Special model with ERA tuned engine; one of only c.90 made and perhaps 25
surviving; competed in the 1954 London Rally; recent nut-and-bolt restoration
which cost £80k and in wonderful condition throughout; driven 200 miles to
Launched in March 1953, the Sunbeam Alpine two-seater sports roadster was inspired by a one-off open rally car built by Bournemouth Sunbeam-Talbot dealer, George Hartwell. The production version was based on the existing Sunbeam-Talbot 90 saloon but with styling input from Raymond Loewy to add the sparkle needed to attract the all-important American market.
The 90’s chassis and running gear were retained, the former suitably stiffened to compensate for the reduced rigidity of the roofless roadster, while the bodies were hand-made by Mulliners of Birmingham. To enhance the Alpine’s sporting credentials, the 2,267cc four-cylinder ohv engine (from the Humber Hawk) received a power boost to 80bhp courtesy of a revised cylinder head which gave it a top speed of 95mph.
However, a high performance ‘Special’ version was also available, aimed principally at customers with competition driving in mind. Easily identified by its ‘S’ chassis number suffix, the Special was developed by ERA and had a modified cylinder head with larger inlet valves and an 8.0:1 compression ratio producing 97.5bhp. Other engine modifications included the exhaust and inlet manifolds and a twin choke Solex 40 PII carburettor, complete with centrifugal air cleaner with fish-tail inlet. A Burgess straight-through silencer was also fitted and overdrive was standard, giving the car 100mph+ performance.
Initially for export only, the new Alpine did not reach the UK market until the autumn of 1953, but before then the new model’s launch had been enhanced by a blaze of publicity following successful record-breaking attempts at Montlhery and Jabbeke where Stirling Moss achieved a maximum speed of 120mph.
On its first competitive outing, an Alpine driven by Sheila van Damm also won the ‘Coupe des Dames’ in the 1953 Coupe des Alpes, and in 1955 another Alpine took a starring role when driven by Grace Kelly in the Alfred Hitchcock film 'To Catch a Thief'.
Only 1,282 MkI Alpines were made (848 LHD and 434 RHD) and of these, only around 90 were ‘Special’ versions and it is thought that fewer than 30 survive today.
First registered in June 1954, MWO 333 took part in the London Rally of September 1954, a demanding event which included traversing the Welsh and Scottish mountains. There is a photo of the car on a Scottish section of the event in the history file.
Gerry Simonds, founder of the Sunbeam Talbot Alpine Register (STAR), also told a previous owner that MWO 333 was a Reserve Team car and was at one point due to be driven by Sheila van Damm. Like the works cars, it was fitted with a long range fuel tank and may also have been used as a Rootes team support car on the 1954 Alpine Rally, later competing in private hands in a Daily Mail Rally. While there is no documentary evidence to substantiate these claims (other than a few emails from previous owners), they are interesting nonetheless and could merit further investigation.
Well-known to the club, MWO 333 was owned for over 10 years (1987 onwards) by Derek Cook, editor of the STAR magazine Stardust, who took the car on many jaunts including Spain, France, Holland and Belgium, reporting that: “It was very reliable but a bit frayed around the edges”. We are told that he also has many photos of the car as it looked during his ownership.
By the time our vendor acquired the car in early 2017 it was definitely tired so he decided to get it restored. With homes in both England and France, he kept hearing good things about Oldtimer Studio of Bucharest, a team of over 50 craftsmen who have spent the last 20 years quietly restoring some of the best cars in Europe (check out their website: oldtimerstudio.com).
So off to Bucharest the Alpine went and, to cut a long story short, two years and some £80k later, this is the result. As you can see in the photos, Oldtimer Studio did a great job, the whole process being recorded in many invoices and photos, some of which are in the history file and many more on the vendor’s computer which can be forwarded to the winning bidder if desired.
Rest assured, it was a body-off job with no corners cut and included a full rebuild of both overdrive gearbox and engine with new pistons, crankshaft, bearings etc. During the restoration it became apparent that the Alpine had indeed been fitted with twin fuel tanks at some point, adding credence to the vendor’s belief that it was perhaps a works car originally.
Careful research and contact with previous owners ensured that the car was restored as authentically as possible, including a bare metal repaint from red to the original Alpine Mist. Original components were saved wherever possible and many new parts were supplied by Sunbeam-Talbot Spares of Barnsley, the only notable deviations from factory spec being an electric fuel pump and a Weber 40 IDF carburettor. The original manifolds and polished alloy air filter casing were missing and are now unobtainable so new ones were specially cast.
Since the restoration was completed in 2019, the car has only covered around 1,500 miles. Serviced and rolling road tuned in the Spring of 2022, it was driven some 200 miles to Brightwells with no problems whatsoever and has been starting easily and running well as we have moved it around on site. An original owner’s handbook and Ken Sparke’s definitive book on the Sunbeam Talbot range are also included.
Surely among the finest surviving examples, this rare and expertly rejuvenated Alpine, with a potentially interesting history, would sit well in any collection and will turn heads wherever it goes.
For more information contact James on 07970 309907 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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