Rotary Powered: 1963 Sunbeam Alpine

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From the few pictures provided, this appears to be a rare sight, an un-rusty Sunbeam. The engine’s been “professionally” replaced with a Mazda 12A rotary, since deceased. It’s on Craigslist in southern Oregon. It’s been in the garage for about 10 years awaiting help. This car has the familiar problem of other California cars that have not been registered as non operational; back registration fees and penalties if you register it in California. The $5000 asking is very ambitious but they are open to offers.

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The engine fits nicely and the bits are all there, but given the nature of rotary seals, it’s not surprising the engine has failed. From my experience, they still run great but burn a quart of oil every 100 miles and still don’t smoke. It makes it easy to trade them in to unsuspecting dealers!

The interior looks really nice. It doesn’t appear to have been home to the usual rodents.

From what you can see of the body it looks really nice as well, with no sign of rust or collision damage. Is there any hope for this or do you think it’s a parts car? It sounds like it would be a fun little car with a Mazda engine, lots of power and not nose-heavy like a V8 would be.  What would you do with this, find another Mazda rotary engine? Could it be converted back to stock? Perhaps it’s time for something more robust?

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. hhaleblian

    289, shoot, even a 260.

  2. Tom

    From my experience with 13B rotary engines, burning oil is not always an issue. In fact they actually have an oil injectors, not just in the housing but also in the intake manifold, and it’s expected that they burn oil (which is an issue if you use synthetic as it doesn’t burn cleanly and leaves residue).

  3. MountainMan

    Refresh or replace the rotary with a little extra umph and drive

  4. Al Member

    That they were designed like some bikes to inject oil into the engine was a problem in the US. Too many drive and don’t check oil levels. and the apex seals will self destruct without lube.

  5. OhU8one2

    Rotary, really? WHY?

  6. Steven C

    They are supposed to burn oil. All the rotary people i have talked to get rid of the oil injection and put oil in with the gas, don’t know the ratio.

    • Steven C

      Love the idea of one of these engines in this car

  7. Charles

    Good candidate for a small block Ford upgrade!

  8. Chris In Australia

    Ditch the torqueless POS that is called the rotary ‘engine’ and fit the alloy 215 V8.Or
    the GM 3800 V6. Plenty of power to be made there.

  9. Al Member

    There was a guy I used to get parts from out near Hershey, Pa. think he was called Tiger Tom. If I recall correctly he had a later Alpine that looked like a mini 65/66 Barracuda with a rotor in it. Man but he had cars and pieces out there.

  10. Howard A Member

    I like Chris in Australia’s idea, a 215 V-8. But I suppose, if you are going that route, do the 260 Tiger clone. A rotary, sheesh, this is such a rare car, in great condition. I wonder what the motive was there? Granted, there are some pretty “spinning” rotaries that put out some hp, just not for too long. I suppose, there was a considerable weight savings over even the stock 4 cylinder or a V-8, but these cars were all about the “Tiger” and that’s what most people think of when you see a car like this. Ditch the rotary.

    • Larry K

      Totally agree Howard…..

  11. Dolphin Member

    Definitely agree with turfing the used up rotary and putting a proper Ford V8 in its place, or even an Alpine 4, which would increase the car’s value at least up to the current asking price.

    But if you want decent performance it would be better to avoid a stock 260 and go for an A-code spec 289. That would help with resale value even more, when the time comes.

  12. Mike

    supercharged 3800 would hall tail and be a great maintenance free driver, a real stoplight sleeper.

  13. Bish

    LS3 & a 5-6 speed stick, posi, bigger discs & all around while at it!

    • Charles

      Now you’re talking! The addition of an LS3 improves almost any vehicle.

    • Rat Fink Forever

      Chevy V-8 motor are non-starters in this car. Ford was selected for the front distributor as the engine is sunk into the bulkhead for 50/50 weight distribution in a Tiger.

  14. Abarthbill

    I bought a new Alpine in 1961, series 2, like this car. Same color exterior and interior(very rare blue seats). Anyone close to eyeball?
    Abarthbill from Wisconsin.

  15. Rat Fink Forever

    Ford 2.8 L V6 is the hot setup for tired Alpines. V-6 Joe made kits for them.

  16. pauline

    delicious

  17. S.Brodie

    Bought a new TR6 w/overdrive in ’74 and it seemed like every Mazda out there would race me and win. Those crazy little cars would do about 130mph while my 2400cc Triumph was only good for 117mph. Saw some of these engines later on in wrecking yards and felt so sad for them. To put a Ford V/8 into a Sunbeam (re:Tiger) is not as easy as one would think as the chassis would require major rebuilding (torque boxes etc). There are a lot of Rotary engines out there that produce over 300HP and they are light weight. Somebody had the right idea here, a strange little Mustang for lunch kinda car.

  18. HeadMaster1

    Using a 12A and a 4-speed was a bad move, a 13B with a 5, or even 6 speed would be the way to go…..And for the “V-8” mindset, the rotary will have almost the same HP, and be compact and light, allowing the car to turn corners and not just be a drag racer……As to the oil injection, it works perfectly, RX7s ran well over 100k miles all the time. You just need to check the oil, the harder you drive, the more oil it uses as the oil metering pump IS connected to the throttle linkage

  19. Ed Willaims

    Would an Austin Healey 100 4 Fit? Just a guess.

    • Abarthbill

      Probably find in any junk yard.

  20. MikeW

    The 260/289 engine like used in the Tigers is not as easy as these people think. You have to move the firewall back and redo the steering to rack and pinion. The best bang for the buck I think would be the Ford 2.3L turbo from the SVO or Thunderbird. They are cheap and easy to work with. I’ve seen it done and they are great.

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