Classifieds Hero: 1924 Sunbeam 4.5L 24/70 Tourer
Hitting the road in the same year its manufacturer gained a new Land Speed Record, this shining Sunbeam offers a further speed-record secret – and it's for sale!
The early 1920s were a period of extraordinary success for the Sunbeam Motor Car Company. The British manufacturer, which had started out as a small bicycle business, had come a long way since the Sunbeam name was first registered back in 1888.
By 1912, it was doing so well in the motoring market that it was considered a direct competitor to Rolls-Royce. This was thanks to focusing on the production of high-quality road cars, whose aesthetics were much more subtle than those that were leaving rivals’ illustrious factories.
Rather than make its vehicles needlessly pretentious, Sunbeam instead prioritised upon reliability and mechanical excellence. A favoured avenue for gaining insight into both was to participate in motor racing. Sunbeam’s chances of success were upped significantly by the expertise of in-house mastermind Louis Coatalen, who had designed aircraft engines throughout World War One.
Coatalen’s specialist knowledge contributed directly to the development of several Sunbeam race cars. In May 1922, the marque acquired three separate speed records courtesy of a 350bhp aero-engined car that it had equipped with an 18.3-litre V12. With Irish racing driver Kenelm Lee Guinness at the helm, Sunbeam took the Brooklands lap record at 123.30mph, followed by the Land Speed Record over a mile at 129.17mph and over a kilometre at 133.75mph.
1924 proved an even better year for the brand. Accompanied by a plume of saltwater spray on Pendine Sands, Malcolm Campbell increased the Land Speed Record over a kilometre to 146.16mph with the same 350bhp Sunbeam, which was now named Blue Bird. Only two days later, Henry Segrave took victory for Sunbeam in Spain in the San Sebastian Grand Prix. 1924 was clearly a good year to buy a Sunbeam!
It should therefore come as no surprise that, in this same successful year, this 4.5-litre 24/70 Tourer found itself en route Down Under, with the intention of being prepared to tackle the Australian Land Speed Record. Regarded as Sunbeam’s flagship model, the 24/70 incorporated all of the manufacturer’s most advanced features. The engine was capable of delivering 70bhp and was accompanied by a gearbox-driven servo and a four-wheel braking system.
However, if you wanted one you had to be quick, as only 102 were ever made. If the brand’s recent Grand Prix and Land Speed Record victories didn’t convince you, the engineer behind these recent triumphs was Louis Coatalen, who chose a 24/70 Tourer as his own personal transport.
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This magnificent 4.5-litre Sunbeam was delivered to a Mr Pratt, a gold miner and newsagent based in New South Wales. Sadly, it seems his plans for modifying the 24/70 for the Australian Land Speed Record never materialised. What exactly happened during this Sunbeam’s early years remains unclear, but elements of the 24/70 re-surfaced in 1969 when Arthur Lang of Wangaratta joined the Australian branch of the Sunbeam Talbot Darracq Register with what were noted as derelict remains from the car.
Twenty-one years later, a Mr James Nesbitt of Corowa acquired the rolling chassis and commissioned a full restoration by KJR Coachbuilders. The car was successfully registered for the road in 1999. For the next few years, the 24/70 primarily remained in dry storage, where it gained a more modern carburettor to increase performance and smooth running.
In recent years, this restored 24/70 has featured in the book The Sunbeam 16hp and 24hp 1915-1924 by Bruce Dowell and Alan Richens, before being returned to the UK in 2015 and registered with the licence plate BF 7480. It now possesses a spacious motoring trunk on the rear and new tan interior trim, and is evidence of significant effort by Sunbeam enthusiasts to keep a highly regarded model going, of which only three others now exist.
While this particular 24/70 Tourer did not get to strive for a Land Speed Record, it remains a poignant reminder of several heroic Brits who did achieve motorsport success in the year that it was constructed. It’s also a perfect memorial to the long-lost Sunbeam marque, which achieved a great deal to proud of in the pre-war era.
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