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It does 30mph, has a rich history - and it's yours for £180,000

A rare car bought new for just £525 by a Royal Navy captain is up for auction 100 years later - and is expected to fetch up to £180,000.

The 1903 Sunbeam four-cylinder rear-entrance Tonneau is so rare that only around 75 of its type were made by Sunbeam - and only three are known to have survived.

According to auctioneers Bonhams: 'The car was supplied new to Captain Sir Robert Arbuthnot RN, of Beach Mansion, Southsea.

Arbuthnot had been promoted to captain in 1902 and required a car befitting his new status.

In October 1904, he campaigned this car in the Portsmouth Car Trials.

Sir Robert celebrated his 40th birthday in 1904, so the gleaming new Sunbeam may well have been a birthday present to himself.

It was certainly one of the very first cars to have a number plate. Number plates were introduced on January 1, 1904, as cars became licensed for the first time on that date. The original number plate on this Sunbeam was E1 8, which Sir Robert had registered in County Sligo, Ireland, on January 18, 1904.

Sir Robert, who became Aide-de-Camp to King George V in 1911 or 1912, was thrilled with his new Sunbeam, which he bought for five hundred guineas, or 525 in modern money.

On October 15, 1904, after six months of care-free driving, he penned a warm tribute to the car, which Sunbeam reproduced in their 1905 sales catalogue.

He wrote: 'I have now run my 12hp Sunbeam car since April, a distance of 3,827 miles and I am extremely pleased with the car in every way. The engine has given absolutely no trouble... two Sundays ago, I climbed a very steep hill, having one in six and a half in it, with the canopy and five passengers easily.'

Sir Robert's Sunbeam featured all the latest Edwardian gadgetry such as three brakes including 'the usual sprag to avoid running backwards'.

This was a steel spike pushed down into the road surface.

The car was capable of travelling 'eight to 30mph without changing high gear' and '25 miles of average roads require only one gallon of petrol.'

Just 12 years after buying his Sunbeam, Sir Robert was tragically killed, along with the entire crew of HMS Defence, at the age of 52 on May 31, 1916, at the Battle of Jutland, the biggest and bloodiest sea battle of the First World War, in which more than 8,500 men were killed.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says 'Arbuthnot's end was spectacular and, while none can deny his great gallantry, the sacrifice of his life and over a thousand of his men was unnecessary.'

Sunbeam was founded at Wolverhampton in 1899.

Sir Robert Arbuthnot's Sunbeam will be auctioned at Bonhams in London on Friday, November 5.

 
 
 

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