Sunbeam TT Pair
2005. Open wheel racing cars class, Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, California, USA
Carburation: Twin Claudel Hobson updraught carburettors, pressurised fuel system. Brakes: 4 wheel cable operated via pedal, front also by lever. Suspension: Beam axles, leaf springs, friction dampers.
Specific History of This Car
Sunbeam “No. 7” became famous as the winner of the RAC Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man in 1922.
Sunbeam had entered three cars for the TT, two started and the only one that finished, won in the hands of tiny Frenchman, Jean Chassagne.
By 1926 the 1922 TT-winning Chassagne car was racing in New Zealand, where it is recorded as finishing second in the New Zealand Motor Cup that year, raced by Matthew Wills. Reportedly, No. 7 proved no match for its older sibling, the 1914 3.3 litre 4-cylinder Sunbeam driven by Wills’ brother-in-law, Bill Hamilton. This, by chance, was the very car that had won the 1914 TT!
A later New Zealand owner of No. 7, Dick Messenger, fitted a sports-type body with hood and mudguards and used it as a 100mph road car for years.
The Sunbeam was later acquired by Tom Wheatcroft of the Donington Collection who commissioned a full restoration to original specifications by Auto Restorations. At the same time, a large stock of spares that came with the car was used to build a second car.
At the Laguna Seca Historics in 1993, the restored original car was driven by former Formula One world champion Phil Hill.
The Story of the 1922 RAC Isle of Man Tourist Trophy
The Sunbeam team was the clear favourite — fastest car, best drivers — but it was leaving nothing to chance and its three “hired guns” had been practising over the 37.5-mile “Four-Inch” course since midweek. Only nine cars had entered the race’s premier large-capacity class, three each from Sunbeam, Vauxhall and Bentley — but this was still a very important event for the Wolverhampton marque. It was the final opportunity its expensive 3-litre racers would have to redeem themselves after their poor shows in the previous year’s Indy 500 and French Grand Prix, races that were now running to the new 2-litre formula.
But just minutes before the scheduled 09.30 start, Sunbeam was in disarray. The clutch on Kenelm Lee Guiness’s car had failed and the 1914 winner was out. The two remaining cars, meanwhile, were up on jacks. Tyre choice (not much changes in motor racing) was the hot topic on the grid of the 1922 RAC Tourist Trophy. Mid-June on the Isle of Man — and it was pouring down, and Snaefell was sheeted in mist. Jean Chassagne, Sunbeam’s “resident” French racer, unassuming, systematic and businesslike, mulled over the wide variety of surfaces — tar, Macadam and moorland stone — that this gigantic circuit comprised of, before fitting “traction tread” Dunlops. Ten minutes before the off, he was still rebalancing his front wheels. But he had seen it all before, having been part of Sunbeam’s pre-WWI set-up, finishing third in the 1910 Coupe de L’Auto and 1913 French Grand Prix. He had perhaps lost his “fast” years to the war, but Sunbeam still valued him as an excellent development driver and a reliable and consistent racer. He knew his limits and stuck to them. When asked about his team-mate Henry Segrave, he (half) jokingly replied, “He doesn’t wait for me.”
It was no surprise when Segrave set the early pace. By Sulby Crossroads — halfway round the opening lap — he was in the lead on time and on the road, having passed the two cars that had started ahead of him. He completed the lap in 39min 15sec — the fastest of the race — and was more than two minutes ahead of Chassagne.
The conditions worsened on the second lap, but Segrave, who had circulated in 35min 30sec in practice, continued to increase his advantage, his unruffled, statuesque stance in the cockpit masking the demands of his task. The Sunbeam drivers had complained of baulking gearboxes and sticking front brakes during practice — two things hardly conducive to a calm passage through stormy conditions — and potential disaster lay around every corner.
Chassagne had no choice but to let the inspired Segrave go and hope that the race would come back to him. Which is exactly what happened on the fourth lap. Conditions had reached a “zenith of misery” when Segrave suffered a puncture. He and riding mechanic Paul du Toit changed it but decided to pit at the end of the lap to collect a new spare and top up with fuel and oil. Chassage now led – but his stop was still to come. Before the race, he had put a lot of store on a neat and tidy pit stop. In the race, he overshot his mark, reversed, shouted, gesticulated and poured petrol everywhere before roaring off.
It mattered not, however, for Segrave was out. He’d got as far as Ramsay on his fifth lap when a contact-breaker in one of his two magnetos broke. There was no way of making the long steep climb up to The Bungalow on just four cylinders, and that was that.
Sunbeam’s signaling station at Hillbery informed Chassagne of his team-mate’s demise. Ahead lay three more laps of “a nightmare of sea and mud”, but with a horseshoe pinned to his radiator, Chassagne trusted to his luck as well as his talent and set about controlling the gap to the second-placed Bentley of Frank Clement. Although this pair had started four minutes apart, they were less than 100 yards apart on the road, Chassagne keeping a watching brief. Clement, in what was little more than a stripped-down sports car, threw caution (literally) to the wind and set his fastest lap on his last lap, joining Segrave and Chassagne in breaking the 40-minute barrier. In contrast, observers described Chassagne as “sedate” and “cornering in an even manner.” The Frenchman had (almost) everything under control. His four-minute margin held good to the end – except there seemed to be no end.
Chassagne looked for the yellow flag that signaled the finish, saw no such thing and completed another lap at racing speed. You can imagine his mood when it was subsequently explained that a late change to a blue flag had been made.
Nor was his torment over now. Worried about dust problems – ha! – The organisers had sloshed the roads with calcium chloride in a bid to reduce the problem. In the eventual circumstances of the race, however, all this chemical did was mix with rain spray and burn the drivers” eyes, most of them having removed their goggles because of constant misting-up.
Chassagne’s had been a victory of heroic, almost pyrrhic, proportion – but Sunbeam’s true redemption would only come with Segrave’s victory in the 1923 French GP.
( Story of the Isle of Man TT 1922 by Paul Fearnley for Speedmaster. Story source: www.classiccarsforsale.co.uk )