National Motor Museum Blog – January 2016

Posted  21.12.2015
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Holding no less than three World Land Speed Records, the National Motor Museum’s 1920 Sunbeam 350hp undoubtedly deserves its place in motoring history. With its 18.322-litre V12 aero engine, this one-off machine was built to go faster than any car had ever been.

The Sunbeam 350hp Appeal

Passing through the hands of many owners, the Sunbeam was in poor condition when purchased by Lord Montagu in 1957 for his museum. The National Motor Museum workshop engineers have devoted thousands of hours to the car’s restoration, including the painstaking rebuild of its unique engine. However, one vital component is missing; the gearbox.

At some point during its chequered past, the Sunbeam’s purpose-built gearbox was removed and lost. As a temporary measure to make the car driveable, an Albion 35hp lorry gearbox was fitted. However, this non-original unit only has the strength to handle one tenth of the engine’s rated power, so even if the Sunbeam is only driven gently, the gearbox could fail. As the transmission brake is also significantly less powerful than it would originally have been, the Sunbeam’s braking is severely compromised.

These limitations were evident when the Sunbeam returned to Pendine Sands on 21 July 2015, marking the 90th anniversary of its 150mph record. Even this low speed commemorative run along the beach pushed the Albion gearbox to its limit.

To bring the car back to its correct specification and allow much higher speeds to be reached, a new gearbox needs to be designed and built from scratch. No plans of the original gearbox have survived, while only one photograph exists showing the original gearbox installed in the chassis. This project will be a stern test of the skills and ingenuity of the workshop engineers.


With £30,000 needed in order to create a bespoke gearbox, the National Motor Museum Trust is appealing for donations to help fund this essential work. Almost £9,000 has so far been raised, thanks to the generosity of motoring enthusiasts, but there is still a long way to go to reach this fundraising target. If you would like to help preserve this important piece of our motoring heritage, you can donate to the appeal via BT MyDonate or by emailing

Body Beautiful

Like the Sunbeam, the 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost was also in a dilapidated state when purchased by Lord Montagu in the 1950s, having been used for part of its life as a tow truck. During its restoration, an elegant Barker Roi des Belges-style body was expertly created to replace the non-original towing gear.

However, the paintwork on this body was starting to show its age. In order for a careful repaint to be carried out, keeping the car in tip-top condition, the workshop engineers have removed the body from the chassis. Once the body has been repainted and refitted, the car truly will live up to the Silver Ghost’s reputation as the ‘best car in the world.

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