English Chrysler: 1969 Sunbeam Alpine GT

1969 Sunbeam Alpine GT

Keeping track of all the various brands that the Big Three have sold cars under can be a rather difficult task, especially when you start including their European divisions. Of the three, Chrysler could be the least successful when it comes to badge engineering and they have been for decades. Over the years, Chrysler has had involvement in a number of brands around the globe and they have always put these ties to use, good or bad. Most of us know about their ties to brands like Mitsubishi and Fiat, but did you know they had ties to the Rootes Group? That’s right, at one point they owned the brand and its subsidiaries, like Sunbeam and Hillman. This 1969 Sunbeam Alpine GT fastback is one of the Rootes cars that Chrysler tried to market here in the States, but with little success. This survivor can be found here on craigslist or in St. Louis, Missouri with a $1,725 asking price. Special thanks to A Ewers for this tip!

Sunbeam Alpine GT Engine

After the success of the Sunbeam Alpine and its V8 powered brother the Tiger, Chrysler tried to capitalize on the name. Using the larger Sunbeam Rapier, Chrysler had it rebadged as an Alpine. With the new badge they tried to market it as a small, economical and fun alternative to the big Barracuda that it resembled. As you might imagine, this didn’t go over too well here in the States, although had the fuel crisis come a few years earlier it might have played out very differently. The 1725cc inline 4 was great for fuel mileage and while it was more powerful than some of Sunbeams other 4 cylinders, it’s 94 horses just didn’t give it the kind of power Americans had come to expect.

Chrysler Alpine GT

Chrysler has had a few successes with badge engineering, but for the most part it hasn’t ever been its forte. Had they provided better dealer support, put a Chrysler badge on them, and added some Mopar power to these coupes, they might have actually done well. The styling was similar enough to the Barracuda that Americans would have accepted it as a good compact alternative, but the foreign badge and small motor were just not right for the times. Chrysler has obviously struggled with managing multiple brands and as a result neat little cars like this one have gone unappreciated. Hopefully people will start to see how cool these really are and start saving them. This one is going to need some extensive rust repair, but if it runs and drives it could make for a decent buy. The asking price seems reasonable, but I’m sure they would take less if it means it ends up in a good home!

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Comments

  1. William Henshaw

    I probably should just pass on this, leave no comment, or try and find something kind to say. I’m not in the mood for that today. Why would anyone want this car? Do the parts fit into some other car that is worthy? I’m not about to deny that I do have a large grudge when it comes to English cars, something or other about them all being crap with very few exceptions. It’s personal, your opinions may be different.

    Looks like a Datsun B210, that should be one strike against it. Although I did have a B210 that I drove for a couple of years before the running gear found it’s way into an MGB. I guess what it boils down to is price, I paid $600 for that B210 and recently checked one out for $300 that was also going to be an MGB swap. What set me off was that these are worth $10k restored, maybe an Alpine roadster, but this? I’m sure someone will disagree and speak of the merits of this car.

  2. jim s

    test drove one when they were new. it was nice looking with very nice looking interior and fun to drive. but the dealer did not know how to service them so i passed. make an offer basied on how bad the rust is. either fix or part it out. nice find.

  3. Dave @ OldSchool Restorations

    In the mid 70’s we restored several of these. Stopped, because even then rust was a MAJOR problem… especially the outer sills, since the alloy rocker trim caused electrolysis behind it in the outer sill… …need I say more… ?

    With a lower stance and wire wheels they looked great… but the overall cost of work exceeded the value of the car, because of a lack of decent performance
    Still have some interior parts, correct high-back seats, console dash , couple alloy heads, and other parts

    • Michael

      Do you have still have parts and can you send me a list please, thanks

  4. Brian

    I have to disagree with William. If he had argued that body parts are difficult to impossible to locate, he’d have won a credit, but to claim these car were completely without merit is too harsh!

    While it has never been a drop dead classic, I’ve always found there styling cute – a mini-me version of the early Barracudas.

    Agreed, there is no way I’d be willing to pay $10,000 for one of these, (restored or not) but if I could get this car for sub-$1,000, I’d be all over it! I’ve always felt this little car has taken a bad rap because it was named Alpine and took the hate that any lesser car replacing the classic roadster would have received. Had they named it something else, I think it would have been more popular – then and now! As far as power and dependability of the engine, I don’t doubt that it makes a much better collectable car today than it did a daily driver when it was new. To restore a rusty one, I’m sure you’d need a parts car or two, as well as some talent with metal work and welding – but the same could be said of anything else british made in those days (granted, any british contemporary would have a stronger aftermarket part base). Maybe someone else can speak to where restoration parts can be found; I’m guessing mail order from England?

    While restoration would be a challange, it’s unfair to say it’s not worthwhile – some would argue it’s no less worthwhile than dropping a Datsun engine into a classic MB – but I’m not going there!

  5. MikeH

    “Had Chrysler provided better dealer support”–Chrysler provided NO dealer support for anything foreign. I had a ’69 Simca 1204–an amazingly designed car with front wheel drive, transverse mounted engine, end on transmission, etc. Far ahead of it’s time. When I got the car, Chrysler had dropped Simca in the US. The local dealer, the only source of parts in those pre internet days, acted as if the car never existed. I even wrote a letter to Chrysler customer service, complaining about the dealer. I was basically told to get over it. I’ve not owned anything associated with Chrysler since.

  6. Tom S.

    The ad really should say whether or not it runs and drives.

  7. dj

    I have to disagree with William too. It depends on what English brand you get. You can’t lump all English cars together. I’ve had 6 Jaguars, 3 Range Rovers(along with several other Euro brands) and I have to say I’ve had more problems out of American cars than anything. I worked for a GM dealership as a tech in the late 80’s 90’s. If you want to see what a big pile of crap those cars are, just work on them.

  8. Bryan Cohn

    What isn’t to like about this odd little car? I like it for lots of reasons but then I’ve always been drawn to the weird and wonderful.
    Metal work has always been thought of as this big mystery that only an old, skilled craftsman with knurled hands, mostly bald with a white ring of hair, that shuffles around the shop grumbling while he makes a perfect fender for a Ferrari GTO. On a car like this you fix it down and dirty. Cut out the old with a plasma cutter, weld in the new with a 110v mig. You gotta think outside the box on a project like this!

    My thinking for cars like this always leans toward making it into a vintage race car. I can envision this as a early 70’s B Sedan even though one never existed in era.

    Could be a funky drift doner car but those guys don’t think outside the box either. It’ll end up as a drag car, big motor in front, narrowed 9 inch Ford out back, no hood with a giant engine and a blower sticking up above roof level. This will make me sad.

  9. Dave @ OldSchool Restorations

    @ Bryan
    Yes , the cars have a cool look, but if you know how the structure is designed, you know these are not novice sheet metal repairs…
    .
    . you say ” weld in the new ” …new what ???
    .
    . replacement panels are not exactly available ‘off the shelf ‘ … if you know the source for all the panels needed for this car , please let me know, but having to fabricate everything takes so much time, I’d only restore another one, if it originally was in my family, as it can easily take 20k to do this one, maybe a lot more.

    . As far as a 70’s B Sedan , these cars never were raced as B Sedans , because they are dogs … compared to the cars of the period… (Alfas, Datsun 510’s,etc) .. The steering, suspension and motor was near the bottom of the technical chart, and so was the cars relative performance. I don’t think SCCA ever issued a recognition form for the Coupe either, without which they could not race.
    . The motors were low in power, and unreliable, due to inferior oil system, they spun a lot of rod bearings, Even the Sunbeam Alpine roadsters were slow, and were Classed back with the early 60’s MGA’s in F Production while the Alfa 1750 was in Class D, two Classes ahead, with the same cc’s.
    . But , yeah, they look like a baby ‘Cuda ,,..
    .. ………………. and look great on wire wheels with a lower stance

  10. William Henshaw

    You misunderstood my post. Yes, I said terrible things about English cars. 5 Cortinas, 2 MGBs, 1 Triumph and a Hillman were my English cars. I liked the Cortinas quite a bit, but constantly ran into electrical problems, 1 MGB was fixed by transplanting Datsun running gear the other is waiting, Triumph was already dead when I received it and started to become money pit and the Hillman as cute as it was found a new home before I even tried to repair it. I didn’t say I hated all European cars, there are a few German cars I’ve owned and a few others I’d like to own. I have a weird fascination for French cars too. I too think most American cars from about mid ’70s on up are terrible cars and of all the makes Chrysler products are something I try to stay away from. This particular Sunbeam is pretty well beat and I don’t think it’s worth the asking price. I asked two questions, Why anyone would want this car and if parts would work for other cars. And I doubted that this car is worth $10k restored. I also owned 3 1st gen Barracudas the only thing they share in styling is that they’re both fastbacks, the Datsun B210 is it’s Asian doppleganger.

  11. Dave @ OldSchool Restorations

    . . @William
    .
    . Very good assessment !

  12. Chuck Foster Chuck F

    Interesting car but not for me, I had a 1966 Alpine roadster that was a fun car to drive, even with the 4 cylinder. It was comfortable and handled good, but not really a sports car in stock form. It had the Chrysler pentagon on the fender, I heard Chrysler wasn’t happy about selling Tigers with a Ford V8 in them, one reason they were discountinued. I also had a hopped up TR7 convertible, it was way more fun, and I’m looking forward to getting my recent purchase TR8 on the road.

  13. Tom Greenacres

    Dealer service?! Non existent. I bought a new Tiger from a Chrysler dealer, who thereafter declined to work on it even under warranty, the Ford engine don’t you know. And the local imported car dealer wasn’t happy with it either because I bought it from a domestic dealer, and it had a Ford engine. Meanwhile, this being the 1960s and “buy American” the byword, I experienced private garages that ran me off for driving a foreign car. But it was worth it. (Chrysler briefly considered making the Tiger until they discovered they didn’t have an engine equivalent to the Ford 260 or 289 that would fit.)

  14. MikeW

    MikeH & Tom, Having owned both a 71 Simca Chrysler-France and a couple of Sunbeam Alpines I can tell part of the story. Chrysler wanted a sports car so they bought Roots Group to get the Tiger and like Tom said it didn’t work so they parted the company out. I think by their looks the one listed is a French product from their Chrysler-France division or it could be from their new partnership with a Japanese company. The Simca Replacement was the Dodge Colt and Plymouth Arrow, both horrible cars from Japan. The Simca was a much better car but like Tom said, no support…Just bad leadership of the times.

    • Robert C

      I think your comments about the early Colts from Mitsubishi are off-target. The ’70s & ’80s Colts were very well engineered and built, something that couldn’t be said about the Ford Pinto & Chevy Vega. Chrysler made a wise move for once, letting Ford and Chevy knock themselves out building inept “import-fighters,” while importing a superior subcompact for its Plymouth & Dodge dealers. They were immensely popular and getting service was no problem. Owners particularly raved about the Colt “twin-stick” transmission and the late ’80s Turbo “pocket rockets” and Colt Vista wagons.

  15. PaulG

    Since we’re discussing Chryslers “Badge engineering”, one of my favorite current cars, (I have 5…) is my ’88 Conquest TSi. I’ve owned a couple of these “Mitsubishi Starions”. They are well built, and have held up well 25+ years later. Well engineered, and fun. Too bad Mitsubishi and Chrysler didn’t try harder…Now Chrysler and Fiat seem to be turning out some interesting products.

  16. Paul B

    This car isn’t worth much except as an historical artifact. These were solid but unexciting, far more durable than their British Leyland competitors but less so than the Japanese products starting to take hold in the European and U.S. markets. Those who complain about Chrysler’s treatment of its U.S. captive import buyers are absolutely correct: Chrysler exercised total contempt for all of us. How do I know? Our family bought a new ’67 Sunbeam only to find ourselves immediately abandonned. We shared horror stories with other Sunbeam and Simca owners looking for service and parts. Finding pieces for these cars is difficult still, and if you restored an Alpine GT, what would you have? A coupe version of the Sunbeam Arrow, one of the most boring cars on earth. A real Alpine 2-seater? I’d buy. A Tiger? Yes. This one? Pass, except for a collection.

  17. Sidedraught

    Whilst certainly no performer in standard trim, and a bit of an ugly duckling as pictured, these cars can be tuned to go reasonably well with the alloy head and twin Webers offered in their home market.
    Engine bay is really begging for a V8 conversion though and the one fitted at the factory with the 289 with Gurney Weslake heads was reported in the motoring press at the time to be good for 150mph.
    Google Rapier fastback and rapier H120 some decent looking ones do exist.
    An obscure english 1960s pillarless coupe with performance potential for not much money, if it was a Lancia it would be ten times that asking price.

  18. William Henshaw

    Hmmmm, is this the same car sold as the Plymouth Cricket?

    • Sidedraught

      No, not a Cricket.

    • Trey

      It shares underpinnings with the Cricket. It’s the body style that’s different.

  19. Gregor

    It’s now relisted http://stlouis.craigslist.org/cto/4749700019.html without a price. Maybe it got a little too much attention from here.

  20. Beau H

    The car has found its way to KC, if anyone is interested let me know.

    Like 1
  21. Michael Balla

    We have one and made a silk purse out of a sows ear well at least we tried. My son thought it would be unique to have a car no one else in the club had. Always gets lots of attention at car shows, by no means properly restored but a fun driver. If i had a 100,000. I’d buy a tiger.

    Like 1
  22. sidedraught

    They start to look better with a bit of photoshopping.

  23. Bobby bolox

    Well, I love my Sunbeam Rapier. I’ve had two and they have already been reliable and never let me down.
    Someone above said they were built on the Cricket floor pan, but that I think was what we (in the UK ) called the Hillman Avenger.
    This car was built on the floor pan of the Hillman Hunter estate. (Station wagon)
    Someone else said this looked like it was built in France. It wasn’t. They were all built in the UK.
    Engine parts, gearboxes, service bits are numerous and cheap here, but body panels are like hens teeth.
    This car would be snapped up quickly at this price just for the hood and trunk lid….

    Compared to the utter crap available at the time, they were a great car. Only the Ford Capri offered more for the buck. But oh boy, did they rot.

    Our cars were mainly twin carb Rapiers with 4 on the floor and extra two speed overdrive. The Alpine was a single carb with a wooden dash.

    God, you got poor versions of our cars….

    Like 1

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