Sunbeam Alpine

Last updated

Sunbeam Alpine
Alpine (6068708041).jpg
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Assembly Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Warwickshire, England
Body and chassis
Body style Sports car
Layout FR layout

The Sunbeam Alpine is a two-seater sports drophead coupé that was produced by the Rootes Group from 1953 to 1955, and then 1959 to 1968. The name was then used on a two-door fastback from 1969 to 1975. The original Alpine was launched in 1953 as the first vehicle from Sunbeam-Talbot to bear the Sunbeam name alone since Rootes Group bought Clément-Talbot, and later the moribund Sunbeam from its receiver in 1935.


Alpine Mark I and III

Sunbeam Alpine Mark I & III
1954 Sunbeam Alpine Mark I Roadster, front right (Hershey 2019).jpg
Alpine Mark I
1,582 made [1]
AssemblyUnited Kingdom
Australia [2]
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door roadster
Related Sunbeam-Talbot 90
Engine 2267 cc (2.3L) I4
Wheelbase 97.5 in (2,476 mm) [3]
Length168.5 in (4,280 mm) [3]
Width62.5 in (1,588 mm) [3]
SuccessorSeries Alpine

The Alpine was derived from the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Saloon, and has become colloquially known as the "Talbot" Alpine. It was a two-seater sports roadster initially developed for a one-off rally car by Bournemouth Sunbeam-Talbot dealer George Hartnell. [1] It had its beginnings as a 1952 Sunbeam-Talbot drophead coupé. Announced in March 1953 [4] it received its name following Sunbeam-Talbot saloons successes in the Alpine Rally during the early 1950s. On its first competitive outing, the July 1953 Coupe des Alpes, the new car won the Coupe des Dames (Sheila van Damm) and, without loss of any marks, four Coupes des Alpes driven by Stirling Moss, John Fitch, G Murray-Frame and Sheila van Damm. [5]

The car has a four-cylinder 2,267 cc (138.3 cu in) engine from the saloon, but with a raised compression ratio. However, since it was developed from the saloon platform, it suffered from rigidity compromises despite extra side members in the chassis. The gearbox ratios were changed, and from 1954 an overdrive unit became standard. The gearchange lever was column-mounted. [1] A true open 2-seater, there were no external door handles or wind-up windows.

The Alpine Mark I and Mark III (no Mark II was made) were hand-built – as was the 90 drophead coupé – at Thrupp & Maberly coachbuilders from 1953 to 1955, and remained in production for only two years. Of the 1582 automobiles produced, 961 were exported to the USA and Canada, 445 stayed in the UK, and 175 went to other world markets. In 2000 it was estimated that perhaps as few as 200 had survived. [6]

The Sunbeam Alpine Mk 1 Special was based on the 2267 cc Mk 1 Sunbeam Talbot motor, with alloy rocker cover and Siamese exhaust ports (cylinders 2 and 3). These motors developed a reputed 97.5 bhp at 4,500 rpm, mainly by raising the compression ratio to 8.0:1 and incorporating a special induction manifold with a twin choke Solex 40 P.I.I carburettor. The motors of the Sunbeam Alpine Team Cars (MKV 21 - 26) were configured the same as the Sunbeam Alpine Mk I Special, with further tuning by ERA to raise power to 106 bhp.

Very few of these cars are ever seen on the big screen. However, a sapphire blue Alpine featured prominently in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. [7] More recently, the American PBS show History Detectives tried to verify that an Alpine roadster owned by a private individual was the actual car used in that movie. Although the Technicolor process could "hide" the car's true colour, and knowing that the car was shipped back from Monaco to the US for use in front of a rear projection effect, the car shown on the programme was ultimately proven not to be the film car upon comparison of the vehicle identification numbers. A Mk.I model also appears in the 1957 British horror film Night Of The Demon .

Alpine Series I to V

Sunbeam Alpine Series I to V
Sunbeam Alpine Series IV
69,251 made [1]
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door roadster
Related Sunbeam Tiger
Engine Series I: 91.2 cu in (1.5 L) I4
Series II, III & IV—1592 cc (1.6L) I4
Series V—1725 cc (1.7L) I4
Wheelbase 86 in (2,184 mm) [3]
Length155 in (3,937 mm) [3]
Width61 in (1,549 mm) [3]
Height51 in (1,295 mm) [8]

The first open 2-seater Alpines were based on the Hillman 14 and its successor the Humber Hawk. Rootes replaced them with a softer new smaller 2-seater sports convertible coupé based on the current Hillman Minx and its variants. Kenneth Howes and Jeff Crompton were tasked with doing a complete redesign in 1956, with the goal of producing a dedicated sports car aimed principally at the US market. Ken Howes contributed some 80 per cent of the overall design work, he had worked at Ford before joining Rootes.

The Alpine was produced in four subsequent revisions until 1968. Total production numbered around 70,000. Production stopped shortly after the Chrysler takeover of the Rootes Group.

Series I 1959–60

The "Series" Alpine started production in 1959.

The Series I used a 1,494 cc (91.2 cu in) engine and was styled by the Loewy Studios for the Rootes Group. The car made extensive use of components from other Rootes Group vehicles and was built on a modified floorpan from the Hillman Husky estate car. [9] The running gear came mainly from the Sunbeam Rapier, but with front disc brakes replacing the saloon car's drums. An overdrive unit and wire wheels were optional. The suspension was independent at the front using coil springs and at the rear had a live axle and semi-elliptic springing. The Girling-manufactured brakes used 9.5 in (241 mm) discs at the front and 9 in (229 mm) drums at the rear. It had dual downdraft carburetors, a soft top that could be hidden by special integral covers and the first available wind-up side windows offered in a British sports car of that time.

Coupé versions of the post-1959 version were built by Thomas Harrington Ltd. After the Le Mans Index of Efficiency success of 1961, Harrington sold replicas as the "Harrington Le Mans", using a fastback body and an engine tuned to 104 hp (78 kW). Unlike the Le Mans racers, these cars had a more integrated rear roofline and were without the tail fins of the roadsters. [10] Until 1962 the car was assembled for Rootes by Armstrong Siddeley. [1]

An open car with overdrive was tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1959. It had a top speed of 99.5 mph (160.1 km/h) and could accelerate from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 13.6 seconds. A fuel consumption of 31.4 miles per imperial gallon (9.0 L/100 km; 26.1 mpgUS) was recorded. The test car cost £1031 including taxes. [8]

In 1960 Rootes Group marketed a limited-production three-door variant of the Alpine, marketed as a shooting brake. With leather interior and walnut trim, its price was double that of its open counterpart. [11]

11,904 examples of the series I were produced. [1] One of the original prototypes still survives and was raced by British Touring car champion Bernard Unett. [12]

Series II 1960–63

The Series II of 1960 [13] featured an enlarged 1,592 cc (97.1 cu in) engine producing 80 bhp and revised rear suspension, but there were few other changes. When it was replaced in 1963, 19,956 had been made. [1]

A Series II with hardtop and overdrive was tested by The Motor magazine in 1960, which recorded a top speed of 98.6 mph (158.7 km/h), acceleration from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 13.6 seconds and a fuel consumption of 31.0 miles per imperial gallon (9.1 L/100 km; 25.8 mpgUS). The test car cost £1,110 including taxes. [14]

Series III 1963–64

The Series III was produced in two versions:
GT with removable hardtop only (no soft-top)
ST with soft-top (stored behind the small rear seat)

Other distinguishing features were:
- High fins
- Quarter-Height window for guide post
- Roll-up window rear edge angular
- Vertical spare tire
- Tanks in fins
- All chrome bumper guards
- Later “flat” rear window hard top
- Series 3 badge on front fender and Rootes Group badge centered low on the bonnet.
- Serial number begins with B 92___

The rarest production Alpine, the Series III was produced from March, 1963 to January, 1964 for a total of 5,863 units. It was a transitional model, incorporating many of the modifications of the later low fin cars such as roomier trunk, later hard top (common with Tiger), tube type rear shocks, improved micro cell seats, and a vacuum brake booster. The 1592 cc engine was de-tuned in the GT for smoothness. [15]

Series IV 1964–65

There was no longer a lower-output engine option; the convertible and hardtop versions shared the same 82 bhp engine with single Solex carburettor. A new rear styling was introduced with the fins largely removed. Automatic transmission with floor-mounted control became an option, but was unpopular. From autumn 1964 a new manual gearbox with synchromesh on first gear was adopted in line with its use in other Rootes cars. A total of 12,406 were made. [1]

Series V 1965–68

The final version had a new five-bearing 1,725 cc (105.3 cu in) engine with twin Zenith-Stromberg semi-downdraught carburettors producing 93 bhp. [1] There was no longer an automatic transmission option. 19,122 were made. [1] In some export markets, 100 PS (99 bhp) SAE were claimed. [16]

A muscle-car variant of the later versions was also built, the Sunbeam Tiger.


1961 Harrington Alpine Harrington Alpine 1961.jpg
1961 Harrington Alpine

The Alpine enjoyed relative success in European and North American competition. Probably the most notable international success was at Le Mans, where a Sunbeam Harrington won the Thermal Index of Efficiency in 1961. [10] In the United States the Alpine competed successfully in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) events.

Vince Tamburo won the G-Production National Championship in 1960 using the 1494cc Series I Alpine. In 1961 Don Sesslar took 2nd in the F-Production National Championship followed by a 3rd in the Championship in 1962. For 1963 the Alpine was moved into E-Production facing stiff competition from a class dominated by the Porsche 356. Sesslar tied in points for the national championship while Norman Lamb won the Southwest Division Championship in his Alpine.

A championship for Don Sesslar finally was achieved in 1964 with 5 wins (the SCCA totaled the 5 top finishes for the year). Dan Carmichael won the Central Division Championship in 1964 and '65. Carmichael continued to race the Alpine until 1967, when he finished 2nd at the American Road Race of Champions.

Bernard Unett raced factory prototype Alpine (registration number XRW 302) from 1962 to 1964 and in 1964 won the Fredy Dixon challenge trophy, which was considered to be biggest prize on the British club circuit at the time. Unett went on to become British Touring car champion three times during the 1970s. [17]

A six-car works team was set up for the 1953 Alpine Rally. Although outwardly similar to their production-car counterparts they reputedly incorporated some 36 modifications, boosting the engine to an estimated 97.5 bhp. [18]

Alpine "Fastback"

Sunbeam Alpine "Fastback"
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door fastback
Engine 1,725 cc (105.3 cu in) I4
Wheelbase 98.5 in (2,502 mm) [3]
Length174.5 in (4,432 mm) [3]
Width64.75 in (1,645 mm) [3]
Height55 in (1,397 mm) [19]

Rootes introduced the "Arrow" range in 1966, and by 1968 the saloons and estates (such as the Hillman Hunter) had been joined by a Sunbeam Rapier Fastback coupé model. In 1969, a cheaper, slightly slower and more economical version of the Rapier (still sold as a sporty model) was badged as the new Sunbeam Alpine.

All models featured the group's strong five-bearing 1,725 cc (105.3 cu in) engine, with the Alpine featuring a single Zenith-Stromberg CD150 carburettor to the Rapier's twins, and the Rapier H120's twin 40DCOE Weber carburettors.

Although drawing many parts from the group's "parts bin", including the rear lights of the estate Arrow models, the fastbacks nevertheless offered a number of unique features, including their pillar-less doors and rear side windows which combined to open up the car much like a cabriolet with a hardtop fitted. Extensive wooden dashboards were fitted to some models, and sports seats were available for a time.

Post-Sunbeam Alpine

The Alpine name was resurrected in 1976 by Chrysler (by then the owner of Rootes), on a totally unrelated vehicle: the UK-market version of the Simca 1307, a French-built family hatchback. The car was initially badged as the Chrysler Alpine, and then finally as the Talbot Alpine following Chrysler Europe's takeover by Peugeot in 1978. The name survived until 1984, although the design survived (with different names) until 1986.

Notable film and television appearances

Related Research Articles

Rootes Arrow

Rootes Arrow was the manufacturer's name for a range of cars produced under several badge-engineered marques by the Rootes Group from 1966 to 1979. It is amongst the last Rootes designs, developed with no influence from future owner Chrysler. The range is almost always referred to by the name of the most prolific model, the Hillman Hunter.

Hillman Imp

The Hillman Imp is a small economy car that was made by the Rootes Group and its successor Chrysler Europe from 1963 until 1976. Revealed on 3 May 1963, after much advance publicity, it was the first British mass-produced car with the engine block and cylinder head cast in aluminium.

Hillman Minx

The Hillman Minx was a mid-sized family car that British car maker Hillman produced from 1931 to 1970. There were many versions of the Minx over that period, as well as badge-engineered variants sold by Humber, Singer, and Sunbeam.

Hillman Avenger car model

The Hillman Avenger is a rear-wheel drive small family car originally manufactured by the former Rootes division of Chrysler Europe from 1970–1978, badged from 1976 onward as the Chrysler Avenger. Between 1979 and 1981 it was manufactured by PSA Peugeot Citroën and badged as the Talbot Avenger. The Avenger was marketed in North America as the Plymouth Cricket.

Sunbeam Motor Car Company

Sunbeam Motor Car Company Limited was a British motor car manufacturer with its works at Moorfields in Blakenhall, a suburb of Wolverhampton in the county of Staffordshire, now West Midlands. Its Sunbeam name had been registered by John Marston in 1888 for his bicycle manufacturing business. Sunbeam motor car manufacture began in 1901. The motor business was sold to a newly incorporated Sunbeam Motor Car Company Limited in 1905 to separate it from Marston's pedal bicycle business; Sunbeam motorcycles were not made until 1912.

Chrysler Europe

Chrysler Europe was the American automotive company Chrysler's operations in Europe from 1967 through 1979. It was formed from the merger of the French Simca, British Rootes and Spanish Barreiros companies. In 1979, Chrysler divested these operations to PSA Peugeot Citroën.

Singer Gazelle

The Singer Gazelle name has been applied to two generations of motor cars from the British manufacturer Singer. It was positioned between the basic Hillman range and the more sporting Sunbeam versions.

Humber Sceptre

The Humber Sceptre is an automobile which was produced in the United Kingdom from 1963 to 1976 by Humber.

Sunbeam Rapier

The Sunbeam Rapier is an automobile produced by Rootes Group from 1955 to 1976, in two different body-styles, the "Series" cars and the later (1967–76) fastback shape, part of the "Arrow" range.

Humber Super Snipe

The Humber Super Snipe is a car which was produced from 1938 to 1967 by British-based Humber Limited.

Maserati A6

Maserati A6 were a series of grand tourers, racing sports cars and single seaters made by Maserati of Italy between 1947 and 1956. They were named for Alfieri Maserati and for their straight-six engine.

Daimler Conquest

The Daimler Conquest is an automobile which was produced by The Daimler Company Limited in the United Kingdom from 1953 to 1958. Based on the Lanchester Fourteen, the Conquest replaced the Daimler Consort. Sales were affected by increasing prices and by the fuel shortage caused by the Suez Crisis, and production ended by January 1958, before a replacement model was in production.

The Singer Vogue name has been applied to two generations of motor cars from the British manufacturer Singer.

Sheila Van Damm was a British woman competitor in motor rallying in the 1950s, and also the former owner of the Windmill Theatre in London. She began her competitive driving career in 1950, and won the Coupe des Dames, the highest award for women, in the 1953 Alpine Rally. The following year she won the Women's European Touring Championship and, in 1955, the Coupe des Dames at the Monte Carlo Rally.

Humber Hawk

The Humber Hawk is a four-cylinder automobile manufactured from 1945 to 1967 by British-based Humber Limited.


Sunbeam-Talbot Limited was a British motor manufacturing business. It built upmarket sports-saloon versions of Rootes Group cars from 1935 to 1954. As Clément-Talbot Limited it had made Talbot cars since 1902.

Hillman Super Minx

The Hillman Super Minx is a family car which was produced by Hillman from 1961 to 1967. It was a slightly larger version of the Hillman Minx, from the period when the long-running Minx nameplate was applied to the "Audax" series of designs.

Sunbeam-Talbot 90

The Sunbeam-Talbot 90 is an automobile which was produced and built by Sunbeam-Talbot from 1948 to 1954 and continued as the Sunbeam Mk III from 1954 to 1957.

Sunbeam-Talbot Ten

The Sunbeam-Talbot Ten is a compact executive car or small sports saloon manufactured by Rootes Group in their Clément-Talbot factory in North Kensington between 1938 and 1939, and then reintroduced after the Second World War and sold between 1945 and 1948. It was at first a two-door then a four-door sports saloon. A drophead coupé version and a sports tourer version were also available.

Sunbeam-Talbot 80

The Sunbeam-Talbot 80 is a 4-door 4-light sports saloon which was produced by English manufacturer Sunbeam-Talbot from 1948 to 1950.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Robson, Graham (2006). A–Z British Cars 1945–1980 . Herridge & Sons. ISBN   0-9541063-9-3.
  2. Advertisement for Sunbeam Mk III and Alpine "Produced in the factory of Rootes Australia Limited", Modern Motor (magazine), March 1955, page 34
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Culshaw, David; Horrobin, Peter (1974). Complete Catalogue of British Cars. Macmillan. ISBN   0-333-16689-2.
  4. New Sunbeam Alpine. The Times, 21 March 1953; page 3; Issue 52576
  5. Sunbeam Alpine. The Times 20 July 1953; page 3; Issue 52678
  6. "obtaining a Sunbeam-Talbot Alpine". Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  7. Truesdell, Richard (4 February 2014). "1955 Sunbeam Alpine Series III Classic Drive". Motortrend . Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  8. 1 2 "The Sunbeam Alpine". The Motor . 18 November 1959.
  9. Georgano, N. (2000). Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile. HMSO. ISBN   1-57958-293-1.
  10. 1 2 Blunsden, John (March 1962). "Sunbeam Alpine - "Harrington Le Mans"". Illustrerad Motor Sport (in Swedish). No. 3. p. 20.
  11. "The 1960 Sunbeam Alpine Shooting Brake Estate Wagon"., Ian Spencer.
  12. "XRW 302: 1958 Prototype Sunbeam Alpine".
  13. Improved Alpine. The Times, Wednesday, Oct 19, 1960; pg. 5; Issue 54906
  14. "The Sunbeam Alpine (Series II)". The Motor . 28 December 1960.
  15. "Field Guide to Sunbeam Alpines". Tigers East Alpines East. TEAE. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  16. "Catalogue Salon de l'Auto 68" (in French) (16). Paris: Europe Auto. 1968: 106.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  17. 'Alpine the classic Sunbeam' By Chris McGovern
  18. "1953 Sunbeam Alpine Works Rally Car Auction - Classic Car Auctions & Sale - H&H". 11 April 1955. Archived from the original on 8 December 2010. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  19. Compiled by, Olyslager Organisation (1970). The Observer's Book of Automobiles (sixteenth edition). Frederick Warne & Co. p. 210.
  20. "James Bond multimedia | Sunbeam Alpine". Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  21. Grant, David (2008). The Legendary Custom Cars and Hot Rods of Gene Winfield. Motorbooks. ISBN   978-0-7603-2778-4.
  22. "Sunbeam Alpine in "Commando"" . Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  23. "Porsche 911 Targa in "Commando"" . Retrieved 28 March 2017.