The Rootes Group was once a powerhouse of the British motor industry. In the late 1920s, the Rootes brothers, Reginald and William, expanded their distribution businesses with the goal of manufacturing the same products they sell. Rather than start small, they began by buying up a number of well-known British automobile manufacturers, eventually building a large conglomerate that included Humber, Hillman, Singer, Sunbeam, and Talbot as well as Commer and Karrier trucks. Prior to their inclusion in the Rootes Group, Sunbeam and Talbot had independently made upmarket sporting saloons and touring cars. When they came under the umbrella of the Rootes brothers (Sunbeam was acquired from receivership in 1935) the two marques were combined to form Sunbeam-Talbot.
Rootes had little use for motorsports; however, rallying was a seen as an ideal proving ground to demonstrate the toughness and reliability of their motorcars. Rallying at the time was less about outright speed and more about robustness and reliability – which suited the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Saloon quite well indeed. Success in events such as the Tulip Rally and Monte Carlo Rally (with the likes of Stirling Moss, John Fitch and others as drivers) gave company brass confidence in offering a new sports car. The new car was marketed solely as a Sunbeam – primarily to avoid confusion in the French market where the unrelated Talbot-Lago was still offered. Based largely upon the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 saloon car, the new two seat sports car wore a smartly styled body that was based upon the design of the saloon but freshened (reputedly for American tastes) by Raymond Loewy Studios. The handsome, sweeping body was produced in steel by Rootes’ in-house coachbuilder, Thrupp & Maberly. Although the car was more than a bit over weight when compared to its purpose built rivals such as the Austin-Healey 100 and Triumph TR-2, the 80hp high-compression engine returned respectable performance and it was rugged and reliable enough to handle the stress of rallying. More successes came at the hands of Stirling Moss and others, and the Alpine Sports Roadster served its purpose as a publicity machine quite well. The original Alpine roadster was built for only two years, from 1953 to 1955, with just 1,582 examples produced. The name did not appear again until 1959 when a smaller, lighter and more purposeful Alpine was introduced, based on the Hillman Minx. While the original Sunbeam Alpine was never a road burning sports car, it is certainly a stylish and enjoyable automobile with interesting and colorful competition history.
Our featured 1953 Sunbeam Alpine is a good, complete example that has recently come out of long-term storage. It presents in fair condition, with some corrosion evident on the body and floor pans. Importantly, it has not been disassembled and scattered so if a restoration were commissioned, it would be a relatively straightforward undertaking. Despite the corrosion, it is still a good looking car finished in white over a red interior. The paint is average but presentable and the body is fairly straight and appears free of any major crash damage or serious structural deficiencies. The Alpine was notably devoid of most heavy-handed bright exterior trim and mouldings (even exterior door handles were left off) and the result is a smooth and tidy look. What chrome there is on the grille and bumpers is in fair order; straight and with minimal pitting in the plating.
The red interior is also in good order, and can likely be freshened up and enjoyed as is, or restored as the next owner sees fit. There is a black vinyl top in good condition and the frame is intact and in good order. Over the years, many owners have modified their Alpines in search of more horsepower (rumor has it that a 289 fits!) with sometimes dubious results. Thankfully, this example remains stock and original. The engine is mated to a manual transmission with column shift. The car will require a full mechanical recommissioning before hitting the road. This Sunbeam Alpine is a good candidate for restoration or conversion into a period rally car. Rare and attractive, it is an interesting example of what Brits believed Americans desired in a sporting car, and the model brings additional cachet of period competition success at the hands of some legendary drivers.