The Sunbeam Alpine was developed from the successful Sunbeam-Talbot 80 and 90 sedans, which were introduced in 1948 and survived to 1957. These were nicely built, with a sweeping postwar envelope body by Thrupp & Maberly. They had suicide doors with the prewar Talbot signature overlapping glass between the rear door and rear quarter light instead of a pillar. There was also a handsome drop head coupe. The 90 had a 1,944 cc overhead valve four-cylinder, while the 80 was underpowered at 1,185 cc and expired in 1950.
The 90, meanwhile, was punched out to 2,267 cc and enjoyed class wins in the Alpine Rallies in 1953 and 1954. Stirling Moss almost won the 1952 Monte Carlo Rally in a 90 (it was his first rally) and Sunbeam would win the team prize in 1956. Buoyed by their early success, Sunbeam persuaded Raymond Loewy to come up with a roadster based on the 90, and the Sunbeam Alpine was launched in 1953.
Loewy Studios braced the sedan’s frame, smoothed out the body and produced an elegant long-tailed two-seater, with no outside door handles, removable plastic side windows, and a louvered hood. The front suspension was by coil springs and torsion bar with leaf springs at the rear. Moss hit 120 mph on a prepared Alpine in 1953 at Jabbeke in Belgium.
The Alpine was aimed squarely at the American market and more than half of the 3,000 built came to the US. It cost $2,899, which put it in the same price point as the Triumph TR2 and Austin Healey 100. These cars were considerably quicker and more sporty-looking. Despite its leather interior and bucket seats, the early Alpines had a column shift and the forward opening doors made for relatively difficult entry and exit. The looks belied the performance too, with 0-60 in 21 seconds and a top speed of 95 mph.
The factory was committed, however, and the Mark III of 1954 received the new Humber Hawk motor with a bigger carburetor and polished ports. Now up to 80 bhp, top speed improved to 105 mph and the factory offered a plastic racing windshield and a “Plus Performance Kit” for competition, plus a heater, radio and tachometer. The Mk III gained a floor shift option in 1955 and many cars were retrofitted with this much improved system. Approximately 40 unsold Alpines at the end of the run were upgraded mechanically in 1957 and called the Mk IIIS.
The Sunbeam Alpine is probably best remembered from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 thriller “To Catch a Thief”, starring Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, and set in Monaco, where she would marry Prince Rainier and become Princess Grace a year later. Ironically, Grace Kelly died in a 1982 car crash, at a scene where that movie was shot.
The Sunbeam Alpine name is more closely associated with the “Series” Alpine of 1959 to 1968. This was a more proper sports car in both the styling and the performance departments, and it was this later Alpine that would serve as the basis for the V-8-powered Tiger of 1964-1967. The first Alpines, however, did establish racing and performance credentials for Sunbeam in the postwar period and are an interesting if somewhat obscure part of the story of the British sports car in this period.