History of Sunbeam cars

In 1901, tin-plate maker John Marston and Maxwell Maberly-Smith started to sell Sunbeam cars for £130. The first vehicle had seats on each side, facing different directions, with a single cylinder engine that didn't quite reach 3 horsepower; the wheels were unsprung and belt-driven, with an 18 mph top speed. It was a success, with 420 sold through 1904, at which time Marston started to import Berliet car chasis and add bodies to them; over time, Sunbeam built more components and made more of the car their own, though the engine, gearbox, and subframe were always imported. This sold better, with sales of 18 per month, and Sunbeam Motor Car Company, Ltd, was created to increase production. The cars were made at a central factory in Wolverhampton, with a number of related works to make components.

The first new car to be produced by Sunbeam Motor Car Company was based on a Peugeot; it ws fairly popular from its 1906 introduction, with ten produced each week. A chief engineer who had worked at Humber was appointed, resulting in more local production and less outsourcing. This new engineer, Louis Coatalen, started Sunbeam's racing program, which increased popularity; he also added a new touring car based on racing vehicles. Production was interrupted by World War I, but afterwards Sunbeam saw a number of sales and racing successes, including 1922 and 1925 speed records (134 and 151 mph, respectively).

In 1920, Sunbeam merged with Darracq of France, which had recently purchased Clement-Talbot (a company set up to import French Clements) to form a new company, STD Motors (also including a spring maker, commercial vehicle maker, and dynanometer maker). Racing cars were transferred to STD, and were campaigned under the different brands depending on marketing needs. Engineers were hired away from Peugeot and Fiat, increasing racing successes and improving the standard Sunbeam cars; the Sunbeam 3-Liter Super Sports is said to have been very advanced, with a twin overhead cam engine; the vehicle actually produced 130 hp when supercharged, with dry sump lubrication and a top speed of over 90 mph. It finished second in the 1925 LeMans. At the same time, Sunbeam started to make trolleybuses in 1931; and it started to sell Darracqs as Talbots.

The racing, however, was expensive, and Sunbeam remained unpaid for World War I work; the company went bankrupt in 1934. Rootes purchased the trolleybus business first, then Clement-Talbot, replacing the firm's original cars with Hillman and Humber variants. (The commercial vehicles were sold to Guy in 1949.) Talbot of France was purchased by former employee Anthony Lago, and became an independent company. (Darracq would be purchased by Simca in 1959, so they would be reunited under Chrysler Europe in the 1960s.) Then Rootes purchased Sunbeam Motor Cars and assigned it to be the group's luxury car maker, closing Wolverhampton and abandoning all its existing cars for other Rootes vehicles sold under the Sunbeam name. After a brief time, Rootes simply ended the Sunbeam marque, making one wonder why they purchased it in the first place and giving some insight into Rootes’ eventual bankruptcy. However, with Lago having purchased the French Talbot, and selling cars under that name, Rootes decided to resurrect Sunbeam and lower confusion by modifying its Talbot name to Sunbeam-Talbot for Britain in 1938. Talbot cars now called Sunbeam-Talbot included the Ten, 2 Litre, 3 Litre, and 4 Litre. The 3 and 4 Litre were based on the Humber Snipe.

In World War II, Rootes produced 60% of Britain's armored cars, along with scout cars, engines, bombs, and bombers. After the war, the 3 and 4 Litre were cancelled, and production was moved from London to Ryton, where Peugeots are still made; the London plant became the Thames Television studios, of all things.

Postwar Sunbeams were put into road rallys rather than speed races, and the 90 model proved to be exceptionally successful. The Sunbeam Alpine was based on the 90, essentially a two-seat roadster version. It was made from just 1953 to 1955 but was very successful in rallys, as was the new for 1955 Sunbeam Rapier, which was to be popular in rallys as well; a four door version was the Hillman Minx (and Singer Gazelle). The Alpine returned, based on the Hillman Husky with Rapier running gear, in 1959. The related Venezia appeared in 1963. The Tiger ("Alpine V8"), essentially an Alpine with an American V8, was brought out in 1964, and was assembled by Jensen, which used Chrysler V8s in some of its cars. Carroll Shelby-prepared Alpines were entered in Le Mans in from 1961 to 1963, though in both latter years neither of the Alpines entered failed to finish. In 1966, the Tiger was largely replaced in racing by the Imp Sport, a version of the Hilllman Imp.

The 1960s, despite the sporty and successful cars, brought financial problems once again, due to problems with some Rootes cars and union issues. In 1964, Chrysler bought about a third of the company, just a year after buying Simca; they took full control in 1967 and renamed the group to Chrsler UK in 1970. Chrysler now owned Sunbeam, Talbot, Darracq, Hillman, Humber, and Singer. The first results of this union were unhappy - the cancellation of a proposed Alpine update and of the Tiger; and all Sunbeam production was moved to Linwood, Scotland. However, Roy Axe's new Rapier was introduced on schedule.

Despite Chrysler's generally superior quality in the United States, the corporation started to embark on a short-sighted cost-cutting campaign which did not sit well with customers. Nor did eliminating the multifold Rootes brands, which perhaps was inevitable but perhaps was as foolish as eliminating Plymouth. In 1976, the last domestic Sunbeams and Humbers were produced, and in 1978, Hillmans were called Chryslers. Sunbeam was still used on export vehicles made by just about all Rootes brands, however.

The return of Sunbeam cars — appears to be a hoax (by Mike Sealey)

A new Sunbeam company purports to sell cars, SUVs, and motorcycles. The "Sunbeam" script is Rootes script used from 1966 to 1976. According to Jalopnik, the company is actually a hoax originating in Russia. They have traced the vehicles pictured on "Sunbeam's" site to various vehicles made in parts of the world that Americans would be unlikely to have ever seen, in magazines or in real life. They identified the “Tiger” as a Swedish roadster, the “Digatto” as a Slovak kit car, and the Alpine SUV as a Russian-built Durways Cowboy. (Thanks, S. Telford, for pointing us to reality!)

Chrysler Sunbeam cars

The Chrysler Sunbeam was rushed from conception to production in less than two and half years - something of a record in modern times. The idea was to replace the Imp and to fight in the fast-growing supermini sector, and because there was no time to develop an entirely new platform, the car was based upon a shortened version of the Avenger platform. Ironically, Chrysler's Sunbeam hit the market some time before British Leyland’s entry, the Metro, which is ironic seeing as that company created the Mini.

When Peugeot bought Chrysler Europe, they used the Talbot name because it had been in use in both England and France. The Sunbeam became the Talbot Sunbeam. Coming soon: the new Sunbeam cars!

Scam or reality? Find out soon!

The Sunbeam car development story

Here is the story of how the Sunbeam was conceived, and what happened during its production life...

Enter the Sunbeam development and production story, covering the first prototypes through to the last rally models...

Chrysler Sunbeam drawings and prototypes

Project R429 (the Sunbeam) was a rush job; it had to be — a government handout in 1975 helped fund the emergency project.

Enter the R429 development story...

History of Sunbeam

Courtesy of David Traver Adolphus, Hemmings Motor News

1836 Alderman John Marsten, JP, born
1859 Marsten buys 2 tinplate manufacturers and goes into business as a japanner
1887 Marsten build his first Sunbeam bicycle
1899 Marsten builds first prototype (Sunbeam) cars
1899 Henry Dinsdale hired away from Wearwell Cycle Co
1900 Sunbeam-Mabley (sic) goes on sale, about 130 built.
1902 Pullinger appointed as works manager
1903 Berliet-based Sunbeam 12/16 enters production
1904 2-cylinder Sunbeam introduced
1904 Rebodied Berliets sold as Sunbeams
1905 Sunbeam Motor Company, LTD formed
1905 New engine and gearbox in 12/14
1909 Louis Coatalin joins Sunbeam from Humber
1911 Sunbeam building 650 cars/year
1912 Sunbeams finish 3-4-5 @ French Grand Prix and 1-2-3 @ Coupe De L'Auto
1913 4th at Indy
1914 Coatalen acquires a Peugeot and reverse engineers it
1914 Peugeot-derived Sunbeams appear
1914 Peugeot-derived Sunbeam wins Tourist Trophy
1914 World War I: 12/16, 12/20 used as staff cars and ambulances, but aero engines take precedence; 12/16 production goes to Rover works
1918 John Marsten dies
1919 R34 Zeppelin makes first roundtrip aerial crossing from UK to Us using five Sunbeam
Maori DOHC V12 engines.
1919 Production recommences with 16hp (based on prewar 12/16) and 24hp (25/30)
1919 Darracq buys Clement-Talbot, English Talbot importers
1920 Sunbeam merges with Darracq
1920 Company renamed STD Motors (Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq); Racing activities transferred to STD
1920 Ernst Henry becomes affiliated with STD
1922 OHC versions of 16 and 24 appear, 14 introduced
1922 First World Land Speed Record for STD in V12 134 mph
1922 Bertiarione and Henry hired away from Fiat
1923 Sunbeam finishes 1-2-4 @ French GP, 1 @ Spanish GP
1924 Supercharged Sunbeam wins Spanish GP
1924 14/40 replaces 14. 20/60, 12/30 and 16/50 introduced
1925 3-Litre Super Sports on 16/50 chassis w/ DOHC dry sump
1925 SS 2nd @ Le Mans
1925 24/70 (24) dropped
1925 16/50 renamend Talbot 18/55
1925 Malcolm Campbell 150.87 MPH
1926 Tiger 152.33 mph land speed record
1926 Sunbeam makes luxury cars and STD racing moves to Talbot-Darracq in France
1926 5 Liter 30hp and 5.5 Liter 35hp models straight-8
1926 16hp and 20hp introduced. 20/60 becomes 25hp
1927 14/40 reduced
1927 1000hp twin V12 203.79mph @ Daytona w/ Sir Henry Seagrave
1927 WWI and racing dept loans come due
1930 3-Litre SS ends
1931 Rebadged Darraqs sold as Talbots
1931 Sunbeam begins making trollybuses
1933 Speed Twenty introduced. Competes against Talbot 105 cousin.
1934 Rootes purchases trolleybus operation
1934 Dawn model
1934 STD goes into receivership
1935 Clement-Talbot sold to Rootes group. Rootes phases out Roesch models and replaces them with Hillman and Humber-based Talbots
1935 William Lyons agrees to buy Sunbeam
1935 Rootes buys Sunbeam out from under Lyons
1936 Rootes ends Sunbeam production
1938 Talbots in Britain rebadged Sunbeam-Talbots
1938 Sunbeam-Talbot Ten introduced Hillman/Humber based
1939 2 Litre, 3 Litre rebadged Talbots introduced
1939 4 Litre introduced Humber Super Snipe based
1939 Sunbeam-Talbot production halted
1939-1944 Rootes a major producer of war materiels; 1939, William Rootes knighted
1945 Production resumes with Ten and 2 Litre
1946 Production moves to war plant Ryton-on-Dunsmore
1948 New postwar models with 2 Litre chassis Sunbeam-Talbot 80 and OHV 90
1949 Guy buys trolleybus operation and folds it into British Leyland
1950 Faclift. 80 dropped 90 becomes Mk II
1952 Mk IIA
1953 Sunbeam-Talbot Alpine introduced 90/MK II based
1954 Sunbeam-Talbots badged Sunbeam again. MK III debuts.
1955 Mk II 90 wins Monte Carlo rally. Possibly MK III
1955 Alpine production ends
1955 Rootes buys Singer
1955 Sunbeam Rapier introduced
1956 4-door Rapier bows as Hillman Minx and Singer Gazelle
1957 MK II production ends
1958 Rapier Mk I dropped
1958 Rapier Mk II
1959 Rapier Mk II
1959 New Alpine based on Hillman Husky/Sunbeam Rapier (Series I)
1959 Talbot (Darracq) adsorbed by Simca and dismantled
1960 Series II Alpine
1961 Series IIIA Rapier
1963 Chrysler buys Simca
1963 Shelby and Ken Miles each comissioned to build V-8 Alpine prototype
1963 Series IV Rapier
1963 Carozzeria Touring Venezia Sunbeam
1964 Shelby design Mk I Tiger AKA Alpine V8 on sale, assembled by Jensen
1964 A/T optional on Alpine IV
1964 Chrysler buys part of Rootes
1965 Alpine and Rapier Series V
1966 Sunbeam Imp Sport
1967 Stiletto version of Imp Sport
1967 Chysler assumes full control of Rootes
1967 Tiger II
1967 Rapier
1968 H120 Rapier
1968 Alpine ends
1969 Arrow (Rapier) Alpine, AKA Fastback Alpine
1970 Rootes becomes Chrysler UK, includes Sunbeam, Talbot, Darracq, Hillman, Humber
and Singer.
1970 Singer extinguised
1970 All models exept Vogue dropped
1970 Vogue renamed Sunbeam Vogue for 6 months
1970 Linwood Sunbeam plant makes all cars
1970 Imp Sport renamed Sunbeam Sport
1972 Stiletto dropped
1975 Chrysler Alpine
1976 All Sunbeam and Humber production ends
1977 Chrsler Sunbeam, Avenger based
1978 Puegeot buys Chrysler Europe
1978 Hillman name ends; renamed Chrysler
1979 Talbot Sunbeam
1979 Talbot Sunbeam Lotus 2.2 0-60 6.6 seconds
1981 Talbot Sunbeam Lotus wins WRC
1981 Linwood plant closes, Talbot Sunbeam ends, last use of the Sunbeam name.
1985 Talbot Arizona renamed Peugeot 309
2006 Ryton factory still building Peugeots (projected from December 2005)

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Rootes Group cars including Singer, Sunbeam, Hillman, Humber, SIMCA, Chrysler Europe, and more!