My First Car: Sunbeam Alpine
PHer Steve Baston had a Sunbeam Alpine with a mind of its own...
The following day I learned my first two lessons about buying cars: never buy a car in the dark and get an insurance quotation before buying. After £650 for 3rd party insurance I was able to take her out on the road.
I went to pick up my girlfriend, she was really impressed when the door opened all by itself when going around a corner. Then, on the way home it was getting dark and the lights decided to cut out after going over a bump. Her scream must have scared the lights into coming back on. It was then that I discovered that the headlights had been fibre glassed back onto the body. On closer inspection, in daylight, there was more fibre glass than car.
Other unique features included having to remove the glass completely from the doors and putting it behind the back seat rather than winding them down and having to bleed the clutch before every journey. It was a good job that she couldn’t go too fast because the roof was fastened by Velcro and had a tendency to lift if the wind was in the wrong direction. It is quite embarrassing to drive with the roof wrapped around you.
It was OK to pick up hitchhikers in those days and I remember with some fondness the faces of the two pretty blonds as smoke poured from the back wheels as I dropped them off at their destination. The handbrake was stuck on while driving, although strangely it never worked when I parked the car.
But it was fitted with a fantastic stereo and with the roof down I had that big grin on my face that only an open top sports car can bring. I thought I was the bee’s knees. On the way to visit my parents for the first time after I bought the car I had to take the ferry and came down in the morning to find clutch fluid all over the floor. How many of you have been towed off a RORO ferry? My face was the same colour as the car.
I found a garage, topped up the fluid and went on a tour of England. Arrived at my parents and of course my Dad, who was a policeman, took one look at the car and declared that he wanted to take it to a friend of his to be looked at.
After the verdict ‘I would not let my son drive that thing it’s dangerous’ and a failed MOT it was put up for sale after only six months ownership. The car sold for £100, the stereo for £150 and I ‘upgraded’ to a Triumph GT6. That lasted almost a year before my Dad took me by the neck and I exchanged it for a Vauxhall Viva. A classic, but that is another story…
It explained why the doors used to fly open when wet, also why I had to get in the passenger side and kick the drivers door open from the inside when it was dry.
Also explained why I could never get a Girlfriend to travel in the car more than once.
The steering box self destructed in the middle of London, all the ball bearings fell out Had to be towed out of London.
Watched the wing mounted aerial fall out taking half of the wing with it.
They don't make cars like that anymore Thank god
Complete rust bucket, but a nice engine, comfortable & practical in day to day traffic, and much more fun than any small hatchback!
Currently sat outside my office window after being dragged back into service after a 3 year layup - causing havoc to get back running again as it's still a rust bucket (been rebuilt twice now!) but it'll be well worth it - just the engine note and the wind in whats left of the hair makes it so..
The Tiger was great but fragile, always overheating with dire effects on the drivetrain. Later ones had a permanent latch to hold the (front-hinged) bonnet open an inch or so for extra cooling!
That's a link to the original Abarth 595/650 with it's too-big engine sticking out the back!
...And here is mine...bought for 150 quid in that roasting summer of '76, and my first 'sports car'...special 'customised' model with duluxed plywood frontal treatment and especially stylish bonnet scoop.
Note the 'custom' quarter bumpers tied on with baling twine.
This was the (1962) GT model, which meant that you had a nice removable hard top, but no hood. So off you went, leaving a third of the car propped up against the house, and praying you didn't have to hide under trees in the pouring rain later on.
Having previously owned a wonderful old MK3A Sunbeam Rapier (same engine),
I was supremely confident in the reliability of these Rootes alloy-headed engines...until that is, this one had knocking big ends into my second week of ownership.
Ha...a mere trifle to someone of my abilities, so I reached deep into my pocket at the local scrappers and forked out £17.50 for a 'sale or return' guaranteed low mileage rusty old lump with which to revive the old girl.
And so it was that my friend and I laboured for 10 hours ('tight' is not the word for the engine bay) to remove the old motor and insert the new one, me daydreaming of all the extra urge that this
one was bound to have.
Started first time on the button !
Just a pity about all the rattling ...aaaaaaah !
"well, he did say he'd take it back", says my friend, brightly.
The wire wheel splines were so worn that I had to wrap tin foil around the collars before I could tighten
the knockoffs. Unless I performed this 'safety' feature once a week, the wheels would continue to rotate no matter how
hard I applied the brakes. It reeked of gas and mold and it burned oil. I thought it was the most beautiful car in the world.
I had a '68 mkII Mini 1000 at 13, but because that wasn't finished being restored until about 6 months after I got my full licence I learnt to drive in a '71 Clubman estate donated to the cause by my grandmother, both were true low mileage one lady owner cars too!
At 18 I came into some money, and like the classic car petrol head that I was went straight out and poured most of it into a convertible. I'd wanted an Alpine for several years, it had to be a series V, preferably a GT (removable hard top no soft top, just a toneau cover for shower protection) with the 1725cc 5 bearing engine. I decide on going for a car which would be structurally sound, only a little rough around the edges for a rolling restoration...riiiiiigght like that was going to happen oh and it had to be in Commodore blue (dark blue with hint of purple) with overdrive. Naturally I bought the first one I saw...what a mistake that was...
Drove it home in the dark in the rain around the M25, no wing mirrors and a crazed perspex rear window, couldn't get why people get flashing me on the way home. It turned out there was an earthing problem, brake lights and indicators transposed. Also discovered axle tramp and power (ahem) oversteer for the first time too!
Having owned the car a month an enjoyed driving it as much as possible I decided to start on the rolling restoration...first task replace the outer sills with were a touch ropey...as were the inners, and the floors, wheel arches, cruciform and so on...cue full restoration....that was in 1990...the car is still in pieces in my folks barn, along with a fully rebuilt (by Holbay, with tweeks) engine! The shell is currently suspended from the beams above the '68 Mini, which also needs recommissioning Along with two Imprezas, two Morris Minors and a Land Rover I have an addiction...
maybe my mind is playing tricks but didn't Tigers get into the £40,000 mark when classic cars went crazy just before the '89 crash ?
I ssem to recal a mate making £10,000 in 6 months on one (another made £25k on an Aston) wouldnt have like to be those buyers in after it all went pear shaped - dont think prices ever recovered