built to race. Sunbeam had a sporting heritage, oozing glamour and speed. Rootes cars had a reputation for reliability and not much else. Together, they produced a best-selling British sports car: the Sunbeam Alpine. The Alpine... is attractive, safe, and fast. The world's markets are overdue for such a car. (AUTOCAR, 1959)
Motor racing and glamour have always gone hand in hand, and in the 1920s, Sunbeam traded on both. The marque smashed land speed records and won races around the world. But the glory quickly faded when unpaid debts from World War I (WW1) plunged the company into receivership in the 1930s.
Rootes, on the other hand, was one of the less dazzling British car makers of the first half of the 20th century. Its biggest marques, Hillman and Humber, were reliable but renowned for neither their performance nor styling. So when Sunbeam was bought by Rootes in 1935, its days of motor racing looked to have come to an end.
By 1948, however. Lord 'Billy' Rootes, chairman of the eponymous company, had been persuaded to create a competitions department. With an impressive collection of drivers, Rootes set about designing a sporting model. Their first project was a two-seater version of the existing Sunbeam Talbot saloon car. It would be called the Sunbeam Alpine - in honour of the Rootes Rally Team's success in the legendary Alpine Rally, from Marseille to Chamonix.
Introduced in 1953 this car lasted just two years. It had movie star good looks - seen to good effect in Hitchcock's film To Catch A Thief (1953) - but was essentially a chopped down saloon car. Still, good sales convinced Rootes that the market was ready for a custom-made sports car.
Rootes designer Kenneth Howes had just returned from working at Studebaker in Detroit, and he brought sporty, modern American styling to the new Sunbeam Alpine. Launched in 1959 to rave reviews, the Alpine had one weakness, with a 1,494cc engine, it was slightly under-powered. But this problem was addressed with the launch of the 1,592cc Series II in 1960.
The next year, Harrington Coachbuilders, who had a long association with Rootes, modified a Sunbeam Alpine to compete in the Le Mans 24-hour race. It came second in the 1,600cc class, reviving Sunbeam's racing heritage. In November, Stirling Moss and Jack Brabham raced Alpines in California and after their success on the track, the car sold out on the West Coast.
Sadly, in 1967 American car manufacturer #Chrysler
bought Rootes and ended Sunbeam Alpine production a year later. More than 69,000 Alpines had been sold, but after 20 years of success, Rootes severed its ties with sports cars forever.
The Sunbeam's clean American lines and styling, included signature pointed tail fins.
A sports car for the young at heart - from 1960 to 1963. almost 20,000 series II Alpines were sold.
ENGINE: 1.592cc in-line 4 cylinder
TOP SPEED: 101.1mph(163km/h)
0-60 MPH: 13.6 seconds
POWER: 80bhp @ 5,000rpm
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed manual (optional overdrive)
Front: independent coil springs, wishbones
Rear Live axle, semi- elliptic leaf springs
Rear: drum brakes
Keeping a low profile
ONE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IAN FLEMING'S
Dr No and the film is Bond's choice of vehicle in Jamaica. #Fleming
had specified a Hillman Minx, a convincingly dull hire car However, the Bond filmmakers, wanting to upgrade the glamour of their spy. chose a Sunbeam Alpine.
On location in Jamaica, they hired the sporty little convertible for a mere 10 shillings a day. Though underpowered compared with rivals like the MGB and TR3 and 4, the series II Alpine allowed Dr No's producers to stage a car chase for 007's first outing. Fleming's choice. the Hillman Minx (top speed a dull 125km/h). would have made slow work of the island's winding cliff roads. The Alpine, however, topped out at 163km/h.
The real challenge was the scene's climax. Sean Connery remembers producer Cubby Broccoli having the idea of the Sunbeam Alpine racing underneath the arm of a crane. Intending to perform the stunt for real, the crew did a slow run through. It was immediately clear that, at full speed and bouncing along the bumpy road, the Alpine - with the 190cm-tall Connery driving - would never clear the crane. According to Connery, the crew tried letting air out of the tyres to lower the car to no avail. The final take is clearly filmed against back projection. #Alpine