1925 Sunbeam Tiger - Ladybird


Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
March 21, 1926 Southport, Great Britain Henry Segrave Great Britain 4 Litre Sunbeam Ladybird
75 degree V-12
IC 152.30 mph (245.10 km/h) 149.32 mph (240.31 km/h)  

The Sunbeam Tiger was a racing car of the 1920s, built by Sunbeam of Wolverhampton. It was the last car to be competitive both as a land speed record holder, and as a circuit-racing car. Built for Major Henry Segrave to attempt the World Land Speed Record, held by Malcolm Campbell in Bluebird at 150.76 mph. The flat sands of the Southport were chosen for the attempt and on the 16th of March in in 1926, Segrave successfully took 'Tiger' to a record speed of 152.336 mph.

The chassis and bodywork of the Sunbeam were conventional for racing cars of their time.

The car's novelty lay with its engine. Sunbeam's 1925 Grand Prix engine had been a successful 2 litre straight-6 twin-overhead-cam. This car was to use a pair of the same block and head arrangements, mated to a single 75° vee crankcase to produce a 3,976 cc V12. Supercharging brought the power up to 306 hp (228 kW).

Henry Segrave was so keen to test the new car and engine that he took it to Brooklands in September 1925, still unpainted. A half-mile speed of 145 mph (233 km/h) was recorded. Minor works, including the bright red paint still notable today, were done over the winter.

Spring 1926 saw Segrave on the wide, flat beach at Southport. On 16 March 1926, with little fuss and few spectators, he and the bright-red car now named 'Ladybird' set a new land speed record at 152.33 mph (245.15 km/h). This was also the smallest-engined car ever to hold the Land Speed Record.

After the land speed record, the car returned to Grand Prix racing at Brooklands, Boulogne and San Sebastian. The 'Tiger' was taken back to the Works where twin superchargers were fitted and it began its long racing career. In July of 1926, Seagrave drove the car in the Spanish Grand Prix, unfortunately retiring while in 2nd place. In 1928, Kaye Don raced 'Tiger' and, over three seasons, broke twenty-four records, breaking the Brooklands' lap record on three occasions.

In 1932, Malcolm Campbell bought 'Tiger' and sister car 'Tigress' and continued to campaign the car at Brooklands and Shelsley Walsh and Brighton Speed Trials.

At the time of the land speed record attempt, the car was fitted with a narrow inlet cowling over the radiator, similar to that of the Sunbeam 350HP. For racing, a flat open radiator grille was used. The narrow cowling has re-appeared in preservation.

One sister car to Tiger was built and named Tigress.

It survives today, fitted with a Napier Lion engine and racing in British Vintage events as the "Sunbeam-Napier".

The Sunbeam Tiger is preserved today in Utah, restored to the streamlined radiator cowling fitted for record-breaking. As of 2006, the engine is reportedly being rebuilt after suffering foreign object damage whilst vintage racing, hence the static display in LSR trim.

In 1990, the now 65 year old Tiger re-created its record attempt, and succeeded in beating it at 159 mph (256 km/h).

In 1964 and 1972 the "Tiger" name was revived within the marque, first for a V8 version of the Sunbeam Alpine, the Sunbeam Tiger. Later it appeared on the more mundane Hillman Avenger Tiger, which resembled a tiger by being orange with black stripes, if little else.

V12, 2 banks 75°
3,976 cc
Bore x Stroke:
67 x 94 mm
306 bhp @ 5,300
Top Speed:

152.33 mph

National Motor Museum, Beaulieu/Hampshire, UK
National Motor Museum, Beaulieu/Hampshire, UK
National Motor Museum, Beaulieu/Hampshire, UK
Land Speed Record Nose
Land Speed Record Nose
Pebble Beach Concourse
Pebble Beach Concourse
Pebble Beach Concourse
Pebble Beach Concourse
Pebble Beach Concourse
Pebble Beach Concourse
Pebble Beach Concourse
In the workshop
On the track

John Marston registered the Sunbeam marque in 1888 with the intent on making bicycles. Between the years 1889 - 1901, the company dabbled in automobile making though none of their experiments were ever marketed. Their fist production attempt was in 1901 with the Sunbeam Mabley. It was powered by a single-cylinder engine with at most, three horsepower, and belt-driven rear wheels. Top speed was in the neighborhood of about 18 mph. At a price tag of 130 pounds, the company was able to find 420 buyers.

By 1905, the Sunbeam Motor Car Company officially separated from the motorcycle and bicycle section of their business and focused their attention and skill on automobile production. In 1909, the company hired Louis Coatalen as their chief design engineer. during this year the company was reorganized and all of their parts were not built in-house instead of relying on outside venders.

Louis Coatalen was of the belief that 'racing improves the breed.' Driven by this theory, four Sunbeam cars were entered in the 1912 French Grand Prix where they emerged in 3rd-5th position. A short time later, they captured the top three spots at the French Coupe De L'Auto.

Automobile production was halted during World War I, though the company did produce items in support of the war effort. Production resumed in 1919 at which point the company merged with Darraq of France, which had recently acquired Clement-Talbot. The result was the STD Motors. The production and racing cars produced were still badged as Sunbeams, Talbots and Darraqu's.

Sunbeams were used in various sporting competitions, and for land speed record attempts. The first land speed record in a Sunbeam was in 1922 at Brooklands. Kenelm Lee Guiness drove a Sunbeam powered by a V12 engine and producing 350 horsepower to an average speed of 133.75 MPH. The car was later renamed 'Bluebird' by Malcolm Campbell and another attempt was made, hoping to bring the average to 150 MPH. In 1924 Malcolm drove Bluebird at Pendine Sands to a record of 146.16 mph. Another attempt by Malcolm was made in 1925 where he finally reached his goal of 150 mph (150.87 mph).

Major Harry Segrave had much success with Sunbeam's in Grand Prix racing, winning the French Grand Prix in 1923 and the Spanish Grand Prix in 1924. In the mid-1920s he set out to break Campbell's land speed record. His car, originally dubbed 'Ladybird' and then 'Tiger', rose the record to 152.33 MPH at Southport in 1926.

In 1927 Sunbeam made their final attempt on the record with a a car powered by two V12 engines and having an available 1000 horsepower. The car was driven by Major Henry Seagrave to a record speed of 203.79 mph.

By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2007