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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 prototype.
This particular Alpine has a remarkable history; first registered on 25th May 1967 to a Mr Norman Fenner who retained the car for nigh-on forty years, it has changed hands just twice since then. Mr Fenner was a stalwart of the Sunbeam Alpine Owners Club who lived and breathed the model. On his sad passing at the end of 2005 his nephew contacted the Vice Chairman and friend of the Fenners, Mr Andy Goldsmith, and asked for his help finding a new owner for the car. Despite recently suffering a failed head gasket, the Alpine was known to have been cherished, regularly serviced and kept in dry storage when not in use so it was enthusiastically taken on by another Club member, Mr Goldsmith’s son Tom. In his tenure the engine was rebuilt using Holbay flat top pistons and rods plus a reconditioned ‘unleaded’ cylinder head. Other maintenance included new brake pads while the seats were treated to new foam and rubbers and the Sunbeam, due to the arrival of a TVR, was offered for sale in the summer of 2008. Though mechanically in very good shape, after forty plus years the Alpine’s bodywork was just starting to show a few imperfections, though it is a testament to its cossetted existence that these were only minor and it was described as being, ‘solid with tired paintwork, a few rust bubbles and a slightly tatty interior’. It was purchased by Alpine enthusiast Mr David Webb of Lincolnshire, a motor engineer and proprietor of Webb and Son, a long established (David being the ‘Son’) archetypal Village Garage well known to Berlinetta; he had been responsible for MOT testing the Midlands’ Office’s classic and everyday cars since the last millennium.
Intended to be something of a retirement project, demand from regular customers meant work on the Alpine did not progress as quickly as had been hoped but over the next three years relatively minor bodywork was carried out, mostly to the sills, floor and wheel arches as shown in the photo gallery. The car was then repainted and the interior trim refreshed as required including the fitting of a new walnut dashboard and wood rim steering wheel. A project for his own satisfaction and enjoyment, the work was carried out to very good standard with no concern for the hours invested and the Alpine was duly completed in April 2011. Used sparingly since but MOT tested virtually every year until recently, the Alpine has remained in excellent condition and it is now only offered for sale on behalf of Mr Webb’s family due to his very sad passing last year.
Originally the Alpine was offered in two forms, the ‘Gran Turismo Hardtop’ with luxuries such as a walnut dashboard, wood rimmed steering wheel and hard top standard equipment while the ‘Sports Tourer’ model made do with more functional trim but importantly it had an excellent soft top arrangement that the GT lacked. Given the UK’s weather, removing the hard top and venturing out with no protection from the elements at all was always something of a gamble (Mercedes rolled the dice in much the same way with the SL ‘California’, the clue is in the title…) and Mr Webb took the opportunity to combine the best of both worlds with GT specification interior and hardtop plus the convenience of the Sports’ easily operated folding roof.
Painted to a high standard, ten years down the road the finish is still very good and it is pleasing to see the ‘Polar White’ extends into the wheel arches as per the factory specification. Importantly, the very well executed bodywork repairs have also stood the test of time though if we were to nit-pick, the trailing edge of the driver’s door sits very slightly proud though this might well be a case of simple adjustment – it is hard to see but please have a look in the photo gallery. The chrome-work is for the most part more than acceptable though the rear over-riders have some imperfections and the rear bumper has a small scrape to its off side quarter, again as shown in the photo gallery.
Barely worn Dunlop SP10 tyres adorn the correctly painted wire wheels while the whitewall detailing, bullet door mirrors, removable headrest and mesh headlight covers are all nice period additions.
Inside the well-appointed cockpit the seat trim, carpets, dashboard and steering wheel all seem to be new. A modern-style wind deflector has been fabricated to add a further touch of comfort for the occupants. A period(ish) cassette player sits in the centre console while the dashboard houses a full complement of Jaeger instruments (just that bit classier than Smiths’ versions) and a very smart chrome articulated map light. Sensibly there is a battery cut off switch fitted while the boot houses a spare wire wheel with unused white walled tyre, a fire extinguisher, two tool kits and various useful ‘touring’ spares.
A full house of weather gear is also present; hardtop, hood, hood cover and full tonneau cover with central zip. The hardtop’s rear screen is present but requires a new rubber surround though these are apparently readily available. The hood is generally in good order with a clear and un-creased rear window though it does have a couple of nicks and a neatly repaired cut as shown in the photo gallery.
The engine bay is neat and tidy with the inner panel-work correctly finished in body colour. The temptation to over polish the alloy rocker cover and chrome air filter housings has been resisted with instead time and money spent on items such as a braided fuel line, what appears to be a new alternator and a Gates fan belt.
Underneath the metalwork is well protected with a chip resistant finish which remains in very good condition and the various greasing points show evidence of regular attention. The brake callipers look to be relatively new or refurbished and Goodrich braided brake pipes have been fitted.
We could of course not turn down the opportunity to take the Sunbeam for a test drive through the beautiful Lincolnshire countryside on a glorious summer morning and it certainly lived up to the conditions. Taut and torquey, supple and sprightly the Alpine could teach some modern sports cars a thing or two about on the road driveability never mind style and sheer fun. The rebuilt engine with its extra performance goodies may well be giving a little more power than it did ‘ex-factory’ and it pulled really well in any gear with a consistent sixty pounds per square inch showing on the oil pressure gauge when on the move. Generous tyre sidewalls easily dispatched road surface imperfections we’d normally be clenching our teeth traversing making one wonder if ‘low profile’ is something of a marketing fad rather than a feature that offers any sort of performance benefit in the real world. Even more of a revelation was the Laycock de Normanville overdrive operating on 3rd and 4th gears; featured on a variety of makes and models in the 1950s and 60s, in this instance it seemed so much more responsive than in other applications we have experienced, switching in and out as quickly as you could flick its steering column mounted electric switch, never having to take your hand off the wheel. The mechanical change to what is effectively a six-speed, all synchromesh gearbox was delightful in use being light, positive and laden with feel.
Not surprisingly the chassis plate confirms the Alpine was built with the optional extra overdrive gearbox (OD), for the home market (H), as a roadster (R, as were all Alpines) and as a standard car (O, not for example to Police specification).
A pair of good sized history files accompany the car and contain the current and previous V5C registration documents along with a number of old MOT certificates dating back to 2006 which show that the Alpine was tested virtually every year from 2011 to 2018, passing each time with no advisories since 2008, when it received the aforementioned attention to its bodywork. Half a dozen expired Tax discs are also present along with an Owner’s Handbook, a quantity of Owners Club correspondence, magazines and price lists. Invoices for sundry items such as fuel pump, brake servo and master cylinder repair kits (Mr Webb believed in servicing and repairing not just replacing) are also present along with receipts for the body panels purchased. There are also a number of original sales brochures for the Alpine and other Sunbeam models though none could be said to be in pristine condition.
Not intended to be a ‘show queen’ the Alpine certainly wouldn’t disgrace itself at many a classic car event and it remains a really solid and useable example which is, in our opinion, in very good order throughout. Having passed its MOT test a couple of days ago (again, without any advisories) and been treated to a precautionary brake servo rebuild to resolve almost imperceptibly sticking brakes, the Sunbeam is ready to take to the road for what is shaping up to be a summer to remember for previously cooped up classic car lovers.