5 November 2015

Club Focus: The Sunbeam Alpine Owners Club

Sunbeam Alpine owners tend to comply with a typical social categorization. We live in a layer below that of ownership of the well-known and more publicised expensive cars like big Healeys, E-types or Astons, yet we avoid the more obvious and numerous cars like MGBs and Triumphs. Maybe we like to be a little different?

We don’t have enough members to have massive meetings, and the local get-togethers and drive-outs often become the foundation for friendships as you get to know the other Alpine owners in the same area.  All the functions of the club are voluntary and members donate their time making the SAOC a very personable club. As you dig a little deeper you find that owners have a fierce pride in the Alpine which has been pigeon-holed in various ways even since the early ‘60s. Not powerful enough, or a ladies car are two examples that come to mind. If that’s what you want to believe then we won’t or can’t stop you.

The truth is somewhat different we would argue. The Alpine was powerful enough to finish 16th at Le Mans in 1961 and win its class in the Monte Carlo Rally the same year and also win the 1964 sports car championship in the UK against cars including MGB, Morgan, Scimitar and TVR. Without doubt it is has better comfort and refinement than any of the early ‘60s alternatives. Engine power was uprated during its lifespan and the appearance was tuned for the changing aesthetics of the 1960s.  The engine in fact survived through to the demise of the Hillman Hunter – remember the London to Sydney success? The automotive strikes prevalent in the era impacted the privately owned Rootes organization worse than any of the other manufacturers.

Rootes didn’t have infinitely deep pockets and development and marketing budgets had to be sacrificed. In one case an important road-test had to be carried out with a poorly performing second-hand car which then got panned in the subsequent review – perhaps fuelling attitudes which survive to this day. The media tried to compare the Alpine against the throaty, macho sports cars which were typical of the period – I would ask you to look at the rear suspension of a TR4! Ask any Alpine driver today and they will tell you how comfortable and smooth their cars are – macho is irrelevant, wooden dash and steering wheels, range of equipment and comfort is in. The end of the line was drawn by new owners Chrysler, themselves in difficulty, who didn’t want a Ford engine in the Tiger, and didn’t have any alternative sports car lined up to compete in the necessary volume with Triumph or MG.  Today Alpine owners have the extra difficulties presented by the relatively low number of surviving cars, maybe under 1,200 in the UK? The integral chassis/body makes restoration difficult – you may need to be committed to learning how to weld or pay for a rotisserie-based restoration. Spares availability has also been difficult. You can’t buy a new chassis for an Alpine! But times are changing.

The popularity of the Alpine in the USA has never been in doubt where it competed successfully in various race series, and the remanufacture of spares both in the USA and in the UK now means that spares availability is probably better today that it was in the 1970s. Equally, the level of disposable income and general interest in classic cars, means that more Alpines are being properly restored.

Our concours events now have an impressive number of candidate cars in all Series and the best cars are fetching increasing prices - but arguably still one notch lower than their true value. The Alpine therefore offers a very good value for money option for anyone wanting to get something a little different, and who enjoys the camaraderie of a relatively small scene. In fact the enjoyment of Alpine ownership is a rather well-kept secret, being almost a way of life. The thought that the cars’ investment value might be the most important thing to a new owner would almost be a disappointment to other owners!

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