Sundowner' 14 HP Bean car driven by Francis Birtles

Exhibited in the National Museum of Australia in Canberra

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Replica of the 1924 'Scarlet Runner'

 

 

FRANCIS BIRTLES is well know for travelling vast distances in the early part of the twentieth century across Australia initially by bicycle and later by car.  He used Bean vehicles for several journeys both in Australia and on trips from London to Sydney.

The main journeys made with Beans were:

 

 

THE SCARLET RUNNER

 

This was a Bean Fourteen painted scarlet. Scarlet Runner is also the name of a variety of the edible runner bean. 

Birtles, Malcolm Ellis (a motoring journalist) and Simpson (a Bean mechanic), made the trip from Sydney to Darwin and back a distance of 6278 miles, a journey never before attempted in a motor car.

They left Sydney on 4 June 1924 and returned on 21 August 1924.

 

 

THE SUNDOWNER & THE TRUCK

 

In 1926 Birtles made a second trip in a second Bean Fourteen. This Bean was specially prepared for the journey in England. The car was a two seater, had a lightened chassis with drilled holes, higher ground clearance, smaller windscreen and had larger fuel tank fitted in Australia. It was painted in camouflage colours (originally,it was also scarlet). The engine had timing gears in place of the usual chains. The journey from Darwin to Melbourne was to promote the Bean Fourteen and introduce the new Bean truck (the 20-25 hp) to the Australian market. Birtles was accompanied by Alec Barlow, the son of Bean’s Australian agent. The Fourteen was to become known as the Sundowner.

On September 20ththe vehicles left Melbourne in convoy for Sydney whence the car was shipped to Darwin. Birtles and Barlow used the truck to examine the route and leave fuel supplies for the car’s journey back. They reach Darwin on October 15th, two days before the car arrived.

The car left Darwin on October 23rdand arrived in Melbourne on October 30th, eight days and 13 hours later, averaging nearly 400 miles per day. The truck arrived back on 17thDecember.

 

 

IMPERIAL SIX

 

In February 1927 Birtles left London to drive to Australia a distance of 16000 miles. He was accompanied by Malcolm Ellisand Billy Knowles. Bean had produced a prototype six cylinder vehicle whose durability was to be demonstrated by the long distance and rough terrain. The Imperial Six, as it was named, was untested and departure was delayed by late delivery of the car. Birtles was undeterred and the trip left a month late. The unproven vehicle was beset by numerous problems and the crew beset by illness but nevertheless managed to reach Delhi where the trip ended. The late start and repeated mechanical problems meant that the Monsoon had started rendering large areas ahead impassable.

 

 

THE SUNDOWNER

 

Birtles set out again from London to travel to Sydney on 19 October 1927 but this time in his well proven Sundowner and alone. In Calcutta which he left on 15thJanuary, he picked up a hitch hiker, Peter Stollery. The journey into Burma through the Naga Hills was extraordinarily difficult and where only one mile a day was covered. The crown wheel was reversed to give a very low forward gear. The car was frequently winched up and down extreme gradients and mountain tracks with sheer drops had to be widened in places. It took nearly 3 month to reach Rangoon on 10thApril. The car was shipped from Lower Burma to Penang and then from Singapore to Darwin where it arrived on 10thJune to be impounded by customs.

The car reached Sydney on 15thJuly.

The 16,000 mile journey took 9 months and 5 days.

 

Note: The Sundowner was given to the Federal Government of Australia and is now in the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

 

 

 

FURTHER READING:

 

Express to Hindustan by Malcolm Ellis

The Bean by Jonathan Wood

Battle Fronts of Outback by Francis Birtles

The Sundowner Bean Car by John Clark (published by National Museum of Australia)

Five Roads to Danger by T R Nicholson

The Long Lead by M H Ellis

Across Unknown Australia by Michael Terry

The Story of Australian Motoring by Keith Winser

An Epic of the Outback by A A Barlow.

 

Bean Magazines, Numbers:

127, 143, 262, 263, 275, 276, 278, 283, 296

 

 

 

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BIRTLES & BEAN