'The Gentleman's Motor Cycle' - 'The Sunbeam'

A Customers 1925 Sunbeam Parallel Model 9, featuring our transfers

Established, said the catalogues, in 1790, though able to claim origins fifty years before that, the company which made ‘The Sunbeam’ is now one of the oldest in Bristish History. John Marston was born in 1836, at Ludlow in Shropshire and later entered the up and coming Bicycle trade, registering the trademark of ‘Sunbeam’ in January 1888. The first line was slow to move, but after a year or two, expansion of staff and some exhibitions, it was clear that Marston was serious about cycles and their production.

Marstons policy became that of marketing a limited range of designs and of trying to make them perfect, which he succeeded in very well. By 1911, Marston was ready to enter another profitable market, the one of motor cycles. The ‘Gentleman’s Motor Cycle’ was the result and ‘The Sunbeam’ was a beautifully finished as the cycles.

Renowned for their lustrous deep black finish relieved only by gold transfers bearing the manufacturer’s name, Sunbeam bicycles and motorcycles represented a very high quality product that few other manufacturers could rival.

Surprisingly perhaps, the early motor cycles were swiftly entered in competition, almost taking the Isle of Man TT on their first appearance in 1914. The Great war put a stop to this for some time and the firm was occupied in radiator production whilst making a relatively small number of motor cycles for France, Italy and Russia.

Swiss rider, Monsiuer Ruchem photograhed in Geneva, on 1926 ‘Parallel Model 9, so-called beacause it was a road-going version of the ‘Sprint’ but with parallel frame and top tubes.
1925 Sunbeam Parallel Model 9

After the war, the competition use of Sunbeams was intensified in the hands of Alec Bennett, Tommy de la Hay and George Dance, the latter’s superb tuning and riding skills pushing sunbeam to the front of trials and racing. They won the Senior TT four times in the 1920’s.

The company, meanwhile, had changed. John marston had retired in 1916, dying in 1918, and Marstons’s was sold to Noble industries. In 1937, the cycle and motor cycle business was sold to Associated Motor Cycles of London, already owners of Sunbeams’s old Wolverhampton rivals, AJS.

In 1943 AMC sold the Sunbeam Trademarks to BSA, who produced ‘war-grade’ Sunbeams cycles from that date and from 1946 a new Sunbeam motor cycle appeared, to be followed in 1959 by two motor-scooters.

In 1956-7 the cycle interests were sold to Raleigh who, inexplicably, discontinued BSA’s nicely-made touring Sunbeam cycles and transferred the famous trademark to a range of children’s ‘pavement cycles’.

Taken in Europe, Tommy de la Hay and George Dance mounted on pre-production overhead-valve Sunbeams in the early 1920s.