COAL #20: 1967 Sunbeam Alpine — The Rootes of My Classic-Car Ownership

Illustration from the web.


By mid-1977, I had secured steady (“permanent temporary”) employment and had begun to develop my design skills on real-world auto-industry projects as a Product Adaptation Specialist at Volvo of America Corporation. Still living at home with my dad, I took over his mid-1960s mortgage payment, utility bills, and most other miscellaneous expenses. By then, I also enjoyed the benefit of a Volvo daily driver (the “handicap car” referred to in last week’s COAL) as my commuting vehicle.

Not only that, since I had a daily round-trip commute of about 100 miles, –longer than many of my colleagues– I was asked to provide fuel-economy records which were compiled by Volvo’s Technical Center, a group of mostly Swedish engineers located nearby Northvale, New Jersey. They were tasked with reporting quality-related issues (and proposed solutions) back to the mother ship in Gothenburg. As Volvo was paying for my gasoline, I was glad to oblige.

The point of all that preamble is merely to say that with a full-time job and relatively low expenses, I was fortunate enough to have saved a bit of money. How does a confirmed car enthusiast turn a small bank account into an even smaller bank account? Read on.

As if commuting for two hours each weekday and spending my working hours engrossed in the automobile industry weren’t enough, I had begun a subscription to Hemmings Motor News, scrutinizing every page in detail in search of my first classic car. In truth, though, I skipped over most of the “Non-Fords For Sale” sections which were then arranged somewhat haphazardly. I first became aware of Hemmings on one of my many sojourns to Burbank’s Autobooks while attending Art Center, and have remained a subscriber ever since.

In the early seventies, most of the vehicles now considered classics were just old cars, with the appropriate asking prices.


I also continued my occasional Sunday morning drives to the used-car lots of local new-car dealerships. That’s how I had found my ’69 Mustang, after all, so the possibility of finding another gem in similar circumstances wasn’t a complete impossibility, at least in my fevered brain. One of these stops was at Gardner Porsche-Audi, the source of my ’74 Audi Fox, where I was briefly seduced by a previously-owned black on black Porsche 914. Ultimately, as my designer genes (sorry) kicked in, I couldn’t see myself living with its distinctive proportions (especially in side view) and the upright formality of its basket-handle targa roof. So the Porsche was out.

The early black-on-black 914 I looked at wasn’t burdened by these ugly Fed bumpers. I passed on it anyway. (Source: www.gullwingmotorcars)


I can’t say what led me to the ’67 Alpine. I’d certainly been aware of the model, maybe due to its general similarity with the ’55-’57 Ford Thunderbird, especially after its fins were toned down with the debut of the Series IV Alpine in 1964. I will say that I’d long admired the two-seat T-Birds, primarily the ’55 and ’57 models (not so much the ’56, with its exposed spare), so perhaps there was a bit of subliminal attraction to the Sunbeam.

After a stint with Raymond Loewy, Alpine designer Kenneth Howes worked at Ford in 1955-56. Coincidence? I think not.


In any case, Hemmings led me to Hatboro, Pennsylvania, where I met a young gentleman who had advertised his 1967 Sunbeam Alpine for sale. A Series V, the ’67 Alpine represented the last iteration of Rootes’ two-seater, with its five main-bearing OHV four-cylinder displacing 1725 cc and developing a claimed 100-HP.

From the “Rootes Division of the Chrysler Corporation”.


This particular example was finished in BRG (or “Forest Green”, according to Rootes) with a black vinyl interior and the standard (non-overdrive) four-speed manual gearbox. Its odometer registered just over 50,000 miles, and the car looked well-kept, inside and out. After a brief test drive and some dickering, a mutually acceptable price was agreed upon (I seem to remember $1,000). The 65-mile drive home was uneventful, and the Alpine took its place in our detached one-car garage, leaving the Volvo and Dad’s ’69 Torino parked outside.

The Alpine regularly found itself at club events and other car shows, as well as just being a fun weekend driver, with the top down most of the time.


Soon afterward, a phone call to Chrysler Service Publications netted me parts, service, and owner’s manuals, which a Mr. T. C. Sidebottom (yes, his actual name) on the other end of the line kindly sent at no cost (“We’re trying to get rid of these anyway,” he confided). Thus armed, I began my foray into the world of LBCs (little British cars), an affliction from which I still suffer, some 47 years on.

I refrained from attaching this bumper sticker to the Volvo.