by Brian Allison
Hello again boys and girls, time for another of Uncle Brian's bedtime stories.
I hope you've all behaved yourselves since the last story and not upset your teachers or Mummy and Daddy. I know Alison has been very good because her mummy told me that she had been helping her to bake a cake.
Talking about Sunbeams has given me an idea for tonight's story. So if you all snuggle down I'll tell you about a very special man who helped make Sunbeam cars famous.
Long, long ago in 1879, in a little town called Concarneau, in a country that has been responsible for some of the weirdest cars ever built, and also some of the most advanced ones too a little boy called Louis Coatalen was born. Yes David it was indeed France. Louis was very interested in all things mechanical and when he left school he got a job as an apprentice at a company called De Dion Bouton.
When Louis started his apprenticeship De Dion Bouton were producing steam driven vehicles and it wasn't until 1896 when Louis was 17 yrs old that they started making petrol powered ones. Louis was a very good apprentice and learned everything that he could about how the engines worked and all about how to design them.
In 1900 when Louis was 21 he decided to move to England to further his career and first worked for a company called "The great horseless carriage company".
You're right Phil, it would need to be a big badge to fit all that on wouldn't it? In spite of its fancy name, the company was mainly concerned with making fire engines, and very successfully too, but Louis only stayed there a year and in 1901 he started working for Humber cars in Coventry.
His design for the Humber 8-10 and 10-12 models proved very successful, and he progressed quickly to become Head of Engineering there. There's a photograph of a Humber 10-12 here for you to look at.
1906 was to prove a pivotal year for Louis, for it was then that he met William Hillman. William was a prosperous bicycle maker who wanted to go into car manufacturing. William like Louis was very interested in motor racing and they formed a partnership to build and race their own car.
Louis designed it and they called it the Hillman-Coatalen, Louis drove it in the Isle of Man tourist Trophy race in 1908. Yes Mark, the same place where they have the TT race for motorbikes now, but then it was the cars that attracted most attention. His partnership with William Hillman didn't last and in 1909 Louis felt it was time to move again.
One of the other English Midlands car makers in nearby Wolverhampton was a company called Sunbeam and that is where Louis moved to. The first car he designed for Sunbeam was called the 12-16 and was a terrific success. Sunbeam entered a team race called the "Coupe de l'auto" in 1912, in a place called Dieppe in France. The race was run over two days and at the finish the Louis designed cars filled the first three places in their class which was for 3 ltr. cars.
The first of the Sunbeams was also third in the Grand Prix class. A very, very good result and very good for business because lots of people heard about it and how good the Sunbeams were. A 12-16 also won the TT event in 1914 just before the first world war. That same year Louis became Joint Managing Director of Sunbeam and that only five years after joining the company.
During the war Louis concentrated on designing engines for the new aeroplanes that were needed for the fighting in France, so much so that when the war ended Sunbeam had made a bigger variety of engines than any one other company. Louis was highly praised for his work and considered to be the equal of W O Bentley and Sir Henry Royce in engine design. Yes Phil, that's right, they were the men who made Bentley and Rolls Royce cars.
After the war in 1922 Sunbeam again went racing and again won in the Isle of Man TT race. Then in 1923 they entered a Grand Prix car designed by Louis and a man called Ernest Henry in the French Grand Prix. They won that race and the following year they went back to France and did it again.
In 1923 and '24 they amassed no less than 17 class victories. You may have heard me mention one of their drivers before. His name was Henry Segrave. Very good Babs, he was indeed the same Henry Segrave who held the land speed record at one time.
In 1920 Sunbeam had gone into partnership with two long established French car makers called Clement-Talbot and Darracq forming a company known as STD Motors. Stop sniggering Leigh or you'll have no cake for a week.
During his time at Sunbeam Louis designed the engine for the 1925 land speed record attempt by Malcolm Campbell in his car which he called Bluebird, yes Mark, the same man who raced boats too, held on Pendine Sands in Wales.
Zebidee, will you please calm down. I know Mummy and Daddy have a caravan near there but there's no need to go completely mad. Now. where was I? Ah yes, I remember. Malcolm Campbell was successful in his attempt and in breaking the record became the first man to do 150mph thanks in no small part to Louis's engine.
Do you remember Henry Segrave who I told you about earlier? Very good because he was the next man to benefit from Louis's engine design in a land speed record attempt. In 1927 they had built a car which they called the "1,000 horse power Sunbeam". This had two of Louis's "Matabele" V12 aircraft engines and they took it to a place called Daytona Beach in America to make an attempt on the record.
They went to Daytona because the beach was even longer than Pendine, and yes Paul, the weather probably was much nicer too. They broke the record and whilst doing that Henry Segrave became the first man to drive at 200 mph. So Louis had provided the first engines to do 150 and 200 mph - some achievement.
Besides his expertise at engine design Louis was also one of the first car designers to fit front wheel brakes, and also to realise the importance of shock absorbers and balancing wheels. He's also generally regarded as the first to fit the engine oil pump in the sump.
When Louis retired in the mid 1930's he sold his shares in Sunbeam and bought a controlling interest in the French branch of the Lockheed hydraulic brake company. The money he earned from this allowed him to buy a yacht and a villa on the island of Capri in the Mediterranean Sea.
When Louis died suddenly in 1962 aged 82 while in Paris his fellow designer W.O. Bentley said "He was not only a first class businessman who made (and lost) a great deal of money in his active life with Sunbeams; he had other qualities which I liked even better; he was highly educated and amusing and a tremendous raconteur, and he was dedicated to motor racing".
Sunbeam expert Anthony S. Heal said "He led and inspired others to achieve miracles they themselves would not have thought possible."
So you see children, Louis Coatalen was a man who flourished in a foreign country and showed that with determination and optimism you can achieve great things.
Oh, one more thing before you go to sleep. Louis was a great cake lover just like you all are. In fact he liked wedding cake that much that he married four times. A true Frenchman as ever.
Night, night children . Sweet dreams of Sunbeams racing across golden sands.
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