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1933 Sunbeam 23.8HP Folding Head Coupé

One of just fourteen produced & two surviving examples known to have survived

Coachwork by. Sunbeam

Chassis No. 7112R

Engine No. 7110

Registration No. SN 169

+44 (0)1869 244 255


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Like all Sunbeams of the period, this 1933 Sunbeam 23.8HP Folding Head Coupé was constructed to the very highest standards throughout, using technology learned on the race tracks of Europe to provide the owner with rapid and yet smooth and practical motoring on the road. Versatile and yet blessed with lusty performance, this handsome example comes with an extensive history file and has been cared for by the guru on pre-war Sunbeams, Dr Jim Catnach for its enthusiast owner. It is, perhaps, the ideal solution to pre-war touring in almost any weather.

One need only browse through a copy of Anthony Heal’s superb work on Sunbeam’s racing exploits; Sunbeam Racing Cars 1910 – 1930 to begin to comprehend the contribution of the marque to pre-war motorsport. The Sunbeam Motor Car Co. Ltd. was the first British firm to win an International Grand Prix -The French Grand Prix of 1923. In 1924 Sunbeam became the last British marque to win an international Grand Prix until 1955. The Wolverhampton based firm succeeded in breaking Land Speed records and was the first company to break the magic 200mph mark on land. They had produced a six-cylinder twin overhead-camshaft engine before The First World War and had even competed at Indianapolis. The Sunbeam Motor Car Co. Ltd. was, in essence, the only major British producer of purebred racing cars before The Second World War.

It also is worth noting that, aside from their Grand Prix, Indianapolis and Land Speed Record successes, Sunbeam’s first and only major attempt at the Le Mans 24-Hour Race of 1925 resulted in Sir Henry Seagrave leading for the first hour and Sammy Davis finishing a highly creditable 2nd overall – in turn beating the Bentleys. It could be argued, quite fairly, that Sunbeam’s Motorsport achievements in the period of 1910 to 1930 outweighed those of any other British motor car manufacturer.

Given the success of the Sunbeam marque in competition, and given that competition certainly improves the breed, it is fair to say that Sunbeams are the one of the most undervalued marques in today’s market. The 23.8HP model is powered by a beautifully smooth six-cylinder overhead valve engine of 3,317c. It is not just the outright acceleration and top speed performance of such a practical car that impress. Power is transmitted to through a four-speed crash gearbox that is wonderfully easy to master. The brakes, steering and overall handling leave nothing to be desired making it a superb motorcar all round. Produced by Sunbeam between 1931 and 1933 they were bodied by all manner of coachwork which the running chassis was more than able to carry, and the Folding Head Coupé, of which only 14 were made on the 23.8HP chassis, surely must be the most versatile and practical of all.

This history of particular 1933 Sunbeam 23.8HP Folding Head Coupé has been well researched by a previous owner, John Tomsett, and is written up in a superb article by him in the Sunbeam Talbot Darracq Register (STD Register) Journal of Winter 2009 (Number 186.) A copy of the article is on file and is well-worth a read. Mr Tomsett’s efforts to research the history of the car were exhaustive to say the least and he should be commended on his efforts and write up. His research discovered that the first owner of the Sunbeam was David Johnstone-Smith, A wealthy Scottish accountant who had the car registered SN 169. This registration number pre-dates the car and it is through that it possibly belonged originally to a 1907 Gladiator. The owner of a saloon as well as ‘SN 169’ Mr Johnstone-Smith employed the services of a chauffeur, a David Hebenton. Both cars were kept in immaculate condition by Mr Hebenton at Ardardan House and once a week Mr Johnstone-Smith would be driven to Edinburgh for a board meeting at the bank. The cars were also used for holidays to Harrogate and the surrounding area.

Both cars were laid up during the war and in 1947, when Mr Johnstone-Smith passed away, the Sunbeam 23.8HP Folding Head Coupé was sold to his local doctor, Dr Thomas Collier-Findlay. As part of Mr Tomsett’s research he tracked down Jim Rankin, who was the proprietor of a local garage and whose father, Alex, was a friend of David Hebenton and thus looked after ‘SN 169’ during the 1930s for Mr Johnstone-Smith. Jim Rankin was also able to introduce Mr. Tomsett to David Hebenton’s daughter, a Mrs. McWatt, with whom a meeting was arranged as well as a photograph with Jim Rankin by the car and a further photograph of Mrs McWatt with ‘SN 169.’

In around 1955/56 ‘SN 169’ was purchased by Malcolm Templeton who, at the time, was serving his apprentice at Babcocks, a prestigious Scottish engineering firm. Mr Templeton was a keen member of the Babcocks Car Enthusiast Club. Mr Templeton was able to furnish John Tomsett with his history of the car and the file includes a lovely set of photographs of ‘SN 169’ during his ownership. Mr Templeton sold the Sunbeam in 1970 and it was eventually purchased by Tony Howarth in the 1990s from a coach house in Glasgow as part of a collection of vehicles to be dispersed. ‘SN 169’ passed through a number of dealers in the North West including Mark Prosser in Altrincham who had the car re-commissioned by Merlin Classics. From John Aitkins the car passed to Peter Webb in 1992, with whom it remained until purchased by John Tomsett.

The current owner, an ardent Sunbeam enthusiast, acquired ‘SN 169’ in 2012 and has enjoyed many miles of touring with his family as well as the odd excursion on track at Goodwood (photos on file.) During this time, the car has been expertly maintained by Dr Jim Catnach of Lincolnshire with invoices for his work also on file together with numerous photographs of restorative works commissioned by previous owners with various restorers. Well researched and well-maintained, this powerful pre-war Sunbeam is offered with an extensive history file and offers the new owner the opportunity to enjoy a most versatile and practical pre-war car, priced, as with all Sunbeams at an incredibly fair level. Viewing and test drives are welcome by appointment – whatever the weather.