The Roots of Rootes

In The Beginning......

It's a Motorcycle?

In the beginning there was Alderman John Marston, JP. John Marston was apprenticed to the Jeddo Works of Wolverhampton as a japanner (metal lacquerer). In 1859, at the age of 23, he bought two existing tinplate manufacturers and set up on his own.

It's a bicycle?

Marston, an avid cyclist, founded a cycle business called the Sunbeamland Cycle Factory in 1877. According to legend, when Marston's wife, Ellen, saw the first bicycle produced by the works, she remarked on how the black enamelled frame reflected the sun. Thus the Sunbeam name was born. Sunbeam bicycles were the finest money could buy with a price tag to match. Notable Sunbeam owners included Edward Elgar.

It's a car?

A number of cars were built between 1899 and 1901, but no attempt was made to market them. Maxwell Maberly-Smith designed the first Sunbeam to reach production. This cycle-car, called the Sunbeam-Mabley (Sunbeam misspelled the unfortunate Mr Maberly-Smith's name) was arguably the least conventional Sunbeam ever. Its wheels formed a diamond pattern, supposedly rendering it skid-proof. Whether this feature has ever been tested, history does not confirm.

It's a race car?

Louis Coatalen was born in Brittany in 1879. In France, he worked for Panhard, Clement and De Dion Bouton. On arriving in England, he worked (purely coincidentally) for Humber and Hillman before joining Sunbeam in 1909. Coatalen set to work designing many new models, such as the 12/16, which is widely regarded as being one of the best cars of the era.

By 1911, Sunbeam were building 650 cars per year, while the factory covered 4.5 acres. Coatalen soon turned his attention to racing cars, many of which he drove himself. His first, the Nautilus was a pencil-nosed device. While experimenting with Nautilus, he discovered that it ran better if the wheels were balanced. Coatalen was also the first to put the oil pump in the sump and was an early proponent of shock absorbers. Nautilus was replaced by Toodles II which was much more successful. Four Sunbeams were entered for the French Grand Prix and Coupe De L'Auto in June 1912. The cars came 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the Coupe De L'Auto and 3rd, 4th and 5th in the Grand Prix. Sunbeam instantly became internationally famous.

It shakes up W. O. Bentley at Le Mans?

A Sunbeam Super Sports was entered for Le Mans in 1925 where it finished second. Louis Coatalen must have been pleased at trouncing the Bentleys. Messrs Coatalen and Bentley had been involved in an argument over the link between road car and racing car design. Coatalen said that racing car and road car design were interrelated, while Bentley argued that there was no connection between the two.

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