An Entertaining & Informative Vintage Automobile Internet Magazine

Seagrave’ Record-Setting Sunbeam Runs at Southport Sands

More than a thousand people, many driving vintage cars attended the Southport Festive of Speed 2016 at Ainsdale Beach, Southport, UK on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Southport Sands is located north of Liverpool on the West Coast of England. There they witnessed Sir Henry Segrave’s four-liter V-12 Sunbeam Tiger run again on the hard-packed sand beach ninety years after he set a new land speed record of 152.33 mph in 1926. At the time, Segrave took the record away from his rival, Sir Malcolm Campbell.

The bright red Sunbeam record-holder participated in an exhibition run on the sand in the morning. Twenty other pre-1936 vehicles from the Sunbeam Talbot Darracq Register were also displayed on the sand. Joining in the at the festivities was replica of the Napier-Campbell Blue Bird Land Speed Record car that in 1927 set a two-way speed of 174.883 mph at Pendine Sands in Wales.

Sir Henry Segrave Sunbeam Tiger

  • Two views of the Sunbeam Tiger record car on the Sands courtesy of the Speed Record Club. 

Southport Sands 2016 Sunbeam Run

Gina Campbell, the daughter of Donald Campbell (Sir Malcolm Campbell’s son) and Sir Henry Stephen, his nephew were present at the event. After the festivities were finished, a parade of vintage cars formed and drove to “The Atkinson,” a museum and cultural center in Ainsdale, where the Tiger was united with a 1924 Sunbeam Club racing car that Segrave drove earlier races.

In honor of the occasion we gathered this set of British Pathe films showing Seagrave’s 1927 1000 h.p. Sunbeam Land Speed Record car run in the factory yard before being shipped to Daytona Beach. Upon the car’s arrival in the US and after setup and testing, the footage below shows Seagrave and the Sunbeam set a new Worlds Land Speed Record at 203.793 m.p.h.

A rare silent film of Major Segrave’s Land Speed Record Run at Daytona Beach on March 11, 1929, with the famous Golden Arrow exists. The video of it includes the design, testing and the run where Segrave sets a new record at 231.45 mph. It is not shown here because at the end of the production Lee Bible’s record attempt in the White Triplex Special two days later is shown that contains disconcerting footage after the crash. You can view The Golden Arrow Land Speed Record Run here.

In the place of Segrave’s Land Speed Record Run, we have included an exciting 100-mile race below held in 1932 at Southport Sands. The footage shows large cars including a Bentley, an Invicta and a Type 35 Bugatti battling it out with many smaller cars in the event. Tell us more about this race if you can.

3 responses to “Seagrave’ Record-Setting Sunbeam Runs at Southport Sands

  1. The Southport MC ran their first meeting on the sands on 28 August 1920, although motorcycle events organised by the ACU (North West Centre) had already taken place. Sprint courses were always in demand, but even more rare was the chance to race motorcars or motorcycles in Britain. Until 1934 Brooklands offered the only purpose built racecourse, but it was tucked away in the southeast corner of England and enthusiasts in the north wanted somewhere closer to home. The sands at Southport quickly became established as a popular venue, giving the chance of some flat-out racing and without the need for silenced engines, which were required on the Surrey track. Normally around five meetings a year were held, but this number was increased to seven after the ban on road events in 1925.

    The big event for many years was the 100mile race, a glorious free-for-all, which until the establishment of road racing at Donington Park attracted the fastest racing cars and drivers to the often wet and always corrosive sands at Southport. The first event saw the first victory for Major H.O.D. (Henry) Segrave, who drove his 1914 Grand Prix Opel to win the standing mile event setting 51.4secs, while George Bedford won the 1500cc class in his Hillman with 63secs. The 9th January 1926 was a cold sunless day but the beach was in good condition for the first meeting of the year and Segrave returned to Southport the winner of the French and Spanish Grands Prix and number one driver of the Sunbeam racing team. Driving a 2-litre supercharged Grand Prix Sunbeam he took four first places, two over the mile course and two more over ten miles. This provided him with the chance to try the sands to see if the new Sunbeam being built at Wolverhampton could run here to try and take the world land speed record. The car was the four-litre V12-cylinder engined machine, which would become known as the Sunbeam ‘Tiger’ and it was brought to Southport in March 1926. A course considerably longer than normal had to be available to give room to accelerate and slow down after the measured distance. After delays caused by some engine problems, one caused when on a fast run the Sunbeam encountered a dip in the sand at high speed and took off as it climbed out, over-revving the engine and cracking the cylinder block. On the afternoon of 16 March 1926 Segrave made his runs and took the record with a speed of 152.33mph, beating Malcolm Campbell’s record set on Pendine Sands the previous year.

    The 1928 100 mile race attracted a first rate field led by Malcolm Campbell in his 1927 Straight-8 1488cc Delage Grand Prix car, Raymond Mays driving the 3-litre supercharged Vauxhall-Villiers accompanied by Peter Berthon and Miss May Cunliffe was driving a 2-litre Grand Prix Sunbeam with her father as riding mechanic. The race lay between these three cars and after Campbell had dropped out with a broken rear axle, the Sunbeam began to gain on the Vauxhall-Villiers, which had gone onto three cylinders. May Cunliffe flashed past as the cars approached the southern wider bend and braking hard on the rutted sand she locked over for the right hand corner, the car hit a rut and rolled over and over, sadly killing her father in the accident. Sand racing became recognised as requiring a technique which some mastered more successfully than others and eventually two or three specialist drivers could beat all-comers in the races while driving cars which would not have had much chance on a road course. This tended to reduce the appeal for competitors from longer distances and with the opening of Donington Park the importance of Southport Sands declined. Events continued regularly up to World War II, the last being held in July 1939.

    During the war, anti-invasion devices obstructed the sands and these took sometime to clear. In August 1947 the Southport Council Entertainments Committee announced that there would be no more sand races. However the success of the speed trials over the Marine Drive from 1947 (see above) may have caused them to think again as the first post-war Sand Races were held on a two-mile course on Ainsdale Beach on 3 October 1964 and J.G. Lawrence set btd 2min 31.2secs in his Mini-Cooper. Meetings became frequent after that culminating in a Centenary Meeting on Sunday 3 September 1972 when local resident Robin Farrington won the Centenary Trophy in his 3.0-litre Ford Capri in 11mins 32.2secs.

  2. Since writing the above in 2009 I have learned that the Tiger did not crack its block when the engine was over revved. The supercharger casing was cracked and the car returned to the Sunbeam works at Wolverhampton where a new casing was fitted. On the 16 March 1926 the car managed one run at a good speed over both the flying start kilometre and mile , but on the return run the car hit a stream and took off over revving and bursting the case again. Fortunately the speed through the kilometre was sufficient to break the record.

    Subsequently Tiger was fitted with two superchargers, one for each bank of cylinders. According to Sunbeam workers 4 similar cars were built. Two were crashed in road accidents and were not rebuilt. After Segrave’s death, the remaining pair named ‘Tiger’ and ‘Tigress’ were raced by Kaye Don and were later sold to Malcolm Campbell who had them rebuilt by Thomson and Taylor at Brooklands to the specification laid down by Reid Railton.

    Both cars still exist in private hands.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *