April 20, 2009

Sunbeam Alpine and Tiger

A little history

The first Alpine had only been launched in 1953, but only a few years later it was obvious that its design was prematurely ageing. The Rootes group promptly decided to plan a fresh new car, still bearing the same name and using as many existing mechanical parts as possible, but with a brand new body. Though many sources declare that its main designer Kenneth Howes took its inspiration from the recently released Ford Thunderbird, it has to be noted that the second-generation Alpine actually bore a striking resemblance to the convertibles designed and built by Facel-Metallon, particularly for Simca.

Launched in 1959, the car passed through five different series before retiring in 1968. All remained basically similar to the original car, though the 1.5-litre block was enlarged to 1.6- then to 1.7-litre. These engines made the car an elegant tourer, but not a performance machine. Widely distributed in America, the Alpine’s performances looked even more limited there. Therefore it was decided to produce a V8 variant of the car at the lowest possible cost. With some logic, Carroll Shelby, who had already led a comparable transformation based on another British car, A.C.’s roadster, was chosen for the task. Shelby fitted a 4.3-litre Ford developing 164 hp under the Alpine’s hood, which became the pumped up Tiger, introduced in 1964. Output was exactly double than a standard Alpine of the time, which was rated at 82 hp. Later the original V8 was replaced by a bigger 4.7-litre good for 200 hp. Even with this latter engine the Tiger had nothing in common with the similarly created A.C. Cobra, but it nonetheless offered decent acceleration. In 1967, the Tiger was withdrawn somewhat earlier than the Alpine, not due to lack of interest from the public, but rather as Chrysler had just purchased Rootes and couldn’t stand that one of its products could use an engine built by one of its main rivals.

The Sunbeam Alpine never got a real successor, though the name was used a few years further for a simplified version of the Rapier coupe, a good-looking but underpowered car that was built until the mid-Seventies.

About the model

Model: Sunbeam Alpine Mk.II
Year: 1961
Maker: Vanguards - Corgi
Scale: 1/43
Distributed by: Vanguards
Acquired: brand new, in January 2007, in Hong Kong, S.A.R.

Vanguards again did a decent job reproducing the classic lines of the Alpine. The wheels are probably oversimplified, but overall this reproduction is correct. Moreover the British company had the good idea of providing three different tops for the car (which nonetheless have to stand perched on the car, without anything to hold them firmly in place): a folded hood, a raised hood and a hard top. I’d give 12/20 to this nice model.




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