Sunbeam


The History of Sunbeam

   

Sunbeam was a marque registered by John Marston Co. Ltd of Wolverhampton, England, in 1888. The company first made bicycles, then motorcycles and cars from the late 19th century to circa 1936, and applied the marque to all three forms of transportation. The company also manufactured 647 aircraft during World War I. A Sunbeam was the first British car to win a Grand Prix race, and set a number of land speed records. The company went into receivership in 1935 and was purchased by the Rootes Group, which continued to use the Sunbeam marque.
John Marston was apprenticed to the Jeddo Works of Wolverhampton as a japanner (metal lacquerer). In 1859, at the age of 23, he bought two existing tinplate manufacturers and set up on his own, John Marston Co. Ltd. Marston was an avid cyclist, and in 1877 set up the Sunbeamland Cycle Factory, producing bikes known as Sunbeams. Between 1899 and 1901 the company also produced a number of experimental cars, but none of these was offered to the market.
The first production car named as a Sunbeam was introduced in 1901, after a partnership with Maxwell Maberly-Smith. The Sunbeam-Mabley design was an odd one, with seats on either side of a belt-drive powered by a single-cylinder engine of less than 3 hp (2.2 kW). The design was a limited success, with 420 sold when production ended in 1904. At that point the company started production of a Thomas Pullinger designed car based on the Berliet mechanicals. They introduced a new model, based on a Peugeot motor they bought for study, in 1906 and sold about ten a week.
In 1905, the Sunbeam Motorcar Company Ltd was formed separate from the rest of the John Marston business which retained the Sunbeam motorcycles and bicycles.
The Breton car designer, Louis Coatalen, joined the company from Humber in 1909, and became chief designer. He soon reorganised production such that almost all parts were being built by the company, as opposed to relying on outside suppliers. He quickly introduced his first design, the Sunbeam 14/20, their first to use a shaft-driven rear axle, upgrading it in 1911 with a slightly larger engine as the 16/20.
By 1911 they were building about 650 cars a year, at that time making them a major manufacturer.
On August 13, 1920, Sunbeam merged with the French company Automobiles Darracq S.A.. Alexandre Darracq built his first car in 1896, and his cars were so successful that Alfa Romeo and Opel both started out in the car industry by building Darracqs under licence. In 1919 Darracq bought the London-based firm of Clement-Talbot to become Talbot-Darracq in order to import Talbots into England. Adding Sunbeam created "Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq", or "STD Motors".
In addition to quality limousine, saloon and touring cars, the famous Sunbeam 350HP established a new Land Speed Record at Brooklands and in Malcolm Campbell’s hands at Pendine Sands where it achieved 150.766 mph (242.634 km/h) in 1925 after renaming it the Blue Bird and painting it blue.
Sunbeam did not really survive the depression and in 1935 went into receivership and was sold to Lord Rootes. The last true Sunbeam was made in 1935.
STD Motors went into receivership in 1935. By this point only Talbots was still a success, and in 1935 that portion was purchased by the Rootes Group. William Lyons of "SS Cars," tried to buy Sunbeam but they were also purchased by Rootes. After World War II SS Cars changed their name to Jaguar. Car production at the Wolverhampton factory was terminated.
Rootes was an early proponent of badge engineering, building a single mass-produced chassis and equipping it with different body panels and interiors to fit different markets. They ended production of existing models at all the new companies, replacing them with designs from Hillman and Humber that were more amenable to mass production.
In 1938 Rootes created a new marque called Sunbeam-Talbot which combined the quality Talbot coachwork and the current Hillman and Humber chassis and was assembled at the Talbot factory in London. The initial two models were the Sunbeam-Talbot 10 and the 3-litre followed by the Sunbeam-Talbot 2 litre and 4 litre models based on the earlier models only with different engines and longer wheelbases. Production of these models continued after the war until 1948.
In 1964 30 percent of the company (along with 50 percent of the non-voting shares) was purchased by Chrysler, which was attempting to enter the European market. Ironically, Chrysler had purchased Simca the year earlier, who had earlier purchased Automobiles Talbot, originally the British brand that had been merged into STD Motors many years earlier.
Chrysler's experience with the Rootes empire appears to have been an unhappy one. Models were abandoned over the next few years while they tried to build a single brand from the best models of each of the company's components, but brand loyalty started to erode, and was greatly damaged when they decided to drop former marques and start calling everything a Chrysler.
The last Sunbeam produced was the "Rootes Arrow" series Alpine/Rapier fastback (1967–76), after which Chrysler, who had purchased Rootes, disbanded the marque. The Hillman (by now Chrysler) Hunter on which they were based soldiered on until 1978. A Hillman Avenger–derived hatchback, the Chrysler Sunbeam, maintained the name as a model rather than a marque from 1978 to the early 1980s, with the very last models sold as Talbot Sunbeams. The remains of Chrysler Europe were purchased by Peugeot and Renault in 1978, and the name has not been used since.

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