1913 Sunbeam Indianapolis 500 Car

1913 Sunbeam Racer (photo credit: LT)

A friend passed along a couple very interesting pictures of two Sunbeam race cars. The first image we see here is a 1913 Sunbeam factory car. The English firm, Sunbeam Motorcar Company Ltd. was established in 1905 for the purpose of manufacturing automobiles (a separate entity under the same parent made bicycles and motorcycles). The firm's outlook for motor racing grew with the addition of chief engineer Louis Coatalen who soon had the company fielding competitive cars. I've written about the firm's experimentation with a 12-cylinder, aero-engine car raced at Brooklands, and later here in the United States (owned for a time by the Adams Brothers). 

This car, however, is an example of a modified 1913 car (to race at the Indianapolis 500). Fresh off a 1, 2, 3 finish in the 1912 French GP, Coatalen built 5 of these 6-cylinder cars for the 1913 French GP. A repeat performance was not in the cards, as they were handily beaten by the ground-breaking Peugeot cars. Coatalen would modify a few of these cars (shortening the wheelbase, and changing the rear body work to accommodate a larger fuel tank) and run the 1913 international race in Indianapolis (the Indy 500). Sunbeam would return in 1914 with a new design - loosing to a Delage, now in the Indianapolis Museum. After the loss at the French GP, Coatalen purchased one the 1913 Peugeot racers and disassemble it at the factory - reverse engineering the car and creating a very similar car for Sunbeam to campaign in 1914 (see the companion post on the 1914 Sunbeam racer). It was this new design that Coatalen would bring to Indy in 1915 - but I'm getting ahead of myself. 

It seems the 1913 Indianapolis cars were sold after the race, as was the case with "used race cars" at the time (after the factory was through with them). This car (and I believe one other) seem to end up in the hands of William Ziegler Jr. - a wealthy racing patron of the day. The Motor Age of May 13, 1915 reports that Ziegler sold the cars to the Fortuna Racing Team of New York.  I've not been able to find out much about this group, but Fortuna hired Harry Grant (Harold Fletcher Grant, 1877 - 1915) to campaign this car in 1915 (was Grant part owner of this team?).  Grant was a well known and successful American Driver. In fact, He had been hired by Sunbeam to drive in the 1914 Indianapolis 500 after his win at the Vanderbilt Cup race. 

The 1915 Indy 500 saw the Sunbeam factory enter their Tourist Trophy winning cars, as well as Fortuna entering two 1913 Sunbeam cars. I believe Grant ran the car seen here with Carl Limberg piloting the other. An interesting side note is that Limberg couldn't find the speed to qualify the car and Barney Oldfield had to actually qualify the car (Oldfield then withdrew so Limberg could re-take his seat). 

Harry Grant driving the 1913 Sunbeam racer at the 1915 Indy 500 (photo credit: Ivan Wheaton)

Grant (in the number 14) would end up going out on lap 184 (oil pan). After Indy Fortuna brought the Sunbeams east and Grant raced the same car at the new Narragansett Park Speedway just outside of Providence, RI. Grant ran the 25 mile race and went out with spark plug issues. A month later Harry Grant would crash a Maxwell racer trying to qualify for the Astor Cup - he died of his injuries a week later.  

This picture was taken in 1915 at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI. Grant had strong connections to Providence having first racing for ALCO (who's factory was in Providence). Is it possible the car was owned by Grant at the time or sold to someone in Providence after the Narragansett Speedway race? If you know more about this car, please leave me a comment.

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