By on July 10, 2019

Earlier this year, we took a look at the unique fastback style worn by the original Plymouth Barracuda. A few years after the Barracuda, British manufacturer Sunbeam decided to make their own miniaturized version. Don’t fear the Rapier.

Sunbeam was a British outfit that was part of the ill-fated Rootes Group. Though the gaggle of brands started out as an independent venture thought up by the Rootes brothers, financial issues meant an eventual takeover by Chrysler of Europe. Chrysler added more brands to the mix, and eventually lost a lot of money. We touched on the Rootes Group story previously with the Talbot Tagora, so we’ll stick to Sunbeam today.

What North America received as the Alpine was called the Rapier in other markets. The Rapier name dated back to 1955, and was a line of two-door midsize cars in sedan, fastback, and convertible forms. The original version (though branded as a Rootes Group design) was actually designed by Raymond Loewy’s firm, and shared cues with the Studebaker Hawk.  Sunbeam kept the same basic design through five successive Series of the Rapier, making only minor changes through the 1967 model year. By then a redesign was overdue.

Starting in 1967, the Rapier was based on Sunbeam’s new Arrow lineup. Arrow was the basis for several vehicles made between 1966 and 1979, and wore Chrysler, Dodge, Hillman, Humber, Paykan, Singer, and Sunbeam badges. The new Rapier was limited to a single body style – a fastback coupe. Under hood of the 174-inch car was a 1.7-liter inline-four which produced 88 horsepower. Zero to 60 arrived in a leisurely 12.8 seconds.

Two more versions of the Rapier were introduced to the very confusing Rootes Group lineup. 1968 saw the sporty Rapier H120. It had a modified engine that produced 108 horsepower, a close ratio manual transmission, and sporty exterior styling. In 1970 Sunbeam introduced a lower-spec Alpine Fastback Coupe for the European market. It had the same engine and a worse carburetor and produced fewer horsepower.

The Rapier lived on through the 1976 model year, but distribution of all Sunbeam models in North America ground to a halt between 1969 and 1970. The Rapier was the last Sunbeam model, as the brand was liquidated and folded back into the Rootes Group circa 1967.

Today’s Rare Ride is a 1969 example with a manual transmission and 39,000 miles. In somewhat restored condition, it asks $15,500.

[Images: seller]


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20 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Very Rare 1969 Sunbeam Alpine GT, Barracuda Lite?...”

  • avatar

    Nice find, Corey, it’s hard to believe that at one time the Europeans and Asians copied the Americans. Aston Martin made a pretty good Mustang clone as well as the Toyota Celica and who can forget that even Mercedes Benz back in the early 60s had fins?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    A timely find as the previous Rare Ride was based on a Simca/Talbot design. Yes the Omni/Horizon was largely the creation of Chrysler’s European division.

    And Rootes actually had an assembly facility in Toronto, on the south-west corner of Warden & Eglinton (#1919 Eglinton East?). You can still see much of the facility if you check out Google Maps. The lighter coloured laterally slanted roofline is over where the manufacturing was located. They had a retail/sales area in the front of the building.

    The GM van plant was just west and also on the south-side of Eglinton.

    Remember that in the decade following WWII, the UK was the largest exporter of cars in the world. Yes more than the USA.

    Below is an excerpt from a Hemmings article and a link, that if it stays has a picture of the front of the Rootes building.

    “Here’s one from Toronto, Canada, and the days when Britannia ruled the waves in the import world. This photo, featuring a Sunbeam Rapier Series 111A, shows what were the headquarters of Rootes Canada from the early 1950s to the later 1960s. The huge building incorporated a retail dealership and the national parts depot. When opened in 1952, at the southwest corner of Eglinton and Warden in Toronto’s Scarborough suburb, it was claimed to have the largest showroom in North America. In the later 1960s, with the takeover of Rootes by Chrysler, the building was sold; much disguised, it still exists today as a complex of retail stores.”

    • 0 avatar

      I hit the Google Maps Street View of the intersection, and there’s a ’70 Impala two-door hardtop with red-painted Rally wheels, sitting in traffic.

      Also, there’s a Fat Bastard Burrito Co. store there. So burritos are a thing in Toronto?

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        If you scroll to the right, you will see a rounded light coloured office building. This was the Canadian Headquarters for VW. VW HQ in Canada was for many years on the north-side of Eglinton just west of Warden.

        Good catch on the Chev. I had a different view. You can also see the slanted roof over the Rootes building from your view, which was over the assembly area.

        And Toronto due to is diversity/multiculturalism is a ‘foodies paradise’. You can get good food from every ethnicity/nation in T.O. Not only is the GTA the 4th largest urban environment by population in North America, it is also according to many commentators, next to NYC the most diverse.

        Yet when I was young, if a Torontonian wanted ‘exotic’ shopping we traveled to Buffalo, and for ‘culture’ went to Detroit.

  • avatar

    I haven’t seen one of these in a million years. A cousin of mine owned a Sunbeam Tiger, which didn’t have the lack of power these had – instead, they had a lack of brakes. The Tiger replaced an MGB, which he rolled (fortunately it had a rollbar).

  • avatar

    “It was the only time the Alpine name was used on a Sunbeam in Europe.” Really? As far as I know there was a Sunbeam Alpine from 53 to 55 and from 59 another one (which was topped by the Tiger version with a V8).

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    My local Dodge dealer sold Sunbeams. When these were introduced as a youth I was bemused that it replaced the sporty Alpine roadster of Get Smart fame.
    The local Chrysler Plymouth dealer sold Simcas which I would see parked in the front next to fuselage Fury’s and New Yorkers as well as Road Runners.
    By the 71 model year the “captive imports” introduced were the Mitsubishi based Dodge Colt and Roots group Avenger rebadged as the Plymouth Cricket.

  • avatar

    Looks neat to me .

    I’m no fan of Rootes products having owned Hillmans .


  • avatar

    During the early sixties, the guy with the Shell station in my town set up a small showroom and took on the Rootes franchise.
    My father, who was always intrigued with out of the mainstream cars was very interested in the top of the line Rootes product of the times, the Humber Super Snipe. The main attraction for him was the leather trimmed interior and wood finished dash. He didn’t go for it which was probably a wise decision. He did get to experience British ambiance later with a circa ‘70s Austin (the America? ) sedan which made the worst American brand car look good.

  • avatar

    My father had a Tiger, which replaced a TR4A. He did not like the Triumph very much because he found it noisy and there were many mechanical problems. None made the TR unusable just irritating.
    The Tiger never ran well from new. He kept taking it back to the dealer. They kept going on about getting X miles on it and re-torqueing the cylinder head bolts. I recall him asking the dealer service guys about the spark plugs. They claimed that they had checked them.
    Finally he took the Tiger to a gas station where he filled up a lot and knew the owner.
    I’m sure most on here know about the left rear plug requiring access through the floor under the pedals. They removed that one plug and found that the ground electrode was contacting the center electrode, no plug gap.
    Replacing that spark plug made the Tiger run properly for about two years. Then the carb leaked and there was a small fire that happened one day when he got home from work.
    He never went back to that dealer. Insurance paid to fix the fire damage; wiring, new carb, repaint the hood (bonnet).
    Dad decided he did not like the Tiger after that. Sold it and got the first year Alfa Duetto Spider which had its own mechanical weirdness.

  • avatar

    That’s a pretty good-looking car, and was also considered sporty at the time, believe it or not. Of course this has more to do with European cars of the era, basic family cars were glacially slow.

    I haven’t seen any Sunbeam or Hillman on the street since the 1980’s. It’s a shame such a large part of automotive history has disappeared pretty much completely, I doubt most people now have even heard of Rootes Group.

  • avatar

    I have to admit to having owned an Austin America. I didn’t realize it was thrashed before I bought it. A friend leaned on one of the fenders just above the headlight and went right through. Both sides were just bondo. The engine had very little oil pressure, and it was a good thing I was working for the British Leyland dealer at the time because those CV joints were not cheap.
    Must say though, I don’t think I’ve ever had or driven another car that handled quite that well. The hydrolastic suspension worked beautifully.

  • avatar

    Cool lookin’ find. Thank you.

  • avatar

    I like this quite a lot. Maybe it’s the Marlin-esque rear treatment.

    This would be closer in scale to the original Tarpon concept, yes?

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