COAL: The ’67 Alpine — A “Failure to Proceed”

A view of the bucolic Palisades Interstate Parkway, not far from NYC. (Source: photo by Victoria I.)


All was well for the first several months of my ownership of my first “fun car”, the ’67 Sunbeam Alpine. I drove it to work a few times, braving routes I-287 North and I-80 East and their requisite insane rush-hour traffic, and then settling into the surrounding greenery of the Palisades Interstate Parkway for the last stretch as I neared my Rockleigh, New Jersey workplace.

Mostly though, the Sunbeam was a weekend ride, saved for the occasional car show and used for running local errands, then safely garaged during the week.  (Though I enjoyed a Volvo “test car” as my weekday commuter vehicle, I was careful- at first- not to run up its mileage on non-work days).

My car show career started with the Alpine.


The Alpine was an extremely comfortable two-seater for its time. In addition to its telescopic steering wheel, it boasted brake and clutch pedals which could also be adjusted slightly fore and aft via movable pins in their respective pedal assemblies. Combined with the driver’s seat fore-aft adjustment and its reclining backrest, it was easy to find a suitable driving position.

A roomy and comfortable two-seat sports car. It’s not my ride, so please excuse the split driver’s-seat bottom seam.


Although not optimally positioned for heel-and-toe work, the hydraulic clutch was smooth in operation, and the Alpine’s power-assisted brakes were more than up to the task of arresting forward progress. Speaking of which, although its performance could not exactly be considered sparkling, I felt it more than adequate, the 1725-cc four-cylinder’s response seemingly well-tailored to the car’s preferred ‘relaxed touring’ driving mode.

The Alpine’s five-bearing 1725 engine. The oil filter sits on top of the oil pressure relief valve. The two hoses at the bottom right connect to the standard-equipment oil cooler.


Webster defines numerology as “the study of the occult significance of numbers”. Personally, I’ve never had a strong interest in the occult, but one early-spring event during my Alpine ownership caused me to briefly consider that some strange and unusual forces might indeed have been at work.

On that occasion, I jumped in the Alpine to return from a friend’s house where I’d spent the evening. In a hurry to get home, I elected to drive off as soon as I could release the manual choke, rather than waiting a minute or so longer to let the engine fully warm up. At first, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. The 1725 wasn’t the quietest four-cylinder under the best of circumstances, and in my rush to be on my way, I failed to notice that the oil pressure gauge was pinned at the low end of its scale.

Pressing on, I finally realized that the slight knock I heard wasn’t diminishing as I drove, instead growing steadily louder and more ominous. Foolishly, I continued, hoping that by the grace of Lord Rootes, I could somehow finish the approximate twelve-mile drive. Of course, that didn’t happen. Coasting to a stop and shutting off the ignition, I contemplated my options as the first few drops of rain started to fall.

Preparing to walk the last several miles home, I looked at my watch and noted that it was 12:34 AM on May 6th, ’78. No advanced math skills are required to realize that fate might possibly have had a hand in my misfortune that night. As I walked homeward, no passing cars offered the possibility of at least a temporary respite from the steadily increasing precipitation. I finally arrived home completely drenched and anxious to do nothing more than climb into bed and contemplate the next steps.

Part of the following day was spent advising the local police department of the Alpine’s location and the circumstances of its abandonment, then scouring the Yellow Pages to find a suitable foreign-car repair shop. The shop’s name escapes me after all these years, but it was located in nearby Parsippany, New Jersey. Bright and early the following Monday, I arranged for the Alpine to be towed to the shop so that the damage could be assessed.

All the Sunbeam dealers had long ago closed their doors, so I had to search for the next-best alternative.


Apparently, Lord Rootes hadn’t been entirely unsympathetic to my plight. After examination, a full rebuild was deemed unnecessary, so new rings and valves were installed, as well a replacement of the oil pressure relief valve, a known problem area. Shortly, the Alpine was buttoned up and once again ready for the road.

Apparently, the oil pressure relief valve had been the subject of a service campaign shortly after my Alpine had been built. (Source: Tigers East/Alpines East)


I’ve always admired the British talent for gentle understatement. Amazingly, this was the only “failure to proceed” I experienced with the Alpine during almost twenty years of ownership.