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Bike Profile - Posted 18th December 2009

1952 Sunbeam S8
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Sunbeam's 'line ahead' 500cc twin always attracts attention. Glenn Hughes' recently restored S8 won an RC award this autumn...

Synchronicity is a strange thing. Although the Sunbeam inline twins have a devoted cult following, you don't see too many of these shaft-drive 500s in regular use. So what are the chances that two separate concours judges at two separate shows this autumn should have chosen two different Sunbeam S8s to win RealClassic awards? Spooky stuff! Our judges are obviously on similar wavelengths…

The S7 was BSA's postwar attempt to build a gentleman's touring motorcycle, branded with the upmarket Sunbeam badge for added esteem. Designer Erling Poppe dusted off an older blueprint from the company's prewar drawing board and combined it with concepts from the field of car construction. The result was a sleek, super-smooth and extremely comfortable OHC unit-construction 487cc twin, the S7, which largely confounded the buying public with its elegant oddness. (The full story was published back in RC49, and you can lay hands on a copy of that issue here).

As good as new... 1952 Sunbeam S8

Recognising that the S7 was a step too far in the right direction, BSA revised the design for the follow up model, the S8, which went on sale in 1949. The engine remained much the same but the front end was revised to use BSA's standard tele forks. The frame was lightened and the bodywork slimmed down. The 16-inch balloon tyres - so useful for cushioning the ride on badly paved roads - were replaced with normal ones, and many of the S7's expensive trick bits (like the beautifully uncluttered handlebars and inverted levers and the weirdly suspended saddle) were removed and substitute 'normal' items were used.

The S8 weighed around 25lb less than its predecessor, still tipping the scale at 400lb (around 185kg). Yet it was low and easy to handle, with a saddle height of just 30 inches and nearly six inches of ground clearance. Average fuel consumption was around 70mpg at a steady 50mph.

It retained the S7's car-type ignition system and Lucas distributor, and absorbed the shaft drive's torque reaction with rubber buffers which allowed the engine to tremble entertainingly without transferring vibration through the frame.

The 7-inch front (described by marque expert Robert Cordon Champ as a 'miserable stopper') and 8-inch rear drum brakes would bring the S8 to a halt in 33 feet from 30mph. Slowing down from 85mph would take some forethought, then…

Sunbeam bits :

The S8 proved to be far more popular with the buying public. It was both cheaper and faster than the S7; producing 25bhp at 5800rpm to give it a top speed of 83mph and hugely improved acceleration. When new, the S8 could reach 80mph in 40 seconds from a standing start so, although it was no sports bike, the S8 was fast enough to satisfy the long distance tourist and so it stayed in production for nearly a decade.

I'd have ridden it like this... 1952 Sunbeam S8 as found, with sidecar attached

Glenn Hughes found the S8 you see here back in 1971 'in a farmer's field amongst old cars'. He paid the princely sum of £25 for it and then started what was to be a very gradual rebuild. By 1974 it had been stripped down and the frame powder coated. The shiny parts were sorted for re-chroming and Glenn began the search for various missing components. 'At this time I was riding an S7' he explains 'and I had other commitments so the S8 was put in a corner. Over the years I found other parts and then last year' finally! 'I decided that I had got to get on with it or it would never be it finished.'

The project was finally finished just in time to join the classic motorcycle displays at the Classic Motor Show at the NEC in November, where Glenn's decades of dedication were rewarded with a RealClassic Commendation. He deserves the kudos, after keeping the faith for all that time and spending at least £2500 on what he describes as his 'labour of love'.

You'd look pleased too... 1952 Sunbeam S8 and owner/restorer Glenn Hughes

You can see Glenn on the S8, looking pretty pleased with himself. What you can't see is the freshly stamped MoT certificate in his pocket - the S8's first MoT since 1970. For three decades Glenn had been clocking up the miles on his faithful S7 but now it has competition. Which Sunbeam will he prefer riding, we wonder...?


Show Off Yourself!

All kinds of classics are very welcome at the events we sponsor and almost any old bike might go home with an award. Thanks to all who entered their bikes into displays during the autumn but weren't chosen this time around; we do enjoy looking at your bikes even if the judging can be very difficult indeed.

We sponsor several Shows during the Spring and all RC readers are very welcome to attend, with the family or riding solo, possibly as part of an organised ride-in with the rest of your club branch or just on your tod. You can enter whatever type of classic bike has snagged your fancy, of any origin and in any condition, be it a barn-fresh discovery or a recently restored replica. If you've upgraded your classic to make it practical for modern riding then our judges will be fascinated to see what you've done: we don't turn up our noses at non-standard spec although we do, of course, appreciate the patina of ages on an unrestored machine…

There will be a selection of concours awards up for grabs at each event with different categories and classes, and the arrangements for entering differ between organisers and venues. The common thread for show-goers is that if you can prebook and enter your bike for the displays in advance then you will be given discounted - and sometimes FREE - admission to the Show. All you need to do is turn up in time to put your bike on display and then you (and very often a chum too) can enjoy the rest of the day without splashing too much cash (unless the bargains in the jumble lead you astray, of course).

Contact the appropriate organiser and get yourself signed in for an RC event this Spring, and give our judges even more to cogitate over!

Sunday March 14th 2010

The MALVERN REALCLASSIC BIKE SHOW opens 10am to 4pm at the Three Counties Showground at Malvern (J7/8 off the M5 or J1 off M50). Big range of prizes from veteran through to 1980s motorcycles, including competition, European, American and classes for major British marques. Entries via 01484 452002 or

Sunday March 21st 2010

The SOUTH OF ENGLAND CLASSIC BIKE SHOW returns to the South of England Showground at Ardingly near Gatwick from 10am to 4pm. Enter your classic early because places for show bikes are limited, although there's plenty of parking if you just want to ride in on the day. See or call 01797 344277.


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