A Brief History of Sunbeam Motorcycles
John Marston was already 76 years old when he branched into motorcycle manufacture in 1912.
The Marston family had been in business since 1790 and had been amongst the first in Britain to perfect the art of japanning, the application of a high gloss baked finish to metalware.
The Sunbeam trade mark had originally been applied to kitchen utensils and other metalware.
John Marston had started to manufacture pedal cycles in the late 1880s.
An experimental Sunbeam car was produced in 1899, however the first Sunbeam car to go into production was in 1901.
This resembled a sofa on wheels.
Despite sharing the same premises as the pedal cycle factory known as Sunbeamland in Wolverhampton, the four wheeler side of Sunbeam was to go its own way.
John Marston continued manufacturing pedal cycles and in 1912 produced his first motorcycle with the help of his business associate, Thomas Cureton.
They secured the services of engineer John E. Greenwood to design a 347cc single cylinder four stroke machine with a two speed gearbox driving the rear wheel by a chain which ran through an oil filled enclosed case.
In June 1913, the “three fifty” was joined by another motorcycle powered by a 770cc v-twin JAP engine. This machine was driven through a new Sunbeam designed three speed gearbox.
The Sunbeams soon began to gain a reputation for excellence in many competitions.
Indeed, a youngster named Howard R. Davies won a first class award in a Birmingham hill climb.
In September 1913, John Greenwood developed a 500cc single which was similar to the 350 but with the gearbox of the 770cc v-twin.
This machine was raced in the 1914 Isle of Man Senior TT race where Howard R. Davies came second.
World War I was to see Sunbeam busy manufacturing Short seaplanes and Avro fighters while the Sunbeam Car Company manufactured the Sunbeam aero engines.
A large order of 500cc single cylinder motorcycles was produced for the French Army.
In 1915, a motorcycle with an Abingdon King Dick V-twin engine was added to the range.
A year later saw the addition of another motorcycle powered by a Swiss built MAG 1000cc twin.
The original 347cc two speeder was discontinued after the outbreak of war.
John Marston died in 1918 at the age of 82. His son died the following year.
Nobel Industries, a munitions company who later became Imperial Chemical Industries, purchased John Marston Limited from the Marston family.
Nobel Industries continued to run the company in the name of John Marston Limited.
In the 1920 Senior TT, George Dance produced the fastest lap on a Sunbeam and two years later, Alec Bennett set new lap and race records and gave Sunbeam their second Senior TT victory.
In 1924, Graham Walker became Sunbeam’s competition manager using the overhead valve machines for the first time in continental road racing.
Overhead camshaft engines were used the following year, however they did not fare as well as the OHV engines and in 1926, the factory decided to revert to using just the OHV engines.
Graham Walker won the Ulster Grand Prix and the Grand Prix d’Europe on Sunbeam motorcycles before transferring to Rudge in 1928.
A trade recession in the early 1930s slowed down production and in 1936, Sunbeam motorcycle production was taken over by Matchlesss and moved to Plumstead in London.
In turn, Matchless, AJS and Sunbeam were to come together under the new ownership of Associated Motor Cycles Ltd. (AMC).
Shortly after the AMC acquisition, several new Sunbeams were manufactured, however these proved to be unpopular amongst Sunbeam fans.
Production of this range was dropped shortly before World War II in favour of AMC’s Matchless G3 which was used by the British Army.
Towards the end of the war, BSA took over the Sunbeam brand and produced what was probably the most famous Sunbeam of all, the S7.
The S7 had a 487cc twin cylinder engine with an overhead camshaft.
The engine was mounted in line with the frame which enabled the use of a shaft final drive.
The S7 had a rather heavy appearance due to the fat 4 inch section tyres.
To give the machine a lighter appearance, BSA produced the Sunbeam S8 which was essentially the same as the S7 but with the front forks and wheels from the BSA A10.
S8 production stopped in 1957.
The S8 was the last “real” motorcycle built by Sunbeam.
BSA went on to produce scooters badged as BSA Sunbeams.
They were available with 175cc two stroke single cylinder and 250cc four stroke twin cylinder engines.