery road surface after hitting a rut in the road. The car turned through 180 degrees, and rolled over. Guinness was thrown clear, across a steep railway cutting, and collided with telegraph wires. He suffered serious head and limb injuries, and never raced again. Unfortunately Tom Barrett was trapped in the car, where he died from the terrible injuries he received during the crash.

Due to this accident, the rules regarding mechanics riding in cars were changed, and soon would be a thing of the past. Segrave on the other hand had an excellent race and finished in first place at an average speed of 63.5m.p.h. No doubt he would have retired from the race had he realised that Barrett was dead.

Guinness never fully recovered. After the race he became increasingly mentally unstable, suffering from bouts of depression, and delusions. He often imagined that he was continuously being followed. His marriage was dissolved in 1936, and he was admitted to a nursing home. In April 1937 he returned to his home, 'Melbury', Kingston Hill, Kingston upon Thames, and was found there on April 10th after committing suicide. He had gassed himself. At the inquest the coroner recorded that the cause of death was asphyxia and carbon monoxide poisoning from coal gas. He was buried at Putney Vale Cemetery on 14th April, 1937.


Read about
Tom Barrett

Henry Segrave described the race in his book "The Lure of Speed" published in 1928. This is his description:

On the night after the zoo-mile race Guinness and I went off to San Sebastian, where we were to drive a couple of supercharged 2-litre Sunbeams. The course consisted of 35 laps, totalling 387½ miles, of a circuit which looked at first all right to the eye, but turned out to be in an abominably dangerous condition. The corners were supposed to be sanded so as to give the tyres a reasonably good grip. But the Spanish workmen, true to their tradition of avoiding any unnecessary work, discovered that it was very much easier to dig clay out of a neighbouring field and sprinkle it on the road rather than go some little distance off and get the sand which they should have used.

This nearly cost Guinness his life, and led to a crash in which his mechanic, Barrett, was instantly killed.


Just before the race I said to Bill that I proposed to hang back for a few laps and see what was going to happen. There were fourteen starters, representing Germany, Italy, and England, and it appeared to me that on this occasion it would be good policy not to go out too hard at first, especially as I had no great experience of this very twisty circuit. Bill, however, said he proposed to go all out from the drop of the flag. As a matter of fact, as I have noticed in many previous events, Guinness's first lap is usually the fastest. Provided his car runs consistently the later laps will not be much slower than the initial one, but there are just a few seconds difference.


Henry Segrave at the wheel of one of the 2 litre cars at Shelsley Walsh in May 1925.


He was taking one of those treacherous turns on a road surface covered with wet clay, when his car refused to answer its steering, left the road, ran up a steep incline on the left-hand side of the road, then turned over three times down into the road again, and finished up against a stone wall on the right-hand side.


Along the right side of the road were telegraph poles and a railway cutting running parallel with it. Guinness and his mechanic were both flung clear of the car the last time it turned over, and actually went over the telegraph wires, and fell in the railway cutting.


Barrett, the unfortunate mechanic, was instantly killed, while Guinness suffered severe injuries to his head and legs. I shall never forget my amazement and dismay when I arrived at the scene of the crash a few minutes later; and then for four consecutive laps I had to pass the two stretchers carrying them to the field dressing-station, not knowing whether my friend was alive or dead.


One's reaction in a case like this is peculiar, because, knowing Bill as I did, I knew perfectly well that he had not turned over through an error of judgment in driving, and therefore something must have broken in his car to cause the accident. As both our cars were identical, it followed that what happened to his car must happen to mine, and so, not knowing what had caused Bill to turn over, I drove the rest of the race waiting for anything to happen. It made me handle that car as though it was made of glass!


In 1926 Louis Coatalen moved to the STD factory at Suresnes near Paris. Although he spent most of his time in France, he continued to work part time at Wolverhampton.

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