Monday, October 17, 2011

1967 Sunbeam Alpine - A Very Nice Example

This is a very nice, unmodified Alpine.

The Series V was the last of the Alpine roadsters. Unless you preferred the big fin styling of the earlier cars, it's the one to own.

The engine was a 1725cc, 5 main bearing version of the Hillman Minx engine. It produced around 93 HP. 60 MPH came in the 12 - 13 second range and it gave the car a top speed of over 100 MPH.

The Series V Alpine was also the first to come with an alternator. The interior was comfortable and well appointed. (Although all Alpines were comfortable and well appointed. Even early cars had roll up windows and standard heaters when the former were not available and the latter was optional on many UK roadsters.)

This car is an original spec, unmodified car. It's been repainted and some trim pieces have been replaced. The seller calls it "high quality driver".

Sunbeam Alpines used to sell for very little money. They were overshadowed by the Tiger and didn't have the name recognition of MG, Triumph, etc. That's all changed. They are now finally being recognized for what they are; a fun, good looking, relatively reliable, British roadster. The prices have risen accordingly.

Located in Orange County, CA, click here to see the eBay listing.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my first British roadster was a 1967 Sunbeam Alpine.

Actually, my first and second British roadsters were Sunbeam Alpines. I drove the first one for less than 5 minutes before it was wrecked. I'm not kidding.

My grandmother worked for Rootes in Manhattan. When I was a kid I would spend hours thumbing through the brochures she would often bring to me. Before I was a teenager I knew I wanted a Sunbeam.

In the early 1980s I found one. It was in Methuen, MA, about an hour ride from my house. The seller had rebuilt the engine and welded in some patch panels. Basically, it needed a paint job and some tidying. I had a friend who was teaching me bodywork and I could use his "spray booth" (a cordoned off section of his garage) to paint the car. I paid for the car, got the title and told the seller I'd be back in a few days to pick it up.

I registered the car and few days later one of my employees, Mark, drove me to pick it up. I put the plates on it, fired it up and drove away from the seller's house.

This section of Methuen had very narrow streets with row houses and tenements on each side. As I was driving up the street I saw a pick up truck coming the other way. A young girl was driving it. She was laughing, waving and shouting at people in the windows of the top floors of the tenements. She was also drifting into my lane.

One of the things I didn't check before I bought the car was the condition of the horn. I pushed the horn ring. I think I heard something, but not much. The girl in the truck probably heard nothing. In a matter of seconds the pick up truck hit me head on. Mark, who was following me in his Honda, then hit the back of the car. (We never figured out whether he hit me, or if I was pushed into his car. It didn't matter, his car suffered no damage.)

I knew things weren't good even before I got out of the car. The hood was now obstructing the view out of the lower quarter of the windshield. The girl was screaming and crying. She kept saying "My dad is going to kill me". Maybe not. I was thinking of doing it first.

Someone in one of the tenements said they would call the police. I asked Mark to find a phone (this was pre-cell phone days) and call my girlfriend. Her dad ran a Cadillac / Oldsmobile dealership just a few miles away. I figured he had a wrecker and could pick up the Sunbeam. I also hoped he wouldn't mind storing it at his dealership for a few days.

According to Mark, my girlfriend at first thought the call was some kind of joke. After he convinced her that it wasn't, she called her dad, who sent a tow truck and said I could keep the car at his dealership for as long as I needed to.

There is a happy ending to this story. The girl's insurance company was clueless about the value of a Sunbeam. About a week later I got a call from them. The adjuster starts in about the pre-accident condition of the car. He went on and on about how it needed paint and the top was old and the carpet was faded, etc., etc., etc. He ended his spiel by saying that they couldn't give me much for the car. I was bracing for a fight. "How much?", I asked. He threw out a figure. It was $1500.00 more than I had paid for the car. I was stunned. Just to see what would happen, I told him that wasn't acceptable and asked for an additional $1000.00. He said no, but that he would give me another $500.00, but it would then be my responsibility to dispose of the car. I was now going to get $2000.00 more than I paid for the car a week earlier and get to keep it. I accepted the offer.

The car was eventually towed to my friend's garage. I thought maybe we could do the bodywork and get it back on the road. My friend (who used to run a professional body shop) declared it too twisted to attempt to repair.

I took out the drivetrain and a few other parts, hoping I could make a few more dollars by selling them. I then called a junkyard to pick up the carcass. The guy who answered the phone at the junkyard took all my info and the casually mentioned that they had just taken in another Sunbeam the day before. "Nice car", he said. "Got a hole in the block, though." (!!!) I asked him if he would not allow anyone to take parts off it until I had a chance to look at it. He said he'd hold it until the next day.

It turned out to be pretty nice. The top was gone and the interior was rough, but the body was straight and amazingly rust free. A deal was struck and instead of picking up my old Sunbeam, they wound up delivering another one to me.

It took about a month to get everything from my old car into the new one. The engine fired up on the first try.

I kept the car for about 2 years, eventually trading it towards a Triumph Spitfire.

The photos above are of the first Sunbeam. They were taken the day after the accident. The car was still at my girlfriend's dad's dealership.

The photo below is of the second Sunbeam, just as I'm about to start it for the first time. I'm looking a little maniacal with my oh-so-1980s full beard!


Maxichamp said...

Awesome story.

Did the Alpine's smaller engine up front mean it was better balanced than the Tiger?

Just A Car Geek said...

Hoestly, I've never driven a Tiger, so I don't know.

It would make sense that the Alpine would be better balanced.


Anonymous said...

fantastic story thanks for sharing...

thats one for the books..

cheers rusty

Anonymous said...

The seller states it has original paint. That is a lie. Look closely at the vin tag with overspray and the paint is too shiny and color too vibrant to be original.

Mike P said...

There was a Tiger sitting in a backyard in the little town that I work in that couldn't be seen, until the homeowner trimmed some very large bushes around the house. Didn't sit there long, though. Whether the bushes were cut to move the car, or someone saw it and jumped on, I don't know. Great story, you got real lucky!

Anonymous said...

" So you can never tell when something bad, is really good for you"
(That's one of my favorite quotes from the British actor Michael Caine about when he missed out on a theater role he really wanted, which meant he was then available when a director offered him a role in his latest movie. The movie was "Zulu" and Caines' career was launched. It works with cars too.)

J said...

Hey isn't this the car Maxwell Smart drove?

Bill said...

Maxwell Smart had both Alpine & Tiger during the shows run, and they were used interchangeably...! Whenever you see the machine gun pop up from the bonnet it is the Alpine. Other than that I think the producer wanted viewers to think it the Tiger. The gun wouldn't clear the V8. New movie is a Tiger.
I have driven both. The Tiger's front heavyness is made up for by its better steering box. Oh, and even the strongest Alpine is too slow. When they were new the Tiger had no where near enough tire to work well, while the Alpine was about right with the bias ply 5.60-13s. Modern rubber sure is better.