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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  • britten_mark 29 Jul 2008

    Always had a nice style about them, like mini-DB4 convertibles. And James Bonds first car too.

  • B10BRW 29 Jul 2008

    Sounds very similar to the Mk5 Alpine I bought in the late seventies, I discovered after breaking it that the Bulkhead was stuffed with newspaper and that was the only thing holding the car together.
    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 outeek 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 anymoremusic Thank god

  • GPSS 29 Jul 2008

    Why dont they make cars this pretty anymore. Wasnt there a V8 version of this called a Tiger.

  • Jim Spencer 29 Jul 2008

    A 67 Mk5 was my first car too, had it when I was 19.
    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..

  • pcn1 29 Jul 2008

    Ive always liked the style of these cars. Had toyed with getting one a couple of years ago but my head overuled my heart and said I didnt have the time to look after one.

    Maybe one day.

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