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SNAPSHOT 109: The Canon’s 1934 Sunbeam Speed Twenty

Canon Norburn was Vicar of Bolton in the 1950s, when his son was a school class-mate of your contributor. This Sunbeam 1934 Speed Twenty pillar-less sports saloon was the Canon’s daily car and many were the times that it was to be seen cruising down past our school in Chorley New Road, the Canon travelling in style and always at speed, between the vicarage and the Parish Church. One especially memorable day saw the Sunbeam creating huge bow-waves of slush, as a thaw had set in, melting a heavy snowfall.

Fred Dibnah, the celebrated steeplejack and gifted presenter of television programmes about steam and the engineers of the Victorian era, and the Canon were – possibly unlikely – pals. He is mentioned  in several of Fred’s books, as the job that really established Fred was re-gilding the Parish Church’s weather-vane. Thereafter, Fred never looked back. Fred and the Canon had a great mutual understanding and shared an interest in the history of technology. The Canon was deeply into old firearms, and an active gun club member.

About 1961 the Sunbeam was advertised, and then sold. The clutch was slipping and the Canon was finding the increasing amount of attention the car needed irksome. At that time, your contributor was busy restoring his first vintage car, and heard that the Canon’s sizeable stock of old and new 20-inch tyres had been left behind and he wanted them out of his way. The outcome was their purchase, plus many odoriferous red and black inner tubes, and selling them on helped fund a shoe-string restoration.

Not very much later, the Sunbeam was seen standing out by a recently-demolished cotton mill, in much the same area of Bolton. It was looking mildly vandalised and very forlorn. A fellow SAHB member and Sunbeam aficionado reports that the chassis survives, but today is clothed in one of those “Le Mans-type” fabric sports tourer bodies – and also that the sports saloon body exists but on a different Sunbeam chassis. So it is good to learn that both the chassis and the body remain, even if no longer locked in happy union.


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