Even in England’s ‘Black Country’, the sun does still shine. Aptly, then, Sunbeam’s factory was located there – in Wolverhampton, West Midlands. From the outset – in 1912 – the company gained a name for classy, reliable motorcycles. They were renowned as “gentlemen’s machines”. The S8 was certainly one of them. It was made between ’49 and ’56. Innovation was thrown in, too, for good measure. The first Sunbeam, for example, featured a fully-enclosed chain – keeping both bike and rider clean. Assuming the owner had oiled his chain, that is!
It is fair to say that the S8’s predecessor – the Sunbeam S7 – did not exactly smother itself in glory. It was comfortable, certainly – but that was about it. The S7 was overweight, lacked manoeuvrability – and its brakes were not the best. Those deficiencies were redressed – to some extent, at least – by the S7 De Luxe version. It fell to the S8, though, to get the good ship Sunbeam fully seaworthy again.
The S8 was a sports bike. That was only to be expected. After all, development engineer George Dance set speed records on Sunbeams. And, in the early Twenties, Sunbeam won the Senior TT – twice. As far back as 1913, a single-cylinder 3.5bhp Sunbeam raced to success. The twin-cylinder S8, then, was the latest in a string of performance-based Sunbeams. Plainly, S8 stylist Erling Poppe had been inspired by BMW’s R75. Indeed, rights to the German-built bike had been passed to BSA – as part of war reparations. Then, in ’43, BSA acquired Sunbeam – from AMC. Under Poppe’s design aegis, the S8 shed the portliness of the S7. Plus, it now sported a solid set of front forks. Even the exhaust note had been modified for the S8 – to something more sonorous. Top speed was a heady 85mph. Handling had come on leaps and bounds … not literally, of course! So, all things considered, the Sunbeam S8 shone a warm ray of light on its Black Country roots.