(first posted 10/8/2011) In the US, the Plymouth Barracuda beat the Ford Mustang to the market in 1964 by all of fourteen days. Not that it did much good, given that it was all-too obviously a glassy fastback grafted onto a Valiant sedan (CC here). In Europe, Chrysler’s rather similar Sunbeam Alpine/Rapier had a full two year head start on the very Mustang-esque Capri (CC here), but that didn’t do much good either. Sometimes, history does sort of repeat itself. Or more accurately, sometimes designers make the same mistake twice.
Well, the Alpine’s designer, Roy Axe, claims the Barracuda had no influence on his design. Designers are an egotistical bunch, by nature. I can almost guarantee you that the only reason the Alpine had a three-piece rear window is because the cost of making what was then the largest single piece of automotive glass was probably prohibitive, if not impossible, in England at the time. And any other similarities are purely…in your imagination.
The point is that Chrysler’s British ops, Rootes, missed the opportunity to build a real European Mustang, which Ford so successfully exploited with their Capri. The Capri shared plenty under the skin with Ford’s European sedans, like the Mustang did with the Falcon, but its body design was something new altogether. Beauty is only skin deep.
The Alpine coupe, like the Barracuda, had to share its basic body shell with a sedan, in this case the new-for-1967 Hillman Hunter (CC here). But for what it’s worth, it was a handsomely done remake of that boxy sedan. The Alpine/Rapier was a nice looking car, for Europe in 1967. It’s just that the Capri ate its lunch after it appeared. And in the two brief years before that happened, the Alpine didn’t exactly set the world on fire either.
All the wild bell-bottoms in the world weren’t enough to get folks running to their Sunbeam/Hillman/Singer dealers. Actually, I really don’t know, or have available the sales stats of this car in Europe.
But in the US, given the scarcity of these “Sporty Runabouts” on the ground back in the day, never mind now, sales stats are not needed. But don’t take me the wrong way: I regret not seeing cars like this gracing our streets. The diversity of obscure cars available back in the day made the streetscape so much more colorful.
And in no way am I impugning the intrinsic qualities of this venerable Alpine. Despite the shaky reputation Rootes products had in the US, probably the biggest liability was the not-so benign neglect Chrysler dealers showered on these captive import cars and its owners. Now I’m not in a position to defend their hale and hearty solidity from personal experience, but lets just say if I was sent back in a time capsule to 1969 or so, I’d sure take an Arrow or Alpine over a Morris Marina.
That steering wheel sure looks like it was sourced from Ford, eh? The Alpine had a nice, clean traditional dash covered in wood veneer. And under the hood thrummed the 1725 cc pushrod four that had a rep of being a fairly stout little mill. Sort of the British slant six? The upscale Rapier had an even tastier interior, and a higher output twin-carb version of the four. The US ad above calls it a 94 (gross) hp engine, which makes me suspect that the US-bound Alpines got the Rapier’s engine too. Americans love lots of power, so don’t stint on that, if you’re trying to woo them with your sporty coupe.
The Alpine coupe soldiered on (in Europe) until 1976, and never did get a replacement. The horse had left the barn by then, so why bother? Chrysler had other priorities on its plate, especially in the declining fortunes of its Rootes ops. We all know how that turned out. And today, this Sunbeam Alpine GT sits here forlorn with two other dead “brands”. Fiddlers: strike up a sad tune!
Paul said, “Sometimes, history does sort of repeat itself. Or more accurately, sometimes designers make the same mistake twice.”
Mark Twain once said, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
I had to look at the title of the article first, I glanced at the pic and thought; “Why is Paul doing another Barracuda or Marlin article?” Just a reminder to “read carefully.” I too love many of the automotive oddballs and even though I don’t desire to own many of them I do love the way one can make the streetscape more diverse.
The back window of the Alpine just looks all wrong without that red and blue V-in-a-circle emblem at the bottom center.
A fascinating little car that I knew virtually nothing about. Chrysler had developed such an empire through the 60s, and it all seemed to start unraveling about 1970 or so. Rootes, Airtemp, marine, and others that are not coming to mind.
We only have the Rapier variant in Aotearoa but 94 hp is pretty much the standard Hunter single carb motor but that car only weighed 950kg. The correct option picks were Holbay tuned 120hp engine 4speed with overdrive and you got a nice comfortable grand tourer unlike the Capri there was no 1300cc econobox option The Rapier was always upmarket from the base Hunter.
The car was obviously cribbed from the Barracuda but by that time Chrysler owned Rootes group so it was an in house copy but who cares the final producy was a good looking car and well finished mechanically tough and reasonably fast and very tuneable
The engine goes back to the mid 50s in 1390cc form it grew to 1494 the 1600 the stroked to 1725 then redesigned with 5 mains in the last Super Minx and then fitted standard with the performance alloy head for the Arrow range it is one very tough engine though the heads do give trouble some markets retained the iron heads in the cheaper models and wagons.
What’s the deal on that old wood boat in the background?
I am just as curious about the old wooden boat as Mr. Tactful.
That boat is huge! And it looks like a strong wind could push it over and squash the Alpine like a bug.
This was in front of the America’s Miracle Museum, in Polson, Montana. It has a little bit of everything, including this steamer that used to ply nearby Flathead Lake, which is the biggest fresh-water lake west of the Great Lakes. I have some doubts as to it will ever see better days. Old wood boats are the only bigger drain of time and money than old cars (and women, of course).
My father used to say “A boat is just a hole in the water that you throw money into.” Maybe that is why I never owner one.
A relative used to say:
” things cheaper to rent than to own…a boat, an airplane, a swimming pool, and a woman.”
Or, “the two best days of my life were the day I got a wooden boat and the day I sold it.”
Fascinating. I’d never heard of this car before. As a complete aside, the Flathead Lakes area of Montana is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
“Old wood boats are the only bigger drain of time and money than old cars (and women, of course).”
Do you mean old women or just women in general,,,? I need to know. I’m a bachelor looking for a woman…..
It’s a tired saying. Maybe you could find a woman who likes to work on old boats? Good luck anyway.
Stick to the cars and forget about the women……you will be much better off.
Not to mention old airplanes, steam locomotives and houses. 😀
Given the bracing, I don’t think the wind could push that boat over. On the other hand I wouldn’t be totally surprised to hear that it collapsed of its own weight shortly after the photos were taken. I’ve seen more than one landlocked or “project” boat here in Puget Sound country, and that’s way the rottenest-looking one I’ve seen.
Lovely piece of quirky British design, I really love 60’s British design. They have so many interesting shapes, and everyone of them is somehow just a bit wrong. They all have those little quirls and beaty-marks that just makes them irresistible. Allthough the quality of british manufacturing at the time makes them all impossible to own 😛
One funny thing about the Rootes group is that they somehow have managed to be tied in with all the big 3 American car makers. Ford with Simca, all bought by Chrysler, and license production of Hillman Minx in Japan, by Isuzu, which in turn was bought by GM.
Rootes for many years built really good cars the only blot being the Imp which forced them into the hands of Chrysler who in turn starved them of development money due to their own ineptitude.
That Alpine fastback would’ve been amazing with a 215 Buick aluminum V8.
The stylist can say all he wants but it’s obvious that someone took a Barracuda decklid, left in the dryer too long till it shrank, and said hey, we could put it on the back of this Sunbeam here.
The Arrow based Rapier owes nothing to its previous incarnations and if the idea didnt come from the Barracuda then where?
According to Roy Axe, it was an update of the first generation Sunbeam Rapier. Look at the two-door hardtop configuration and the upswept C-pillar. The Alpine is an update with a Barracuda glassback rear end.
That upswept pillar on the 3 series is because it used the Minx roof with longer front doorsIts quite easy to make a 2 door Rapier from one of these or a vert
All I’m saying is, according to Roy Axe, it was an evolution of the already present Rootes design language. It’s all about brand dna. Check out this article from Aronline:
Same roofline here
OMG those are awful, the 120y did they make it
With Maserati (?) or something like that style plastic wheel covers and a Citroen styled dashboard. And a live rear axle RWD chassis with about two inches of wheel travel. Probably reliable though.
Btw, even if the roofline owes a lot to the Barracuda, I think they really wanted to make it look like the Jensen Interceptor, as both the grille and side window profile does look a bit like one. It would make sense since it’s a British sport coupe?
I agree there is Jensen influence too. It shows Rootes’ limited resources compared to the Capri as it was based on the Arrow/Hunter platform & firewall with the rest of the body unique, a few inches longer than the sedan but narrow only slightly lower which didn’t help the sporting pretensions. The Capri on the other hand was a completely unique shell & noticeably lower and a wider stance.
A friend has one that we have done a couple of forest navigational rallies, where it got a lot of attention as they are pretty rare.
It’s like the second Barracuda in a way, because the body panels are unique to it. Both Barracuda’s were built on the Valiant firewall/structure, so they have Valiant proportions, but the original big window Barracuda was entirely a Valiant from the beltline down.
I also, totally thought “Jensen Interceptor” from a front / front three-quarter view.
I knew about this car only because I got to play in a Colorado junkyard. Slightly blurry photo courtesy my old Moto RIZR Z3.
Which junkyard was this? I could use that front bumper!
I have a 69 Alpine GT I’m parting out if you still need a bumper
Still a few of these here in NZ, but I had no idea they’d made them in LHD and sent some to y’all in the States – I have now been educated!. Fun fact: the Rapier’s tail-lights are shared with the humble Hillman Hunter station wagon.
It wasn’t uncommon back then to use tail-lights from an estate for the coupe version. I didn’t like that, or the profile. The doors looked too short for a coupe (much like the Morris Marina 2-door appeared to save money by using the front doors from the 4-door model.
At that time I would have chosen a Hillman Hunter.
I had one of these in morehead city, nc as a 17 year old. My Dad and I bought it from a former marine who had it rotting away in his yard. Inthinkmi paid $200 for it and drove it for a couple of years. We put a couple of cool paint jobs on it in corporations a starry hutch esquire stripe down the side and I we the roof. It was a great car. I’ll try to dig up a photo.
I had one of these in morehead city, nc as a 17 year old. My Dad and I bought it from a former marine who had it rotting away in his yard. I think I paid $200 for it and drove it for a couple of years. We put a couple of cool paint jobs on it incorporating a starsky hutch esque stripe down the side and Over the roof. It was a great car. I’ll try to dig up a photo.
About the rear window, I disagree!
Making a single piece glass, would not have presented a problem, but it would have been more expensive.
And the construction with the narrow C-pillars, gives rigidity to the hole construction.
Important in a car, that actually drives well, as opposed to the ugly Barracuda.
That the car has a general, somewhat a little likeness, sort off…, does not mean its a copy.
Its actually only the pillarles doors and the angle of the B-pillar, that is in common.
From the front, nothing is in common!
The front is more like the contemporary FIAT 124 coupé…, but that does not make it a copy…!
Why would anyone copy the Barracuda???
Remember the H120?. Tuned by Holby 120 horses was a big deal in the day.
British spec models came with out the Humber spec wood dash.
I had one of these that the previous owner had turned into a convertible with an angle grinder. The guy wanted $20 for the car (in 1985) and my wife said if i bought it she would never talk to me again (she was telling fibs). My wife called her “Emmanuel” after the porn star (as yhe car was both topless and thoroughly fcuked) and cried 6 years later as she was scrapped due to terminal rust (the car had bucket seats….you could tell as they filled up with water when it rained). It taught 6 of my wifes girl freinds to drive and had the best gearbox I have ever experienced, smooth as butter and 6 speed – 4 gears with electric overdrive on 3rd and 4th. A nice car and brilliant for what she cost.
My mum had one when i was a kid, it was dark metallic green, i can even remember the reg plate NFE248J, It was in 1976, I remember going on holiday with the 8 track belting out John Denver, in the hottest summer the uk had seen in decades. That car was awesome, fast, cool and so 70s, well it was to a 9 year old. Funny what sticks in your mind, she had lots of cars but that one has just stuck with me.
First saw one on holiday on the Isle of Wight as an 11 year old back in 1968. Very new, in a beautiful metallic green, brushed stainless sill covers, pillarless and, I thought, quite gorgeous. I still like them.
Much classier than a Capri.
Looked up the sales numbers: less than 47K produced over 7 years.
Sunbeam already sold 1 car called Alpine, It’s my opinion that a completely different car with the same name (probably?) wasn’t all that smart.
It wasn’t until I read the comments here that I realized this Alpine was a “thinly disguised” Sunbeam Arrow. I’ve always thought these looked like a compromised design, and attributed it mostly to it’s looking too narrow.
To me, these don’t look like they weren’t “inspired” by the Barracuda. These Alpines look like Sunbeam’s answer to that other Chrysler Corporation fastback of the late 60s…..the 1st Dodge Chargers, a VERY “thinly disguised” Dodge Coronet
BTW, in the U.K. the Alpine AND the Capri hit showrooms at the same time.
For comparison, the UK spec Rapier had 88 bhp and the Alpine (sold as a cheaper version) had 74 bhp. There was also a 105 bhp version with a cylinder head by Holbay and twin Webers. Hunters (Arrows) went from 54 bhp (1500cc) to 93 bhp (1725cc) for the last of the high performance GLS models.
Rapier/Alpine production totaled 46,204 over 9 years. By the end of 1970, Ford had sold 400,000 Capris, by 1973, 1.2 million across the world, including North America
My 2nd car and the worst POS I ever had. I’d still like a good one though.
That steering wheel is straight from the Hunter I have the same on the wrecked wagon in my driveway.
the steering wheel also appeared on the Plymouth Cricket sold here in Canada.
So this is the next generation of Sunbeam Alpine after the Alpine that begat the Sunbeam Tiger?
Wow. From gorgeous to horrid in a single generation.
Not really, this car replaced the Rapier hardtop and the Alpine version was just the low-trim variant. Arguably an unnecessary debasement of the name, I can’t imagine too many Alpine convertible owners bought one.
I’m usually attracted to underdog cars especially with a Chrysler connection and this is no exception.
But why, why, why, couldn’t they have used a real stainless steel strip in those window seals.
It could have been thin, it wouldn’t have been that expensive, and best of all, it wouldn’t have turned brown.
Now thats what I call an unforgivable shame.
Nice article. Brought back memories of 1973 – I’m looking for a car to replace my first one (64 Fairlane). Up at the corner lot are two that fall within Dad’s budget (less than $1K) – a 69 Olds Delta 88 and a 71 Sunbeam Alpine. The Olds was clean but had 99K miles. The Sunbeam was less clean but had just 40K miles.
I wanted the Sunbeam because it had a 4 speed and I really liked the wood dash. Dad said go with the Olds – four doors work best for the family. He was right and the big Olds 455 soldiered on for another 2 years without a problem.
But I still wonder what life would have been like with the Alpine.
Not counting the Plymouth Cricket, it was the last gasp of Rootes in the US. Here, they were all sold as Alpines. With GT badges added to the ‘souped-up’, wood trimmed models.
In 1974, my senior high-school year, I acquired a rusty ’62 Hillman Super-Minx convertible, bought in the local paper for $50. I tinkered with it and sneaked rides in it, out of my parent’s driveway, where it otherwise sat and leaked oil for a couple years. By then, parts supplies for Rootes vehicles had just about dried up in the US, and there were no clubs or internet for support, so I sold it to a guy for $275 and thought I’d made quite a killing!
Fast forward 10 years and I acquired my last Rootes vehicle, a running, fairly solid ’67 Alpine roadster for $1250. It needed tires, a battery, a clutch and some TLC. By then, there was club support for the Alpines and Tigers – so I was able to keep my Alpine on the road for many years.
During that time, I thought about adding another Rootes product to my stable – one that would be more exclusive and weather-tight than my roadsrer. I looked at a few of the fastback Alpines. But most of them were spent and rusty. The moron that owned the last fastback Alpine GT I saw, had left it parked outside for several years with the windows open. You can imagine the results on the body, interior and wood dash. So sad!
Ahh, the good old days.
Happy Motoring, Mark