Part of the pleasure in contributing to CC is catching cars like this. I was looking in my hard drive for Hillman Minx photographs and reminded myself of another Rootes Group car with an interesting back story – the first Sunbeam Alpine.
The Alpine (always a Sunbeam, not a Sunbeam-Talbot) was based on the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 from 1948, which Rootes used to considerable effect in international rallying, including the then-prestigious Alpine Rally and the Monte Carlo Rally. The Sunbeam-Talbot 80 and 90 were available as saloons and as convertibles, but this two-seater derivative was developed by Rootes dealer Hartwell and hand built by the firm’s in-house coachbuilder Thrupp and Maberley. These origins account for the fact that, despite being almost exactly the same as the saloon ahead of the windscreen, it is not quickly recognised as an Alpine, nor as a Sunbeam-Talbot convertible.
Mechanically, it was close to the Sunbeam-Talbot 90, with the same 2.3 litre overhead valve 4 cylinder engine-albeit with an increased compression ratio-giving 80bhp and 94mph. The styling was redolent of the Jaguar XK120, but without that car’s much lower roadster feel. Given that it was based on a saloon and was very much an aftermarket derivative, structural rigidity was not all that could be desired. From 1954, overdrive was added, which seems to be the major difference between a Mk1 and a Mk3 (there was no Mk2 Alpine, and the mark designations do not match the saloons).
In 1953, 4 Sunbeam Alpines won Coupes des Alpes in the Alpine Rally, including one for Stirling Moss. The Alpine name was subsequently adopted by Rootes’s competition chief Norman Garrad to reflect these successes.
The Alpine was produced in small numbers from 1953 to 1955 which, coincidentally, was the year the lithe MGA first appeared.
The car behind the Alpine is a 1960s Humber Hawk, also a Rootes product and powered by the same engine as the Alpine. Alongside that car, the large size of the Sunbeam is even more apparent, as it would have been next to such contemporary saloons as the Rover 3 litre and Ford Zodiac