Sporting Model 9


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 I’m not sure if the handlebars have been replaced by now as I know Andy wasn’t happy with them when we last communicated.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.


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.


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.


New Sunbeam CT gears arrive from Chris Odling


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.

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.


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.


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.





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


Sunbeam Model 9 pistons now in stock in the Sunbeamland shop


I’m pleased to report that a rather pretty box containing a small batch of low-compression Sunbeam pistons arrived this morning. Like the 7.5 :1 CR Model 90 versions produced earlier, these are a lightweight forged item but will give around 6.5 : 1 CR depending on the head and barrel combination in use. Targeted at the Model 9 it is suitable for late 20’s early 30’s 500cc OHV bikes and we have limited availability of both +0.020″ and +0.040″ over-sizes.


Our research showed that the weight of Model 9 pistons varies surprisingly depending on both year and manufacture. After collecting and checking pistons from Marston, Heplex and Specialloid a target weight of 400g was achieved for the new item – including rings, pin and clips.

Once we have given the new arrivals a good look-over we’ll be making contact with those who have already reserved their pistons. So be quick if you don’t want to miss out!

Les Newman Memorial Run 2014

Marston Sunbeams at the Les Newman Run 2014

A great day out in the sun was had by all at this year’s Les Newman Memorial Run. The day was organised by ace restorer John Phizacklea and hosted by Rob and Joe Selbourne at Prebendal Farm, Bishopstone. Next year the event may well be opened to other marques but this year at least it was well supported with 13 of Marston’s finest taking a spin around the 40 mile track route.


The event is a tribute to local hero Les Newman who raced his Sunbeams throughout the ’30s and famously used the lanes around the area as “practice” for his races on the Isle Of Man. My own ’30 Model 90 was raced by Newman at the 1934 Manx Grand Prix where he was given a special award following his 69.28mph lap “in recognition of a fine ride on a 4 year old”. After missing last year’s run it was great to finally bring the bike back home and to enjoy the lanes it must have known so well. I’m not sure that Les found time to stop for a pint on the way round his course but if he ever did, I’m sure that he wouldn’t have found this gentleman guarding the entrance to the hostelry where we stopped for a quick one.


With John taking his own 95 for a spin there were indeed some fine bikes enjoying the superb roads and scenery including a JAP twin and Parallel 9 amongst the Model 9s, 90s and side-valves.


As I habitually use a van to transport the bikes I was shamed by the distances that had been ridden to the event by some of the participants. Jez Cator, who had ridden up from Portsmouth and camped over-night at the farm, was rightly presented the furthest distance travelled award by Vic Youel. The day was rounded off back at the world’s tidiest farm with a fine spread of sandwiches and cake. More photos from the day can be viewed here.


However, I was particularly excited to see the ex-Smedley 95 that John has recently acquired and that young Chris let off the leash for a canter around the lanes.


The amazing story and history of the Smedley bikes surely deserves recording and telling in much more detail than I can even begin to attempt here. However, being built for race, sprints and hill-climbing by the Rolls-Royce engineer the bikes represent the absolute pinnacle of engineering excellence. They weigh next-to-nothing but with over 50hp at the rear wheel I am sure you can imagine the result.


Having had Chris blast pass me earlier in a blur of speed, noise and Castrol R, I was keen to take the bike for a short spin. I have to say that it really was a staggering, eye-opening experience. The low gearing obviously helps but the bike just pulls, revs and accelerates like a mad thing and it is easy to believe the 3 sec 0-60mph times are quite possible. Despite the performance on hand, it was surprisingly easy to ride at sensible speeds too with just the occasional pop and bang to let you know it was getting impatient for the taps to be opened. This amazing bike could take on and shock even modern sports bike riders, at least with the right rider on board it could….



The gear masher

CT gears

Can you tell what’s going on here? Never a Sunbeam’s strongest point, a total of 4 missing teeth from this CT layshaft were located in the bottom of the gearbox housing. So that’s the 1930 M90 off the road until we can find a replacement set of cogs. It’s hard to tell what has gone wrong with this remanufactured set but a backfire whilst bump-starting the bike seems to have been the final straw for this particular old donkey.

Rich beyond the dreams of avarice

Amac 10MDY and Amal twin floats

What a lash up!!! Just in case anyone was wondering how the carburation was developing on the 1930 M90 I thought I’d post this picture of the steps taken to check and correct the float height on the Amac 10MDY currently fitted to the bike. It’s the wrong carb for the year and I’d like a later Amal 29/001 if anyone can help but “we are where we are” on this one…

The Amal twin floats are most likely 15 degree items that have been machined to operate on the level so to speak. But they were clearly never designed to operate with the Amac. After making up a new, elongated float chamber holding bolt complete with a spigot for some clear plastic pipe it was easy to see that the float level was some 6mm too high. Adding the aluminium spacer drops the level back downwards and this setup should help with fine tuning once back on the bike. I’ll make up a proper brass spacer and new banjo bolt once the correct dimensions are established as the existing one is too short to work with the spacer.

All this is yet another example of how much time can be spent trying to get groups of disparate components from different eras to work together with some degree of harmony.