Brough Superior SS100 vs Sunbeam Beggs-Special

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.

Sunbeam Model 9 9A 90

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sunbeams at the TT on British Pathe newsreels

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.

 

 

 

 

New Sunbeam CT gears arrive from Chris Odling

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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.

Alf Sandford’s CS1 Norton runs for the first time

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.

 

Marston Sunbeam Northern Run, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria

I only just arrived in time for the Sunday run-out organised by Geoff Brazendale as part of the Marston Sunbeam Northern Run at Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria. And I do hope you enjoy the rather eloquent comment on proceedings provided by this pair of ‘beams from either side of the Scottish border.

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The run kicked off at 10am from the Fat Lamb at Ravenstonedale and took in 25-30 miles of the excellent local roads. Nobody in our group seemed to know where we were going and so we just found our own way round until coming across some bright spark with a map of the route. The earlier rain had long since past leaving wet roads but the autumn colours along the way were a delight.

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Archie Beggs and Kenny Crawford were in fine form on the Model 9 and 90 respectively having also made the run up to the lakes that morning. And it was great to have a fine collection of flat tank models as well as a variety of the later saddle tank.

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Late ’30s Moto Guzzi at the Ponderosa

A friend and I had a cracking ride around the roads and lanes of North Wales last Sunday. Theme for the day was 650 twins with John aboard his Cagiva Raptor and myself on the ’64 UK-spec T120 Bonnie.  Despite the difference in technology and years, the bikes were pretty well matched performance-wise and the weather stayed fine throughout.

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The scenery around this part Wales stands comparison with anything the rest of the world can offer and should well be on the bucket list for all discerning motorcyclists. A lovely little loop, from Ruthin we followed the B5105 South which skirts the Clocaenog Forest until meeting the A5 at Cerrigydrudion. Following the A5 for a short way towards Llangollen we then turned right onto the B4501 which takes you down towards Bala. Turning right onto the A4212 is a stunning road that takes you past the National White Water Centre before following the right-hand B4391 fork towards Ffestiniog. The loop back up to the A5 at Pentrefoelas is completed by taking the right-hand turn onto the B4407 towards Ysbyty Ifan. A fabulous road that was amazingly deserted across the open moor. After a quick blast down the A5 we had a welcome pit stop for a cup of coffee and slice of Bara Brith in the café at Cerrigydrudion then carried on towards Llangollen to tackle the Horseshoe Pass.

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Although the Bonnie is a flying machine it is currently suffering with a smokey right-hand cylinder which will need attention over the winter. The bike is not ridden with kid gloves but as the maker intended. So, I’m quite happy to deal with the consequences of regular flat-out blasts and runs on the dyno . With its slightly raised compression it is also prone to pinking on the regular pump unleaded that passes for petrol here in the UK. This means keeping the revs up rather than lugging in the higher gears which of course is a good principle to adopt for a spirited ride. After stopping at the Ponderosa Café we came across this rather lovely 500cc Moto Guzzi which if I remember right is the rare 1938 GTS.

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Having been restored many years before by the rider’s father it had apparently acquitted itself well on the climb up the hill. The bike featured a combination of over-head inlet valve and side-valve exhaust which was something I did not realise was common practice for certain manufacturers. With the luxury of rear suspension controlled by springs located under the engine-gearbox the bike may well be the “De-Luxe” model and must have been a revelation back in the day.

 

1967 Petite Metisse-Triumph Special

Petite-Metisse Triumph

I’d like to share some photos of this rather special Petite Metisse-Triumph that has been put together by fellow Sunbeam enthusiast and engineer extraordinaire Tony Pashley.

The bike was initially a 1967 Petite Metisse scrambler powered by a 250cc Bultaco engine. Tony clearly wasn’t happy with this state of affairs and, being well known as author of “How to Build Motorcycle-engined Racing Cars”, he had the skills to do something about it. This book is the industry standard text for builders of hill-climb and sprint cars condensing many years of building and racing experience. A decision was made to create his own dream bike based on an idea he had back in the mid ’60s, a time before he had to give up scrambling for more serious things. 

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With Tony’s dream bike needing Triumph-twin power presumably one of Spain’s finest two-stroke engines is left propping open a door somewhere. However, fitting the considerably larger 1960 500cc Triumph 5TA engine was not without complication. Tony had to remove all the lugs from the frame, move the pivot point for the rear suspension swingarm and eventually make a new swingarm. This incorporated the chain adjustment mechanism for which there was no room inside the perimeter of the frame due to the size of the engine.

Steering geometry was altered by lifting the back of the bike up and making new fork yokes which shorten the wheelbase slightly. The forks themselves are 35mm Marzocchi items dating from around 1970 and, as the bike is to be used regularly on the road, it is fitted with a 8″ diameter twin leading shoe front brake from a sixties BMW. The rear hub/brake is the original fitment.

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The Mk2 Metisse aluminium fuel tank nominally holds 3 gallons and was made in Southampton for the American market. The tank needed a new bottom to accommodate the different tube arrangement of the Petite Metisse frame hence the vagueness in capacity. The fibreglass seat base and mudguards are from a guy in Farringdon near Oxford who supplies the current Metisse builders. The colour is one of the original colours in which the bike was available when new.

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The bike was finished in January this year and received its registration number about three weeks ago. So far it has done about 150 miles whilst slowly whittling down the snagging list that is inevitable with any new build. Tony is obviously pleased with the results and reports that it is the nicest bike he has ever ridden. The light weight, short wheel base, pedigree chassis combined with Triumph power and decent brakes must make the bike a dream on back roads. I for one can’t wait to have a go some day.

Sunbeam gears to be re-manufactured

CT gears

Always a hot topic whenever owners meet, the Sunbeam 3-speed crash box gearbox is not perhaps the bike’s crowning glory. Whilst the original Marston gears did last surprisingly well, most are now “long in the tooth” with wear causing all manner of engagement and selection issues.

Stepping up to the plate once more, the redoubtable Chris Odling is planning to produce a small batch of new gears and I, for one, will certainly be purchasing a couple of much needed sets for my own bikes.

Here follows the note received from Chris…

“I have commissioned  new gear sets for Sunbeams. These are for the narrow and wide sliding pinion gearboxes. There will be BT and CT ratios manufactured. All those interested in a set please contact me to place an order. Delivery dates will be announced shortly. It is envisaged that a deposit will be required near the point of completion and following receipt of the gear sets I will ask for the remainder and deliver them. Final cost of a gear set is not written in stone as yet, but expect around £490.00

The number of gear sets presently ordered is 20, of which a few are already allocated. This number can be increased according to interest.

After the sets have been made I envisage a few spares i.e. sliding pinions and lay shafts.”

Contact: Chris Odling

Tel: 01852 300191

e-mail:  chris@odshed.co.uk

1930 Sunbeam Model 90 factory racer lives again

I was very pleased to receive a phone call from VMCC OEC and Blackburne Marque Specialist Martin Shelley telling me that John Rooney’s Sunbeam Model 90 was up and running!

1930 Sunbeam Model 90 works race bike

There’s more information about this wonderful and possibly unique machine in an earlier post that you can view here. But since then, Chris Odling has worked his magic on the engine whilst Martin and John have worked on the rest of the bike. The guys have resisted the temptation to “restore” the bike and instead have strived to keep as much of the bike in as-found condition as possible. With original factory finish on many parts and many of the correct factory fasteners this bike could become a Rosetta Stone for the vintage Sunbeam enthusiast.

After evicting the mice and filling a few holes, even the original exhausts that are stamped with IOM ’30 S in reference to the 1930 Senior TT have been repaired and re-fitted.

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There’s a short video here where you can see and hear the bike running. It does sound very different to my own 1930 Model 90 and seems to respond quicker to throttle and with less flywheel effect on the overrun.  I just can’t wait to see and hear the bike “in the metal”.