Sunbeam 1920 16hp Tourer


The 12/16hp Sunbeam had earned an enviable reputation as an all round first-rate touring car of medium size by the outbreak of World War One in 1914. For 1915 and 1916, it was uprated slightly, with only minor changes being made, and renamed the 16hp. New were semi-elliptical rear springs, a wheelbase longer by seven inches, and a taller and narrower radiator. The Sunbeam factory in Wolverhampton found itself at the centre of frantic aero engine manufacture for the war effort, and as the reputation earned by Sunbeam cars had made them a natural choice for use as staff cars and other purposes for the conflict, more than half of approximately 3,000 chassis supplied were those whose manufacture had been subcontracted to the Rover factory in Coventry.

It was with every confidence that Sunbeam resumed production of the 16hp in 1919, as in the most extreme of testing grounds the cars had acquitted themselves with distinction. The model was little changed from 1915, but now a self-starter was a standard fitting. The 16hp Sunbeam has a monobloc 4-cylinder sidevalve longstroke engine of 80 x 150mm bore and stroke (3016ccs), a cone clutch and a four-speed right-hand gate change gearbox. Ignition was by high tension magneto. Contemporary reports state that the engine was notably smooth running and the gearbox was considered to have well placed ratios and an easy change. The 16hp Sunbeam would cruise happily at 40-45mph and return 17 to 20 mpg. Whilst the chassis as a whole was entirely typical of medium car practice of its day, the Sunbeam build quality was accepted to be of an admirably high order. In 1922, the 16hp gained overhead valves to become the 16/40hp, in which form it remained in production for another two seasons.

The history of 'MD 1139' is recorded from new through its old style registration books and the STD Register's archives, where this car has been known from the Register's earliest days. It comes with an extensive history file including invoices, photographs, and letters retained from its period of restoration. The present ownership dates from July 1989; prior to this it reportedly underwent a chassis-up 8-year restoration by an accomplished engineer who placed great emphasis on retaining originality. Its serial numbers and registration records all confirm production and sale in 1920. Surely, many would agree that this Sunbeam is a most elegant touring car with well-balanced lines. One of perhaps 16 surviving examples of the model, this car has the smooth contoured rounded mudguards introduced for the 1920 season.

'MD 1139' has been in regular summer use during the last 20 years, attracting much favourable comment and bearing out Sunbeam's reputation for reliability. Many awards have been won during this period. These include first and second places for presentation and pride of ownership. Full weather protection makes the car all the more practical: this includes a full set of side-screens. On a 'hood down' day, the folding Auster rear windscreen and apron will be much appreciated by rear seat passengers. 'Green' activists will approve of the windscreen wiper - it is hand activated! The running boards carry coconut mats, cans for extra petrol and a handy toolbox.

An original handbook comes with the car, as does a copy of the Sunbeam Instruction Book and Spares List. Copies of various books, reports and articles relevant to early Sunbeam cars are also included. The vendor states that coachwork and transmission are "excellent", the paintwork and interior trim likewise, but with minor evidence of normal usage, and the engine too is "excellent", apart from a slight water leak from the pump. All the electrical equipment is stated to be functional. The MOT certificate expires on 30th July 2010.

Writing back in 1960, the respected authority 'Bunny' Tubbs said, "Touring cars of the early vintage period are exceedingly rare, but quite delightful when found." Look no further!

Image and description kindly supplied by H&H Classic Auctions

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