The first Sunbeam car was produced in 1901, and used a Peugeot as its basis.
In 1920, Sunbeam went into sports car racing, and their car ended in second position in the 1925 Le Mans race. Since racing was expensive, and they had not been paid for WW1 work, the Company went into receivership in 1934.
In 1935, the Rootes Group purchased the Company. In 1938, Rootes introduced a brand new marque. They decided to call it the Sunbeam Talbot, which brought together the desirable Talbot coachwork with the chassis of the Hillman and Hunter.
In 1950, the Sunbeam Talbot Mark 2 cabriolet was introduced. It used a 2.3 litre overhead valve engine developing 70 bhp.
In 1952, a Mark 2A drop head coupe was introduced, and the higher compression engine produced 77 bhp.
In 1954, the Mark 3 included a two door drop head coupe, and power from the 2.3 litre, straight 4-cylinder engine was increased to 80 bhp.
A Mark 2 Sunbeam Talbot, driven by Stirling Moss, ended in second position in the 1952 Monte Carlo Rally. The 1955 Rally was won by a Mark 3 Sunbeam Talbot.
In 1953, the Sunbeam Alpine Mark 1 was launched. It was a two seater convertible, based on the 1952 Sunbeam Talbot drop head coupe. The engine and performance were unchanged.
There was no Mark 2, but a Mark 3 version was introduced in 1954. Production ended in 1955 when 1,582 were built.
In 1956, the Sunbeam Alpine Mark 3 was completely redesigned with the aim of producing a pure two seater sports car targeted primarily at the US market. The final outcome produced a car with a more than passing resemblance to the early Ford Thunderbird.
The Sunbeam Alpine
Hence was born the restyled Sunbeam Alpine sports car which, between 1959 and 1968, was produced in five separate series.
In 1959, the Series 1 Sunbeam Alpine was launched. It was a two door convertible with optional overdrive.
In 1960, the Series 2 was introduced, with the engine increased from 1.5 to 1.6 litre.
In 1963, the Series 3 made its appearance. It was offered as a convertible and a fixed head coupe with a detachable “Surrey” hardtop. An occasional rear seat was fitted.
In 1964, the Series 4 was introduced. The convertible and hardtop versions were retained.
The distinctive rear fins were replaced with a restyled alternative. The engine was fitted with a single Solex carburettor.
In 1965, the Series 5 was launched. The engine was uprated to 1725 cc, with a 5-bearing crankshaft and two Stromberg carburettors.
The Sunbeam Tiger
In 1962, it was obvious to Rootes Group that the Sunbeam Alpine required a more powerful engine in order to be successful in worldwide markets.
It was suggested that the Ford V8 unit, as used in the AC Cobra, would be an ideal candidate. After extensive development work, a method was found to “shoehorn” the V8 into the Alpine engine compartment.
A contract for the production of the new car was given to the car maker Jensen.
In 1964, the Series 1 Sunbeam Tiger sports car was introduced. It was fitted with the 4.3 litre Ford V8 unit.
All the cars built were shipped to the US, except for 56. It was not until 1965 that the cars were available in the UK.
In 1967, the Series 2 Sunbeam Tiger was launched. It was fitted with the 4.7 litre Ford V8 unit. Apart from a larger engine, the car remained unchanged. Officially, the Series 2 model was destined solely for the US market.
In 1967, owing to mounting losses at Rootes Group, it was forced to agree a takeover by Chrysler. However, the new owner wanted its own V8 engine in the Tiger, and not that from its competitor, Ford.
Unfortunately, the Chrysler V8 engine would not fit into the Tiger and so, in June 1967, production of the Tiger Series 2 was halted.
This marked the end of the Sunbeam sports car.
Perhaps this stroll down memory lane might have answered, or at least shed light on, a possible question:
Which Sunbeam Sports Car Is Your Favourite?
However, should this question still remain unanswered, I will be reviewing, in some detail, in future articles within this website, the entire range of Sunbeam sports cars which were featured in the memorable era spanning 1950 to 1967.