Sunbeam Alpine

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Sunbeam Alpine

1959 - 1968
United Kingdom
4 cyl.
1494 to 1724cc
78 to 92 bhp
4 spd. man (opt. overdrive)
Top Speed:
100 mph
Number Built:
69,251 (all series)
4 star
Sunbeam Alpine
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4


Styled by Kenneth Howes, the second generation Alpine was launched in 1959 and was based on the contemporary Hillman Minx. The Alpine used the floorpan of the Hillman Husky, a short wheelbase Minx estate car. When launched it used Rootes' existing 1494cc engine to Sunbeam Rapier specification. Armstrong Siddeley built the first series cars, and during 1960 production of the second series was switched to Rootes own Ryton facility. The series II had the engine capacity increased to 1592cc, along with other refinements being made.

The Series I and II Alpine

Rootes entered the sports car market with a popular-priced two-seater featuring smooth style, unusual weather protection and disc brakes. Mechanical parts were based on the Sunbeam Rapier's, but the engine is extensively modified to raise the power output to a reliable 83.5 gross b.h.p. The car has an entirely new all-steel unit structure. Basic model is a two-seater roadster with a wraparound windscreen and wind-up side windows, but a detachable hard top is available. There was a useful luggage trunk and additional space for baggage behind the seats on a platform 38.5 x 16 in., which can also be used as seating space for two children.

Power of the four-cylinder o.h.v. pushrod engine (1494 c.c.) was raised nearly ten per cent chiefly by the use of a then new aluminium cylinder head with inclined valves in line and a compression ratio of 9.2 to 1. There were four inlet and four exhaust ports and this permitted valves to be arranged alternately, inlet exhaust, inlet exhaust, right down the block, simplifying cooling problems and reducing head distortion under heavy duty. The three-bearing crankshaft ran in lead-indium bearings and there was a new camshaft, also in three bearings. To strengthen the block for the higher power output, stiffening webs ran down inside the crankcase wall.

The crankshaft itself was made of steel with higher tensile strength than that used for the Rapier coupe and convertible. Carburettors were two down-draught Zeniths and there was a four-branch exhaust system merging into twin downpipes. Transmission was through a single-plate Borg and Beck clutch of 8 in. diameter with hydraulic control and a four-speed gearbox with synchromesh on the top three (controlled by a central lever) to a hypoid rear axle. Top, third and second gears were more closely grouped than on the Rapier - a welcome improvement - but bottom gear was lower than ever so that the gap between first and second was much wider. However, as the axle ratio was 3.9 to 1 against 4.55 to 1 on the Rapier coupe the overall first gear was still higher.

Here are the comparative figures:
Sports gearbox: 3.346, 2.141, 1.392, 1 to 1; reverse, 4.239 to 1; axle ratio 3.9 to 1.
Rapier coupe: 3.187, 2.471, 1.491, 1 to 1; reverse, 4.037 to 1; axle ratio 4.55 to 1.

Like the coupe, the Alpine was available to order with Laycock de Normanville overdrive on third and top speeds. With it comes a 4.22 to 1 axle ratio instead of 3.9 to 1. Overall ratios were then 14.128, 9.038, 5.877, 4.717 (overdrive third), 4.22, 3.389 (overdrive top). Front suspension was as on the coupe - wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar and telescopic dampers. Rear suspension was conventional, with rigid axle, half elliptic springs and piston type double acting dampers. Girling disc brakes of 9.5 in. diameter are used at front, with pads giving 20.6 sq. in. of friction area. Drum brakes were used at rear with 9 in. drums and 60 sq. in. of lining area. Wheels are perforated bolt-on discs but centre-lock wire wheels with triple-eared hub nuts were an optional extra. Tyres were 5.60-13. Steering was Burman recirculating.

An interesting feature of the interior was a central armrest forming a locker for gloves, sun glasses, or a camera, with a lockable lid. Instruments included speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure gauge, fuel gauge, thermometer, ammeter. The body-chassis structure was an all steel unit with centre cross bracing built by Armstrong-Siddeley from pressings supplied by Pressed Steel. They also assembled the car with mechanical elements supplied by Rootes, who retained control of all marketing and service matters. Styling was done in Rootes' own design department.

The Series III Alpine

In 1963 the 1.6 litre Sunbeam Alpine was presented at the Geneva show on two new forms, the Sports Tourer and the Alpine Gran Turismo, replacing the single model produced from 1959. The Series III, when compared with the previous model, had many refinements including; servo-assisted braking, more luggage space, greater fuel capacity, fully adjustable competition-type seats which featured fully adjustable controls which could be used to produce more than 64 variations of the driving position.

The basis of both cars was the all-steel body which had won international styling honours for the Alpine and they retained the tail fins (which had been suppressed on the model they were preparing for the Italian market). A new detachable hard-top with sharp-edged styling was standard equipment on the Gran Turismo model, which also had an enlarged rear compartment with upholstered occasional seats.

Performance was increased by higher power output, new gear ratios and improved braking and suspension systems. The 1592cc engine, with aluminium cylinder head inclined overhead valves and twin downdraught Zenith 36 WIP3 carburettors, now developed 87.75 bhp SAE (82 DIN) at 5200 rpm largely because of bigger inlet valves. Peak torque was 93 lb/ft DIN at 3600 rpm. The close ratio gearbox had higher indirect ratios (2.967: 1.898; 1.234; 1 to 1 OD. 0.803. Reverse 3.758 to 1. Overdrive operating on third and top gears was available as an optional extra.

The Alpine's front disc and rear drum brakes now had vacuum servo-assistance. With new seats, fully adjustable steering wheel, increased head room and additional driving aids, the Alpine offered "made to measure" driving position for small, medium or out-sized drivers. The seats had a four-position adjustment for height and tilt and also eight fore-and-aft adjustments over a range of seven inches. All pedals had a two position adjustment - and height of the newly designed steering wheel could be adjusted over a range of two-and-a-half inches. This was a simple operation - instantly performed with one hand.

In addition, backrest adjustment gave a choice of 12 angles down to full recline. Backrests could be tipped fully forward and the whole seat hinged forward to allow easy access to the rear compartment, which could accommodate additional luggage, two children or one adult. A redesigned folding top provided increased headroom, and better vision, together with modified side-windows with fixed front quarter-lights, gave full meatier protection. Equipment included padded grab rail for front passenger, two-speed windscreen wipers, screen washers, a headlamp flasher and new easy-to-read instruments including speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge and thermometer.

Mounting the spare wheel upright behind the rear compartment and recessing twin fuel tanks into her rear guards gave a substantial increase in luggage capacity. The twin petrol tanks had a total capacity of 113 gallons - an increase of 2.5 gallons. They were connected by a balance pipe to ensure even weight distribution and supplied through a single filler.

Gran Turismo

The Series III Gran Turismo model had all the additional comfort and luggage space of the Alpine sports tourer plus distinctive trim and fuller equipment. The new hardtop was light, easy to handle and had a large backlight. It was easily detachable for open air motoring and a cockpit cover was available. In this form the 1592cc engine had a maximum power output of 80.25 bhp SAE at 5000 rpm with peak torque only fractionally below the sports tourer (92 lb.ft. at 3600 rpm). Dry weight was quoted as 2196 lb. The interior included walnut-veneered facia panel with matching wood-rimmed steering wheel, a deluxe trim, tailored carpets, hinged rear quarter lights, heater, twin sun visors and door-operated courtesy light.

For 1964, the Series IV saw the tailfins cut back. It received a new grille and optional automatic gearbox, while the final version, the Series V, was introduced in 1965. It featured the five bearing 1724cc engine. Production ceased in 1968.

Production numbers for the Alpine are:
Series I - 11,904
Series II - 19,956
Series III - 5,863
Series IV -12,406
Series V - 19,122
1967 Sunbeam Alpine

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Also see:

Sunbeam Car Brochures
Lost Marques: Sunbeam
The History of Sunbeam (USA Edition)
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