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British Barn Find: 1959 Sunbeam Rapier

A Sunbeam Rapier, eh? Not exactly a compelling model name, at least not today, but 1959 was 65 years ago and a lot has changed – like the disappearance of Sunbeam entirely. I can truly state that I’ve never seen, or even heard of the Rapier, and that piqued my interest even that much more so. The seller refers to this convertible as a “barn find” and I have to say that it presents rather well assuming that it has been slumbering somewhere for some length of time – no elaboration on that front. Pompano Beach, Florida is this drop-top Brit’s home and it’s available, here on eBay for a BIN price of $15,500; there is a make-an-offer option too.

Built by the Rootes Group, the Sunbeam Rapier was in existence from ’55 until ’76 though it took several different turns in design over that twenty-two-year production cycle. Our ’59 subject, one of approximately 15K constructed, qualifies as a Series II model which was short-lived and offered only in ’58 and ’59. Body styles included a coupe and convertible.

Our subject car is in fair condition though the finish is peeling in places, the grille has a bent tooth, and the convertible top looks like an all-cotton dress shirt that has been slept in. While evidence of rust and/or rot-through is not apparent, the passenger side, in particular, is wavy and shows as being poorly repaired. But…all-in-all, I’d say this Sunbeam is in fair condition. The seller suggests, “This incredible find would benefit greatly from a light restoration (new paint). I would second that sentiment but the needed restoration necessary may be more than just “light” – it depends on what’s under that silver-blue finish.

The interior’s blue vinyl upholstery shows as sound as do the door cards and the carpet. I’m not sure about that off-white gauge binnacle and whether or not that is as it should be, but the gauges and switchgear appear to be all there and accounted for – no instrument panel vacancies noted. The radio looks like a replacement unit and that’s hardly a surprise.

Said to “run and drive great!“, that action is courtesy of a 73 HP, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. I imagine that the air cleaner(s) have been removed for photographing but the engine appears to be complete otherwise. Power to the rear wheels is channeled via a four-speed manual gearbox. The mileage listing is 55K but there’s no claim of authenticity.

So, the verdict? this is an unusual, and cool, little convertible and I imagine that it would appeal to British car enthusiasts – it’s certainly not an everyday find, much less a typical barn find. Parts sourcing? That one I don’t know about; the mechanicals maybe aren’t as difficult to acquire as body and trim but that’s just conjecture on my part. OK, a show of hands, who is familiar with Sunbeam’s Rapier?

Comments

  1. angliagt angliagt Member

    Interesting car,but that seems like the price for a restored car.

    Like 11
  2. Terrry

    You’re getting “Rapier” confused with “rapist”. Rapier is PC..it’s a thin pointed sword.

    Like 5
    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      I’m hardly confused, I know the difference. It will get confused by those that don’t.

      JO

      Like 6
      • Martin Horrocks

        Why even mention it?

        FYI quite a few Sunbeam Rapiers were sold on the West Coast. It was the sporting version of Rootes Group Hillman Minx.

        Rapier was a very successful rally car in Europe. They are not particularly valuable for all that and this example is over-priced.

        Like 3
      • Terrry

        Unfortunately there’s a lot who will get confused.

        Like 0
      • Jim ODonnell Staff

        Exactly, I think you are correct and thusly not a name that would work today.

        JO

        Like 2
  3. Carl

    Is it metric or Whitworth?

    Like 1
    • LCL

      How does Whitworth work?
      Someone told me that the wrench sizes are the bolt shank sizes?
      Was it a British standard only?

      Like 1
      • Martin Horrocks

        Dates back to mid 19th century and was the world’s first attempt at a standard thread. So not exclusively used in Britain, which had a world empire at until after 1945.

        Like 0
    • Brock

      That’s a standard “inch” car. There maybe some Whitworth stuff – but only brake fittings.

      Definitely not metric.

      Like 0
    • Robert Park

      sae

      Like 0
    • Pommycars

      British cars of this era used UNF and UNC thread forms There won’t be a single Whitworth fastener on the vehicle. Go back a decade or two before this and you might find some BSF threads in British cars. Metrification came a couple of decades after this car. Surprisingly an MG TD from the early fifties that I did an engine rebuild on did contain some metric fasteners from the factory. All very complicated. Citroen built RHD cars in the UK from 1926 so there were metric fasteners in use in the UK going back that far.

      Like 0
    • Paul Mander

      imperial or SAE

      Like 0
  4. DavidH

    Call me ignorant or an AMC fan but the side profile of this Sunbeam reminds me of a ‘61 Rambler American.

    Like 1
    • Michelle Rand Staff

      I see a Lark in there.

      Like 3
      • Robert Park

        Came out of the same Raymond Loewy design studios.

        Like 1
    • Martin Horrocks

      Raymond Loewy ( Studebaker etc) was a styling consultant to Rootes at the time so there were US influences in the design.

      Like 3
  5. William E

    It’s basically the same car as a Hillman Minx or Singer Gazelle convertible of about the same vintage, mostly mechanically identical, and even some body parts are, too. It makes the parts search a little easier, but expect it to ride like a lumber cart (they all do) and be neither weather tight, warm in the winter, or comfortable EVER.

    Like 4
    • Joe Parsons

      I had a Singer Gazelle in the mid 60s. I traded a camera for it.

      Like 2
  6. princeofprussia

    This was a very successful model, selling in impressive numbers on the British Isles, and actually a pretty popular import here in the US. I’ve always liked them. But, yes, this price is more fitting of a restored example. This is a bit overpriced.

    Like 2
  7. Michelle Rand Staff

    More waves down the sides than a flag on a windy day. And the paint has probably “lost its luster” because it was poorly applied on a badly prepped substrate. But I love it. Too bad it’s so expensive.

    Like 2
    • jack tyson

      Ooh Michelle!!

      Like 1
  8. Jerry

    Guess I’m ancient. I friend of mine had a beat up one in the 1960’s. Basically a Hillman Minx badge engineered.

    Like 1
  9. Michael Hullevad

    The little 1,5 L engine with only 73HP and 3 main bearings is a throwaway. It can not be used in today’s traffic. Rootes delivered gearboxes to Volvo then, so put a B18 in it instead, Upgrade with front discs for safety.
    A badge-engineered Hilman Minx is not worth the money asked for it!

    Like 0
  10. Joe Mec Member

    These are interesting little cars and this one is certainly a survivor. The owner looks to get top, top dollar for a car that just isn’t there. BAT prices are driving this auction.. After my British experience, I would consider this in the $5-6K range.. ( peanut gallery comment!)

    Like 4
    • Slomoogee

      B A T and all the TV coverage of high dollar flipped cars at auction have been in the drivers seat for a while now. That’s what causes folks to clean fields and woods of rusted hulks and half buried chassies. To all the other O Gees out there, “ It’s not our world anymore we just got to figure out how to live in it”

      Like 2
  11. Mike

    I believe Grace Kelly drove Cary Grant(??) around in one of these in a movie set in Monaco. Cary(?) was a “Cat Burglar”.

    Like 2
    • Pete Arons

      “To Catch A Thief”

      Like 1
    • Solosolo UK Solosolo UK Member

      That was a Sunbeam Alpine like this one I believe. I had one for three days but after my Ford Zephyr Mk 2 it was toooo sloooow!

      Like 1
  12. Ian Parker

    With Twin Carbs to make it a little more responsive.

    Like 0
  13. Gil Davis Tercenio

    At least it is left hand drive.

    Like 1
    • Jack

      There was a dealership in Mount Holly, NJ when I was a high school senior in 59/60 that sold the Sunbeam Rapier convertible. I was fascinated with the top because the brochure said it could be opened half way and the back seat would still be covered. I really wanted THAT car, but being a poor “farm kid” with not a lot of spending money, all i could do was dream. Instead, I ended up with a used ’54 Ford Customline for $600 that came from my FFA corn growing project, lol

      Like 4
  14. Ian Grant Member

    No the Grace Kelley/Cary Grant film had a Sunbeam Alpine, similar but nicer looking, louvers all down the top of the hood

    Like 2
    • Les

      The Grace Kelly car was a mid 50’s Alpine-that was my first car, in 1970. A larger 4 cylinder, with Electric Overdrive….2 seats, and a taller grill, very different from the Maxwell Smart Tiger/Alpinestars of the 60’s

      Like 1
  15. Robert Park

    My current obsession is a 1960 Hillman Minx that I bought last year. The Sunbeam is the more desirable ‘upscale’ model. A couple weeks ago a Minx sold at Barrett-Jackson for $16,000. In much better shape and, in my opinion, overpriced. Parts are tough to source in the States. Series 1 & 2 Sunbeam Alpines share some components. I’m on my way to the post office to pick up a package of weatherstripping…from Australia. I’d love to try the dual carb setup this Sunbeam has.

    Like 0
  16. Paul Lehman

    Always liked this body style but prefer the Hillman version more.

    Like 0
  17. William Porter

    Optional “Terry-Thomas” grille?

    Like 2
  18. MGSteve

    My dad had a Hillman Minx, and I’ve loosely followed them ever since. Love the Hillman Husky. I’m a Brit car fan/collector. That said, I think the seller is dreaming big time at that price. IMHO, there just isn’t much interest (except the Sunbeam Alpine and Tiger) in Rootes Group cars. A person around here had a late 50’s Hillman Estate for sale “forever”, asking $3K. It was a bit rough, but “all there”. I think it finally got hauled off to Mr. Crusher.

    Like 0
    • Michael Hullevad

      Rootes Group always used their parts bin when they made a new model. The Husky delivered the underpinnings for the Alpine and Commer Cop van versions too. The 3 main bearing engines were not that reliable. when it came to the third rebuilt I was in luck. A Brit smashed his new Alpine in Copenhagen I picked up the 1725 with 5 main bearings and Weber carbs,
      Being low-geared it was faster than a Mini 1275S.

      Like 0
  19. Neal Dion Member

    All this talk about Hillmans is making me nostalgic. My first car, when I was 16 in 1963, was a Hillman Husky station wagon `56 or `57 as I recall. Bought it from my uncle for $70 the day that I turned 16 and I drove that car all through high school till the summer of my senior year when I sold it for $75 and bought a 1960 Austin Healey. The Hillman didn’t have a complete exhaust system, header pipe ended right under the drivers seat – when I got it my uncle gave me an old Jeep muffler that he had picked up somewhere and said, “if you get stopped because of the noise, just show the cops this and tell them that it just fell off”. Worked like a charm! The guy that I sold it to put a new exhaust system on it and about a week later the engine blew – could’ve take the back pressure, I guess!

    Like 2
  20. Paul Cuskley

    I drove one as my daily driver in 1965, Yes while similar to the Hillman, I had a Hillman in in 1958. The Rapier had a lot more power than the Hillman and with some use of the floor mounted 4 speed transmission lever it could keep up with any traffic. I could keep up with the traffic on the Long Island Expressway. OK, todays 65 speed limit and everybody going 75 it would be stressing it to keep up,

    Like 1
  21. MGSteve

    One of my favorite things about my dad’s HIllman was the extremely low first gear. I’ve since read that the owner’s manual actually said something about there being no need to actually use first gear . . . . maybe for pulling tree stumps or something similar. OK, I added the last half sentence.
    Anyway, I quickly learned that you could rev that poor thing pretty dang high, pop the clutch in “compound low”, and beat just about anything off the line, including one astonished Vette. OK, after about 4′ 7 11/16″, it was all over, but it was a lot of fun trying.

    Like 2

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