The first Sunbeam car was built in 1899. Sunbeam was a successful bicycle
manufacturer, run by a Wolverhampton industrialist named John Marston. Marston
was persuaded to join the burgeoning ranks of car manufacturers and so two
prototypes were built.
The first Sunbeam to enter commercial production appeared in 1901. This car,
the Sunbeam-Mabley, was remarkable in having its wheels set out in a diamond
formation. Despite being reasonably successful, it was decided that more
conventional designs would be necessary for serious production.
Sunbeam's next two models were based on Berliet designs. Following this
Sunbeam returned to vehicles of their own design.
In 1909, a Breton engineer named Louis Coatalen joined the company. Coatalen
soon focused the company's efforts on motor racing and it did not take long to
be successful. Coatalen's racing cars introduced many innovations which are
commonplace today, such as wheel balancing and sump-mounted oil pumps.
In 1920, Sunbeam merged with two other manufacturers - Talbot of England and
Darracq of France. With the combined resources of STD Motors, Sunbeam
continued to be the dominant British marque in motor sport. They won a number
of Grands Prix and set their sights on the World Land Speed Record. Sunbeam
cars set the LSR five times during the 1920s.
The records set were as follows:
Unfortunately the company overstretched itself in motorsport and went into
decline at the time of the depression. Sunbeam and Talbot were bought by the
Rootes Group, manufacturers of Hillman, Humber and Commer vehicles, in 1935.
In 1938 the two marques were merged as Sunbeam-Talbot. The Rootes Sunbeam-
Talbots shared many underbody components with Hillmans and Humbers.
After the war Sunbeam-Talbot returned to motorsport. This time the emphasis
was on rallying rather than racing and record breaking. Famous drivers in the
works rally team included Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins, Peter
Harper and Sheila Van Damm.
During the 1950s the Talbot part of the name was phased out and by 1955 all
cars were simply badged as Sunbeams.
Rootes found themselves in financial trouble during the 1960s. Rescue came
from the American Chrysler company. Chrysler took over Rootes completely in
1967 and in 1970 the Rootes Group became Chrysler UK.
The Chrysler connection was rather ironic. Darracq, the French part of STD,
had adopted the Talbot name during the 1920s. After the British part of STD
had been sold to Rootes, Talbot of France continued independently until it was
bought by Simca in 1959. Chrysler in turn bought Simca in 1963. The purchase
of Rootes had thereby reunited the three partners in STD Motors.
Chrysler went through a difficult period in the 1970s. It found that it could
no longer support its European operations, and so sold them to Peugeot in 1978.
Peugeot renamed the group Talbot in 1979.
The last Talbot Sunbeam was built in 1981. Sunbeam went out in style though,
the World Rally Championship that year being won by a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus.
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