The organising impetus of our founding genius, Fred Pinhard, was quickly felt and various Sunbeam events began to emerge.
It was six years into the Club’s existence (in 1930) when the first Pioneer Run® was organised and in the period that followed the Club had become one of the most active and respected of the many motorcycle clubs throughout the country. Famous members included TT winner Graham Walker, record breaker Eric Fernihough, the Heath brothers and Major George Hole.
Before 1930, events that were organised included a Brooklands Race meeting, the Sunbeam 200 (a 200 mile night trial) and the Underhay Cup Trial.
Fred Pinhard and his enthusiastic team maintained the Club’s momentum throughout the 1930’s and even post war up to his death in 1948.
Fred Pinhard also took under his wing Ralph Venables who imparted similar enthusiasm and impetus to the Club and successfully carried on the extraordinary sporting success of the Club until the mid 1960’s.
The Gatwick Sprints became extremely popular events, largely dominated by the breath-taking performances of Eric Fernihough who by then was also the Motorcycle World Speed Record holder. Also, the Sunbeam 200 secured a position as one of the country’s major reliability trials.
The Pioneer Run®
This immediately established itself as the premier event for pre-1915 veteran machines. However the start was moved from the 1930 venue at Croydon Aerodrome. firstly to the railway yard at Tattenham Corner, Epsom, then to Weybridge for 1936 and finally back to Tattenham Corner. Just for once in 1954 it was also started from Westminster, but the finish has usually been on Madeira Drive, Brighton, but one-off finishes were Peacehaven, Sussex and Paris!
To ensure that all machines taking part are genuine veterans, a register of all such machines was started in 1938, and only those machines on the register became eligible to enter the event, with a dating committee formed to check authenticity of machines going on the register. The Pioneer Register quickly became a major information source for pre-1915 motorcycles.
At the June 1931 committee meeting it was agreed to hold speed trials on a road at the Gatwick horse racing course, starting at 2.30pm on the 12th September. The event was open to members, with invitations sent to local motorcycle and light car clubs and catered for motorcycles, three wheelers and cars up to 850cc.
The course at Gatwick was a narrow tree-lined private approach road leading to the grand stand. It consisted of half a mile of dead straight tarred road.
During their time at Gatwick, The Sunbeam Club put on a total of 19 events, averaging two per year and a total of 4500 timed runs. The last sprint was in May 1939 when the nearby Gatwick Aerodrome was requisitioned by the Air Ministry for RAF use.
There was in fact one final event at Gatwick, which was at the aerodrome itself on 4th July 1940, but the only time the course was available was between 6.00am and 7,45am! The event was a trial race meeting, aimed at assessing the nine-tenths of a mile for future racing, it was never repeated.
After the demise of Gatwick the Club ran for many years the very successful twice yearly Ramsgate Sprints. Outstanding riders of the time were George Brown on his Vincent, Charlie Rouse, Howard German, and Barry Briggs. Ramsgate was run between 1956 and 1968.
Too Many Events?
During the 1930’s the Sunbeam Club recognised that two problems were emerging owing to the abundance of trials events that were being organised by the many motor-cycle clubs.
Firstly, event results depended so very much on having reliable marshals and observers to control and administer sections of the trial and secondly, some areas were being used so regularly that local residents were beginning to object. After World War 2 a unique band of unselfish volunteers was formed – The Sunbeam Observer Corps – for up to 38 of the year’s 52 weekends, this dedicated group offered their services free of charge to all motorcycle trial organisers, and soon became highly respected experts, this service continued right into the late 1960’s.
To solve the problem of the over-use of ‘popular’ sections, the Sunbeam Club took the initiative by suggesting the formation of The Star Group in the home counties SW of London, which began to impose a co-ordination of dates and routes in the affected areas, under the auspices of the ACU. The club is still actively involved with The Star Group, and annually runs one of the events in the Championship series – The Gordon Jackson Trial.
Sunbeam won The Star Group Award for the club accruing the most points in the series in the years 1950 to 1956 (seven in a row) plus 1987, 1989 and 1992, and 1998, 1999 and 2000.
The Star Group exemplifies keen rivalry between the competing clubs, carried out in a fair and friendly manner with a truly sporting attitude.
The Greybeards Trial was launched on 3rd September 1959. It was restricted to riders who had competed in trials before World War Two, the event was an unqualified success and needless to say it became an annual fixture. Over the years as entries began to dwindle the eligibility was changed, and entries accepted from riders over 40 years of age. The Greybeards is still an important trial in the Club’s calendar.
In 1930, a speech by Graham Walker, Chairman and later President, at the annual dinner, claimed the club’s motto was “Always Ahead” believing that the club was at the forefront of arousing motorcycle interest.
…Still as Active as Ever. New Ground, in more recent years.
As well as maintaining traditions, the Sunbeam MCC has broken new ground in organising the week-long event for pre-1940 machines known as Welsh Week. This event is based at Radnor Revivals, Llanbister, mid Wales and caters for up to 50 motorcyclists and their partners. It has attained an enviable ‘homely’ reputation.
Other events added to the calendar are the highly successful Garden of England Run, based at Headcorn Airfield in Kent. The New Conyboro Run at Chiddingly in Sussex followed closely as a popular one day event. Further afield is the Graham Walker Memorial Run, centred at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, Hampshire, and the Rose of the Shires Run based at Stoke Bruerne, Northants, the Constable Run in East Anglia and the September Challenge in Yorkshire for veteran and vintage (pre 1931) machines only. Further new events include Rose of Torridge – Devon, Northern Pioneer Road Test – Yorkshire, Romney Marsh Run – Kent, Bolney Vintage Run – Sussex and Summer Pioneer Run – Sussex
Additionally there are two other closed to club three day bi-annual residential events – the Warwickshire weekend and the Shropshire Mid-week break offering riding in picturesque parts of England for pre 1940 machines.
On the sporting trials side we have three events organised annually – The Gordon Jackson Trial, The Gingerbeards Trial and The Greybeards Trial (for riders over 40 years old).
In 2013 the Pioneer Run® celebrated its 75th aniversary but sadly the event was cancelled due to snow and ice on the route and at Epsom.
A Tribute to some Sunbeam stalwarts
Recognition must be accorded to Lt. Col ‘Tiny’ Ayers, for when he joined the committee in 1981 the club was not well managed and finances were in a sorry state. It was through ‘Tinys’ stewardship and later Chairmanship, that the finances were put on a progressive footing. In addition, his organisation of the Pioneer Run® between 1982 and 1997 assisted and encouraged by his wife Marjorie, also one of our past presidents, has both preserved and improved the premier event.
To Ralph Venables MBE, who made a sizeable loan with no strings attached during the CIub’s financial ‘dark years’- also from the 1930’s to the 1960’s for his outstanding organisation of some hundreds of the club’s events.
To Dick Little for his enthusiasm as Trials Secretary from the 1970’s to the turn of the century. He was also Club Secretary and later became President.
To Ray Newton, who applied his technical ability to vastly upgrade the Club News from a monthly couple of Roneod sheets in 1985 to a very professional bi-monthly magazine which in itself has greatly improved the standing and membership, Ray edited the news for some 8 years and performed the technical side for 20 years.
Amongst the many famous sporting riders of the past a more recent name is trials ace Gordon Jackson who rode for the club for a number of years and was also Club Captain.
Today, more than 90 years later… The Sunbeam Club is proud to:
- Organise the Pioneer Run®, it continues to be the worlds largest gathering of veteran (pre 1915) machines – with annually, over 370 entries going from Epsom to Brighton.
- Compile, through its dating committee the Pioneer Register, which has become the definitive reference for accurately dating pre-1915 motorcycles with a comprehensive record system and a wealth of related documents.
- Remember Fred Pinhard with the annual Pinhard Prize which is awarded to the young motorcyclist (under 21years) from an ACU affiliated club, who is adjudged to have made the most meritorious achievement in motorcycle sport in the preceding year. The Pinhard Prize has been a veritable ‘Hall of Fame’ for over 50 years.
- Organise the Graham Walker Memorial Run, which has become a popular event for pre-1940 machines. Appropriately, this event starts from the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu where Graham Walker was the motorcycle curator after completing so many years as a top Sunbeam and Rudge works rider. He won the 1928 Ulster Grand Prix and was part of the winning TT Sunbeam club team in 1931 and 1932, and was for many years Sunbeam Club Chairman and later President.
We shall continue to organise numerous events for veteran, vintage and post vintage (pre 1940) machines plus modern and classic motorcycle sporting trials. Strangely, over the many years of club events, the weather seems to shine down on the club with dire weather on either side of the event, this is referred to as “Sunbeam” weather, long may it continue.