In 1899 Sunbeam bicycle production had already made John Marston a wealthy man, however like many cycling entrepreneurs Marston realised that the future lay with four wheels. One of his young apprentices, Thomas Cureton, persuaded Marston to venture into car production. Cureton’s back garden was the birthplace of the first Sunbeam car which Marston had agreed to finance as an experiment.
The experiment obviously proved favourable very early on, when just a couple of years later an arrangement had been struck with Mr Mabley-Smith to produce Sunbeam Mableys.
The Sunbeam company seemed to have a talent for recruiting the right staff. In 1909 an inspirational designer, Louis Coatalen, was employed as Chief Engineer.
Coatalen’s advanced understanding of aerodynamics engaged the world of racing. By 1912 Louis Coatalen designed three 12/16 hp cars which came 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the Coupe de l’Auto and 3rd, 4th and 5th in the Grand Prix in Dieppe, cementing Sunbeams reputation as superb racing machines.
The outbreak of WWI afforded an opportunity for supplying the War Office with Sunbeams to use as staff cars in France. Their reliability and speed led to some being produced under licence by Rover to meet demand.
By the 1920’s the Sunbeam Motor Car Company amalgamated with Darracq & Co Ltd, changing its name to STD Motor Cars Ltd. The STD Racing Group led by Coatalen, transferred to the Darracq works in France. This was sadly to prove a deciding factor in the company’s demise. With Louis Coatalen back in France, the UK operation lost its dynamism and the economic depression that followed the war was the final straw for UK operations. Production ceased at the Wolverhampton works by 1935.
As a brand, Sunbeam had a huge impact on racing and the luxury car market. At their heyday they were raced by Segrave and Campbell and celebrities flocked to acquire one. The Queen of Norway, Music Hall star Harry Lauder and the Duke of Kent, later King George VI, were just some of Sunbeam’s illustrious owners. This one belonged to the Maharajah of Nabha.