Sunbeam Alpine History
The Sunbeam Alpine, based in Midlands, England, was a two-seater roadster, coupé and fastback manufactured by the Rootes Group between 1953 and 1975. The car, however, is most identified as the 1959-68 Alpine Series 1 through 5 open roadsters with their sharp tailfins, low profile and nimble handling. The attractive Alpine enjoyed immense success in films and television, and its famous drivers included Grace Kelly and Sean Connery.
The original Sunbeam Alpine was designed by George Hartwell and introduced in 1953 as a Sunbeam-Talbot, the result of mergers between Sunbeam, Darracq and Talbot. It was also referred to as the Talbot Alpine. It featured typical postwar British styling with rounded front fenders with integrated headlamps, a long vertical grille and a large trunk. It sat on a short 97.5-inch wheelbase and measured only 168.5 inches long.
Only 3,000 of the first generation Alpines, powered by a 2267cc 4-cylinder engine, were manufactured since production only lasted two years. Most of them were built as left-hand drives and exported to the United States where very few survive today.
In 1956, the Ford-trained designer Ken Howes and his partner, Jeff Cromptom, were charged with redesigning the Alpine to appeal to the American market. The result was a sharply detailed roadster that bore no resemblance to the first generation Alpine and had more than a few characteristics of the Ford Thunderbird.
The new Alpine debuted in 1959 as a two-seater roadster. It sported an underpowered 1494cc 4-cylinder engine, which made the sports car a poor candidate for competitive racing. Its wheelbase was only 86 inches and its length 155 inches. It was built on a Hillman Husky frame, and the gearbox came from the Sunbeam Rapier.
While later models of the second generation Alpine featured larger powerplants, the roadster never tore up the race track. It recorded a 0-60 mph speed of only 13.6 seconds, but it got a remarkable 31 mpg and cost only £1031.
By 1963, the Alpine introduced a removable hardtop. Sunbeam seemed to resist the idea of putting more power under the hood. Although engine displacement increased for the 1963-64 cars with 1592cc, its power output dropped. For all of its performance failings, the impressive body design made it ideal for use in television commercials and as movies props. It was featured in the opening sequence in the first season of the TV series “Get Smart” and was driven by James Bond in the 1962 film “Dr. No.”
In all, about 70,000 of the roadsters were produced before Rootes introduced its Alpine fastback in 1969. The Alpine fastback was actually a rebadged 1968 Rapier fastback coupé. It sat on the same wheelbase as the roadster but measured much longer at 174.5 inches. It featured a 1725cc engine but still suffered from anemic power output. The fastback was produced until 1975. By then the Chrysler Corporation had purchased Rootes and ended the Alpine’s production.