Written by Daniel James Parry
Southport Festival of Speed – 90 years of speed
On a sunny Southport morning, The Foxley Media Group had the pleasure of taking to the sand dunes of Ainsdale Beach at the Southport Festival of Speed to see the original Sunbeam Tiger re-enact the day famed racer Sir Henry Seagrave broke the world land speed record in 1926 on these very shores.
Ninety years ago to the date, Sir Henry drove the Sunbeam Tiger across Ainsdale Beach’s sandy shores, reaching speeds of 153.308mph and in doing so, shattered the previously set record of 150.76mph.
Today, crowds gathered in their thousands to witness the re-enactment of the 1926 feat, as the Sunbeam Tiger, which hasn’t been seen by the public eye since 2007, cruised up and down the glittering shores, aside of an on looking streak of classic Bentleys, Talbots, MGs and Simcas for spectators to examine and enjoy. Almost in an echoing chorus which seemed to swirl around us as we perused the display, motor enthusiasts spoke of the beauty of these vintage vehicles.
As the time-trial approached, we were met by the roaring tones of the Sunbeam Tiger echoing around the beach as the vintage vehicle’s engine underwent its almost hour-long warm up in preparation of the run. The air was thick with the smell of petrol as we made our way down the beach, eager to catch a glimpse of history. Unsurprisingly, upon his return from the kilometre stretch, both driver Malcolm Page and the Sunbeam Tiger were lathered in a coat of wet sand, thrown up in a rush of velocity when performing the reenactment.
After this visceral display of man’s ingenious ability to overcome physics itself, and as the sand settled across the vast landscape, it was difficult not to appreciate the beauty and brilliance of these mighty machines. A true feat to celebrate, almost a century after Sir Henry first rode out.
- Sunbeam began life in the bicycle trade, with the first prototype crafted by John Marston, an avid cyclist, in 1887. Folklore cites that the origin of the name lies in Marston’s wife, Ellen, and her reaction to the first bicycle she saw – she claimed the black enamel frame reflected the sun, hence the name, however this has been neither confirmed nor denied. These ‘Sunbeams’ were the finest bicycles available on the market, with celebrity clientele appreciating their ebony frame including British composer Edward Elgar.
- The journey into the motorcar industry began in 1899, when Marston’s right hand man, Thomas Cureton, persuaded him to venture from two wheels to four. Borrowing the craftsmanship of Henry Dinsdale of the Wearwell Cycle Company to build a prototype. Over the next two years, a number of machines were built, with no attempt to market them.
- The first to reach production was designed by Maxwell Maberly Smith. This cycle-car was unfortunately named the Sunbeam-Mabley, after an error in spelling on Sunbeam’s part. The Sunbeam-Mabley was supposedly skid proof; this was down to its wheels forming a diamond pattern, although much like the origin of the name, this has never been confirmed. The first Sunbeam-Mabley went on sale in 1901 for 130 pounds. It is believed around 130 machines were built, a respectable number for the turn of the century. Although featuring an unconventional design, the Sunbeam-Mabley was reasonably successful.
- Infamous Leyland Motors engineer Parry Thomas was there to witness the breaking of the land speed record in 1926, and that evening, both Thomas, Seagrave and racing enthusiast, The Earl of Cottenham held a commemorative dinner at the Palace Hotel to celebrate the record, a venue where racing fraternity regularly called home while visiting the beach throughout the 1920s and 1930s.