History - Sunbeam Car Company

Sunbeam Models Through The Ages - click here to download a summary.

In mid 1971, a few young blokes who lived around the North Adelaide precincts, and owned "Alpines", decided to pop notes under any Alpine windscreen wiper arms that they saw parked in the streets, asking them if they were interested in forming a club.

The result was 10 or 12 responders, so an invitation was sent out to attend a meeting where it was decided to form a club called "Sunbeam Alpine Sports Car Club" - no other Sunbeams were included in these early meetings, although Ro Franceschini owned a beautifully restored Mk IIA Sunbeam Talbot and Ralph Hagedorn a Mk II Sunbeam Talbot as well as Alpines.

Such was the impression that these two fine examples made that it was decided to to include all models of Sunbeams as members, as it is today. In February 1974 the club held it's inaugural AGM, elected a committee and established a club constitution. 2024 is thus the 50th anniversary of the official formation of the Sunbeam Car Owners Club of South Australia.

Early get-togethers were held at Para Wirra Park, then meetings were held at Wayville, the King's Head Hotel, Walker's Arms, Sportman's Assn, Mile End Hotel, Shannon's, and now at the Combined Car Clubs rooms at Glandore.

Click on this link to hear a 15 minute radio interview about the history and uniqueness of the Sunbeam marque.

Sunbeam began building cars in 1899, but it was 1901 before a rather unconventional production car was offered by the company. There are too many models from this era to list them all here, but they were renowned for their 'Gentleman's sporting' flavour. The Sunbeam name was made famous during this time by Sir Henry Seagrave's attempts to break the World Land Speed Record using Sunbeam cars.

In 1936 Rootes took over Sunbeam and after unsuccessfully trying to build a luxury car, dropped the name altogether until 1938, when they added it to the 'Talbot' name to distinguish their cars from the French Talbots. The Sunbeam-Talbot range started out with the 1938 'Ten', which had an 1185cc side valve, four cylinder engine. The 2-Litre, 3-Litre and 4-Litre cars followed in 1939, but the second World War halted production of the cars until 1946. After the war only the Ten and 2-Litre production was resumed.

Russell Maddock's site has a list of all the models with photos of many of the pre-war cars.

In 1948 the Sunbeam-Talbot 80 and 90 was introduced with saloon or drop-head coupe bodywork available. The '80' used an overhead valve version of the engine from the 'Ten', while the '90' used a similarly derived engine from the 2-Litre. 3500 '80's and 4000 Mk I '90's were built. The '80' model was dropped in 1950 and the '90' Mark II was released. Notable features were the independent front suspension and increase in engine size to 2267cc. 5493 Mk IIs were built.

The 90 Mk IIA was introduced in 1952, identified by the deletion of the rear wheel spats. In 1954 the Mark III was introduced and the 'Talbot' part of the name was dropped. In 1953 a two-seater convertible version of the car was introduced with the name 'Alpine' to commemorate the marque's success in the Alpine rally. It received an upgrade in 1954, in line with the release of the Mark III Saloon which sold until 1957, however production of the Alpine ceased in 1955. About 3000 Alpines of this type were built.

More information on the Sunbeam-Talbot 80, 90 and Alpine can be found at Ian Hobbis' Talbot 90 page.

The Rapier was part of Rootes' 'Audax' range of cars. It featured a two-door body shell, a 4-cylinder 1390cc overhead valve engine and was introduced in 1955. 7,477 examples of the first Series were built. In 1958 the Sereies II was introduced with a larger 1494cc engine. A convertible version was introduced and total Series II Production was 15,151 units. The Series III was introduced in 1959 sporting new front disc brakes instead of drums and a new wooden dashboard. 15,368 cars were built. In 1961 the engine size was increased to 1592cc and the production run of 17,354 cars was designated Series IIIA.

In 1963 the Series IV was introduced with new front bodywork and grille and 13 inch wheels to replace the 15 inch wheels on earlier models. The convertible model was dropped from the model line, and 9,700 cars were built. The last model of the 'Audax' bodied Rapier appeared in 1965 with a new 1725cc five bearing engine. 3,759 cars were built before production ended in 1967. An all-new body style was introduced, now called the 'fastback' Rapier, part of the 'Arrow' range of Rootes cars (ie. the Hillman Hunter models). It used the 1725cc engine, but the engine was mounted leaning to one side to clear the lower bonnet line of the new range of cars. This model continued until 1976, by which time 46,204 cars had been built.

More information on these cars can be found at web site of the English Sunbeam Rapier Owners Club.

The Alpine entered production in 1959, fitted with a 1494cc 4 cylinder engine with alloy head and twin Zenith carburettors. Major selling points were the 'Trans-Atlantic' styling especially the American-style tail-fins, and the traditional Sunbeam fit and finish, including luxury items (for the era) like wind-up windows and a folding convertible top. 11,904 cars were built before the Series II came along in 1960. The Series II had a larger engine of 1592cc, and included small refinements to the car. 19,956 examples of this model were built. The last of the 'finned' Alpines was the Series 3, introduced in 1963. It was a transitional model, incorporating many of the features of the later models, but retaining the early body style. New items included an adjustable steering column, 3-way adjustable seats, a much roomier boot, and the addition of a 'GT' version which sold alongside the existing 'ST'. The GT had no convertible top, but came standard with a removable hardtop and more luxurious interior trim, including a wood dash and carpets instead of the standard rubber floor mats. The Series 3 model was sold for 11 months, during which 5,863 cars were built.

In 1964 the Series IV was introduced, with a new body style which included much smaller rear fins and a new one-bar grille, and an optional automatic gearbox. An all-synchro gearbox was introduced during the model run of 12,406 cars. The last of this series of cars was introduced in 1965 with a new 1725cc engine. By this time Chrysler was buying the parent company, Rootes, so some of the later cars had a small Chrysler 'Pentastar' badge added to the front mudguard. The metal covers over the stowed convertible top on earlier models were replaced by a more conventional vinyl cover for this model. 19122 Series V Alpines were built before production ceased in 1968.

There is a whole web site devoted to the Alpine at www.sunbeamalpine.org

The Tiger is one of those cars with a story full of cunning, deception, unrealised potential, untimely death and of being under-appreciated by the public. It was created out of a desire by the US dealers and racers to add more power to the Alpine. Unknown to the parent company in England, two Ford V8 powered prototypes were built in the US, one by motoring legend Carroll Shelby, before being accepted for production. It is also reputed that Enzo Ferrari was approached to help with engine development for the Alpine but an agreement was not reached. Eventually the Tiger was born in 1964 with a 260ci cast-iron V8 and 4-speed gearbox. The car used the same body shell as the SIV Alpine, but the drive-train was installed by Jensen Motors in England. 3,763 cars were built, and a Mark 1A model was designated when the body shells changed to the Alpine V model. 2,706 Mark 1A Tigers were built.

In 1967 the Tiger Mark II was introduced with a new 289ci engine and an 'egg-crate' style grill, however only 536 examples were built before Chrysler stopped production of the car. Some say they couldn't stomach a Ford-engined car in their model range, but the Alpine disappeared too, and it had no such dark secret. The design was of 1950s origin and impending changes to US car safety laws looked like making it much harder to make convertible cars comply. Whatever the reason, the combination of a small car and a 4.7 litre engine made for a seriously quick car.

A web site dedicated to Tigers can be found at www.corpdemo.com/tiger



Meetings the third Thursday of each month (except January), 7.30pm, at CCC Club Rooms, Clark Ave., Glandore.

New members always welcome

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