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Sunbeam Alpine: Buying guide and review (1959-1968)

Sunbeam Alpine: Buying guide and review (1959-1968) Classic and Performance Car
Sunbeam Alpine Sunbeam Alpine
The Sunbeam Alpine Series 1 arrived on the British motoring scene at a time when small sports cars were in short supply, this new car gave the buying public an entry into some affordable wind in the hair motoring. 
 
The sequence of events leading up to the birth of the Alpine are long and complicated, but it all started in 1935 with the fusion of the Hillman, Sunbeam and Talbot – into the Rootes Group. Initially, Rootes had no interest in building a sportscar to compete with the likes of MG and Jaguar, but a competition department was set up in 1948. This lead to a new need for a sporty model in the range – the original two-seater Sunbeam Alpine. 
 
This original Sunbeam Alpine was a development of the Sunbeam Talbot 90 saloon, and was produced for two years. Just 1582 were made, but it sold well and demonstrated the need for a dedicated sportscar model. 
 
The original’s heavy reliance on the saloon architecture meant that rigidity wasn’t what it could have been, so the next Alpine was to be significantly better engineered. After several years of development, the car was launched in 1959, which is the model we will be focussing on.
 
Although the new Alpine was built on a modified Hillman Husky floorpan, it was designed as a sports car from the ground up – including independent front suspension significantly stiffer bodyshell. With the final stages of testing and development undertaken by Armstrong Siddeley. 
 
The end result was surprisingly well resolved. It looked great, was surprisingly practical, but most of all was an absolute joy to drive. Unlike most roadsters, the Alpine was actually genuinely weatherproof, with a tough hood that could stand up to rough weather, and be folded away with relative ease when the sun was shining.  
 
Which one to buy?
 
The Alpine received regular updates every few years, engine size gradually increased from 1.5 to 1.7 litres and detail changes improved the handling and ride. While the updates were minor it is worth having a quick look at what each series offered to get a good overview of the range.
 
The Series 1 was introduced in 1959 with a 1.5-litre engine producing 78bhp, and a kerb weight of 966kg. Performance was brisk and keen pricing with sporty design endeared it to the motoring public. Strong sales followed. The Series 2 saw the introduction of a 1.6-litre engine as well as improved suspension. The Series 3 was introduced in 1963 with a slight increase in power from 80 to 82bhp and servo assistance for the braking system. This was the last model with pronounced rear wings and is the most sought after. A GT model was made available and all cars had fuel tanks relocated to the wings improving boot space.
 
Series 4 models, produced from 1964, had less pronounced tail fins a redesigned front grille and indicators. An unpopular automatic option became available and was discontinued the following year. The final version of the Alpine arrived in 1965. This series 5 model had an enlarged five-bearing 1.7-litre engine, however styling was very similar to the previous models. These are popular, however some experts say that the build quality of the earlier cars was better.
 
There was also a special edition Harrington Alpine, which was a hardtop coupe version. Approximately 110 of these cars were produced in 1961 by Thomas Harrington and Company of Hove. These cars were based on the Series 2 models and offered three different stages of engine tuning. The conversions were done in fibreglass, at the time a revolutionary material, and were to a particularly high standard. To celebrate a Harrington Alpines win of “the index of thermal efficiency” at Le Mans, a special Harrington Le Mans was introduced late in October 1961, it featured the same state of tune as the Le Mans car and did not have the Alpine name on the bodywork. Many of these cars were shipped to the US and finding one today can be tricky.
 
There is of course the significantly more muscular Sunbeam Tiger, which is effectively an Alpine with V8 under the bonnet. Although we’re not covering the Tiger in much detail, you should seriously consider one of these if you are looking for something with considerably more power, and a V8 soundtrack. Read the full Sunbeam Tiger buying guide here.
 
With a total of 33 Sunbeam Alpines registered on UK roads in 2015 and a further 10 listed as SORN, clubs and specialist dealers are your best bet for finding one. Getting in touch with dealers and clubs from mainland Europe is also a good way to increase the chances of finding a car.
 
Performance and specs

Sunbeam Alpine Series 1 
Engine 1494cc, 8 valve in-line four-cylinder
Power 78bhp @ 5300rpm 
Torque 90lb ft @ 3400rpm
Top speed 99mph 
0-60mph 13.6 seconds 
Consumption 25-31mpg 
Gearbox Four-speed manual with optional overdrive
 
Dimensions and weight
 
Wheelbase 2184mm
Length 3943mm
Width 1537mm
Height 1308mm
Weight 966kg
 
Common problems
 
• Engines are generally reliable, relatively advanced for their time and with the introduction of the five main bearing 1.7 in the Series 5 models, long lasting. 
 
• A number of performance upgrades were made available, however if done by a reputable tuning company these should not affect the reliability of the cars, while making performance considerably more lively. 
 
• Alloy cylinder heads can suffer from corrosion if the cooling system has not been regularly replenished with antifreeze.
 
• Series 3 and 4 engines were fitted with Solex carbs. These can be troublesome and changing to a Weber setup is highly recommended.
 
• Oil leakage can be caused by incorrectly tightened cam followers. Tappety sounding engines can have worn camshaft and cam followers or may be suffering from oil starvation to the rocker gear.
 
• Brake servo seals are a weak point and can fail due to age, but upgraded parts can be used to alleviate the problem.
 
• Rubber bushes should be checked on suspension mountings, as lower ball joints can jump out of their sockets if badly worn. Some owners also recommend fitting slightly stiffer front dampers to improve handling.
 
• Gearboxes can jump out of third gear under hard acceleration, but are generally robust and easy to rebuild. Overdrive units are also reliable and issues can usually be traced to solenoid or electrical connection faults.
 
• The ever present rust issue is needs to be addressed. The Alpine had a rigidly constructed body, however the tooling for the bodies was not up to a high standard. This means that replacement body panels and general repair and restoration work can be time consuming and costly. 
 
• Shortcuts in these areas will inevitably allow rust to start, so a thorough check over should be carried out.
 
• Front wings and wheel arches should be inspected, while the front valances rust badly around the sidelights. Bulkheads can rust, and blocked drainage channels can further promote corrosion in this area.
 
• Floorpans should also be checked for holes, and the inner and outer sills can rust especially if repairs carried out have not been to a high standard
 
• Rear wheel arches and wings can rust badly however repair panels are available

• Interiors and dashboards can become tatty, but thankfully new seat covers, trim items and switchgear are readily available. 
 
Model history
 
1959: Series 1 production starts (11,904 produced)
1962: Series 2 with enlarged 1.6l engine is introduced (19,956 produced) 
1963: Series 3 with twin fuel tanks fitted in rear wings to increase boot space (5863 produced) 
1964: Series 4 with optional automatic gearbox is made available (12,406 produced) 
1965: Series 5 with uprated 1.7-litre engine arrives, now only available in manual guise (19,122 produced) 
1968: Final Series 5 Sunbeam Alpine rolls of the production line with 69,251 cars produced in total.
 
Clubs and websites
 
• www.saoc.demon.co.uk - Sunbeam Alpine Owners Club, with forum
• www.sunbeam-alpine.co.uk - Spares and parts for classic Sunbeam models
 
Summary and prices
 
The Sunbeam Alpine has a strong following; its sporty looks and nippy performance make it a great useable classic. Prices vary greatly and a lot of stock is put into condition and history. Cars in great condition and with a racing pedigree can be had for as much as £60,000. At the other end of the scale, project cars, or ones needing some tlc, can be picked up for around £5000, however the restoration process can be expensive. If you are just looking for a usable, clean car then they start at around the £10,000 mark. With such limited supply, values of these cars is on the rise, so get one now and enjoy some classic British convertible motoring.

Words: John Tallodi
Sunbeam Alpine Sunbeam Alpine
Last updated: 19th Jul 2016
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Sunbeam Alpine cars for sale

5 Search results
Sunbeam Alpine
39950 46500 GBP
  • Sunbeam - Alpine - 1967

    €15,900 - €20,670 est. (£14,559.63 - £18,927.52 est.) €15,900 - €20,670 est. (£14,559.63 - £18,927.52 est.)
    Online Auction
    Auction Date: 01 Jan 1970
    RESERVE PRICE
    Catawiki Auctions
  • 1967 SUNBEAM ALPINE MK5 1725cc

    POA POA

    1967 SUNBEAM ALPINE MK5 1725cc Arriving very soon is a very nice Sunbeam Alpine Mk5.In red with contrasting black interior,recent new,full sills,chrome wire wheels and in very nice condition inside & out. (lib pic) Please enquire for further details and to arrange a viewing.

    For sale
  • Sunbeam Talbot Alpine

    £39,950 £39,950

    £39,950 Originally registered as OGK 5, our early Alpine 1 was exported in July 1953, and returned to the UK in August of the same year. Little is known of the car’s earlier history, aside from it was barn stored in the mid 1960’s and did not re-emerge until 2001. It was pictured in Classic & Car Mart Finds and Discoveries in June 2002. On sale the number was retained by the previous owner, and the Alpine was allocated AAS 378, which it carries today. Following the sale the car was subject to both a mechanical and bodywork restoration with a new interior being fitted at the same time. The works carried out at the time are detailed within the history file together with invoices and bills from 2001 onwards. Very recently the car has been through our workshops were work to the suspension and steering has been carried out. On checking the MOT records, the Alpine has only covered just under 3500 miles since recovered in 2001. An older restoration, providing a very usable car, in very good condition. Mechanically the car has been well looked after, cosmetically the interior was replaced when the car was last restored. History file containing as found pictures, together with bills and inv

    • Year: 1953
    • Mileage: 85813 mi
    For sale
  • 1954 Sunbeam Alpine Convertible

    $46,500(£36,056.10) $46,500(£36,056.10)

    The Rootes Group was once a powerhouse of the British motor industry. In the late 1920s, the Rootes brothers, Reginald and William, expanded their distribution businesses with the goal of manufacturing the same products they sell. Rather than start small, they began by buying up a number of well-known British automobile manufacturers, eventually building a large conglomerate that included Humber, Hillman, Singer, Sunbeam, and Talbot as well as Commer and Karrier trucks. Prior to their inclusion in the Rootes Group, Sunbeam and Talbot had independently made upmarket sporting saloons and touring cars. When they came under the umbrella of the Rootes brothers (Sunbeam was acquired from receivership in 1935) the two marques were combined to form Sunbeam-Talbot. Rootes had little use for motorsports; however, rallying was a seen as an ideal proving ground to demonstrate the toughness and reliability of their motorcars. Rallying at the time was less about outright speed and more about robustness and reliability – which suited the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Saloon quite well indeed. Success in events such as the Tulip Rally and Monte Carlo Rally (with the likes of Stirling Moss,  John Fitch and others as drivers) gave company brass confidence in offering a new sports car. The new car was marketed solely as a Sunbeam – primarily to avoid confusion in the French market where the unrelated Talbot-Lago was still offered. Based largely upon the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 saloon car, the new two seat sports car wore a smartly styled body that was based upon the design of the saloon but freshened (reputedly for American tastes) by Raymond Loewy Studios. The handsome, sweeping body was produced in steel by Rootes’ in-house coachbuilder, Thrupp & Maberly. Although the car was more than a bit over weight when compared to its purpose built rivals such as the Austin-Healey 100 and Triumph TR-2, the 80hp high-compression engine returned respectable performance and it was rugged and reliable enough to handle the stress of rallying. More successes came at the hands of Stirling Moss and others, and the Alpine Sports Roadster served its purpose as a publicity machine quite well. The original Alpine roadster was built for only two years, from 1953 to 1955, with just 1,582 examples produced. The name did not appear again until 1959 when a smaller, lighter and more purposeful Alpine was introduced, based on the Hillman Minx. While the original Sunbeam Alpine was never a road burning sports car, it is certainly a stylish and enjoyable automobile with interesting and colorful competition history. Our featured 1953 Sunbeam Alpine is a good, complete example that has recently come out of long-term storage. It presents in fair condition, with some corrosion evident on the body and floor pans. Importantly, it has not been disassembled and scattered so if a restoration were commissioned, it would be a relatively straightforward undertaking. Despite the corrosion, it is still a good looking car finished in white over a red interior. The paint is average but presentable and the body is fairly straight and appears free of any major crash damage or serious structural deficiencies. The Alpine was notably devoid of most heavy-handed bright exterior trim and mouldings (even exterior door handles were left off) and the result is a smooth and tidy look. What chrome there is on the grille and bumpers is in fair order; straight and with minimal pitting in the plating. The red interior is also in good order, and can likely be freshened up and enjoyed as is, or restored as the next owner sees fit. There is a black vinyl top in good condition and the frame is intact and in good order. Over the years, many owners have modified their Alpines in search of more horsepower (rumor has it that a 289 fits!) with sometimes dubious results. Thankfully, this example remains stock and original. The engine is mated to a manual transmission with column shift.  The car will require a full mechanical recommissioning before hitting the road. This Sunbeam Alpine is a good candidate for restoration or conversion into a period rally car. Rare and attractive, it is an interesting example of what Brits believed Americans desired in a sporting car, and the model brings additional cachet of period competition success at the hands of some legendary drivers.

    For sale
  • 1963 Sunbeam Alpine Roadster

    POA POA

    (SOLD) If you've wanted to get into driving, enjoying, and collecting a classic vehicle but don't have the need to acquire a fully restored show car or trailer queen, then we have just the car for you. Here is a wonderful opportunity to own a vintage sports car at an introductory level price. This driver/project level California black plate Sunbeam Alpine Mark II is a true classic, and would give the new enthusiast a great start in building their collection. At the same time, the roadster stands as an exceptional candidate to take to a higher level as you drive and enjoy the vehicle. The previous owner inherited the roadster, and was an active duty U.S. Air Force mechanic who regularly serviced and maintained the car at his garage in the Coronado community of San Diego, CA. During his ownership, his primary goal was to make this car an enjoyable, dependable driver that would be ideal for drives along the coast, cruising on warm summer nights, and to simply turn heads of admirers of such unique retro automobiles. The car includes a fairly new convertible top, along with many original materials including the original owner’s special tuning guide, lubrication charts, Sunbeam catalogs,

    • Year: 1963
    • Mileage: 20276 mi
    For sale
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