St Richard of Chicester's Benson Hall was the unlikely setting for a gathering of vintage cars one Saturday in April 2005. The occasion? the birthday of one of these lovely, rare, cherished machines. The Darracq below was built in 1925, making it 80 years old. Along side it were Talbots and Sunbeams who share a long and complicated history with the Darracq.
The French-built Darracq was created by Alexander Darracq, a man who didn't like driving cars or being driven in them. Born in Bordeaux, France, of Basque parents, Darracq preferred making bicycles. After running into financial problems, his company was reformed with British capital, ultimately merging with Talbot and then Sunbeam before expiring in 1939. Film buffs will doubtless already know the star of the film "Genevieve" was a twin-cylinder 10/12 hp Darracq built in Paris in 1904 and you may be surprised to learn that some of Malcolm Campbell's early water and land speed records were achieved with a Sunbeam....
Click on each photograph for larger version.
Sunbeam was one of the premier marques of British car achieving its peak of fame during the 1920s. It first came to prominence following the appointment of Louis Coatalen as chief engineer in 1909 and Coatalen designed cars were soon setting new records of all types at Brooklands race track in Surrey. In 1912 the 3 litre Sunbeams caused a sensation when they came 1st, 2nd and 3rd in Coupe de l'Auto for touring cars run at Dieppe. So good were they, that they achieved 3rd, 4th, and 5th places in the French Grand Prix run concurrently! The cars which came 1st and 2nd achieved their places with engines which were 3 and 5 times the size of the Sunbeams! The almost identical touring model sold very well as a result.
In a famous race against Bugattis and Fiats, among others, Sunbeams came 1st, 2nd and 4th in the 1923 French Grand Prix and won the Spanish Grand Prix the following year. Sunbeam was the only British make to win a Grand Prix in the first half of the 20th century. Many of the features taken for granted on modern cars were first developed and tested by Sunbeam on the race track and then introduced to their ordinary touring cars. Among features pioneered by Sunbeam were overhead valve engines, brakes on all four wheels, power assisted brakes and twin overhead camshaft engines. Twin cam engines were standard on the 3 litre Super Sports models from 1924.
Sunbeam also held the world land speed record on several occasions as commemorated on British stamps issued in 1998. Malcolm Campbell's first "Bluebird" was a Sunbeam and in 1924 he achieved 146mph on an 18 litre 12 cylinder Sunbeam developing 350hp. He had achieved the same speed a year earlier but the timing equipment had not been approved. In 1925 he was the first to reach 150mph on a similar car.
Benjamin, William and Ruth Jowett set up the 'Jowett Motor Manufacturing Company' in 1901 concentrating primarily on engine building engines. Production eventually started on a horizontally opposed twin-cylinder 6.4hp unit in 1910 . However, when it was realised that the public felt this was not enough power, the cars advertising was changed to state 8hp. Sales then increased although no actual modifications were made.
In 1919 a new factory was built at Idle (north Bradford) and a new company "Jowett Cars Ltd." formed. Production soared, a new body was produced and a commercial introduced. Jowetts made up a fair percentage of Scotland Yard's fleet of police cars and throughout the 1930's made additional income selling engines to other manufacturers. In 1935 the company floated with the brothers as majority shareholders.
The forties and early fifties saw the newly introduced "Javelin" and "Jupiter" models winning their class at the Monte Carlo, Spa and Le Mans and the future for Jowett looked very bright but inexplicably by 1955 the company had ceased to exist. A dispute with their coachbuilders meant that no bodies were produced but production continued with the "Javelin" which was produced almost entirely in house and was selling well.
The last "Jupiter" was produced in November 1954. "Blackburn Aircraft" purchased the remains of "Jowett Cars Ltd." in 1955 and the company was wound up without debts. The "Jowett Cars Ltd." name is now owned by the "Jowett Car Club". Although Jowett do not exist today, the company and it's cars had a strong identity and a keen sense of innovation. It is not surprising that there is still a strong and loyal following for this remarkable marque.
More information on the history of the Jowett Car Company can be read here