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“In the Alpine the needs of a sports motorist with a young family are met. It is attractive, stable, safe, and unquestionably fast in spite of the emphasis placed on long-distance comfort. The world’s markets are overdue for such a car.” The Autocar, 4th September 1959
Praise indeed and well deserved especially when one factors in the meagre development budget at the disposal of the Sunbeam engineers in the austerity of the 1950s. Faced with exactly the same challenges (a lack of budget) and opportunities (the sports car hungry “world market”, specifically the USA) as their rivals at BMC, their solution was not dissimilar. The demand for quirky (but not too quirky for the mass market both companies needed to crack) British roadsters from returned Second War forces personnel was immense but necessity being the mother of invention meant some clever lateral thinking was needed in lieu of the sort of funding required to bring a clean sheet of paper design to fruition. Instead the engineers took a walk through the Rootes Group’s Ryton-on-Dunsmore factory stores and helped themselves to anything they needed off the shelf so to speak. Pre-existing components from albeit well engineered mainstream products such as the Rapier and Husky were blended into a cocktail aimed squarely at the Americas, right down to its tail fins and generous (by plain-jane Brit standards) amounts of chrome plating. This left enough in the piggy bank to splash out on the performance goodies such as disk brakes and a new alloy cylinder head with twin carburettors which ensured the Alpine had the stop and go of a true sports car.
With the likes of The Autocar praising the Alpines dynamics - its relatively short wheelbase making it a wieldy device while 78 BHP ensured the magic 100 MPH was within touching distance (Motor fell just 0.5 short, The Autocar managed a 101 one way best) - its style credentials were endorsed when it became the very first Bond car, appearing in 1962’s Dr No as the hire car of choice for the too cool for school 00 agent; some might argue its ability to duck under inconveniently placed articulated lorries also helped with its selection but its impact had been made.
Competition has always a strong suit for Sunbeams going back to the ‘1000 HP’ Land Speed Record holder of 1927 and the previous generation Alpine (the clue is in the name) acquitted itself admirably in 1950s rallying in the hands of, among others, Stirling Moss and Sheila van Damm. The 1959 onwards series of Sunbeam Alpines continued to have some rallying success despite larger engined competition from Austin Healey and Triumph with Rosemary Smith’s Coupe des Dames win on the 1963 Tour de France most notable. International circuit racing highlights include winning the Index of Thermal Efficiency at Le Mans in 1961 while multiple successes came in the Sports Car Club of America’s production oriented series’. Back in Blighty, Bernard Unett secured the prestigious pinnacle of club racing Fredy Dixon Challenge Trophy in 1964 with his ex-Works Alpine prototype.
As is often the way with cars that have been racers for many years, little is known of this Sunbeam’s early life though the V5C on file records just six keepers since it was registered on June 22nd 1964, with at least half of these being referenced on various invoices with the car. We are indebted to the very engineer, Mr Jon Finnemore, who rebuilt the Alpine as a race car back in the late 1990s, for details of the build and its history since; he tells us it was a fantastically well developed machine which utilised an ex-California rust-free body shell and incorporated a wealth of trick running gear bits and pieces. Around the turn of the millennium the Alpine raced at Sebring courtesy of an invitation from that bastion of Historic motorsport, Bernie Chodosh and it participated in the
In January 2005 the racer was sold at the Cheffins Autosport Show auction and later that year it was offered for sale on ebay (other online classic car auction business' are available) as a taxed and MOT tested ‘Top Hat/ Goodwood’ racer and it was purchased by a surgeon, Graham Barker of Kingston-upon-Thames. Over the next ten years the Sunbeam was raced extensively with the AMOC in their ‘50s Sports Cars series (eligible as the Series I came out in 1959) and in the Sunbeam Challenge.
Over the years Mr Barker spent a not inconsiderable amount of money keeping the Alpine in tip top, race ready condition. Some minor body and paintwork was carried out in 2009 by Sunbeam Supreme and the car was run by preparation and race support specialists Davron. The impressive specification included but was not limited to an all steel engine, five speed T9 gearbox sporting Quaife straight cut gears, a ‘bullet proof’ disc braked, limited slip differential rear axle well located via a Panard rod and anti-tramp bars, plus double adjustable alloy bodied Koni dampers. The engine inhaled through 45 DCOE Weber carburettors and exhaled through a BTB exhaust system while the lightened body shell sported a fibreglass boot and bonnet.
Chris Conoley of Mass Racing Developments has built and rebuilt the engine several times, dynamometer testing it each time and in 2006 and 2007 it was giving 170.3 and 170.4 BHP respectively. The five speed gearbox was rebuilt in 2011 and the car was run on pretty much an ‘arrive and drive’ basis with full trackside support from Davron.
In 2014 Mr Barker approached a friend, Martin Brewer of the Runneymede Motor Company asking him if he would help sell the Alpine as an expanding family was limiting his racing opportunities. Though it is not clear if Runneymede brokered the deal but the car entered the ownership of Mr Costas Michael of Enfield in February 2016. Mr Michael returned the engine to Mass for a comprehensive rebuild in July 2016 and this included new pistons, camshaft, steel rods and flywheel while the steel crankshaft required nothing more than a lap. The results were clearly worth it as the dynamometer now showed power to have increased to 175.6 BHP at 6,525 RPM; Mr Michael’s bank account on the other hand, had decreased by £7,493.53.
With the gearbox also rebuilt, the newly fettled Alpine was given a late season outing at Silverstone with the AMOC on 1st October and though it ran well in practice for the 50s Sports Cars/Innes Ireland Cup, it didn’t take any further part in the meeting.
For 2017 Mr Michael switched to the Historic Sports Car Club’s Historic Road Sports series where the Alpine showed well in its couple of outings. It won its class from pole at Donnington Park in April and after taking pole position again at the Silverstone International Trophy meeting in May, it went on to finishing second in its class after a late downpour allowed a pesky MGB past.
Unused since, the Sunbeam apparently retains its excellent specification with the engine having had just three outings since its last comprehensive rebuild by Mass.
The body’s integrity, the vital core of any race car, seems totally uncompromised proving the worth of starting with a rust free shell that has not been exposed to salt, mud and the general rigours of UK road use. There is some cracking to the lightweight bonnet though by race car standards, this is acceptable and the rest of the bodywork is remarkably straight and damage free. The lovely dark blue paint, offset with a pair of racy white stripes, is more than fit for purpose with just one small ‘bleb’ shown in photo gallery the only imperfection we could find. Chrome-work is confined to pretty much just the door handles and these are in very fair condition with a minimal amount of pitting – please see the photo gallery. Fifteen inch ‘Minilight' style wheels are slightly ‘as raced’ scruffy with a few chips and light scrapes to their finish and there is a decent amount of tread remaining on the Yokohama A048 tyres.
Being almost entirely stripped out there is not much to worry about as far as the interior goes. The minimalist dashboard contains just three instruments indicating the engine’s revs, water temperature and oil pressure while sequential light arrays cover throttle and engine fuelling while a lap timer is sighted through the steering wheel. A plumbed in SPA fire extinguisher (last serviced in 2016) sits alongside a supplementary switch console with a pair of Tilton brake balance adjusters between that and the transmission tunnel. A full cage, Sparco seat, TRS harness (just out of date) and suede rimmed Momo steering wheel complete the cockpit ‘furniture’. In the boot a generously sized aluminium fuel tank from Alloy Racing Fabrications is connected to a Facet fuel pump via braided hoses.
Though far from scruffy, the underside and engine bay’s beauty is in the components present rather than their cosmetic condition. Very presentable though both these areas are, we feel the Alpine is more about the ‘go’ than the ‘show’ but please, form your own opinions having looked at the images in the photo gallery.
There is little point in trying to draw any conclusions regarding the driving experience as shuffling the Sunbeam around for photographic purposes couldn’t possible do it justice but given its history and the fact that it has barely turned a wheel since the last rebuild of its major mechanical components, one can assume it is a more than handy bit of kit in rude health. Yes, it takes a little throttle juggling to keep the fires alight and this is not helped by a slightly all or nothing clutch but doubtless once out of the paddock the Alpine would come into its own; a less ham-fisted driver would help too… What we can confirm is the engine sounds absolutely spot on, makes no nasty noises or smoke and displays a healthy 50 PSI oil pressure.
An extensive history file contains the usual road car stuff such as a current V5C and an MOT certificate from 2005. More pertinent are the sheaves of substantial invoices, mostly from Davron covering work on and running of the car over the years. There are also bills for three full engine rebuilds carried out by Mass along with their associated dynamometer print outs as well as various intermediate works undertaken by them. Assorted invoices from the likes of Competition Supplies Ltd, Sunbeam Supreme, Road and Race Transmissions and Demon Tweaks all add colour to the picture of a well maintained machine.
As mentioned with the other two race cars we are currently auctioning, now might well be the perfect time to acquire a competition machine for what looks like being a very full 2021 season. Suited to a wide range of race series, subject to their particular regulations, this Alpine could find a home with such clubs as HSCC, AMOC and Classic Sports Car Club; surely a great opportunity to scratch that racing itch and needless to say, you couldn't build it for considerably more than its super-realistic reserve.