First manufactured in 1912, the Sunbeam had a reputation for high quality and was marketed as ‘The Gentleman’s Motorcycle’, the first model from the Wolverhampton factory being a 347cc side-valve, which was followed by a 500cc single and a 770cc JAP-engined twin.

The death of its founder, John Marston, after the First World War saw Sunbeam bought by Noble Industries (later ICI) and although the marque achieved motor sport success during the 1920’s, financial problems saw it fall into the ownership of Associated Motorcycles (Matchless and AJS) in 1936. BSA, at the time the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, then bought the name in 1943 with the express aim of producing a luxury motorcycle once the Second World War was over.

The BSA design team, led by Earling Poppe, produced the Sunbeam S7, which brought a host of innovative features to the British motorcycle market, much of their thinking following close examination of BMW products, including car- type shaft drive and telescopic front forks.

The Sunbeam’s twin-cylinder 500cc engine, positioned in line with the frame, had a single-overhead camshaft, at a time when almost every motorcycle produced in the UK and elsewhere had pushrod valve operation. The S7 also had distinctive ‘balloon’ tyres, chosen because of its intended luxury market.

The S7 was followed by the S8, a “sports” version of the original bike. It has more conventional wheels, although with its fully sprung suspension, comfortable sprung seat and rubber mounted engine, which insulates the rider effectively from vibration it is still very much a luxury mount.


This particular Sunbeam S8 was donated by Caroline Moore of St Albans. It had been laid up for almost 50 years by her grandfather, Leonard Case, who bought it new and used it for many years as his daily transport. Before storing the bike in 1959 he carefully made sure it would be preserved with layers of grease, which meant that surprisingly little restoration was necessary when it was taken out of store.

Mrs Moore offered the Sunbeam to the Shuttleworth Collection after she had told the magazine Classic Bike she would like to see it go to a museum in the local area. This example is in black, although the bike was also available in mist green and polychromatic grey.


Manufacturer: Sunbeam Motorcycles (BSA), Redditch, England
Model: S8
Engine: 487cc parallel twin, OHC four-stroke
Top Speed: 85 mph
Price new: £185