Glamorous Brit: 1954 Sunbeam Alpine

Like many car manufacturers of the early 1900s, Sunbeam’s history is a blurred continuum of several makers melding over time: Clement-Talbot was the original predecessor, but Sunbeam was also combined with Rootes Group in the 1930s and later labeled several of its models “Talbot”. Sunbeam was a venerable nameplate, having won an international Grand Prix and fielded a 200 mph car in the 1920s. The Great Depression didn’t do the company any favors, however, thus its forced marriage to Rootes/Talbot. By the 1950s, the company was finding its footing in racing again – this time in rallies, particularly with the Alpine. Here on craigslist is a 1954 Sunbeam Alpine project car, with an asking price of $14,900. The car is located in Cookeville, Tennessee. The seller indicates that this car was owned for over forty years by a gentleman in Georgia who kept it mostly in storage. We have T.J. to thank for this fabulous tip!

The Alpine was derived from the Sunbeam 90 drophead coupe and utilized the same 2267 cc inline four-cylinder engine generating 80 bhp. The cars were fitted with a four-speed column shift manual and in 1954, overdrive became standard equipment. While eighty horses don’t sound like much, Stirling Moss commented that “what it lacks in speed, it makes up in endurance.” Even so, Moss was provided much swifter “works” cars by the factory- every few years, one of those will come up for sale. The seller indicates that this car runs, and some brake work has been completed, but it needs more attention to be roadworthy.

The interior is complete but needs at least some work. It is here that we see the real problem: rusted floors. The seller indicates that the car’s rust is limited and can be repaired “economically”. I never like to see rust though it’s sometimes a necessary evil in return for a low price or a special car. These cars were true roadsters; the side curtains are in the trunk along with a few other miscellaneous parts, but the convertible top is in shreds and will need replacing.

The Alpine’s lines are slightly Jaguar-esque, exuding enough glamour for Grace Kelly to drive one in To Catch a Thief. (No, I wasn’t going to write this whole article without mentioning that….) The seller’s ad mentions that the Talbot company was the same one that produced the Talbot-Lago, which is not true. That was a French company. Its cars were exquisite and far more expensive than anything at Sunbeam. In fact, Sunbeam wearied of the confusion with its French competitor and dropped the Talbot name by the time the 1954 Alpine was made. All that said, this Alpine is worth saving, but I’m not sure the price is low enough yet; what do you think?


  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    If you are into rare cars this one is for you. Price too high but either way you get a piece of Euro/US history with it. For the times it was a great looking car.

    Like 10
  2. scott m

    Love your taste in cars Michelle, and the history you include is much appreciated!

    Like 11
    • Michelle Rand Staff

      Thanks! Digging up weird facts about this or that make turns my key ha ha!

      Like 5
  3. VTDan

    Michelle, I always look forward to your write-ups. The cars are always interesting and your knowledge is clearly way beyond wiki deep.
    Keep up the good work!

    Like 7
    • Michelle Rand Staff

      Thanks! Appreciate the kudos – have to give a hand to Barn Finders though for giving the staff all these great tips for us to write about. Every morning is like Christmas, hunting through the list of “possibles” that we can dig into.

      Like 5
  4. Dave

    It looks like a baby Rolls Royce

    Like 5
  5. CVPanther Member

    What a neat little car. I love the clean, simple design.
    I agree with Dave, that front end has some Rolls style to it.
    This thing has fun written all over it.
    The floors look rough but very repairable.

    Indeed great write-up, Michelle.

    Like 7
  6. Paul B

    Beautiful Sunbeam that could be a fun driver with rust and interior repair — plus a new top, of course. Such class. The price is way too high to make it practical though. Given their retail values in perfect condition, $3000-4000 would be more like it for this one, leaving a bit of room to budget the work.

    Like 6
    • Bill C

      I’m sure there is room for negotiation and I don’t think his asking price is an unreasonable place to start the conversation. The car is unique, not a wreck and actually runs and drives.

      I recently bought a 60 year old motorcycle as a project. About 95% complete, not bent or rusty. But needs everything. I paid $2900 and was congratulated by all around for the good deal. The engine alone in this Sunbeam would be $3000-$4000 “as is”.

      Like 3
  7. TheOldRanger

    I love this one… had the Rolls grill to add a little class to a sporty fun car.

    Like 5
  8. Terrry

    That car’s almost as old as me, but I’ve got a lot less rust.

    Like 4
  9. Mitch

    The front looks like a Bentley – for the poor man. Riley
    had something similar looking. The floors are gone.
    A new soft top with triangular windows behind
    the doors – like the Pininfarina spider had. Makes it
    streamlined from the sideview, and gives better back
    visibility for the driver. And the rear passengers.
    Nice project car.

    Like 4
  10. luke arnott Member

    Peggy Cummings drove one in “Night of The Demon”(with Dana Andrews).Check it out – scary movie!

    Like 3
  11. ramblergarage

    Correct me if I am wrong but didn’t these have aluminum bodies?

    Like 2
    • Rallye Member

      The rust doesn’t appear to be painted on aluminum. I looked at 1 or 2 of these in a field in Mosinee, WI about 40 years ago. Too rusty and overpriced. I did take an alloy body Simca home to flip. Instant profit!

      Michelle, I like your writeups too. If you have time, send me an email.

      Like 1
  12. Martin Horrocks

    This is the first car I noticed as a child in 50s UK, owned by a man who also had a Bristol 400, a vintage Sunnbeam 3 litre and went on to open a Porsche/Ferrari/Iso dealership in the late 60s. Though we never met, I owe the guy a lot!

    And decades later, I´m still a fan of all the above. With reference to the Sunbeam Alpine 2 seater, this was originally developed by a Rootes dealer, Hartwell of Bournemouth, not the factory. Rootes took over production when the car proved to be popular and successful in rallying. Hartwell stayed active for Rootes/Chrysler/Talbott in motorsport until the 1980s. The last-named iteration of the Talbot name was an attempt to rebrand various Chrysler UK and France models in one identity. The most famous outcome was the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, which did well as a rally car, coincidentally powered by a development of the Lotus engine you describe in your Jensen GT write up below.

    So thanks, Michelle, nice work as usual!

    Like 6
  13. jules

    Thanx Michelle for the nice write-up!
    I got to drive one of these beauties back in the late 1950’s.
    Very strong performer / handling and the styling so neat!
    They had quite a record in racing and I believe even won the grueling Monte Carlo Rally. I don’t know weather the pricing is correct or not…it really doesn’t matter as the rarity will always dictate value! Love your work! Jules

    Like 1
    • Michelle Rand Staff

      Awww, thanks!

      Like 1
    • Dave

      Thanks Jam, I forgot about that movie.

  14. Ian Grant

    I have lusted after one of these for many years but my workspace is full of an XKE being dragged back to life after similar long storage. We had quite a few of the sedans in New Zealand, good looking cars. Stirling’s sister Pat Moss drove Alpines with great success in European rallies. I recall from an old review that they had wicked scuttle shake.

    Like 2
    • Rallye Member

      Can you translate “wicked scuttle shake”, please.

      Like 1
    • jules

      Recalling how my scuttle used to shake as well, but not wickedly, while driving my 1952 Ford Anglia!

      Like 1
  15. OldCarGuy

    Grab your scuttle, and whip it from side to side, while smiling eerily.

    Seriously, is the scuttle the firewall?

    Like 1
  16. Solosolo UK ken tilly Member

    Way back, about 100 years ago, I lived in what was then Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and after a row with my girlfriend, now my wife, I traded in my British 1957 Ford Zephyr Mk 2 on a 1953/4 Sunbeam 90 drophead coupe. The deal was done on a Saturday morning and on the following Monday I took it back to the dealer to complain about it’s lack of performance. He asked me “did I expect it to have a similar performance to the Zephyr?” and when I said yes he said “you kids just want to drive fast, you don’t appreciate a quality car when you see one” and told me to take back the Zephyr and Booger off! What a relief. The car itself was a lovely piece of British engineering but it drove like a dog! Ken Tilly UK

    Like 4
    • jules

      Love your story Ken….Interestingly, The Ford Zephyr and the Sunbeam, each won the Monte Carlo Rally in different years… Zephyr being a 6 cylinder car and Sunbeam having 4 cylinders.
      Intriguing was the fact that a few years later a Panhard PL17 having 2 cylinders won and the next year a Saab came in first having 3 cylinders! (these being front wheel drive)

      Like 4
  17. Dean Miller

    I’ve got a 1970 Datsun Roadster…1 of 1400 made that year….mine is 1 of 92 left hand drive ( as only 100 were to come to America…the rest were going to Brazil, Australia….????) 8 were damaged on the shipping over here…supposedly damaged beyond repair…..26k documented miles, 90% rust free….previous owner had it (very poorly) resprayed (same color…silver)….I’m the 2nd owner…..slowly bringing back to life….I’ve got the body under control…but having a hard tyme finding someone in the North Tampa area to get it running again…..ANY HELP OUT THERE ? I’m so close, but yet, so far away………………….Anyone ?

    Like 1
  18. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    For those with a copy filed away in the reading room there is a great pictured article concerning this car in the April 1991 issue of Supercar & Classics. My fav reading material of the times. Nice Ferrari 250GT vs Aston DB4GT picture on the cover.

    Like 1
  19. chrlsful

    came to see the other Sunbeam Alpine and fell in love w/THIS one.

  20. George Birth

    If your going to ask $19K then fix the floorboards at least. For that price the car should run drive and stop with the floorboards repaired as well. Other than that, lower the price to match what you are offering, as there are too many decent cars in better shape for that price.

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