Sunbeam Alpine Series I to V
|Production||1959–1968 69,251 made|
|Body style||2-door roadster|
|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)|
|Length||155 in (3,937 mm)|
|Width||61 in (1,549 mm)|
|Height||51 in (1,295 mm)|
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, which bears more than incidental resemblance to the early Ford Thunderbird; Howe had worked at Ford before joining Rootes.
The Alpine was produced in four subsequent revisions through to 1968. Total production numbered around 70,000. Production stopped shortly after the Chrysler takeover of the Rootes Group.
Series I 1959–1960
The "Series" Alpine started production in 1959. One of the original prototypes still survives and was raced by British Touring car champion Bernard Unett.
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 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) disc at the front and 9 in (229 mm)drums at the rear.
Coupe versions of the post-1959 version were built by Thomas Harrington Ltd. Until 1962 the car was assembled for Rootes by Armstrong Siddeley.
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 (9.00 L/100 km; 26.1 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £1031 including taxes.
11,904 examples of the series I were produced.
In 1960 Sunbeam 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.
Series II 1960–1963
The Series II of 1960 featured an enlarged 1592 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.
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 (9.11 L/100 km; 25.8 mpg-US). The test car cost £1,110 including taxes.
Series III 1963–1964
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 1592 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, 5863 were made.
Series IV 1964–1965
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 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.
Series V 1965–1968
The final version had a new five-bearing 1725 cc engine with twin Zenith-Stromberg semi-downdraught carburettors producing 93 bhp.There was no longer an automatic transmission option. 19,122 were made.
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. 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 1492cc 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. Don tied in points for the national championship.
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. Dan 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.
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..
Notable film and television appearances
A Metallic Blue 1953 Sunbeam Alpine Mk.1 is driven by Grace Kelly in 'To Catch a Thief' (1955) with Cary-Grant.
- A red Series I Alpine is driven by Elizabeth Taylor in the film BUtterfield 8 (1960) and features in a number of scenes.
- A white Series 1 Alpine was the regular drive of Rod Taylor's character Glenn Evans, a crime fighting news reporter, in the early 1960s TV series, Hong Kong.
- A lake blue "Series II" Alpine roadster is amongst the first on-screen "Bond Cars" when it is rented and driven by James Bond in Dr. No of 1962, most notably in a scene where Bond drives it under a truck to escape from pursuing hit men. It was reportedly borrowed from a local resident, as the only suitable sports car available on the island used for filming.
- Michael Caine's character is rescued by a woman in a white 1968 Alpine roadster in the 1971 British crime film Get Carter. The car is later shunted into a dock with the owner locked in the boot.
- A Sunbeam Tiger (the V8 version of the Alpine) was also the vehicle of choice for spy Maxwell Smart in the 1960s TV comedy series Get Smart. An Alpine, outfitted to look like the Tiger, was used for the "gadget" shots, such as the cannon that comes up through the bonnet. The Alpine was used because the cannon would not fit under the bonnet of a V-8 car. The car was modified by noted American customizer Gene Winfield and was the subject of a 1/25th scale plastic model kit.
- A similar Alpine is seen in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Commando, where it was destroyed.
- A Sunbeam Alpine was driven by Imogen Stubbs in the 1990s British TV series Anna Lee.
- A Sunbeam Alpine is driven by Michael Caine in the 1967 film Gambit. The film also starred Shirley MacLaine and Herbert Lom
- A powder blue Sunbeam Alpine is driven by Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins in the 1968 film "Pretty Poison".
- In the TV series Heartbeat, the character of regular characters|Jackie Bradley|, portrayed by Fiona Dolman, drives a green hardtop Series V Sunbeam Alpine, with red interior, bearing the original registration plate LVY 666F (1967). In Series 11, episode 12, Closing the Book two characters arrive at Scripp's Garage in a beige, hardtop Sunbeam Alpine, bearing the registration plate 836 FSH.
- In the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Commando, his co-star Rae Dawn Chong drives a 1964 Sunbeam Alpine Series IV until Schwarzenegger takes over for a major car-chase with a 1973 Datsun 240Z, ending with the Sunbeam’s destruction. As the 7th highest grossing film of 1985, Commando has to be the marque’s greatest media exposure.
The French Alpine
Alpine (pronounced Alpeen) was also a French car manufacturer producing various models until absorbed by Renault in a move unconnected with Renault's takeover of some of the commercial vehicle assets formerly belonging to Chrysler Europe.
In James Bond films
Sunbeam Alpine Series II Sports—Featured in Dr. No. Bond drives to Miss Taro's home in the Blue Mountains; he is pursued by Dr. No's thugs driving a LaSalle hearse. It is a Lake Blue example that was owned by a local resident in Jamaica where the scenes were filmed.
In the novel Dr. No, Bond drives the car that formerly belonged to Commander Strangways, the murdered agent in Kingston. It is also driven by Quarrel. In The Man with the Golden Gun novel Mary Goodnight uses the car and she hands it to Bond so he can use it while he is on assignment.