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Note: This is a sub-section of Sunbeam: Cars.
The Sunbeam Alpine is a sporty two seat open car or coupé from Rootes's Sunbeam car marque.
The original was launched in 1953 as the first vehicle to bear the Sunbeam name alone since the 1920 merger of Sunbeam, Talbot, and Darracq.
The original Alpine was launched in 1953 as the first vehicle from Sunbeam-Talbot to bear the Sunbeam name alone since the 1920 merger of Sunbeam, Talbot, and Darracq. The car was derived from the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Saloon and has since become colloquially known as the "Talbot" Alpine. It was a two-seater sports roadster which was initially developed by Sunbeam-Talbot dealer George Hartwell in Bournemouth, as a one-off rally car that had its beginnings as a 1952 Sunbeam-Talbot drophead coupé. It was named supposedly by Norman Garrad, (works Competition Department) who was heavily involved in the Sunbeam-Talbot successes in the Alpine Rally in the early 1950s using the saloon models.
It had a four-cylinder 2,267 cc engine from the saloon but with raised compression ratio. However since it was developed from the saloon platform, it suffered from rigidity compromises in spite of 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.
The Alpine Mark I and Mark III (no Mark II was made) were hand built — like the 90 drophead coupé — at Thrupp and Maberly coach-builders from 1953 to 1955 remaining in production for only two years with 1,582 produced. The majority of production were exported, primarily to the USA, as left hand drive models. It has been estimated that perhaps only 200 remain in existence today.
In the 1953 Alpine Rally four Alpines won the Coupe des Alpes, one of which, finishing 6th, was driven by Stirling Moss while Sheila van Damm won the Coupe Des Dames in the same rally.
The "Series" Alpine started production in 1959. One of the original prototypes still survives and was raced by British saloon car champion Bernard Unett.
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% of the overall design work, which bears more than incidental resemblance to the early Ford Thunderbird — Ken Howe had worked at Ford before joining Rootes.
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. The running gear came mainly from the Sunbeam Rapier but with front disc brakes replaced 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 disc at the front and 9 in drums at the rear. Until 1962 the car was assembled for Rootes by Armstrong Siddeley Motors. 11,904 examples of the series I were produced.
The Series II of 1960 featured an enlarged 1,592 cc 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.
The Series III was produced in open and removable hardtop versions. On the hardtop version the top could be removed but no soft-top was provided as the area it would have been folded into was occupied by a small rear seat. Also, the 1,592 cc engine developed less power. To provide more room in the boot, twin fuel tanks in the rear wings were fitted. Quarter light were fitted to the windows. Between 1963 and 1964 5,863 were made.
The lower output engine option was now dropped with convertible and hardtop versions sharing the 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 not popular. From Autumn 1964 a new gearbox with synchromesh on first gear was adopted in line with its use in other Rootes cars. 12,406 were made.
The final version had a new five bearing 1,725 cc engine with twin Zenith-Stromberg semi-downdraught carburettors producing 93 bhp. There was no longer an automatic transmission option. 19,122 were made.
Rootes introduced the "Arrow" range in 1967, 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 1725 cc engine, with the Alpine featuring a single 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.
The Alpine name would be resurrected in 1976 by Chrysler (by then the owner of Rootes) on a totally unrelated vehicle that could not have been more different: 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.