Sunbeam Motorcycles

Today in Motorcycle History

Sunbeam Motorcycles: History Timeline


Sunbeamland,  Wolverhampton,  England

Telephone: 1481 (4 lines)  Telegrams and Cables: "SUNBEAM, WOLVERHAMPTON"


  LONDON: 57 Holborn Viaduct, EC1 Tel.: Central 1980
  157 & 158 Sloane St., SW1 Tel.: Sloane 1106
  MANCHESTER: 20 Peter Street Tel.: Central 3952
  LIVERPOOL: 68 Renshaw Street Tel.: Royal 729
  BOURNEMOUTH: 203 Old Christchurch Road Tel.: 2706
  BIRMINGHAM: 193 Broad Street Tel.: Midland 3234

John Marston's company had built up a fine reputation for high standards of workmanship and finish in the world of bicycles and, as a marque, it commanded the highest respect. John Marston was seventy-six years old when he ventured into the field of motorcycles with his 'Gentleman's motor bicycle'.

1912 The first modern-but-conventional Sunbeam model appeared. It had been designed by Harry Stevens of the A.J. Stevens family with a 2.75hp engine. The chain transmission was enclosed by the Sunbeam 'Little Oil Bath Chain Case'. Finished to the usual Sunbeam high standards, it was prepared for production by John Greenwood, who was the Engineering Director at Sunbeamland until the 1930s.

1913 A second model, with a 6-hp JAP V-twin engine was added. This was for sidecar work and had a three-speed gearbox. A 3.5hp single model, with a three-speed gearbox and cast-alloy primary chain-case, joined the range later that year.

1914 A TT version of the 3.5hp model was listed that year and George Dance joined the team. He was later to become famous for success in sprints during the 1920s. They did well at the TT and the firm took the team prize.

World War I. The 2.75hp model was dropped and 3.5hp model was produced in limited numbers.

1916 An 8hp MAG was built, with the sidecars often fitted out with an ambulance body.

1917 A 4hp model was built for the French Army - these had belt final-drive.

1918 This was a very tragic year for the Marston family. Firstly the eldest son died, followed by his father the day after the funeral and his mother a few days later. It was to affect the firm deeply and the company entered the following decade in the control of others and as part of Nobel Industries.

1919 Only two models were produced that year. George Dance competed successfully in many sprints and hill-climbs on a light machine that had his own ohv conversion.

1920 Dance was determined to improve his performance at the TT, and was in the lead when engine trouble stopped him.

1922 Two new models were produced - one of which was to remain on the lists into the next decade. Alec Bennett, riding a Sunbeam, won the Senior TT easily - the first of five wins.

1923 Realising that they had to make major changes to remain competitive, the company revised its range. At the same time they began the practice of numbering each Model.

1924 The 346cc became Model 1, and by the end of the year Model 11 was listed.

1925 Brought the arrival of drum brakes. The company built some ohc racing engines, but these were not successful.

1926 Public road sprints were banned, so the sprint machines were no longer listed.

1927 Nobel Industries became part of ICI and the range was reduced for two years.

1928-1929 At last there came success in the TT for both Charlie Dodson and Alec Bennett, but it was to be the last Sunbeam TT success. In 1929 saddle tanks were introduced for most of the models except the old Model 7, which continued with its flat tank. Other models also had new frames and fitments. The company also had European racing successes that year.

The Depression was looming and would take its toll on many firms - especially those that produced high-class products of excellent finish - Sunbeam was no exception.

1931 The range was reduced to four models and the new Model 10 was produced to offer Sunbeam at a lower price.

1932-1933 The list was extended and three new models were added. Sunbeam was now in financial difficulty as sales had slowed down, but they were still committed to building their machines to the highest possible standards.

1937 The firm struggled on for several years until it was sold to the AJS and Matchless companies to form AMC, who kept some of their range going until the end of the decade.

1939 New engines were introduced for most of the models.

1940 Rear suspension became an option for the larger models.

1943 AMC sold Sunbeam to BSA.

1943 A brand new model, designed by Erling Poppe, was announced, using the Sunbeam name. It was very advanced, but had many problems in the early days of production. It was also quite heavy which resulted in poor acceleration. As a grand tourer it was expensive, but it didn't live up to expectations.

1947 The GT model went on sale as the S7, but its unconventional lines, slow speed and high cost did it no favours.

1949 A more streamlined version, the S8, appeared and the S7 continued as the de luxe model. The two twins continued to be built in small numbers until the mid-1950s.

1950 As Sunbeam Cycles Ltd of 11 Armoury Road, Birmingham. Advert on this page.

1956 Construction of the S7 and S8 models ceased but they remained available for a further two years as sales were slow; subsequently the Sunbeam name all but disappeared.

1959 The Sunbeam name appeared on a scooter that was a duplicate of the Triumph Tigress. For the next few years various versions were built, carrying the Sunbeam badge, but the firm had failed to keep up with changing times.

1965 Scooters were dropped and thus came the end of the Sunbeam name on motorised two-wheelers.

Sources: Graces Guide, Archive