Porsche on Two Wheels: Sunbeam-Porsche Motorcycle

I’m working outside the UK at the minute, catching some winter sun in Fuerteventura. As ever, I’ve brought a few books along in case of long lunches, including ‘We are Porsche’: Ferry Porsche’s first autobiography, written with John Bentley in the early 1970s.

I’ve read this book many times, as Ferry’s words both inspire and encourage. All freelancers face constant changes and challenges, which can often feel insurmountable. Ferry’s story demonstrates that, no matter what life throws in one’s path, patient perseverance will find a solution. Hard work and the occasional retreat to simple pleasures can power body and mind through tough situations.

Ferry Porsche and his BMW Motorcycle

As a young man, one of Ferry’s simplest pleasures was motorcycling. At the age of eighteen, Ferry got his motorcycle licence and shares how the independence of increased mobility brought new opportunities to meet girls. “I no longer had to rely on the family car to get me from one place to another in a hurry,” he recalls. “The motorbike I then used was a 500cc BMW and this proved useful in more ways than one.”

Ferry Porsche BMW motorcycle

This would have been circa 1927, making Ferry’s bike an R42: Max Fitz’s blueprint for just about every BMW road bike made afterwards. Pristine R42s now sell for big money – £40k or more – so Ferry’s mount was well chosen. Given Doctor Porsche’s interest in BMW motorcycles, I wonder what he’d make of the machine seen here, being offered by Bonhams at its Paris sale on February 4th: a 1952 Sunbeam S8, with Ferry Porsche power.

BSA bought the rights to Sunbeam’s motorcycle business in 1943 and revived the brand after the war, when it was given German motorcycle designs as part of the war reparations. Based on the BMW R75, the Sunbeam S7 had a pre-war-designed inline twin which left it low on power, and its successor, the Sunbeam R8 was apparently not much better.

Porsche Engine in a Motorcycle Frame

In 1969, the then owner of this S8 decided to upgrade the power with a 1200cc motor from a Volkswagen Beetle. This was not the ultimate incarnation, as he subsequently ditched the Beetle engine, replacing it with a 1955 1300cc Porsche motor featuring bespoke cast aluminium bellhousing and rocker covers.

Sunbeam Porsche motorcycle 2

The Sunbeam’s first outing was to the 1972 BMF show, where it caused a sensation. MCN’s John Ebbrell tested the bike for the paper, and the Sunbeam was also shown at Olympia, fitted with Amal concentric carburettors a la Triumph and others. A BMW tank was added later, along with Norton Roadholder forks and some other cool touches, including a Vincent Black Shadow speedometer.

For sale due to the advancing age of its owner, the Sunbeam was offered at Bonhams’ last sale in the RAF Museum at Hendon where it failed to find a new home. Given that the price aspirations seem sensible (£9.5k), I was surprised by this, so I emailed Bill To at Bonhams to get his thoughts on why such an interesting piece failed to sell.”We were a little surprised ourselves, but I guess that’s the nature of public auctions: we just don’t know what to expect on the day,” said Bill.

I’m not the world’s biggest vintage bike fan, but I do like this. If it’s something you are also inspired by, get yourself to Paris on February 4th, or contact Bonhams to register as a bidder. I want a ride if you buy it!

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