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The VMCC 62nd Banbury Run
Heritage Motor Centre Gaydon, Sunday 20th June 2010

The Vintage Motor Cycle Club's (VMCC) annual Banbury Run is without doubt the largest event for pre-1931 motorcycles. Some 600 of them undertake the set routes of either 30, 50 or 60 miles for the three classes of machine based on age: machines up to 1914; 1915-1924 and 1925-1930. This year the weather is scorching!

Bonhams have their regular Banbury auction at the event. The star attraction for Sunbeam fans is lot 165, a 'barn find' 3 HP Sunbeam thought to be of 1916 origin - frame number 3880 and engine 302M (below). It had been in single family ownership and clearly needed a good deal of work. But, it appeared to be quite authentic and original. Estimated at 4,000 - 6,000, it actually sold for much more at 12,075, a resounding indication that machines in original, un-restored condition are highly desirable.

With roughly every twelfth machine a Sunbeam, there's almost a non-stop camera action from the moment we arrive at the venue and Sunbeams fly past us as entrants complete their runs and head to the paddock. Which is precisely where we go with Mrs Sidevalve's camera at the ready.

The earliest Sunbeam is a veritable 3 HP (500cc) veteran from 1913. Marston introduced the 3 model as their third production machine for the 1914 season, the earliest of which were available from the end of 1913 (below). The veteran Sunbeams are conspicuous by, amongst other things, the distinct circular magneto drive case, containing a driven gear.

Marston's earliest '500' engine had the established short-stroke bore and stroke dimensions of 85mm by 88mm which date back to Bouton et De Dion's highly successful motorcycle engines from the mid-1890s. It gained Marston the Manufacturer's Team Prize at its first outing at the T.T. races in 1914, and then went on to see military duty during World War I as a 'General Service' model. A great example of a war-time Sunbeam, formerly part of Brian Verrall's collection, was here at the Banbury Run (below).

The Banbury Run has a number of concours awards, of which the Feridax Award is the most prestigious. It is awarded by the VMCC's expert judges for the motorcycle in best condition having regard to its original specification. It is a military model Sunbeam from 1916 that catches the judges' eye. Although in black and gold, rather than military 'olive drab', it has the 'GS' (General Service) initials stamped on its crankcase. We catch  the judges undertaking their rigorouus inspection (below). After much deliberation, it is declared the overall winner of the Feridax Award - the finest motorcycle of 600 present!

Post-war, the short-stroke 'Beam notched up a Senior T.T. victory for Tommy de la Hay in 1920 before being over-shadowed by the Longstroke model introduced in 1922, with its famous 77mm by 105.5mm dimensions - the fastest production single cylinder side-valve motorcycle. However, the short-stroke continued in several guises until 1926. We spot a great example of the Model 5 which was a sporty-looking combination of the short-stroke engine with the lighter cycle parts of the Longstroke (below).

Not unsurprisingly, the Longstroke side-valve Sunbeam, which was manufactured from 1922 - 1940, is well-represented amongst the 47 'Beams included in  the programme. It is great to spot a couple of early examples, the first with its 'dummy rim' front brake and another with an early, and tiny, front drum brake (below).

If the presence of motorcycles provides any indication of Marston's manufacturing output, then the late 1920s must have been the time of peak production. The T.T. Manufacturers' Team Prize in 1927 followed by a Senior T.T. victory in 1928 must have done wonders for sales ... that is before the effect of the Great Depression of the 1930s following October 1929's global stock market crash. The 1928 Longstrokes are out in force (below).

A 'UK' Wolverhampton registration number is great to see, especially on a machine which looks especially purposeful with its tank rail steering damper (below). It always pleases me to see a sporty looking side-valve from the late 1928s when over-head valve machines were in the ascendancy but the side-valve rider could still cut a dash and give them a run for their money! Especially if riding a Longstroke Sunbeam!

And, this is not the only example of sporting improvements to Longstroke. We see an absolutely first rate modification to a 1928 Sportman's Longstroke Model 6. A later oil pump, with its circulating oil supply from a separate oil tank, has been installed to replace the standard 'total loss' oil system (below). Fabulous!

With the introduction of a 'saddle tank' frame for the 1929 season - a year later than most other major manufacturers - we spy examples from both 1929 and 1930 of the Longstroke in its more modern-looking guise (below).

The side-valve 'Beam was also renowned as an up-market sidecar machine and, as we had hoped, there were a couple of  examples of Sunbeam combinations to cast our eyes - and camera lens - over ... starting with a great 4 HP (600cc) model from 1922 with has a 'DA' Wolverhampton registration (below).

The second combination we find is from the other end of the decade - a saddle-tank Longstroke Model 6 from 1930 (below).

Although our predilections lie elsewhere, we cannot ignore the overhead-valve Sunbeams, especially as we find an early example when 'straight through' engine breathing meant a radical re-working of the front down-tube design (below). Added height from the overhead valves also required  that the frame's lower tank rail be removable for access to the engine. A large nut and bolt held it in place. Not the most rigid of frames!

It is always a thrill to see one of the most legendary Sunbeams - the 'bullnose' Model 90. Even better to see two (below)! With its 'bullnose' rounded flat-tank, it was produced when Marston were at the height of their T.T. success. Their advertising at the time of its launch in 1927 spoke in bold superlatives - 'unquestionably the finest road-racing motorcycle offered to the public' - and it went  on to win the Manufacturer's Team Prize at the T.T. in 1927 and 1928, along with the Senior win in 1928 for Charlie Dodson. No idle boasts from Sunbeamland!

When Marston made the change from a flat-tank to a saddle-tank design, the lessons learned from the bullnose Model 90 were encapsulated in a machine that lived up to its predecessor's sporting pedigree. The saddle-tank OHV Model 9 and sporting Model 90 are exceptional motorcycles and the camera catches this fine example that we had seen completing its run as we arrived (below).

 ... and it is great to see that the Model 9 is as much admired today as it was 70 years ago!


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