Kings car
Kings car
King Edward's 1936 Sunbeam Thirty Phaeton

Sunbeam the King sent back

MORE than 150 classic cars lined the grounds of the Cottesloe Civic Centre,  none more intriguing than the 1936 Sunbeam Thirty Phaeton once owned by King Edward VIII.

The occasion was Western Australia’s annual Celebration of the Motor Car.

Presented to His Highness by the Rootes Group immediately after the London Motor Show, the Sunbeam was a magnificent machine, with body by Thrupp and Maberley, and had a 4.5-litre straight-eight motor.

But the King abdicated the throne soon after and the car was sent back to the Rootes Group, from where it emerged a little later – but with a six-cylinder engine, a different grille, and different badging.

The company had rebirthed the Sunbeam as a Humber Imperial.


Was the company siding with the British aristocracy, which was very much against the King’s plan to marry thrice-divorced US citizen Wallis Simpson?

Or did it regard the King’s Buick as a slap in the face?

King Eddie had bought a Canadian-built Buick from Lendrum & Hartman in London, shortly before he took delivery of the Sunbeam, and specified that it be fitted with  drinks cabinets, vanity mirrors, reading lights, correspondence facilities, radio, smokers cabinet, jewellery cabinet and lunch trays.

He abdicated in December, 1936, shipped the Buick to France and drove it for the next three years.

It was sold quite recently with 0 km on its odo for about $200,000, complete with its original log book, stating the first owner to he “H.M. The King, St James’s Palace, SW1”, and a photo album to the point when it was handed over to the King.

The Humber ended up in Western Australia’s York Motor Museum and was later bought and restored by its private owner.

Other cars of that era included a 1935 Riley Sprite, one of five built for the Le Mans 24-Hour (it finished fourth), a superb MG NA of 1934, with a supercharged 1271cc six-cylinder engine, a newly-restored Alfa Romeo 6C of the early 1930s, a big variety of Bentleys from WOs to later models and a lovely 1939 Citroen six-cylinder with sweeping cabrio coachwork.

The Bartlett Special, based on a 1927 Salmson, was there with its impressive tally of achievements, including the lap record of 115 mph for the Brooklands Mountain Track in 1932, lap record for the Albany Round the Houses of 1936 a second spot in the 1946 Victory Grand Prix and a win in 1948 at Caversham.

It has an 1100cc twin-cam engine and remains a frequent competitor in local regularity events.

There was an immaculate 1948 Talbot Lago Suprofile coupe and other Euro rarities included  a 1983 Matra Murena, an Alpine 110 and a 1951 Mercedes 170VA that started life as a sedan in Singapore, arrived in Australia in 1966 with (0 km) on its odometer, lay forgotten in a shed for decades and was rescued in 2008.

It has since been restored, converted to a cabriolet and its odo now reads (0 km).

American cars were well represented with several Cadillacs, one of them a 1953 El Dorado which was used for President Eisenhower’s inauguration, a drop-dead gorgeous 1928 Caddy Roadster with a 341 cubic inch V8 and all-synchro gearbox and a 1939 convertible, one of 27 made in the weeks before the start of WWII.

A 1970 Plymouth Superbird, homologated for racing in the US, showed early attempts at aerodynamics with its sleek snoot and an outrageous rear wing – but they made quite a difference.

There was also an early Chevrolet Corvette, from the first batch of mass-produced models in 1954, with two-speed automatic transmission.

Cars in competition livery included an E-Type Jaguar replica of Briggs Cunningham and Bob Grossman’s 1963 attempt at Le Mans and a Lancia Fulvia presented as Sandro Munari’s 1972 win in the Monte Carlo Rally.

Most expensive car on show was a LaFerrari Aperta. There were many other Ferraris and Maseratis, a rare De Tomaso Guara with less than 1000km on its odometer and the sole example in the southern hemisphere of the brand’s last model, a McLaren, some Lotus variants – and a Renault Twizy electric car, its chilling message: Power the future.

And finally, there was a neat 1950 Riley RM drophead that once served as a makeshift truck, carrying building materials, and got a coat of brush-applied yellow paint before it was saved from further abuse.

It was restored, refurbished, freshly loved and has rewarded its saviours with many miles of joyous travel.

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