Sunbeam Alpine – A Lost Star Returns

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Summer 1968 first owner Lewis Whiteman gets behind the lens to photograph his new AlpineWhilst the Sunbeam Alpine may not be the first model to cross your mind when naming a British sixties sports car, maybe it should be.

The success of its reincarnation with the Series 1-V from 1959-68 didn’t surprise the Rootes Group but production needed to be ‘in full flow’ to avoid leaving dealers with unfulfilled orders. The Series 1 Alpine was cleverly designed by Kenneth Howes and Jeff Crompton from 1956 making full use of the groups parts bins. Howes had worked for Studebaker and Ford in the US which may explain the Alpine’s similarities to the attractive Thunderbird of 1955. Utilising the floor pan from the Hillman Husky with running gear from the Rapier and styling via the Loewy Studios, a two seater of character appeared from variants of the popular Minx. The American market became particularly fond of the Alpine which offered a more ‘hands on’ approach to open motoring that could be raced on Sunday, then visit the shopping mall on Monday. Popular on the big screen, Elizabeth Taylor came to a spectacular end with her Series 1 in the 1960 movie Butterfield 8. The Alpine played a classic role in 1962 as the first Bond car in Dr No; a complimentary choice, as in the novel the British agent also drove a Hillman Minx. Along dusty Jamaican roads Bond is chased by a 1939 La Salle funeral coach, surely no match for his all new Series II Alpine with its 1.6 litre engine featuring alloy head and pushing 85bhp.

If Jack Brabham World Champion 1959-60 says the Series II Alpine is a ‘beaut’ at £695.00 plus tax it must beThe earlier Series 1 may not have escaped the Detroit built inline 8 of 5.3 litres with its ‘serene’ 1494cc engine although both versions were brought to a halt courtesy of Girling front disc brakes. Speculation is, a local loaned the film company his car for the scenes and the actual car still resides in the Caribbean. The Series II performed well on the race track and sales were assisted through endorsement by the best drivers of the period, including Stirling Moss and Jack Brabham. Michael Caine was an Alpine driver in both the ‘Gambit’ and ‘Get Carter’ films of the 60s and early 70s and then Arnold Schwarzenegger removed the driver’s seat to wreck a Series IV in the 1985 film Commando. The Series IV of 1964 was available in US Chrysler dealerships as the American marque began to take over Rootes Group with hopes of increased sales courtesy of the new floor mounted Borg Warner auto box and a carburettor change incorporating a single two barrel Solex; neither proved very popular. The Series V was the models ‘swansong’ and enthusiast drivers finally got the Alpine they wanted; albeit a little late. Now boasting 1725cc, its five bearing crank offering 92.5 bhp and twin Stromberg 150 CD carbs were amongst a host of upgrades which turned the Alpine into a real 100mph sports car; Sunbeam’s roadster had peaked. Sales totalled around 70k units, which sounds a lot until it’s compared to over ½ million MGB’s but the Alpine was treasured by its owners and those that chose the Ryton marque certainly enjoyed just a little more celebrity.

Lost and Found

In the 70s other marques joined the family including a Renault 4 and Mini Clubman, for Lewis the Alpine remained kingLewis Whiteman took delivery of his rather special company car in April 1967, not the normal ‘rep-mobile’ certainly but his employers thought him worthy of a new Series V Alpine; purchased from the Rootes dealer in Hove, Thomas Harrington. After declining a deskbound promotion, Lewis continued visiting clients of specialist timber merchant John Eede Butt in some style. Lewis and the Sunbeam went on to enjoy over 40k together; this smart combination impressed the clients.  The clean cut driver with leather gloves and starched collar, the combination always appeared ‘just so’. Upon retirement Lewis was gifted the Alpine in recognition of his service and the duo weren’t separated until Lewis passed away in 1992. The Sunbeam now faced an unsure future whilst its story contains a warning for all classic car owners. The car was placed on ‘sale or return’ with a local used car dealer on the south coast but when Lewis’s daughter Jean Jackman visited to enquire as to progress of a sale, the site had been emptied. The company had closed, although the owner had reopened under a new name nearby, something that would occur again soon after. The proprietor closed and re-opened four times over a few years and even with Police involvement the Alpine could not be traced.

If You Can’t Beat Them

The couple will enjoy returning the interior to perfection but all the gauges and switch gear operate perfectlyJean’s husband Steve Jackman is passionate about classic cars, happiest (like most enthusiasts) behind the wheel or under the bonnet. Jean’s passion and occupation revolved around plants and her garden but once a year their worlds combine at the quirky Floral Fringe Fair. A most unique weekend of plant life, wild life, country living and classic cars held at Knepp Castle near Horsham. The ‘something for everyone’ event that will see hundreds of aged vehicles attend, from vintage to military and whilst the couple combined their resources for the show, Jean confessed her urge to get into the classic scene with Steve. ‘The biggest problem being I couldn’t get enthused about any of the cars Steve owned’ Jean explained ‘one car that would solve my dilemma was my father’s Alpine’. So in spring 2015 the search began, not just for any Alpine, maybe they could track down her fathers that had vanished over 20 years before. The odds were remote but the DVLA confirmed they had a record of the car whilst Steve used his contacts within the classic world to gather as much information as possible. The Alpine Club had owners details but they were the name and address of Jeans father Lewis from 1967.

The last power plant installed in the Alpine Series was generally accepted as the best all 1725cc and 92.5bhpIt would be over a year before Steve found the Alpine had recently been MOT’d, the date was easy to remember Jean explained ‘it was my birthday, September 6th 2016’. The evening was spent planning how they could find out where the MOT had taken place when the phone rang at 10.30pm. It was Steve’s pal David Monk who exclaimed ‘I have found your car’! Thinking he had uncovered the same MOT information, Steve explained they were trying to locate the station number of the ticket. ‘No, it’s for sale in the West Country’ Dave revealed. Re-telling the story months later, I could see the excitement in Jean’s eyes.  Contact with the seller followed that night and an early start the next morning saw the couple arrive in Bath, to be reunited with an old family member. Records confirmed the Series V that had originally belonged to Lewis had disappeared until 1995 when it travelled north to Wakefield changing hands locally in 2003 and again two years later. Current owner William Hutty listened to Jean’s story intently, acknowledging the car would be returning south with the Jackman’s, then reduced his sale price by nearly a third to match the offer Jean proposed and could afford. ‘Somethings are meant to happen’ explained my host but it was not all plain sailing.  The car had remained static for nine years and still only showed 45868 miles, just a few thousand more than when her father had last driven it. It ran, but very poorly and Steve was unhappy to drive it around the block, let alone 111 miles back to Sussex. Once trailered home, a water pump with new hoses were fitted by Steve along with electronic ignition plus all the normal service items; less than 100 miles later I got the keys.

Whizzing Around Home Ground

Sunbeam Alpine Overall, this Sunbeam is in great shape, although a repaint is planned for the future and the dash facia requires some fresh veneer. The Jackman’s admit to being rather fortunate tracking down a period correct ‘bolt-on’ roof via the Owners Club; the Alpine originally enjoyed a white version with Webasto opening which disappeared with the car in the 90s. The centre console catches the eye, or to be more precise the heavily vanished arm rest. The timber came from Lewis Whiteman’s other great passion, his boat. Hand built in his garden, the yacht once completed sailed the Solent regularly and one small beautifully crafted part ended up inside the Sunbeam. The 1725cc motor shows great oil pressure and whilst having never driven the Alpine before within minutes we were flying through the countryside. Light and fun, no need to over rev with ample torque below 3k, this nimble sixties roadster is a delight to drive. The steering is precise and the brakes work well considering it has barely moved in the last decade. The Alpine offers a very spirited drive, certainly worthy of consideration for buyers looking to TR’s or MGB’s for the wind in the hair experience. No doubt this particular car will not be changing owners for many years, Jean finally has her father’s car returned plus an excuse to indulge in classic car experiences with Steve. Jean Jackman has also volunteered to take on the vacant position of southern area representative for the Sunbeam Alpine Owners Club whilst the Floral Fringe Fair is on the 3rd and 4th June 2017. Unsurprisingly, the event at Knepp Castle is also hoping to include the largest gathering of Sunbeam Alpines the UK has seen for years.

View from the Pilot

Jean Jackman shares her thoughts on preserving and enjoying the Sunbeam Alpine….

Jean Jackman and his Sunbeam AlpineI am newly gripped by the classic car bug. My husband Steve loves all classic car events and I realised through attending them with him giving out flyers for our Floral Fringe Fair, classic car people are a lovely bunch.  I searched for ways I could get involved but nothing seemed to inspire me, then I started thinking about what had happened to my late dad's Sunbeam Alpine. One thing led to another and it all fell into place, like it was meant to be. Once Steve and I had brought the car home, it occurred to me that I had never driven it, just a passenger in my teens. I needn’t have worried as it fitted me like a glove. Much lighter than I had expected, responsive with amazing all round vision and it turns on a sixpence. Heaven to drive and I feel very special when I drive it. The large slim wooden steering wheel, the chrome, the sleek lines with their 60’s styling and of course the wooden arm rest my dad made. The sound of the engine takes me back to being a teenager and hearing my dad coming home from work. Finding it and buying it was one of the best things I have ever done, although I know my dad would be turning in his grave if he knew how much I had to pay to get it back when it was mine in the first place. However, I couldn’t have been any luckier with the person selling it, the very kind and empathic Mr Hutty; totally true to my impression of classic car people.

Sunbeam Alpine Series V 1965-68 Specification

  • Length; 13ft Width 5ft Weight 1 ton (imp)
  • Engine; 1725cc 4 cyl 92.5bhp @ 5500rpm 103 lbs torque @ 3700rpm
  • Gearbox; Four speed manual; optional overdrive
  • Brakes; Fr Disc Rr Drum
  • Suspension; Fr Coil & Wishbone Rr Leaf spring
  • 0-60mph; 13 seconds Top speed 102mph 25-30mpg