WORDS: ELLIOTT HUGHES | PHOTOS: NATIONAL MOTOR MUSEUM
The Sunbeam, or ‘Slug’, as it’s often known, was powered by two gigantic 22.4-litre V12 aero engines, each producing around 450bhp. This allowed Sir Henry Segrave to achieve a Land Speed Record of 203.7mph at Daytona Beach in 1927, making both man and machine the first to eclipse the 200mph threshold. The restoration is being carried out to mark the centenary of Segrave’s achievement, in 2027.
It’s the world’s first 200mph screwdriver!
The restoration is now well underway, and lead engineer Ian Stanfield has discovered artefacts that have remained encased in oil within the Sunbeam for a century. The finds include a vintage screwdriver and adjustable spanner used by Sunbeam mechanics in period, as well as a 1921 shilling. Ian spoke to Magneto about the discoveries, and provided some updates on the restoration progress.
“We discovered the screwdriver inside one of the oil tanks, after we took the engines out having found internal corrosion,” he explained. “The Sunbeam ran on Castrol R, which is a vegetable-based oil, and once you get it hot, it then solidifies once it cools – a bit like cooking fat.
“To get rid of the Castrol R, we submerged the oil tanks in hot water and detergent for several days until it began to flow out. Once the oil had gone, we discovered that one of the oil tanks was rattling, and we couldn’t understand why. So we kept shaking this oil tank, until eventually this screwdriver fell out,” Ian recalled.
But why would a screwdriver be inside the Sunbeam’s oil tanks in the first place? “One of the engineers would have been using it as a dipstick, and then accidentally dropped it into the filler neck of the tank. Because of where it was, there was no way he was going to get it out, so it has been trapped in there since 1927.”
That means it’s likely that the screwdriver was in the car’s oil tank while Segrave made his historic Land Speed Record attempt at Daytona. “It’s the world’s first 200mph screwdriver,” Ian chuckled. “The screwdriver wouldn’t have affected the engine, because the oil would have just flowed around it.”
The restoration team’s recent work has involved removing the body panels and cleaning the chassis so that it can be protected from corrosion. This painstaking process led to yet more recent discoveries.
“I came across a little adjustable spanner that was effectively glued to the chassis with Castrol R. After that I found a little shilling coin dated 1921, stuck to one of the rear springs. We’re going to display everything we have found in the museum as part of the history of the car.”
The Sunbeam Restoration Campaign aims to raise £300,000 to help fund the historic project, which aims to mark the centenary of Segrave’s land speed record and help preserve it for future generations. You can donate to the campaign here.