My Car Quest

November 22, 2017

A Passion That Makes No Sense

by Wallace Wyss –

Now sometimes you fall in love with a car and have to admit, on sobering up, that carrying a torch for that particular car makes no sense.

This car is not fast. Four cylinders. British. That’s trouble enough already.

I speak of the Sunbeam Alpine, a two-seat open car produced by Sunbeam from 1953 to 1955. I am only in love with one model, the one launched in 1953 as the first vehicle from Sunbeam-Talbot to bear the Sunbeam name alone since the 1935 takeover of Sunbeam and Talbot by the Rootes Group.

Sunbeam Alpine Mk 3

The Alpine was basically cut down from the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Saloon, and purists call it the “Talbot” Alpine. Wikipedia credits Sunbeam-Talbot dealer George Hartwell in Bournemouth for developing it as a one-off rally car.

The four banger displaces 2,267 cc (138.3 cu in). The gearbox ratios were changed, and from 1954 an overdrive unit became standard. The gear change lever was column-mounted, which right away takes away some of the sports car feel.

The Alpine Mark I and Mark III (no Mark II was made) were hand-built – as was the 90 drophead coupé – at Thrupp & Maberly coachbuilders from 1953 to 1955, who if you are a Rolls-Royce, Daimler or Bentley guy, is a name you will recognize. I mean this was a coachbuilt car even though it was a “cheapie.”

The car was produced for only two years. Of 1,582 automobiles produced, 961 were exported to the USA and Canada, while 445 stayed in the UK, and 175 went to other world markets.

Sunbeam Alpine

The original ones boasted 97.5 bhp at 4,500 rpm, but the Sunbeam Alpine Mk I Special, got up to 106 bhp.

In the 1953 Alpine Rally four Alpines won the Coupe des Alpes, one of which, finishing 6th, was driven by none other than Sir Stirling Moss.

THE SOURCE OF MY PASSION

O.K. Moss drove one, so that’s a recommendation in my book. He later on, you may remember, piloted a Mercedes 300SLR to victory in the Mille Miglia, and other achievements to numerous to list, but it’s nice to know he thought enough of it to race this humble car.

But that’s not the source of my passion. It has to do with an unrequited lust developed while quite a young lad for Grace Kelly.

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly

She piloted a sapphire blue Alpine in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock comedy thriller To Catch a Thief, scaring the bejeesuz out of Cary Grant as she zipped it around the curvy roads above Monaco, the very same pocket-sized country of which she was to later to co-rule, by marrying the Prince and ruler (in real life, not the movies).

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly

It is not without a tinge of sadness I view that footage whenever I catch the movie again because I’ve driven those same curves and know its requires a car with good brakes, and also I know she later on, decades later, died on one of those curves when she and her daughter went off the road (I think in a Mercedes). Her daughter survived.

But back to the car Sunbeam. More recently, the American PBS show History Detectives found a blue Alpine owned by a private individual and tried to verify if that car was in fact the actual car used in that movie. They were aware the Technicolor process made the car look like it was a different color than it was.

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly

Not much room for making out, Cary me boy…

They knew that the car used over in Monaco was, following on location shooting on the Cote d’Azur, shipped back to the US so the film company could film some of that phony baloney rear projection stuff but ultimately concluded the poor guy’s car was not the one Grace drove over in Monaco.

Well, maybe I’ll settle for one that looks like the movie car. Only trouble is, in stock form, the car has a too tall windscreen. I saw one at a car show in San Diego that had two flip-up race windscreens that made the car look more elegant (though no way you can put the convertible top up as the flip-up windscreens are not tall enough to connect to the top and there’s a large gap between them).

I also hate the big old gas cap sticking up out of the rear like out of an old truck, why couldn’t they have hidden it? And I would like rear skirts, very tightly fitted, so the car looks like a mini-Delahaye with those racing windscreens. And I’d deep six those bumpers.

Sunbeam Alpine Mk 3

I saw another one in Claremont, California years ago, hot rodded with a Ford V8. Maybe that’s the one I want, with about three or four times the power of the four cylinder. But then I’d have to worry: would the brakes be able to stop it?

Well, I’ll continue on my quest. This is a car I could afford..and after I find the car, I’ll have to find a gal that looks like, and has the class of, Princess Grace…that’s a taller order.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

 

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss reports he is presently trying to flog his own suspense novel set in the classic car world to Hollywood. He can be reached at Photojournalistpro@gmail.com – click here to connect.

 

 

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 poster

Summary
A Passion That Makes No Sense
Article Name
A Passion That Makes No Sense
Description
The author lusts after a Sunbeam Alpine and a princess.
Author

Comments

  1. Wallace, I wrote about such a car for the now defunct Motor Trend Classic back in 2013. Here’s a link to the PDF.

    http://bit.ly/1955SunbeamAlpine

    The story is also available as an online webpage.

    http://bit.ly/1955SunbeamAlpineMTC

    If you like the first generation Sunbeam Alpines, you might enjoy reading the story.

  2. Roger A says:

    It wasn’t a Mercedes the princess was driving when she died. It was her beloved Rover, a P6 3500, I think

  3. Mark C. says:

    Lets see, for me it was an A.H. 3000 MK I,TR4a-IRS, Spitfire, Jag MK II, and of course the dreaded Citroen-Maserati. My A.R. Giulia Sprint GT Junior never gave me a lick of trouble.

  4. Art Salo says:

    Wallace, I agree with you wholeheartedly. While I’ve seen scenes from the movie, I have never watched the entire movie. Now, prompted by that scene of Grace and Cary locked in an embrace in the front seat of the Alpine, I will try to find the movie on NetFlix.

  5. Matt Tritt says:

    I’ve desperately wanted one of these since I first saw one in 1954. To me, the lines are perfect, too-tall windscreen, bumpers and all. And after seeing the movie when I was an impressionable 13 yr old, with Grace Kelley no less, I was sold. She was every teenage boy’s heart throb then the perfect girl – driving the perfect car in the perfect place. There were quite a few Alpines in Newport Beach, and also in Santa Barbara – the towns I was raised in – and one in particular that made regular visists to the British auto gargage near me for bi-monthly carb adjustments.

  6. John in Fargo says:

    Dinky Toys got it about right. Slightly cut down (and frameless) windscreen, blended in bumpers and hidden gas cap…

    http://3b698368622880ebc8ef-831e574318e11c15fa23e97fa5657b97.r83.cf3.rackcdn.com/67.JPG

  7. wallace wyss says:

    Thanks Rich, I was impressed MT devoted nine pages to the car

    It’s fun to look again at those paintings, the people are not full size, only about 7/8ths scale to make the fairly small car look as big as a Delahaye or Delage. But it wasn’t only the Brits that populated ads with these people but even in America Pontiac in the early 60s had the people small to make the cars look huge

  8. Stephen says:

    Wow.
    The advert says “New 90 mph”
    We look at that these days and laugh.
    I’m sure from memory, poor ol’ Carys furtive glances he didn’t realise how close to its top speed they got it to. The dashboard was showing 75 to 80 mph.

  9. Glenn Krasner says:

    The two-seat open roof convertible Sunbeam Alpine was also produced from 1959 to 1968. As a matter of fact, James Bond drives one in the first James Bond film, “Dr. No”, and people for years have been searching for this car in Jamaica, to no avail. The Rootes Group also put a Ford V8 into this later version of the Alpine, and called that model the Sunbeam Tiger.

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