Some of the most wonderful cars ever created
By 1924 Sunbeam had been making and selling three litre sports cars for over a decade and they had achieved many notable racing successes with them. For instance, in 1912 they took all of the first three placings at the Dieppe Coupe de l'Auto and as late as 1924 they won the Spanish Grand Prix. Competition was looming however in the form of the Bentley three litre which came in first at Le Mans in 1924. It was time for a rethink.
The new Sunbeam engine was a six cylinder three litre unit with, for the first time in a British production car, a twin overhead camshaft. It was also the first engine in the world to use dry sump lubrication. In a more conventional, at the time, wet sump system engine oil collects in a sump under the engine and then a pump return it back to the engine. With a dry sump engine there is a separate oil reservoir; initially oil is pumped from the sump under the engine to a storage tank, and then pumped again back to the engine. There are several benefits to this system. Firstly, the oil has the chance to cool and lose any air which is trapped in it. Secondly, the system is not as susceptible to the high G forces that high-speed cornering can create and which can lead to oil starvation by forcing it away from the pickup tube. Thirdly a much larger quantity of oil can be carried and perhaps more important of all it is possible to have a more consistent oil pressure.
There was instant success. In 1925 two Sunbeams were entered for the Le Mans race; one failed to complete the course but the other came in second, in front of the Bentleys. The same year Sir Malcolm Campbell became the first person to drive at a speed in excess of 150 mph in a Sunbeam.
Bentley were not standing still in the meanwhile however! They went on to dominate Le Mans with their three litre and subsequently 4.5 litre cars and eventually production of the three litre Sunbeam ended in 1930 after just 250 had been sold. The effects of the 1929 stock market crash were still being felt and by 1935 Sunbeam fell into administration.
It was a sad end for a car manufacturer which had not only set several land speed records but which had produced the first British car to win a Grand Prix.