1961 Sunbeam Alpine I
4-cyl. 1494cc/78hp 2x1bbl
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
In the 1950s, the business plan of every British car manufacturer from Standard-Triumph to Daimler and Rootes seemed to consist solely of “make sports car, sell large numbers to Americans.” The Rootes Group (which consisted of Singer, Sunbeam, Hillman and Humber) was a bit late to the game with a true sports car, but nevertheless enjoyed some success, even if it was rather commensurate with their latecomer status.
Sunbeam had produced a car called the Alpine in the early 1950s but it was more of a personal car than a sports car. The definitive Alpine was introduced in 1959 and from several angles, resembled the classic 1955-59 Ford Thunderbird. This was probably not a coincidence as Rootes employed several ex-Ford designers.
Rootes’ approach was a bit different from MG, Austin-Healey, and Triumph in that none of the sports cars from the aforementioned came with roll-up windows while the new 1959 Alpine did. Based on the Hillman Husky platform and with a 1500-cc engine making under 80 hp, the Alpine (retrospectively known as the Series I) was no powerhouse. It did at least have a relatively plush interior, disc brakes, and a pleasant ride, though.
The Series II of 1960 had a slight horsepower and displacement increase, but little else changed until the Series IV of 1964, which introduced a new grille and cropped tail fins. An automatic transmission was offered in the Series IV, but there were few takers.
The final version, introduced in 1964, was known not surprisingly as the Series V and it featured a 1725-cc, five-main-bearing engine. This car became the basis for the V-8 Sunbeam Tiger and it was by far the most numerous Alpine produced with more than 19,000 examples (mostly sold in the U.S.). Chrysler took over the Rootes Group in late 1966 and seemed to have no interest in sports cars, killing both the Tiger and the Alpine. Although the Alpine name was used again several times, the cars were totally unrelated to the classic 1959-68 sports car. Alpines of late have seen renewed interest by collectors, particularly the tall fin 1959-63 cars. Parts are far less easy to deal with than in the MG/Triumph/Austin-Healey world, but Alpines are also far less common and therefore stand out.