The Sun that never set

March 21, 2023

All motorcycles are interesting, as well we know. But some come with history that brings an extra element to their stories. This is one such machine, as John Milton discovers.

Many motorcycles pass through the small but ever-busy workshop of the Sammy Miller Museum, and each has its own story. But this 1913 Sun Precision has a history more poignant than most.

Sun, like so many of its Birmingham contemporaries in the early years of the 20th century, was originally a bicycle manufacturer and only built its first motorised cycle in 1911, some 26 years after it started life as the Sun Cycle and Fittings Company. Fortuitously, just two streets away from the Sun works in Aston Brook Street, Frank Baker had established his Precision engine factory with the intent of challenging the then all-conquering JAP. While he had the set-up to build engines, he was unable to make frames, but Sun – thanks to its profitable cycle side and heavy investment in machinery – had among the best facilities in the world…

Within a year of its first model, Sun was offering a wide range of Precision-engined machines, although by 1913 it would also offer a 349cc Villiers four-stroke and a 269cc Villiers two-stroke. Precision stopped engine production during the First World War and when Sun reappeared after the cessation of hostilities it was with its own VTS Valveless Two Stroke) and other proprietary engines.

But the 1913 Sun Precision with its 587cc engine caught the imagination of many young men, including a youth who would only enjoy his new purchase briefly before being called up to serve in France in 1914. Before he left, he immobilised the Sun Precision and then left it in a shed in the garden of his girlfriend, Cora Lockwood, who lived in Bridge Street in Fakenham, Norfolk. It’s thought he might have worked on the railways as the shed in which the Sun was parked was entirely made of sleepers and although he must have imagined it would only be a short-term home for the bike, the shed was well constructed and secure – something that would turn out to be rather serendipitous.

Unlike many of his less fortunate comrades-in-arms, the young man survived the war and returned home to claim both his motorcycle and his girl. But Cora’s father had other ideas and refused to allow the marriage, even though Cora was by now in her early twenties. Not only did the rejected chap leave behind his heart, he also left his Sun Precision (and it would be fascinating to know why he never returned for what was a relatively new and valuable machine).

Cora never married. She refused to let anyone near the shed for years, perhaps hoping that maybe her beau would come back for it – and for her. Finally, almost 50 years later, she allowed the Sun to be passed on to a Mr Evan Williams of Norwich. Mr Williams discovered that there were a number of parts missing, including the pedals to start the bike, from when the young soldier had disabled it for storage. It seems that her boyfriend may have taught Cora to ride the Sun for she had memories of running alongside the bike to start it and then jumping on.

Another 40 years would pass before work started on bringing the Sun Precision back to life, with the idea of making it run rather than roadworthy. The frame was found to be out of line and was straightened using belt centres as datum, so enabling a belt to be used as a slipping clutch. The rear hub had been locked and when this was dismantled it was found to be a Villiers clutch and freewheel unit, with clutch plates and springs which could have been operated by a device similar to a modern handlebar speed selector. This utilised a further set of opposing springs – in short, an engineering nightmare.

When Cora parted with the Sun, she was promised that it would be treasured – as she had clearly done for many years – and rebuilt to its former glory. Thanks to Jim Devereux, Sammy’s chief mechanic, that has now happened and the Sun Precision will now be on display in the Sammy Miller Museum, testament to Birmingham engineering and an enduring love story.

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