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Bike Review - Posted 28th October 2013
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Sunbeam S8 Special

Buying an unfamiliar classic bike always involves a certain amount of risk. When Ian Spinney suffered a bad case of buyer's regret, he came up with a novel solution to his situation...

Ian's Sunbeam S8 should have been a ready to ride, roadgoing proposition. It had spent quite a while as a museum piece and was believed to have travelled just 4500 miles under its own steam since it was built in Redditch back in 1952. He'd been told that the S8 was 'sound and sorted' so expected to be able to fire it up and immediately enjoy the Sunbeam's famously smooth ride and the relaxed power delivery from the OHC inline twin engine. Instead, one ride was more than enough for Ian to understand that the S8 was in need of serious attention.

'The rear mudguard was an absolute mess,' says Ian, 'with a seat that had been forced on by a convict, and the paint job by a banker.

This is what Ian was hoping for...

'Most normal people would have sent the bike back to the vendor, but I tend to persevere and keep throwing good money after bad.' So Ian consulted John McGeachin of Classic Bike Repairs in Glasgow and they came up with a plan to strip down the S8, learn the worst, recondition and repair as they went along, and finish the job with a posh paintjob to do the old girl justice.

'We left the engine and gearbox essentially alone apart from essentials like a brand new Concentric carb, bolts for the drive, air filter, spark plug cover, and so on. The timing chain will need to be replaced in due course, but apart from that it was all in very good condition. Of course, we changed the oils, lubricants, plugs, petrol taps, and such.

The reality was somewhat lacking..

'Anglia Wheels painted the hubs and rebuilt the original Dunlop rims with stainless spokes; the frame, centre and side stands, and other cycle parts were powder-coated locally, as were the petrol tank, battery box and guards which were painted gloss black, replacing the botched two-pack chrome silver applied by a previous owner. The petrol tank was lined in gold in homage to the styling of the 1930s Sunbeams - we think it looks the business, and nicely finished with Stewarts' proper tank badges.'

Stewarts? Yes indeed. Stewart Engineering - as all prospective S7 and S8 owners should know - have been supplying, developing and manufacturing spares for these Sunbeams since 1960. 'They supplied a whole range of parts and were always on hand to provide helpful advice and support,' says Ian.

Work progressed. The horrible pillion saddle was junked which revealed all manner of awful butchery to the rear mudguard. The speedo - with its 4500 recorded miles - was reconditioned and a new wiring loom was fitted. The project reached a turning point, and John came up with a radical suggestion.

'How about… making it into a Bobber?'

No sooner the thought than the deed. The substantial, valanced touring mudguards made way for chopped stainless guards with brackets made to suit the lower profile. The luxurious Lycette-style saddle was replaced with a slimline Optima seat and springs, sourced from Destiny Cycles in Yorkshire. The air filter shroud is absent, exposing the carb and exhaust header. In standard trim an S8 weighs around 420lb, which is a considerable amount of mass for the engine's 25bhp to propel. Ian's bobber should be a wee bit quicker on its toes…

Much better..

The S8 started easily enough for its test run, which revealed a blowing exhaust and the need for a new manifold. With that job out of the way, Ian could finally take the S8 for a real ride.

'It hums along happily at 60mph and is particularly smooth and best at around 40mph. Gears change smoothly, neutral is easy to find and acceleration is assured and progressive,' he says. The S8 is a bit different to Ian's other classics, which tend to be feisty sporting singles like a Velo clubman café racer and a tuned big Bullet. 'The Sunbeam is an entirely different experience. No wonder it was described as the gentleman's touring motorcycle…'

Less is more..

Ian's only real complaint is the front brake - famously not the Sunbeam's most effective attribute - which he says is 'as useful at reducing speed as warm butter! But one adapts and uses the rear brake more and engine braking.'

There were still a few final things to fettle, but the S8 had caught the attention of the staff at the Belstaff store in Glasgow, who felt it would make a great window display over winter.

'The design of the bike is superb and the bobber finish complements our clothing range perfectly,' says Daniele Bentivegne of Belstaff UK. 'We are delighted to put the S8 on display and play our part in helping a wider audience appreciate the heritage of Britain's motorcycle industry.'

Has the fame gone to Ian's head?...

So if you want to see the machine in the metal, drop in to the Belstaff shop in Glasgow over Christmas, where it's been wowing the crowds.

Bargain Belstaffs on Now...

'The project has proven to be enjoyable and stimulating' says Ian; 'and of course far too expensive! But the bobber look is very pleasing to the eye.' His next plan is to track down either a girder-forked Velo MSS or maybe a 1959 T-Bird to revisit his youth.

Words: Rowena Hoseason
Photos: Ian Spinney,
Extra info: thanks to Stuart Urquhart


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