Sunbeam Alpine Series I to V

The Sunbeam Alpine Series I, II, III, IV and V is a British sporty two-seat open cars, produced from 1959-1968. Principally these cars look little like early Ford Thunderbird in design had been created to conquer the U.S. market. Meanwhile, these cars can be seen as both in American and in British movies and TV Series.

For example Sunbeam Alpine Series II was first on-screen car driven by James Bond in «Dr. No» (1962) and it very likely this is the most famous appearance this brand in movies. What other famous appearance of this car brand in the movies? A red Series I Sunbeam Alpine is driven by Elizabeth Taylor in «Butterfield 8» (1960) and features in a number of scenes. A white Series 1 Alpine was the regular drive of Rod Taylor’s character Glenn Evans, in the early 1960s TV series, «Hong Kong». Michael Caine’s character is rescued by a woman in a white 1968 Alpine roadster in the 1971 British crime film «Get Carter». The car is later shunted into a dock with the owner locked in the boot. A similar Sunbeam Alpine is seen in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film «Commando», where car was destroyed in chase scene. Also a Sunbeam Alpine was driven by Imogen Stubbs in the 1990s British TV series «Anna Lee». But this is not a complete list of all appearances of Sunbeam Alpine Series I to V in the movies and on TV.

The Story of Sunbeam Alpine Series I to V has begun when designers Kenneth Howes and Jeff Crompton were tasked with doing a complete redesign Sunbeam Alpine in 1956, with the goal of producing a dedicated sports car aimed principally at the U.S. market. Ken Howes contributed some 80 per cent of the overall design work, which bears more than incidental resemblance to the early Ford Thunderbird. Howe had worked at Ford before joining Rootes.

The Sunbeam Alpine was produced in four subsequent revisions through to 1968. Total production numbered around 70,000. Production stopped shortly after the Chrysler takeover of the Rootes Group.

1957 Sunbeam Alpine Prototype
1957 Sunbeam Alpine Prototype

Sunbeam Alpine Series I (1959–1960)
The «Series» Alpine started production in 1959. One of the original prototypes still survives and was raced by British Touring car champion Bernard Unett.

The car made extensive use of components from other Rootes Group vehicles and was built on a modified floorpan from the Hillman Husky estate car. The running gear came mainly from the Sunbeam Rapier, but with front disc brakes replacing the saloon car’s drums. An overdrive unit and wire wheels were optional. The suspension was independent at the front using coil springs and at the rear had a live axle and semi-elliptic springing. The Girling-manufactured brakes used 9.5 in (241 mm) disc at the front and 9 in (229 mm) drums at the rear.

Coupe versions of the post-1959 version were built by Thomas Harrington Ltd. Until 1962 the car was assembled for Rootes by Armstrong Siddeley.

An open car with overdrive was tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1959. It had a top speed of 99.5 mph (160.1 km/h) and could accelerate from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 13.6 seconds. A fuel consumption of 31.4 miles per imperial gallon (9.0 L/100 km; 26.1 mpg) was recorded. The test car cost £1031 including taxes. 11,904 examples of the series I were produced.

In 1960 Sunbeam marketed a limited-production three-door variant of the Alpine, marketed as a shooting brake. With leather interior and walnut trim, its price was double that of its open counterpart.

The Series I featured a 1494 cc engine and was styled by the Loewy Studios for the Rootes Group. It had dual downdraft carburetors, a soft top that could be hidden by special integral covers and the first available roll up side windows offered in a British sports car of that time.

Sunbeam Alpine Series II (1962)
The Series II of 1962 featured an enlarged 1592 cc engine producing 80 bhp and revised rear suspension, but there were few other changes. When it was replaced in 1963, 19,956 had been made.

A Series II with hardtop and overdrive was tested by The Motor magazine in 1960, which recorded a top speed of 98.6 mph (158.7 km/h), acceleration from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 13.6 seconds and a fuel consumption of 31.0 miles per imperial gallon (9.1 L/100 km; 25.8 mpg-US). The test car cost £1,110 including taxes.

• Sunbeam Alpine Series III (1963–1964)
The Series III was produced in open and removable hardtop versions. On the hardtop version the top could be removed but no soft-top was provided as the area it would have been folded into was occupied by a small rear seat. Also, the 1592 cc engine developed less power. To provide more room in the boot, twin fuel tanks in the rear wings were fitted. Quarter light were fitted to the windows. Between 1963 and 1964, 5863 were made.

• Sunbeam Alpine Series IV (1964–1965)
The lower-output engine option was now dropped with convertible and hardtop versions sharing the 82 bhp engine with single Solex carburettor. A new rear styling was introduced with the fins largely removed. Automatic transmission with floor-mounted control became an option, but was unpopular. From autumn 1964 a new manual gearbox with synchromesh on first gear was adopted in line with its use in other Rootes cars. A total of 12,406 were made.

• Sunbeam Alpine Series V (1965–1968)
The final version had a new five-bearing 1725 cc engine with twin Zenith-Stromberg semi-downdraught carburettors producing 93 bhp. There was no longer an automatic transmission option. 19,122 were made. In some export markets, 100 PS (99 bhp) SAE were claimed.

The Alpine enjoyed relative success in European and North American competition. Probably the most notable international success was at Le Mans, where a Sunbeam Harrington won the Thermal Index of Efficiency in 1961. In the United States the Alpine competed successfully in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) events.

Vince Tamburo won the G-Production National Championship in 1960 using the 1494cc Series I Alpine. In 1961 Don Sesslar took 2nd in the F-Production National Championship followed by a 3rd in the Championship in 1962. For 1963 the Alpine was moved into E-Production facing stiff competition from a class dominated by the Porsche 356. Sesslar tied in points for the national championship while Norman Lamb won the Southwest Division Championship in his Alpine.

A championship for Don Sesslar finally was achieved in 1964 with 5 wins (the SCCA totaled the 5 top finishes for the year). Dan Carmichael won the Central Division Championship in 1964 and 65. Carmichael continued to race the Alpine until 1967, when he finished 2nd at the American Road Race of Champions.

Bernard Unett raced factory prototype Alpine (registration number XRW 302) from 1962 to 1964 and in 1964 won the Fredy Dixon challenge trophy, which was considered to be biggest prize on the British club circuit at the time.

Sunbeam Tigers
Sunbeam Tigers

A muscle-car variant of the later versions of Alpine Series IV to V to was also built is named Sunbeam Tiger. This is a high-performance V8 version of the Sunbeam Alpine, designed in part by American car designer and racing driver Carroll Shelby and produced from 1964 until 1967. Production reached 7128 cars over three distinct series.