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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.
The green logbook with the Alpine confirms it was first registered on 2nd May 1967 to Mr Robert Green of 121, Jean Drive, Leicester and that it was finished, appropriately, in ‘Orchid Green’. Mr Green sold the Sunbeam to Car Park Garage in the centre of Leicester in 1971 and the next recorded owner is shown on the current V5C on file as Mr Barry Davies of Buckley who acquired the car in March 2013. He kept the Alpine for just 18 months before it passed on to Mr Andrew Harland in Shrewsbury. The aforementioned V5C states ‘3 former keepers’ though there may be some not recorded between the original and current registration documents.
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 as standard equipment while the ‘Sports Tourer’ model made do with more functional trim. The chassis number of this example confirms it as a GT and it is nice to see its defining features are all still present and correct along with the Factory fitted optional overdrive (OD in the chassis number), a highly desirable feature then and now as it effectively gives the Sunbeam a six speed all synchromesh gearbox. The final characters of the chassis number, ‘H’, ‘R’ and ‘O’ confirm it to be a home market (H), roadster (R, as were all Alpines) to standard (O, i.e. not Police) specification. The ‘109’ stamp on the chassis plate (please see the photo gallery) confirms its original paint shade of Orchid Green.
It would appear that Mr Harland intended to restore the Sunbeam and he purchased a full set of inner and outer sills from Sunbeam Spares Company Ltd. just after he bought the car (invoice on file). Since then, it would appear that these have been fitted to a good standard and that any other bodywork carried out has also been well executed. As can be appreciated from the photographs, the Alpine displays excellent panel fit and the shell seems very straight though the boot lid could perhaps do with a little adjustment.
The paint has been applied to a reasonable standard though there are one or two runs and areas of ‘orange peel’. With a good machine cut and polish we feel the end result will be more than acceptable. The pre-painting masking off could have been a bit carried out a little more diligently as there is some over-spray present in the cockpit, boot, engine bay and under the car while some of the tape applied is still in place.
The partially refitted chrome-work is average to poor; parts that appeared to be in reasonable order often look far worse when put against shiny new paint. We would suggest that careful consideration be given before using the new looking tow ball mounted to the rear bumper…
The Alpine comes with a mixture of period alloy wheels: four 7” wide Compomotive MS 1370s and a pair of Cosmics. We normally like a 1960s British sports car to be rolling on wire wheels but Alpines can look a little under-tyred on their narrow 13” rims and for our money the Compomotives really make this car giving it a wide pawed stance many a Tiger would envy.
In the cockpit a full complement of Jaeger instruments (just that bit classier than Smiths’ versions) plus a more modern clock are arranged over the walnut dashboard, the lacquer of which is cracked as is that on the rim of the steering wheel. The carpets and seats look to be in fairly good condition with no splits or tears to the latter while a period radio is fitted in front of the chequered flag logoed gear knob. The metalwork has been repainted along with that in the boot and engine bay.
The engine starts easily and sounds fantastic exhaling through a full stainless steel exhaust system while displaying a healthy enough oil pressure of 40 PSI. Interestingly it sports a single twin choke Weber carburettor which is a modification that not only gives more power and better driveability than the standard Stromberg arrangement but it is considered easier to set up and keep in tune.
Underneath the Alpine is best described as scruffy but pleasingly solid with as far as we could see just one repair having been made to a ‘chassis’ outrigger. The possibly original protective coating is flaking in some places and in others a fresh coat has been applied. It seems that what repairs were needed have been done and it may now be a case of stripping back, cleaning and resealing. There is surface rust on the suspension components and no evidence of new parts having been fitted recently. For a full evaluation please see the photo gallery or better still come and inspect the car in person.
There are a few spare parts with the car, most notably an alloy cylinder-head and inlet manifold. There is also a plethora of loose parts yet to be refitted such as a bullet wing mirror, various badges, trim pieces, door handles, new number plates and so on.
Though it is hard to be sure this does look to be a very complete project ready for further refurbishment and reassembly - luckily there are no less than two workshop manuals to aid in this process.
For those of us who can not weld or paint, this could prove to be a very rewarding part completed project for a spanner twiddler to finish.