Curbside Classic: 1970 Sunbeam Arrow – With Stereotype-Defying 325,000 Miles

(first posted 4/18/2011)    Ok, so maybe I’m cheating slightly here. No; not about the miles on the odometer. It’s just that this Sunbeam Arrow isn’t actually parked on the curb, but sits in a driveway [Ed: no problem].  But this Sunbeam is a real driver, and has done over 325,000 miles. This car is out to prove that a British car can be every bit as durable as a Toyota. Or maybe it’s proving that its owner is as durable as a Toyota. Either way, it makes for quite a story.

I spoke with the owner years ago and he also had an Austin Marina with similarly high mileage. The Marina was re-branded for North America as an Austin (Morris in UK) because it was felt Austin had a better brand image. Of course, one could make the argument that since Morris had zero brand image in the US, that might have been a benefit compared to Austin’s well-tarnished name.

The Sunbeam was a badge engineered version of parent company Rootes’ Arrow sedan. Various versions and a mindboggling array of names were used around the world, but only North America got the Sunbeam Arrow. Hillman Hunter was probably the most common of all the variants, with Singer and Humber producing the upscale versions. A sample of other names used were Singer Vogue, Singer Gazelle, Hillman Minx, Sunbeam Break de Chasse, Sunbeam Hunter, Sunbeam Minx, Sunbeam Sceptre, Sunbeam Vogue, Humber Sceptre, and even Chrysler Hunter. And you thought GM had cornered the market on badge engineering!

This particular example is a 1970 model with a 1725cc engine fitted with the factory aluminum performance head, which would be familiar to any Sunbeam Alpine owner. It also has the Borg Warner Type 35 three speed automatic gearbox, which found its way into a vast number of European cars. The owner was hoping to see it go to a good home, but sadly the car did develop a rather nasty bit of rust over its many miles. I haven’t seen it for quite a while now, so I suspect this story didn’t have a happy ending for the car.

The last English built Arrow was built as a Chrysler Hunter in 1976 and the last European one was produced in Ireland in 1979. Australia and New Zealand built their own versions from knocked down kits until the Japanese competition wiped them out, Australia in 1973 and New Zealand in 1977. The Rootes Arrow story doesn’t end in the UK but in Iran.

Way back in 1960s Mahmoud Khayami decided Iran should have its own car, and after a search he decided on the Arrow. Iran National was given the nod to produce the Paykan (which is apparently Persian for Arrow) from knock down kits. A pick-up version was later added.  Production lasted until 1985, first with the 1725cc engine then a 1600cc from the Avenger. After supplies of the mechanical components dried up, a Peugeot drive train and suspension was then adapted to the existing body and production of the sedan continued until 2005, and the pick-up all the way to 2009.

On a personal note I have a slight connection to the Arrow sedans, as I bought one of their rear tail lights from a UK source to replace a broken one on my Reliant Scimitar GTE. The Aston Martin DBS more famously shares the same Lucas light cover as well. The interchangeability of the Lucas tail light is one of the bright spots in the story of that infamous brand of electric equipment.