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RE: My First Car

Monday 28th July 2008

My First Car: Sunbeam Alpine

PHer Steve Baston had a Sunbeam Alpine with a mind of its own...

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…



Original Poster:

1,106 posts

175 months

Monday 28th July 2008
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Always had a nice style about them, like mini-DB4 convertibles. And James Bonds first car too.


339 posts

143 months

Monday 28th July 2008
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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


694 posts

133 months

Monday 28th July 2008
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Why dont they make cars this pretty anymore. Wasnt there a V8 version of this called a Tiger.

Jim Spencer

52 posts

144 months

Monday 28th July 2008
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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..


861 posts

141 months

Monday 28th July 2008
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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.

Big Rumbly

908 posts

206 months

Monday 28th July 2008
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"Wasnt there a V8 version of this called a Tiger"

There sure was, one of the nice features of shoe horning a ford V8 into it, was that 6 plugs were accessed from under the bonnet, the other 2 from inside the car

Mike Roberts

118 posts

120 months

Monday 28th July 2008
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My parents ditched one of these in Southport in the late 70's after the engine died, they never bothered going to collect it either.

Seems they were troublesome little tykes!

New Scot

197 posts

153 months

Monday 28th July 2008
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The prettiest version was the Harrington Le Mans GT fastback conversion, made the BGT look clumsy (even before the rubber-bumber horrors). I remember being driven in a soft-top Alpine in about 1968, we were beaten from the lights by a milkman's Ford pickup (the electric-traction model)!

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!

Edited by New Scot on Monday 28th July 17:04


9,932 posts

160 months

Monday 28th July 2008
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Ah those wonderful days when you took half the contents of your garage out in the car with you, and learned how to fix it in the middle of the busiest road junction in town, or on the hard shoulder of the M1. cloud9

...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. hehe

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. smile

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. cry

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. smile

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. irked

Aye...good days.smile


1 posts

111 months

Monday 28th July 2008
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My first car was a 1961 Alpine. I purchased it in 1971. It cost me $200.00 and it was a death trap.
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.


19 posts

175 months

Wednesday 30th July 2008
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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...


150 posts

115 months

Friday 1st August 2008
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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!!


1,181 posts

144 months

Saturday 2nd August 2008
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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.


103 posts

121 months

Sunday 3rd August 2008
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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.


65 posts

95 months

Saturday 14th November 2009
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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