…….Wants Me For A Sunbeam?

By Clive Alcock

Even before becoming a member, I’d always found Spadeadam Motor Club and its members proving the most helpful and enthusiastic on events; the most rallying-focused of our local clubs. So when, over three years ago now, ‘Grendel’ the Group 2 SAAB went back across the sea to Sweden to be replaced with a lighter, quicker car more obedient to the tiller, less phased by the laws of physics, it wasn’t long before signing-up.

The ‘barn-find’ Sunbeam 1600 ti (with an ‘RAC’ registration which its Coventry vendor never mentioned; made my cheque-signing hand twitch) taking its place is a Scots-built car first registered by his dad’s Dundee dealership, then campaigned on Royal Deeside under Balmoral Garage colours. Its old-fashioned pushrod engine (built by Mike Stewart) fundamentally tough, gutsy and reliable; handling fantastic; but cursed with their standard design fault of a pair of spitting twin webers sited above the exhaust manifold. Why a Pendragon premier in chilly August gave us no problem; but its first Pirelli outing (2011) in one of those belting Aprils now taking the place of summer – and run with a Scot in the left hand seat (medic Steven Brown from Highland Car club) – was cursed with fuel vaporisation in the heat. Removing one headlamp for airflow giving only half a solution, and why we could only cough, gasp and splutter our way round Kielder to second in class; in what most folk assume a Sunbeam Lotus. Expect more by way of BHP.

Pirelli 2011

Interspersed with a brace of punctures for good measure, 2011’s still our toughest and most difficult rally ever; but at least I could maintain my long tradition of driving the car home afterwards.What a difference a year makes: the 2012 Pirelli Tour of Cumbria as always a superb event. One ambitious enough in scope and scale at least to evoke those epic RACs of yore I’m old and privileged enough to remember. Which once so turned a teenage mind; why I personally always prefer big events on that scale to most single venue offerings. Enjoy attrition more than sprint; two hundred-odd of road-miles, near ninety of stage. Even if; with the Sunbeam in its way as cussed and characterful as the old SAAB but, unlike ‘Grendel’, now ineligible for the ‘Historic’ class; among the big boys we must run.

Pirelli 2012

I could pen a whole magazine on the artificiality of what HRCR regulation has made of historic entry lists, but suffice to say our Sunbeam is total period piece. Though equipped with too much roll-cage: gussets and stuff. Why I decline to ‘cut it out’; am reluctant to enjoy the full ‘period experience’ HRCR would inflict on us while rolling; with the modern’s we must stay: Evos et al.

Pirelli 2012

Kielder always tends to the rough (though this year considered smooth) but we had a great run in 2012 and enjoyed ourselves hugely: the 1600 award our bonus* for finishing. The lady handing it over so emotional she hugged me – knowing  Sunbeams can get you like that! Beating not only those who went off into scenery, didn’t bother turning up; but also that devilish vaporisation problem with a demon new heat-shield crafted out of space-age materials. With no punctures either and the only problems to report one tool kit adrift in back, loose piece of window trim; both service-crews at Kielder and Carlisle seemed frustrated by inaction, approaching bored to tears: “It wasn’t like this with the SAAB, Clive!” said John Askew ruefully on the racecourse, counting spanners instead. (*Some superb photos Spadeadam members sent over afterwards the icing…).

Life is full of balance and there is always price to be paid:

July’s Greystoke Stages 2012 was the first time I’d entered this event and those stages were in absolutely fantastic condition; the start-control run by Spadeadam; Sunbeam going like a train. Unfortunately, so was everyone else and it got rather hot. Near the end of stage four out of seven, we suddenly felt a misfire but resolved to struggle on to the finish, not stop on the track.

Where the engine did so for itself and we must anyway; see smoke out the vents. Steve jumping out first and taking the bonnet off to be greeted with orange flame. He, wisely as it proved, making an executive decision and pulling the handle while his driver’s still thinking: “Hey, that’s forty pounds for a refill….” – foam flying over the large air-filter that’s currently on fire.

Which doesn’t put it out.

Driver now thinking: “Hmmm, I’m going to lose the car…” so he jumps out with the hand-held to finally succeed. Cue a short wait; much amusing banter with the Graham family of recovery crews; and an embarrassing parade-tow ALL THE WAY BACK WE HAVE COME past all the spectators.

Unable to restart from service for want of two extinguishers, all we actually lost was that one-piece foam filter now replaced with K&Ns; and the chance to finish this wonderful event. (Next year perhaps?) While the car, as is now usual, drove itself home; the paintwork soon cleaned-up.

Great stuff, these Sunbeams.

(Images © B. Lindsay / H. R. Gibbon / Spadeadam Motor Club 2012)