It’s been a long time coming but Nigel’s “Burton” Buell-Norton Franken-Buell finally burst into life on the bench over at JWA Motorcycles at Bromborough. Proprietor John Wynne has been busy completing the myriad tasks required to get it running and ready for the MOT.
Although a little different to the pre-war and vintage fare we like this bike very much and have been following the build with interest. I have to say the bike is looking very nice indeed and I’m looking forward to a test ride before the bike is torn down for painting, plating and finishing.
October 14th, 2016
Earlier this year, our good friend Carsten Conrads mentioned that he has been enjoying his 1927 Model 90 on track again.
This time he was riding at the Reichelsdorfer Keller, a track that was built in 1903. I am pleased to report that his fine Sunbeam was one of the fastest bikes on the day. It is always good to hear when these bikes are being used properly.
October 3rd, 2016
I’d like to say thankyou to John Phizacklea and Chris Odling for everything they have done in putting together this 1928 Model 90. A special thanks also goes to Peter Woodward, the talented gentleman who started the project all those years ago.
Peter originally sold me the bike as a rather large pile of bits back in 2012 as I had advertised for a “bull-nose” 90 in the club magazine. It was a rare sunny afternoon when Archie came along with me to have a look and we spent a pleasant few hours going through it all. I was only dimly aware of the quality of the project we were being presented with and whilst Archie dozed on the grass in the sun, Peter and I sealed the deal.
However, whilst much of the work had been completed, there was still plenty to be done with the priority being to rescue the bottom-end of the motor which evidence suggested had suffered at least one catastrophic event in its history. This is where Chris Odling stepped in and the long process of rework, rebuild and restore began. Expertise, knowledge and confidence are required in spades to even contemplate this type of engineering. The crankcases were welded and re-machined.
The early type riveted crankshaft needed serious work before Chris deemed it fit for service.
The hair-pin spring cylinder head was in good order and already fitted with a massive 2″ inlet valve. The gearbox too was in fine fettle with its original Sunbeam close ratio gears. We used a low’ish-compression standard Sunbeam piston that had come with the bike thinking we might fit one of my own forged high-compression items at a later date. In due course Chris completed his work on both engine and gearbox and I collected them from the West Coast of Scotland. I didn’t enjoy the drive back home in near blizzard conditions with our precious cargo despite Chris’ assurances that they rarely get snow in those parts. It was worth the trip.
The next step was a dry-build in my “dining room” using wheels borrowed from the 1930 bike and it was during this process that I began to fully appreciate the quality of the work that Peter had already performed in preparing the motorcycle. Peter has built several Sunbeam motorcycles that are on display in the National Motorcycle Museum and his skills are not in any doubt. Where the original parts were beyond salvage, they had been re-recreated with painstaking attention to detail and care. So meticulous in fact the Peter not only makes special tooling to correctly profile the ends of the engine mount studs, he also adjusts the length to ensure only one thread is visible past the correct, double chamfered Sunbeam pattern nuts. I assembled the bike almost entirely by hand like an Airfix kit, such was the quality of the fittings and fasteners that a spanner was rarely required.
Square ML… M90 stamped Amac 10MDY carburettor… 1928-only profile silencers… Sunbeam fuel tap with filter bowl… Sunbeam oil regulator… CMC oil-petrol caps… armoured racing-spec. oil pipes with unions and elbows… sports twist-grip… Bentley & Draper dampers… English Lever toolbox lock… all the nice bits were present and most importantly, correct
At this point, my original plan to spray it black and just ride it went out of the window. Closely followed by the cheque book.
I’ve never owned or built a vintage bike that was to concours standard but anyone could see that here was an opportunity to do just that. It would certainly be a feather in the cap of a so far eclectic yet perhaps lack-lustre motorcycling career. What was needed? Just wheel building, painting, plating and careful assembly. Or so one would think. At this point I engaged the services of my long-suffering friend John Phizacklea. John has built and painted many fine motorcycles winning many accolades along the way and is a Sunbeam man to boot. Neither of us could predict that this simple paint and plate job was going to take the best part of the next three years.
John started work on the bike with one of the first jobs being to source new rims, have them dimpled and rebuild the wheels onto the Sunbeam hubs. We opted for a sporty 21″ front and 19″ rear as I think there is a better feeling with the larger front option. The correct 11 gauge spokes for the front are no longer available anywhere or at any price and so we had to settle for the slightly thicker 10 gauge. Peter Woodward continued to be involved in the project and was subject to many lengthy phone calls as I struggled to work out how the different elements of the bike were to be presented. His powers of recall and detailed knowledge of all things Sunbeam is frankly astonishing and without his support the bike wouldn’t have reached this point or standard of authenticity. It was during one of these discussions that Peter mentioned that original pattern Sunbeam spoke nipples could be replicated by turning the end of the nipple so that it tapers down and blends into the spoke. I don’t know how many hours it took John to turn down the square ends of all 80 nipples but I do know he vowed never to repeat the process.
A particularly agonising moment came when discussions with Peter revealed that the barrel and head should have been painted in a matt-cum-satin paint rather than the gloss I had asked Chris to use when he built the engine. A quick scan through the Cordon-Champ books confirmed this. It is the different qualities of the black and metal finishes on the Sunbeam that add to the feeling of substance and refinement. Furthermore, Chris had built the engine with a view to being ridden rather than shown which meant that hairspring valve guides featured an oil feed on the exhaust valve and aluminium retainers. The difficult decision was taken for John to strip and refinish the engine whilst talented young engineer Chris Fisher produced new valve guides and retainers to pretty much the original Sunbeam pattern.
As John was rebuilding the engine I spent a lot of time with Archie and Peter trying to figure out the correct finish for the various fasteners on the bike. It was a feature of the Marston Sunbeam that many of the nuts were black finished with a double chamfer so that washers were not required. The fillister profiled nickel plated ends of the engine mount studs would gleam like jewels buried in the deep black of the nuts and mounting plates. Our stud are stainless steel with polished ends as its virtually impossible to stop the nickel plate from pinging off the ends of plated studs.
In due course, a lengthy list was compiled of what parts of the bike were to be nickel plated, chemically blacked or painted. On original bikes of course much would have been stove enamelled by Marston’s with items like the mudguard and stays finished as one complete assembly. Doug Taylor Metal Finishing performed all the nickel plating on the bike taking special care not to polish out any of the writing on caps and levers whilst John set about painting the bike with a finish like black glass. I had little input at this point and took a back seat whilst the bike slowly came together in John’s capable hands. Its always easier to work to a target and so we decided that it would be great idea to show the bike at Stafford in the Spring of 2014. Perhaps inevitably, it went down to the wire and the first time I set eyes on the bike was helping John unload it and wheel it into the private entries area of the exhibition hall. The bike looked fantastic and was well received at the show being lucky enough to win a “highly-commended” against stiff competition.
Whilst obviously proud and delighted with this result, deep down I felt there was something missing. Somehow we hadn’t done the bike justice and the cheap Chinese bulb horn on the bike was a faux-pas that had cost us dear. John took the bike back to Chiseldon and whilst he completed that last couple of outstanding jobs it dawned why I wasn’t yet happy. The problem was that in common with many others, we had taken the easy route, the coward’s way out and probably deserved a white feather rather than a rosette. This simply wasn’t how your wealthy, play-boy enthusiast would have ordered his motorcycle from the Marston factory. My man would be using his high-powered sports bike to ride out on a Sunday to play cricket or with an overnight bag slung on the back for a shooting weekend. My man would almost certainly have thrilled a young lady with the startling acceleration as he drove to some secluded spot on a sunny afternoon. For inspiration I turned to Archie Beggs.
The eureka moment came when I considered Archie’s own ’28 bullnose 90 and concluded the way forward was to reconfigure the bike as the quintessential gentleman’s sports-tourer. Surely it would be simple enough to fit a rack, lighting kit and a speedometer? A quality bulb horn too perhaps? Rather than a stripped-down racer, quality period-fitment accessories would add a whole new dimension of interest and detail to the bike. Of course it did not go to plan and the budget was thrown completely out of the window a second time.
After discussing this new direction with Peter Woodward he remembered passing on a 100mph time and trip Bonniksen to a gentleman who it turned out still owned it and was also willing to let it go. At a price. It had to be completely restored and of course The Bonniksen Boy was the only person who could be trusted to the task. It turned out that the Veeder Root trip meter wasn’t functioning and Steve Knight had already warned me that this was usually not repairable as they are more or less a sealed unit. We got lucky this time and some time later a beautifully restored and fully operational speedo and gearbox were posted to John complete with new cable and gears.
John P spotted a rather nice early Lucas headlamp at Stafford which turned out to be an SS47 with original fluted glass and of the type where the control switch revolves around the ammeter. Pretty much correct for the year and the same as the one fitted to Archie’s own bike, I had little choice but to hand over the cash. It provides a fine view from the saddle mounted proudly in front of the speedo on some period swan-neck headlamp mounts. Paul Milner turned up a 1929 Lucas MDB1 magdyno which, other than Dave Lindsley, none of the usual experts wanted to touch. Unfortunately we couldn’t live with their lead time for the work and I was then introduced to D H Day who did a fine job of the restoration work that included producing new magnets. The MDB1 itself wasn’t a great success at the time being prone to stripping the dynamo drive gears and was quickly superseded but it is the correct fitment and so has replaced the square ML which has gone back to stores. Jiri Horice at Vintage Replica provided a perfect replica MT110 whilst eBay surprised me with a genuine new-old-stock Lucas battery which made a nice finishing touch. It hasn’t had any acid in it yet but I’m sure it will still work. It was decided that showing the bike at Stafford again in Spring 2016 would prove a useful yet easily achievable target for completion of the work. The bike would look very different from its previous appearance.
Whilst all this was going on, John set about copying a Sunbeam rack from one borrowed from a friend. Tooling had to be custom made in order to create the correct profile for the rack mounting points but the end result is indistinguishable from the original. A pair of new toolboxes were fabricated and leathered to suit. This proved to be the start of some trials as it was quickly apparent that the rack wouldn’t fit the bike due to the arrangement of the rear mudguard stays which were to the ’27 pattern rather than the later ’28 scissor stays.
We kicked this problem back and forth over a few weeks and concluded that, rather than mess up the existing guard and stays produced by Peter, we would source a new mudguard from Les Hobbs and manufacture new stays to suit. This would mean that the bike could be easily converted from touring spec. to race-trim by removing the lights, refitting the square ML and replacing Peter’s mudguard and low mounted toolbox. Two bikes in one!
Stafford approached and time was getting tight. Really tight. So tight that John’s wife had already moved house to Cornwall ahead of him whilst he stayed behind in a caravan to finish off. The day before we were due to setup at the show, the bike was in bits, the mudguard still hadn’t been painted, the period cloth covered wiring had just been delivered and the speedo gearbox suffered minor damage whilst being adjusted in the lathe. Serious time had already been lost repainting the petrol tank after we realised the words “The Sunbeam” on the left hand side should not have been written inline but stacked vertically. Big deal? Well yes, it is one of the details that differentiate the ’28 Model 90 from other years and models.
Leaving the workshop at 10pm on the Friday night before the show as John sped down to his new Cornish farm advice to not touch the wet paint for at least 48 hours were ringing in my ears. It left me wondering how I was going to unload the ruddy thing from the van without handling it. Regardless, early the next morning I found myself wheeling the bike into the private entries area and, tired, sat down on the concrete floor to properly look at it for the first time in its new guise. John had pulled out all the stops and in my eyes at least looked wonderful. There were now so many beautiful things to look at on the bike it was like a fractal image. I had hopes of an award for sure but I knew there were still some things not quite right and there were some very well restored bikes on display. Maybe 2nd or 3rd in “Best Vintage” was in reach if the judges were generous and the wind blew in my favour? Sunday morning I confess to being disappointed to find that the bike wasn’t mentioned in “Best Vintage” nor did it appear to merit a “highly-commended” award. As I walked away to explore the show, something made me double-back to scan the full list of awards. The breath was completely knocked out of me when I saw at the top of the list the bike had won “Best at show”. This was unexpected. I phoned John, Peter and Chris immediately to let them know the good news and thanked them for all their efforts and patience as the award is undoubtedly theirs. I left the show that evening a very proud and happy man.
September 11th, 2016
Following on from the successful production of pistons for OHV 500cc Sunbeam models Chris Odling and I thought it would be useful to produce some high-quality forged pistons suitable for the Model 6 side valve long-stroke. The Model 6 was produced from 1922 until 1939 becoming known as the Lion after takeover by ICI. With its 77mm x 105.5mm bore and stroke this was the last side valve powered motorcycle to win a Senior TT.
There were of course changes along the way and the piston produced is nominally compatible with models produced from 1925 until 1929. Before 1925 a 5/8″ gudgeon pin was used rather than the later 7/8″ type and the change to a scavenge pump from total loss oiling in 1930 means a different piston ring configuration is required. It is possible that these pistons could be adapted to suit.
I have limited availability of pistons in 77.0mm +0.000″ and +0.040″ sizes. An all-up weight of 434g has been achieved for the 77.0mm which is within 2g of the target weight that we set out to achieve.
Once we have given the new items a good look-over I’ll be contacting those who have reserved pistons already and adding them to the Sunbeamland shop.
July 13th, 2016
I have to apologise as I’ve been neglecting sunbeamland over the last 12 months whilst trying to forge a living as a photographer but promise to try and catch up a little over the next few weeks. I’ve been sitting on these photos kindly sent in by Andy Mac Dougall of Carmarthenshire for over a year now. Andy first got in touch for a new piston for his very smart twin-port Model 9. Looks to me like a 1930/1931? With open pipes displaying a clear sporting intent of course a 7.5:1 piston was the only sensible option. I’m not sure if the handlebars have been replaced by now as I know Andy wasn’t happy with them when we last communicated. I seem to remember that Kenny Crawford had made a few sets.
Andy previously entered the bike for the WSW VMCC Saundersfoot 2014 Road Trial where there were 110 plus entries and came in a fine 5th overall. Winning Best Post Vintage Trial machine and coming Runner Up Post vintage in the concours was the icing on the cake.
June 20th, 2016
It’s good to see our friend Carsten Conrad isn’t shy about using his bike as the maker intended. The eagle-eyed may notice the modern rubber which he prefers having covered around 1500 miles last year, often riding in company with more modern machinery. Averaging 54km/h over a 220km ride on back roads and through small towns hints at some serious throttle abuse.
Perhaps not surprisingly he is now looking for more performance from the motor: “The bike runs good but not yet enough”. With a new piston, genuine TT90 head fitted with large valves and his own valve guides, the target is now 30hp. I suspect that it won’t end there…
I recently donated my own spare Amac 10MDY to a worthy cause but if anybody has one that they could pass on to replace Carsten’s Amal 27/013, please drop us a line to and we’ll put you in touch.
March 1st, 2016
Amidst the deluge of PPI mis-selling calls that characterise life in the 2010s it’s a rare pleasure to pick up the phone and find Archie Beggs at the other end. Archie’s generosity of spirit knows no bounds and on this occasion the call would result in the fulfilment of one of this particular schoolboy’s dreams. The call started simply enough with the offer to have a canter on Archie’s 600cc Model 9/9A/90 based special. I already knew that this bike featured an engine from his racing days and so was obviously keen to try it for size. We arranged a mutually convenient time and I was just about to hang-up when Archie landed the sucker-punch : “and while we’re there, maybe we’ll get the Brough out for a spin too”
The day dawned cold and clear as I headed up the Wirral and I gradually became aware of an uneasy sensation in the pit of my stomach. I marked it down to the macro-consumption of the micro-brewed beer the night before. Ploughing onwards on the M53 I put the feeling to one side and instead concentrated on coaxing the last few mph from the little Honda Civic. On arrival we dispensed swiftly enough with conventional pleasantries and were quickly on with the business of the day. First out of the trap was the 600cc Sunbeam Model 9/9A/90 pictured below.
Nominally of 1932 vintage, the engine in this particular bike features a 600cc piston in conjunction with a Model 90 hairpin-spring head. The motor was put together in Archie’s sand-racing days and the pukka Amal 29/001 M90 carburettor demonstrates a clear sporting intent despite the valanced guards, pillion provision and lighting kit on the rest of the bike.
Also of interest is the fact that this is a single-port head design which some believe to offer better performance than the twin-port versions more usually found on the OHV Sunbeams. Something to do with exhaust gas velocity and back-pressures perhaps? Again Archie’s racing experience is demonstrated as the bike has been fitted with the later and larger Model 95-style front brake. Sunbeam’s Webb-type front forks have a dog-leg kink at the bottom which is required to make space for this improved performance brake.
Having been stood for a while, the bike was a little reluctant to start despite teasing with a few pops and bangs and so a quick shove down the drive was used to bring it to life without problem. I just wasn’t prepared for the civilised exhaust note nor the gentlemanly tickover that the bike settled into after barely a few minutes warming, expecting perhaps a more recalcitrant or cantankerous beasty. Thinking about this on the journey home it was really no surprise that Archie’s bikes always seem to run so well as success on the sand would rarely be achieved with anything other than a perfectly setup motor.
What was it like to ride? Smooth, powerful and comfortable were the overwhelming feelings once the bike was underway. The gears selected as well as any Sunbeam I have ridden i.e. a small crunch into first which then accompanied only careless gear shifts. It really felt like the sort of bike you could spend the day on and easily cover large distances in comfort. The motor pulls strongly in all gears which would make lazy riding a pleasure but once the revs rise it certainly picks up it skirts and becomes an altogether more intense experience. You could feel the extra weight over my own Model 90 for sure but this added to the sure-footed and stable feeling that the bike exhibits.
The uneasy feeling returned when I got back to the garage where the Brough was now waiting its turn to be let out of the stable.
I realised then that I’d never ridden or driven anything that was easily worth more than my house. It clearly wasn’t last night’s beer consumption but apprehension at the consequences of even a minor mishap on such a rare motorcycle. The 1927 Brough Superior SS100 is a true motorcycling icon with the powerful OHV JAP motor providing genuine 100mph performance at a time when few vehicles could manage half that. Little wonder that T.E. Lawrence used a string of SS100 Broughs to get his kicks. A bit of technique is required to start it so this was left to Kenny Crawford who has ridden the bike at events such as the 1000 Bikes and even competed with it in a few hill climbs. Long and low, the bike barks through the twin Brooklands cans as I gingerly sling a leg over and familiarise myself with the controls. Although Kenny can use the side mounted gear lever with his leg I chose to make do using it as a conventional hand-shift. The bike lunges forward as I release the clutch and takes me up the drive and onto the lane.
Kenny has told me that they have lowered the gearing but first gear still feels as tall as the bike is long taking it easily towards 30mph before I reach down and shift into second. There is some weight to the bike of course but it is carried so low that it is surprisingly easy to flick around as I navigate the estate towards the open lanes. Pedestrians stand, stare and gape as I thunder past clearly recognising that this is no ordinary motorcycle that shatters their suburban idyll. But once the road clears my apprehension evaporates as I realise this is it, the ride of a lifetime. I just have to open the taps and the bike drives forward, hard too. It picks up revs so fast I have to snatch into top way sooner than I expected. We’re now charging along towards a series of bends so I throttle off and let the bike slow to a sensible speed for the first corner. I’ve been warned about the front brake and wasn’t taking any chances late braking.
I can see no obstacles through a short series of left-right flicks and let the bike off its leash for a few more seconds drunk on the sound, smell, speed and sheer nostalgia of the experience. I probably don’t go any faster than 60mph on this short run but the bike clearly has so much in reserve I don’t doubt GB’s performance claims for the model for a second. I take it steady doing a U-turn on a mini roundabout conscious of the length of the bike and not wanting to stall as I’d need Kenny for sure to get started again. A second run at the series of bends with more confidence this time and we’re really flying by the time I reach suburbia and the 30mph limit. As I slow I realise I can barely feel my fingers with the cold but relish the last few minutes simply posing on this monument to engineering and marketing. After all, GB not only knew how to build a fine motorcycle but understood very well what was needed to sell them too with a multitude of high-profile sporting successes and clients. It is said that Lawrence would pick up a bike from the works on a Friday and return it after the weekend with the tyre worn through to the canvas. And thanks to Archie, I can quite understand why.
March 6th, 2015