When the Land Speed Record-breaking Sunbeam 350hp roared back to life, it had not been heard in public for over 50 years. Following a complete mechanical rebuild by the National Motor Museum’s workshop team at Beaulieu, the handle was swung to start the engine and a crowd gathered to hear the sound which is described as akin to the roar of a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.
Visitors to the London Motor Show will experience the same thrill when Sir Malcolm Campbell’s iconic Sunbeam, which he affectionately renamed Blue Bird, is started daily at the show.
More than 2,000 hours have been spent on the restoration of the Sunbeam in a lengthy journey to return it to its former glory. An appeal has now been launched to complete the final part of that journey, raising £30,000 to build a new gearbox to restore the car to its 1925 specification.
The museum’s Manager and Chief Engineer, Doug Hill says: “During the Sunbeam’s long and chequered history, its Achilles heel has always been a weak gearbox. At some time after WWII, the original gearbox was removed and subsequently lost. It was replaced with a gearbox from an Albion 35hp van, designed to take only one-tenth of the power this engine produces.
“For the next stage of the Sunbeam’s restoration story, we need to build a new gearbox from scratch. As the original gearbox no longer exists and there is no template to follow, this will be a challenge requiring all of our knowledge and expertise. It is a vital step in our journey to restore the car and will greatly help us to drive it closer to the speed it was built for.”
The iconic Sunbeam, which holds three World Land Speed Records, passed through a number of owners before being bought, in a poor condition, by Edward, Lord Montagu in 1957 and restored to working order before a run at Goodwood in 1962. It was in 1993, however, that disaster struck during a test fire-up to assess the car’s condition. A blocked oil way in the engine caused it to seize and ‘throw a rod’.
The Sunbeam was not started again in public until January 2014, when a crowd gathered at Beaulieu for the landmark event. The following month it was a star of the show at Retromobile, Paris, before running at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
The following year, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s 150mph World Land Speed Record in Sunbeam at Pendine Sands, the Beaulieu team took Sunbeam back to the beach where history was made. With Sir Malcolm’s grandson, Don Wales, in the driving seat, a commemorative low-speed demonstration run marked the occasion.
Don Wales said: “This beautiful car has been lovingly restored and looked after by Doug Hill and the team and it is only right that such an iconic car deserves to have the final pieces in place to complete her!”
The Sunbeam appeal has almost reached a third of its target but still has £20,000 to raise. For more information see www.nationalmotormuseum.org.uk/sunbeam_appeal or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To make a donation visit mydonate.bt.com/events/sunbeamappeal.
The Sunbeam still takes pride of place in the National Motor Museum’s display of iconic Land Speed Record breakers For Britain & For The Hell Of It alongside Golden Arrow, Bluebird CN7 and the 1,000hp Sunbeam.
The National Motor Museum Trust’s collection, which began as a display of five cars in the entrance hall of Palace House, the Montagu family home, now features over 250 vehicles from throughout motoring history from its pioneering origins in the 1890s to the present day. The collection of vehicles is world-famous, along with the trust’s extensive motoring artefacts and archives of film footage, images, documents and books which are housed in the Collections Centre.