I couldn’t resist sharing this video of the new forged Sunbeam Longstroke piston undergoing its first trial run. Thanks go to Archie Beggs and Kenny Crawford who kindly put the piston into an engine they are preparing for a friend and then demonstrated it on their high-precision, custom-built Sunbeam engine test rig. The eagle-eyed may notice the lack of a cooling fan but Kenny had to fit it back in the bathroom as the condensation was causing problems.
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.
Steve Griffith over at Racing & Investment Motorcycles has turned up yet another interesting Sunbeam Model 90. This time it is a later saddle tank that he has for sale that reportedly has come from the Joe Potts collection. Some interesting features on the bike include the very nice twin-float Amal 29/001 carburettor that also looks to be stamped M90. I would love one of those for my own ’30 saddle tank if any one has one? The single port head is fitted with coil valve springs and appears to be of an earlier vintage due to the design of the rocker box side plates. Open primary drive, rear set-foot rests and the rare left hand filler oil tank complete the sporting look perfectly.
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.
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.
I noticed that Steve over at Racing and Investment Motorcycles has a rather nice looking 1928 Model 90 for sale in sports trim. Race pipes with Bentley and Draper dampers complete the look. These bikes don’t come up very often so I don’t suppose that it will hang around. Could be worth a look if you are in the market?
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.
A great find by Martin Shelley with this British Pathe newsreel where “Tourist Trophy Thrills – C.J.P. Hodson, riding a Sunbeam, wins… covering 226 miles… made doubly perilous owing to rain soaked roads… in 250 minutes.” I’m sure Dodson was thrilled to have had his name spelt incorrectly!
Also from the same era we have the 1930 Senior TT when I believe my own bike took part with H.J. “Bertie” Bacon on board.
On return from a weeks holidays in Marrakech last week I was delighted to find a box from Chris Odling containing two lovely new sets of minty-fresh CT wide case gears. These particular cogs are the close-ratio type and are suitable for many of the later Model 9 and Model 90 bikes. I needed two sets as the set in my own ’30 bike are on loan from Archie Beggs and need to be replaced. Being suitable for both the 1928 and 1930 bikes, the second set will sit on the shelf in case I have any more problems.
These gears were made to order by Chris in a small batch of different ratios and widths, so get in touch fast if you think you might be in need of a set now or in the near future as they won’t be around for long.
Many thanks to Martin Shelley for sending this note about the this rather nice 1929 Norton CS1…
The lucky new owner of the late Alf Sandford’s CS1 Norton has finally got it running again after a lot of hard work and elbow grease. He was persuaded to retain as much of the original finish as possible by myself and Simon and others, and I hope he feels it was worth the effort.
He has used Fluid Film to preserve the areas of bare metal and the areas where the original paintwork was deteriorating. Such a rare survivor deserved to avoid ‘concours restoration’ and it remains an almost unique example of an original bike in original condition.