Chapter Five Part Five

Now back to 1928 and Sunbeam, who of course were also experiencing difficulties. The same range of cars, little changed from the previous year were offered, and when road tested they still received praise from journalists.

On the competition side the Wolverhampton cars gained numerous successes in record breaking runs with Kaye Don being a star performer. Local man E.L. Bouts also had a number of successes at Brooklands. The name Bouts is of course well known to this day in the Wolverhampton motor trade for the family still operate a thriving motor agency and garage. If we are to report great international successes we must once again turn to the Wolverhampton motorcycle concerns. Despite the fact that they were suffering trading difficulties, both A.J.S. and Sunbeam continued to support a full competition programme.

As noted above A.J.S. reverted to push rod operated valves for 1928, but they would still have troubles in the T.T. races.

The Junior proved to be a disaster. The race was dominated by Velocettes and Alec Bennett won at an average speed of 68.65m.p.h. with team mate Harold Willis second.  Bennett also set a record lap at 70.28m.p.h. There had been six A.J.S. machines in the race, but all had retired as had the five Sunbeams.

Despite this very poor showing in the Junior race, most people expected much better things in the Senior.

Practice runs had shown the A.J.S. machines to be very fast and with Jimmy Simpson and George Rowley among their riders a good performance could be expected. The team’s newcomer Tommy Spann could also be looked to for a good performance. He had left Sunbeam after marrying one of George Stevens' daughters and so would be out to do well. Sunbeam also had a very talented team including Charlie Dodson, Italian Luigi Arcangeli and Swiss ace Francisco Franconi. The Wolverhampton teams could expect strong opposition from the very formidable Rudge team, helped by their late competition manager Graham Walker, together with H.G. Tyrell Smith and Ernie Nott. Added to this was the Norton team with Stanley Woods and Alec Bennett and the Scotts of Harry Langman and the Langton brothers, Eric and Oliver. It could be seen that with such men and machines the race of the century was in the offing.

Unfortunately the Clerk of the Weather ruled otherwise, sending really atrocious weather, the wettest T.T. to date. Despite the truly terrible weather conditions Jimmy Simpson was off like a scalded cat to lead for the first two laps making what would prove to be the day’s fastest circuit in 32 minutes 20 seconds, an average speed of 67.94m.p.h. On lap 3 Simpson retired with engine trouble and Charlie Dodson went into the lead. Graham Walker in 2nd spot now gave the Rudge its head and in lap 6 got ahead of the Sunbeam with an advantage of 3 minutes. It looked all set for Rudge to win their first T.T. since 1914, but it was not to be. With just 13 miles to the chequered flag Walker was sidelined with mechanical trouble, which put Dodson into an unassailable lead. He went on to win his first T.T. by over 8 minutes from second man George Rowley on his A.J.S. This was George's best ever T.T. result.

Dodson's time for the 7 laps had been 4 hours 11 minutes 40 seconds, an average speed of 62.98m.p.h. This gives some indication of the prevailing conditions as it was the slowest Senior since 1924. None the less a very fine performance by Dodson as was Simpson's fastest lap.

Other Sunbeam placings were Franconi 7th, Arcangeli 15th and Simcock 19th. This gained Sunbeam the manufacturer’s team prize for the 2nd year in succession. New AJ man Tommy Spann finished 13th so it had turned out to be quite a good Senior for the Wolverhampton contingent.

There had been one HRD in the race, no doubt made at the Wolverhampton factory before its closure, however it had to retire during the race.

Before considering the 1928 Amateur T.T. we shall look at that year’s Ulster Grand Prix. There were 78 competitors, 30 riding 500c.c. machines, 21 on 3500c.c. machines, l6 on 250s and 5 others. The last two classes will not concern us here as no Wolverhampton machines were included. In the 500c.c. class there was a thrilling duel between Graham Walker riding a Rudge and Charlie Dodson aboard a Sunbeam. The battle lasted throughout the race with first one then the other in the lead. The titanic struggle ended in Walker's favour by 11 seconds at an average speed of 80.08m.p.h., the first over 80m.p.h. The fastest lap fell to Charlie Dodson who went round. in 15 minutes 3 seconds, an 81.72m.p.h. record.

The 350c.c. also turned out to be a needle match between Jimmy Guthrie on a Norton, Frank Longman on a Velocette and Leo Davenport on an A.J.S. The first part of the race saw a ding dong struggle between the trio, but then the AJ slowed and Guthrie retired. Longman took the Velocette through to win by a little over four minutes from Davenport's AJ. Jimmy Shaw came in third on a Norton. The winner’s time was 2 hours 45minutes 32 seconds, an average speed of 74.31m.p.h. A 350c.c. record.

Now back to the Isle of Man. As envisaged, 1928 would see two races in September, a Senior and a Junior Amateur T.T. The later took place on Tuesday 4th with the 500s racing on Thursday. This was a very popular move with the competitors, now any rider so wishing could ride in both races and spectators would get two days racing. Entries for the first “Junior” Amateur T.T. were 26 and included 13 different makes of machine. Amongst these were 5 Sunbeams, 3 A.J.S. and a single HRD.

Practice form had shown Tim Hunt to be a very strong contender,  though the know-alls did not think he could do it. They agreed Hunt was a fine rider, perhaps the best Amateur to date, but his machine a 350c.c. ohv Levis was an unknown quantity. Levis were of course famous for their two strokes and had been very successful with them in races, but four strokes and overhead valves were new to them so all in all not too much could be expected.

Good weather attended the race and Hunt took an early lead to have an advantage of 1.5 minutes over J. Hanson on his Velocette and Gilbert Emery on a Sunbeam at the end of lap one. On the following lap W.H.T Meageen really opened up his Rex Acme to take second place. Hunt also speeded up and held on to his lead. On lap 5 Meageen really dug his spurs in to go round in 35 minutes 20seconds, an average speed of 64.08m.p.h., which proved to be the day’s fastest and an Amateur T.T. record.
None the less Hunt maintained his lead until the final lap when with just three miles to go the Levis engine gave out. What terrible luck for Tim Hunt and Levis.

W.H.T. Meageen went on to win and became the first Manxman to win an Amateur T.T. He did it at a record speed of 6l.58m.p.h. and as noted above made a record lap. J. Hanson finished 2nd on his Velocette, 3 minutes 43 seconds in arrears and another Velo claimed 3rd spot with Dick Birch in 4th place on his Sunbeam.

S. Lees on another Sunbeam came home 9th followed by the only HRD in the race. All the A.J.S. riders retired.

Everyone now looked forward to a fast and exciting Senior T.T. Very fast times had been set in practice and race day would enjoy near perfect weather conditions. Tim Hunt, now aboard a Norton could be expected to avenge his Junior race disappointment and though the Junior winner Meageen would be riding the same machine, he too could be expected to put up a strong fight. The experts very much favoured a win for a Sunbeam rider, for both Dick Birch and Gilbert Emery were most competent riders. They had been very fast in practice and their Wolverhampton made machines were superb.
The 1928 Senior Manx Amateur T.T. got off to a cracking start with Birch and Emery dead heating for the lead at the end of the first lap. They went round in 33 minutes 33 seconds, a record, and from a standing start. As expected a fast race was in prospect. On the 2nd round Birch took the lead and pulled out a 13 second advantage and Hunt, who had been suffering some problems with the Norton had fallen back, though he still held 3rd spot behind the Sunbeams.

On lap 4 Tim Hunt found his form, pulled out all the stops and took a 2 second lead over Birch. Hunt’s final lap was covered in 31minutes 10seconds, an average speed of 71.0lm.p.h. This was a record and the fastest the Isle of Man mountain circuit had been covered to date. The winner’s race time of 3 hours l9 minutes 58seconds also constituted a record at 67.94m.p.h. 2nd place fell to Dick Birch who finished 3 minutes l0 seconds behind Hunt.

Gilbert Emery took 3rd spot whilst the riders of 4 other Sunbeams and of 3 A.J.S. machines retired during the race.

Around this time a new motor sport came to England, called speedway or dirt track racing. This type of racing had been popular in the United States and in Australia for some years. A number of British enthusiasts had seen it down under and thought it could become a popular sport at home, and so indeed it would. After the war speedway became Britain's second most popular sport after soccer. None the less let it be noted that the BBC refused to broadcast speedway results. At first dirt track racing was indulged in by almost anyone, and many types of machines were used. After a few years things began to get more specialised, and many manufacturers listed a ‘dirt’ model amongst their ranges. The specifications for such machines were varied and included flat twins, ‘V’ twins, ohv and camshaft models. A.J.S. were fairly early in the field and produced a very fast overhead camshaft machine and they enjoyed some success in the hands of riders like Billy Lamont, Frank Arthur and Cecil Brown. Sunbeam were a bit late in entering this market, not listing a 'dirt' model until 1930. It was exhibited at that year’s motorcycle show.

As would be expected of a Marston product the Sunbeam speedway machine was beautifully made and finished. In effect it was a Model 90 with single port head, and apart from a lowered frame and small fuel tank it was in fact a standard road racing model. Forks of T.T. pattern did not make for a good 'dirt' bike and there were few buyers at the asking price of £90. Well known local rider Tommy Deadman rode one of the Sunbeam prototypes in a few races and had a very hectic time of it. Leg trailing was at that time universal and Tommy found the machine near unmanageable, so he tried leg forward, but with 1ittle better result. It could well be that Tommy Deadman was the first speedway rider to try the leg forward style of riding.

After protests from the few riders who had them, the Sunbeam was modified to have speedway type forks, but it was all to late for by now the JAP motor had come on the scene and speedway machines would become very specialised and all would look alike. Just before leaving the 'dirt' we can note that this sport started quite early at Monmore Green and despite ups and downs continues to the present day.

Dodson and his Sunbeam.

We have met, and shall meet again Aussie 'Digger' Simcock who raced successfully on Sunbeams, but later also had connections with the town, for in the 1950s he was manager of Wolverhampton Speedway.

There was little change in the Sunbeam Motor Company's range of cars for 1929, however some interesting projects were under development. Experiments were being made with diesel engines for aeroplane use, a commercial vehicle chassis and a new contender for the world land speed record was under development.

Way back around 1910 Hugh Rose had started work at Sunbeam and when Sidney Guy left in 1914 to form his own company, Rose left with him and moved to Fallings Park. He returned to Sunbeam in the late 1920s to design commercial vehicles and to be in charge of the new record attempt car.

During 1929 two Sunbeam commercial vehicles were announced, both intended for passenger work. They were the two axle “Pathan” and the three axle “Sikh”. Both shared the same eight litre six cylinder ohv petrol engine which developed l42b.h.p. They were fast vehicles and it is said the prototypes were tested by collecting fish at Grimsby. Only a handful were built and all were fitted with single deck coach or bus bodywork. Sunbeam commercial vehicle production soon ceased, but as we shall see the name would become well known for trolley buses later on.

Whilst Sunbeam were trying to break into the commercial field A.J.S. were also developing similar vehicles at their Lower Walsall Street factory. They were launched in 1929 and “Commercial Motor” magazine gave a quite comprehensive write up of the new A.J.S. chassis. Two models were produced, the “Pilot” and the “Commodore”.

They were mainly intended for passenger work though some lorries and vans were produced. Both had Coventry Climax six cylinder ohv petrol engines. The “Pilot” developed 70b.h.p. and the “Commodore” 100b.h.p. The former could be had in normal or forward control versions and the chassis price was £685 and £705 respectively. The “Commodore” was only listed as forward control and cost £850. Like the Sunbeams these vehicles were fast for their day and with a load of two tons could exceed 55m.p.h. and would cruise quite happily at 45m.p.h.
In their report “Commercial Motor” said, “Wolverhampton bids fair to become in the near future a very important commercial vehicle manufacturing centre.” Well one cannot doubt that this was so with regard to Guy Motors, but the writing was on the wall for A.J.S. and Sunbeam and very few of either concerns commercial vehicles were built.
It was during 1929 that the Briton car ceased production. Charles Weight rescued the marque in 1922 and since then something like 1,000 Britons had been produced. The firm now became Tractor Spares and yet another fine motor car passed into history. Also during 1929 the Star Frederick Street works were closed down, though in this case of course production continued at the new Bushbury Works. Though considerably smaller it was hoped to expand, as something like 20 acres were available. In the event however some land had to be sold off to raise capital and only about 250 men were employed at the works. Even so some were still being laid off for weeks at a time and it is said that at this time Dick Lisle worked as manager of the hardening department but soon left and moved away from Wolverhampton.

Production of Stars for 1929 would be around 294 cars of which all but 45 were 18/50s. This popular model had a 69 x 100mm ohv six cylinder engine and with saloon bodywork cost £575, whilst the five seater tourer sold for £495.

Commercial vehicle production would total 157 including a low loading coach chassis with 80 x l20mm ohv six cylinder engine, listed at £645. It conformed to Scotland Yard’s regulations to carry 26 passenger bodywork.

Guy offered a similar range of vehicles at a slightly high price and they were now contemplating ending Star commercial vehicle production. As is the case with takeovers, many of the old Star hands were not happy to come under Guy. Several people in managerial positions left as did a number of workmen, some of their own accord but others were dismissed.

Changes were also taking place at Sunbeamland for during 1928 it had been part of the newly formed ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) group. The changes however were by no means drastic and motorcycles of a very high quality continued to be produced. Some purists were upset when for 1929 saddle tanks were introduced. Whilst perhaps a motorcycle so fitted was not as handsome as one with a flat tank, fashion demanded saddle tanks and fashion had to be followed if you wished to stay in business. The racing programme continued as before and Sunbeam notched up some notable successes.

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