Back in the days before he married my mother in law my father in law used to own a Sunbeam motorcycle of twenties vintage. He really enjoyed that old bike back in the days when young guys could usually not afford a motor car. As young single men do my father in law wanted to impress a girl on a date and being quite charming he managed to persuade a young lady to come out on a date with him on his Sunbeam motorcycle. Its a scenario that quite reminds me of the old song that contains the lyrics “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do, I’m half crazy oh for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage. But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two”.
Nat King Cole sings this song below:-
There was just one teensy little problem with my father in law’s first date with his charming young lady. His twenties vintage Sunbeam motorcycle had a bit of an embarrassing habit of occasionally catching fire. So as you can imagine when the romantic couple were out on their first date Murphy’s Law that states “If anything can go wrong it will, and at the worst possible moment” and indeed the lady in her pretty fifties dress and petticoats seated on this motorcycle built for two suddenly discovered that her date had become too hot for comfort as the little Sunbeam’s engine caught fire and managed to singe the lady’s pretty outfit. So the fire of romance was quickly extinguished as my father in law labored to put out the engine fire. He found that he needed to find a new girlfriend, and a new motorcycle that did not have incendiary propensities.
That my father in law’s Sunbeam motorcycle had caught fire would have been a cause of great consternation for John Marston who owned the Sunbeam company. John Marston was a perfectionist who had been a “Japanner” before getting into the bicycle making business on the suggestion of his wife. Marston made bicycles and motorcycles of the highest quality and his attention to detail in making sure his products would literally last a lifetime was exemplary. Marston used his Japanning expertise in finishing his bicycles and motorcycles rather than just painting them. Japanning referred to techniques of creating a hard black coating on an object. Original “Japanning” as practiced in Japan used Urushi lacquer to create that hard black surface. This is the finish on genuine Japanese sword saya (scabbards) and on Japanese lacquerware. However, urushi lacquer is a toxic substance typically causing contact dermatitis until it is completely dry. So in Europe other methods were developed to create the same sort of hard black finish. Model T Fords were lacquered with Japanning which is why Henry Ford told his customers that “they could have any color as long as it was black”.
John Marston made bicycles at his factory which he and his wife named “Sunbeamland”. Sunbeam bicycles were made to the highest standard as a “Gentleman’s bicycle”. The bikes were literally made to last a lifetime with their extremely durable Japanned black finish with gold leaf decoration. The bicycle chains were enclosed in an oil bath chain case and this ensured that many of these bicycles have survived to the present day with original chain and sprockets. Despite the impeccable quality of the Sunbeam bicycles by 1912 John Marston found himself needing to move into motorcycle manufacture. As can be seen from the pictures of the 1929 “barn find” Sunbeam Model 7 he applied the same principles of manufacture for longevity to his motorcycles as he did to his bicycles and this included the use of an oil bath chain housing.
Sunbeam motorcycles were normally single cylinder machines and the engines were mostly side valve four stroke. Sunbeam bikes were entered into the prestigious Isle of Man TT and did well. The first model in 1912 was a 350cc single cylinder. This was followed by some 500cc singles and even some V twin powered machines. From 1924 the company began using a numbering system to designate their models beginning with the Model 1. The barn find bike in our photos is a 1929 Model 7. The Model 7 went into production in 1922 and has a 599cc 4¼hp single cylinder engine. The bike was primarily intended for sidecar use with its relatively large engine.
The barn find 1929 Sunbeam Model in our photos is coming up for sale by Bonhams at their Autumn Stafford sale to be held at Staffordshire County Showground, Stafford, Britain, on 16th October 2016.
You will find the sale page for this motorcycle if you click here.
Properly restored this will turn into an absolutely gorgeous motorcycle and it will not have any tendency to suddenly catch fire. Proper sealing of the carburettor and fuel lines will ensure that.
(All pictures courtesy Bonhams).
Jon Branch is the founder and senior editor of Revivaler and has written a significant number of articles for various publications including official Buying Guides for eBay, classic car articles for Hagerty, magazine articles for both the Australian Shooters Journal and the Australian Shooter, and he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China and Hong Kong. His travels have taken him to Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan and a number of other countries. He has studied the Japanese sword arts and has a long history of involvement in the shooting sports, which has included authoring submissions to government on various firearms related issues and assisting in the design and establishment of shooting ranges.