Curbside Outtake: 1964 Sunbeam Alpine Series III – An Alpine Conundrum from Rootes

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The CC Cohort is a great place for a surprise, and this is one in several ways. This is a predominantly North American site and audience, so any British car is relatively rare. If I just wanted to see pictures of British classics, there are plenty of places I could go but the Cohort keeps pulling me back, and with examples like this you can see why. But it comes with a puzzle.

A Sunbeam Alpine roadster, one of my favourite Rootes cars, registered in Murtal in Austria, spotted by by Roshake,  who I think is based in neighbouring Hungary, and badged as Series IV. CC has seen the Alpine previously, so there is no need to cover the history in full – just a reminder that this was Rootes’s competitor to the MGA and later the MGB. The first cars came in 1960; production ended in 1968 after the Chrysler takeover. It also spawned the Ford V8 powered Tiger derivative.

Alpine assembly was by Bristol Siddeley (at the Armstong Siddeley facility in Coventry) initially and then by Rootes in-house from 1962. Technically, it was closely based on the contemporary Hillman Minx and Sunbeam Rapier, though using the shorter wheelbase Hillman Husky floorpan. Modest underpinnings then, but then so were the MGB’s.

The initial styling was by British stylist Ken Howes, ex-Loewy and Ford, where he had worked for Studebaker in South Bend and on the Thunderbird. He was lured back to Rootes in 1957 with a brief to design a sports car, and did so without picking up any contemporary Rootes themes. But he got inspiration elsewhere – just look at the fins. Or brought it with him from the US.

And this is where the conundrum comes in. As much as I admired the car, something jarred. Roshake had done a typically thorough job with his photography and captions on the Cohort, and caught not just the car but the Series IV badging (Rootes liked adding a new badge with each  series…) but that doesn’t means it’s accurate. If you have followed the Alpine on CC, you will recall that the Thunderbird like fins lasted only until the Series III, which was superseded in 1964 by the Series IV, when the key difference was the considerably toned down fins.

More contemporary for 1964, but perhaps less distinctive. Or maybe it added a bit of almost Italian elegance?  But, is anyone going to say this was not the best looking car Rootes ever built?

But the puzzle remains – why is this car badged as a Series IV? It is clearly a Series III – big fins and quarterlights demonstrate that. My best guess (and it is a guess) is that it started life as a Series III with a 1592 cc engine and has been retrofitted with a later 1725cc engine from a Series V (1965-68) and that maybe the owner understands this to be effectively a Series IV?

Perhaps, I’ll have to make a submission to the CC Travel Budget for a trip to the Alps to find out?

More about Ken Howes, his life and work in the US and at Rootes here