My First Car: Sunbeam Alpine


It was 1980, I was 20 years old and in the Army. I had just passed my test and was serving in Northern Ireland when a friend told me of a 1963 red Sunbeam Alpine for sale. It was brought around for my viewing later that day and I admired the lines, the wooden dashboard and steering wheel. £500 exchanged hands and she was mine.

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…

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  • turnipbmw 14 Nov 2009

    that 5 year warranty sounds useful !

    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

  • FC3SCorey 03 Aug 2008

    GPSS said:
    Why dont they make cars this pretty anymore. Wasnt there a V8 version of this called a Tiger.
    Saw one the other day! Very cool car, huge grin on the driver, and my face haha.

  • shapeshifter 02 Aug 2008

    I have a 1962 Mk2 Sunbeam Alpine, it was given to me by my father in 1990. He first bought the car in 1966, it's been in our family ever since, my parents used it as their wedding car in 1970. It was our only family car for the best part of 10 years whilst my two sisters and I were small children. How times have changed, all three of us kids were squeezed into the back of this two seater car, with the roof off and no seat belts! you couldn't get away with it now. To cap it all, in the 42 years of ownership that little car never let us down once.

  • Dubmaster77 01 Aug 2008

    Off topic slighty! But yes I have suffered the embaressment of being towed both on and off a RORO Ferry In a bright red 1985 Mazda RX7!! Ah rotor tips!!

  • Slooby 30 Jul 2008

    Granted not my first car, but an Alpine was the first car I paid money for!

    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 rolleyes 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 biggrin Along with two Imprezas, two Morris Minors and a Land Rover rolleyes I have an addiction...

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