The Sunbeam Motor Car Company Limited, formed in March 1905 produced large numbers of cars at Moorfield Works, Upper Villiers Street, Wolverhampton. The cars were available in many forms, including running chassis, which were available to anyone wanting to add their own bodywork. It is likely that some of the chassis ended-up as lightweight vans and lorries.

Sunbeam did build a small number of lightweight lorry and van bodies for some of its standard car chassis, but it was always a low-key affair, cars came first.

During the early part of the First World War, Sunbeam produced military staff cars and ambulances based on the well tried and tested 16 hp. chassis.

A Sunbeam ambulance.
  Another Sunbeam ambulance.
A line-up of Sunbeam ambulances outside Wolverhampton Low Level Railway Station.
Another row of Sunbeam ambulances outside the railway station.

Large numbers of Sunbeam ambulances were supplied to the British and allied forces, including the Russian army. In 1915 the government insisted that production of the Sunbeam ambulances and staff cars should be handed over to the Rover Car Company so that Sunbeam could concentrate on production of much-needed aero engines and aircraft. Although Rover wanted to put its name on the vehicles, it was not allowed to do so. As a result, during the war, vehicles carrying the Sunbeam name were built in Coventry by Rover.

By the late 1920s car sales were declining and so the company turned its attention to the growing market for buses. In 1928 Hugh Rose designed a 6-wheel chassis, with an 8 litre, 6-cylinder engine called the 'Sikh', followed in 1929 by the 4-wheeled 'Pathan'. They were primarily designed for bus use, but a number of lorries were built around them. Only a small number of chassis were made.

1931 saw the formation of Sunbeam Commercial Vehicles, which produced large numbers of trolley buses. By 1934 the Sunbeam group as a whole was in financial difficulties, people no longer wanted expensive, slightly old-fashioned cars. The solution was to be the Sunbeam ‘Dawn’, but it was slow to sell, and there were initial problems with the design. £3½ million had been spent on development and tooling costs for the new car, but it wasn’t recovered. At one point, money was so short that wheels and tyres from half completed cars had to be removed to meet the weekly wages bill. On November 17th, 1934 Sunbeam Commercial Vehicles became a limited company.

Things didn’t improve and Sunbeam soon went into liquidation. In July 1935 S.T.D. and Sunbeam Commercial Vehicles Limited were purchased by Rootes Securities, who had no interest in high quality cars, only volume production. Rootes kept the Sunbeam name and quickly closed the car building part of the factory.

In December 1935 bus manufacturer AEC (Associated Equipment Company Limited) became interested in Sunbeam Commercial Vehicles Limited. AEC’s managing director C. W. Reeve, and AEC’s chairman J. T. C. Moore-Brabazon joined the board. This resulted in the production of a Sunbeam bus built on an AEC chassis, and powered  by a Gardner diesel engine. The project seems to have been a failure as few were sold.

At this time the company also produced crankcases for AEC, stampings for Ford, and battery-powered vehicles such as milk floats, like the one in the advert opposite, which is from the Co-operative Productive Review.

Much of the Moorfields site, where the cars were built, was soon acquired by Villiers. By 1944 AEC had lost interest in Sunbeam Commercial Vehicles Limited, which was sold to the Brockhouse Group in 1946, after becoming an important source of machine tools for the group. In 1948 Brockhouse changed the name to the Sunbeam Trolleybus Company, which in January 1949 was acquired by Guy Motors.

In 1953 production moved to the Guy factory in Park Lane, were an extension had been built to the machine shop. A sad end for Sunbeam, especially as so much had been achieved during the glorious half a century at Moorfields.

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