SUNBEAM car company Wolverhampton England since 1888 including Hillman + Humber

Sunbeam (car company)


Sunbeam was a marque registered by John Marston Co. Ltd of Wolverhampton, England, in 1888. The company first made bicycles, then motorcycles and cars, from the late 19th century until about 1936, and applied the marque to all three forms of transportation. The company also manufactured aero engines in World War I and 647 aircraft during World War II. A Sunbeam was the first British car to win a Grand Prix race, and it set a number of land speed records. The company went into receivership in 1935 and was purchased by the Rootes Group, which continued to use the Sunbeam marque until 1976 when new owners Chrysler rebranded the vehicles.

Early history


John Marston was apprenticed to the Jeddo Works of Wolverhampton as a japanner (metal lacquerer). In 1859, at the age of 23, he bought two tinplate manufacturers and set up on his own as John Marston Co. Ltd. Marston was an avid cyclist; and, in 1877, he set up the Sunbeamland Cycle Factory, producing bikes known as Sunbeams. Between 1899 and 1901, the company also produced a number of experimental cars, but none was offered to the market.

The first production car named as a Sunbeam was introduced in 1901, after a partnership with Maxwell Maberley-Smith. The Sunbeam-Mabley design was an odd one, with seats on either side of a belt-drive powered by a single-cylinder engine of less than 3 hp (2.2 kW). The design was a limited success, with 420 sold at £130 when production ended in 1904 (source?? Other sources state 130 made). At that point the company started production of a Thomas Pullinger–designed car based on the Berliet mechanicals. They introduced a new model, based on a Peugeot motor they bought for study, in 1906 and sold about 10 a week.

In 1905, the Sunbeam Motorcar Company Ltd was formed separate from the rest of the John Marston business, which retained the Sunbeam motorcycles and bicycles.

The Breton car designer, Louis Coatalen, joined the company from Hillman-Coatalen in 1909, and became chief designer. He soon reorganised production such that almost all parts were built by the company, as opposed to relying on outside suppliers. He quickly introduced his first design, the Sunbeam 14/20, their first to use a shaft-driven rear axle, upgrading it in 1911 with a slightly larger engine as the 16/20.

Sunbeam made a small number of Veterans, and by 1912 were making conventional, high-quality cars. Direct competitors to Rolls Royce, Sunbeams were considered to be a car for those who thought an RR a little ostentatious.

1910 Sunbeam Nautilus

Louis Coatalen in the Nautilus at Brooklands in 1910

Coatalen was particularly fond of racing as a way to drive excellence within the company, noting that “Racing improves the breed”. After designing the 14/20, he started the design of advanced high-power engines, combining overhead valves with a pressurised oil lubrication system. In 1910 he built his first dedicated land-speed-record car, the Sunbeam Nautilus, powered by a 4.2-litre version of this engine design. The Nautilus implemented a number of early streamlining features, known as “wind cutting” at the time, but the custom engine suffered various problems and the design was eventually abandoned. The next year he introduced the Sunbeam Toodles II, featuring an improved valve system that turned it into a success. Coatalen won 22 prizes in Toodles II at Brooklands in 1911, and also achieved a flying mile of 86.16 mph (138.66 km/h) to take the 16 hp Short Record. Sunbeam cars powered by more conventional (for the time) side-valve engines featured prominently in the 1911 Coupé de l’Auto race, and improved versions won first, second and third the next year. Sunbeams continued to race over the next few years, but the company had moved on to other interests.

Coatalen also designed a number of passenger cars, notably the Sunbeam 12/16. By 1911 Sunbeam were building about 650 cars a year, at that time making them a major manufacturer.

First World War

Starting in 1912 they had also branched out into aircraft engines, introducing a series of engines that were not particularly successful commercially. Coatalen seemed to be convinced that the proper solution to any engine requirement was a design for those exact specifications, instead of producing a single engine and letting the aircraft designers build their aircraft around it. Their most numerous designs were the troublesome V8 Sunbeam Arab, which was ordered in quantity in 1917 but suffered from continual vibration and reliability problems and only saw limited service, and the more successful V12 Sunbeam Cossack. Meanwhile Coatalen continued to experiment with ever-more odd designs such as the star-layout Sunbeam Malay, which never got beyond a prototype, the air-cooled Sunbeam Spartan and the diesel-powered Sunbeam Pathan. The company was fairly successful with the introduction of newer manufacturing techniques, however, and was one of the first to build aluminium single-block engines, a design that would not become common until the 1930s.

During the First World War, the company built motorcycles, trucks, and ambulances. The company also participated in the Society of British Aircraft Constructors pool, who shared aircraft designs with any companies that could build them. Acting in this role, they produced 15 Short Bombers powered by their own Sunbeam Gurkha engines, 20 Short Type 827s, 50 Short 310s, and others including Avro 504 trainers; they even designed their own Sunbeam Bomber, which lost to a somewhat simpler Sopwith design. Sunbeam had produced 647 aircraft of various types by the time the lines shut down in early 1919.


1926 Sunbeam 14-40 Tourer

Sunbeam 14/40 Tourer 1926

Sunbeam 350hp at the National Motor Museum

Sunbeam 350hp at the National Motor Museum

1927 Sunbeam 1000hp Major Henry Segrave had won the 1923 French Grand Prix with Sunbeam1927 Sunbeam 1000HP

The record-breaking Sunbeam 1000hp

In 1919 Darracq bought the London-based firm of Clément-Talbot (becoming Talbot-Darracq) in order to import Talbots into England from France. On August 13, 1920, Sunbeam merged with the French company Automobiles Darracq S.A.. Alexandre Darracq built his first car in 1896, and his cars were so successful that Alfa Romeo and Opel both started out in the car industry by building Darracqs under licence. Adding Sunbeam created Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq, or STD Motors.

In addition to quality limousine, saloon and touring cars, Coatalen was pleased to build racing cars for Henry Segrave—who won the French and Spanish GPs in 1923/4. He also built a Brooklands racer with a purpose built V12 18.3 litre engine whose design was a hybrid of the Sunbeam Manitou and the Sunbeam Arab aero engines. This engine had four blocks of three cylinders arranged in two banks set at 60 degrees (unlike the Arab which were set at 90 degrees). Each cylinder had one inlet and two exhaust valves actuated by a single overhead camshaft. The two camshafts were driven by a complex set of 16 gears from the front of the crankshaft – a very similar arrangement to that used on the Maori engine which had two OHC per bank of cylinders. This famous car (Sunbeam 350HP) established three Land Speed Records – the first achieved by Kenelm Lee Guinness at Brooklands in 1922 with a speed of 133.75mph. Malcolm Campbell then purchased the car, had it painted in his distinctive colour scheme, named it Blue Bird and in September 1924 achieved a new record speed of 146.16mph at Pendine Sands in South Wales, raising it the following year to 150.76mph. The same year Coatalen’s new 3 litre Super Sports came 2nd at Le Mans—beating Bentley—this was the first production twin-cam car in the world. In 1926 Segrave captured the LSR in a new 4 litre V12 Sunbeam racer originally named Ladybird and later renamed Tiger. Coatalen decided to re-enter the LSR field himself, building the truly gigantic Sunbeam 1000HP powered by two 450 hp (340 kW) Matabele engines. On 29 March 1927 the car captured the speed record at 203.792 mph (327.971 km/h). The car is now at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, UK.

Sunbeam’s great era was really the 1920s under Coatalen’s leadership with very well engineered, high quality, reliable cars — and a great reputation on the track.

A later land speed record attempt, the 1930 Silver Bullet, failed to achieve either records, or the hoped-for advances in aero engines. It is now almost forgotten. Sunbeam did not really survive the depression and in 1935 went into receivership and was sold to Lord Rootes. The last true Sunbeam was made in 1935. The new entry model “Dawn” was a typical mid-1930s design with independent front suspension whereas other models, the 18.2HP and Speed 20 were based on Vintage designs and qualify as PVT under VSCC rules.

Coatalen’s obsession with improvement meant that there were numerous small changes in models from year to year. Therefore although his designs are basically similar, few parts are interchangeable.

In the Vintage period, typically two models dominated production volumes at each period:

  • 1920–24 16 hp, 16/40, 24 hp, 24/60 & 24/70 all based on pre-war designs.
  • 1922–23 14 hp The first highly successful post-war 4-cylinder.
  • 1924 12/30 & 16/50 only produced in small numbers.
  • 1924–26 14/40 and big brother 20/60 developed from 14 hp with 2 more cylinders added.
  • 1926–30 3 litre Super Sports, highly successful and much coveted, the first production twin OHC car in the world.
  • 1926–30 16 hp (16.9) & 20 hp (20.9). Two new designs with six-cylinder integral cast iron block and crankcase. Both were reliable capable cars produced over many years, (20.9) with a 3-litre engine producing 70 BHP is noted for its performance and is well respected as a practical and reliable touring car. It has many shared components with the 3-litre Super Sports (brakes, suspension, steering, axles, gearbox, transmission).
  • 1926–32 20/60 developed into 25 hp with bore increased from 75 to 80 mm. A few 8-cylinder cars produced in this period, 30 hp & 35 hp.
  • 1930–32 16 hp bore increased from 67 to 70 mm, (16.9 to 18.2 hp).
  • 1931–33 New model 20 hp introduced with 80 mm bore and 7 main bearings rated at 23.8 hp. Very smooth and powerful engine.
  • 1933 18.2 hp engine installed in Speed 20 chassis and renamed ‘Twenty’.
  • 1933–34 20.9 hp engine resurrected with improved exhaust manifold and downdraught carb installed in new cruciform braced chassis for the Speed 20. Highly desirable and fast touring model especially the 1934 body style.
  • 1933–35 Twenty-Five introduced with modified 1931–33 23.8 hp engine.
  • 1934 Twenty given the 20.9 engine in place of the 18.2.
  • 1934–35 Dawn introduced. 12.8 hp (9.5 kW) engine and IFS. Nice little car but not a great success.
  • 1935 Speed 20 renamed Sports 21 with redesigned body style.
  • 1935 Sports 21 given a high compression version of Twenty-Five engine.

The most successful, judged by volumes, was the 16 hp (16.9) followed by 20 hp ( 20.9) made from 1926 to 1930. Whilst the 16 was solid and very reliable, it was a little underpowered at 2.1 litres, the 20.9 made a big jump to 3 litres and 70 bhp (52 kW; 71 PS) with similar body weight and vacuum servo brakes and was capable of 70 mph (110 km/h).

Sunbeam built their own bodies but also supplied to the coachbuilder trade; many limousines were built on Sunbeam chassis. The sales catalogue illustrates the standard body designs.

Rootes Group

1947 Sunbeam Talbot Ten Engine 1185cc S4 LPE

Sunbeam-Talbot Saloon 1947

1948 Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Sedan

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 4-Door Saloon 1948

STD Motors went into receivership in 1935. By this point only Talbot was still a success and in 1935 that portion was purchased by the Rootes Group. William Lyons of “SS Cars,” who was looking for a name change, given the rising Nazi connotations, tried to buy Sunbeam but they were also purchased by Rootes. After World War II SS Cars changed their name to Jaguar.

Car production at the Wolverhampton factory was terminated but trolleybus production continued there and Karrier trolleybus production was re-located there from Luton by 1939. During wartime the factory produced the only trolleybus available in the UK; a four-wheeled double decker known as either the Karrier or Sunbeam W4. Rootes sold the factory and designs to Brockhouse Ltd in 1946 who sold them in turn to Guy Motors in 1948 who built Sunbeam trolleybuses at their factory until the last was completed in 1964.

Rootes was an early proponent of badge engineering, building a single mass-produced chassis and equipping it with different body panels and interiors to fit different markets. They ended production of existing models at all the new companies, replacing them with designs from Hillman and Humber that were more amenable to mass production.

In 1938 Rootes created a new marque called Sunbeam-Talbot which combined the quality Talbot coachwork and the current Hillman and Humber chassis and was assembled at the Talbot factory in London. The initial two models were the Sunbeam-Talbot 10 and the 3-litre followed by the Sunbeam-Talbot 2 Litre and 4 litre models based on the earlier models only with different engines and longer wheelbases. Production of these models continued after the war until 1948.

In the summer of 1948, the Sunbeam-Talbot 80 and Sunbeam-Talbot 90 were introduced, with a totally new streamlined design with flowing front fenders (wings). The 80 used the Hillman Minx based engine with ohv and the 90 utilised a modified version of the Humber Hawk with ohv. The car bodies were manufactured by another Rootes Group company, British Light Steel Pressings of Acton, however the convertible drophead coupé shells were completed by Thrupp & Maberly coachbuilders in Cricklewood. The underpowered 80 was discontinued in 1950. The 90 was renamed the 90 Mark II and then the 90 Mark IIA and eventually in 1954 the Sunbeam Mark III, finally dropping the Talbot name. With the model name changes, the headlights were raised on the front fenders and an independent coil front suspension and the engine displacement went from 1944 cc to 2267 cc with a high compression head and developing 80 bhp (60 kW; 81 PS).

There was one more model of the Sunbeam-Talbot that appeared in 1953 in the form of an Alpine, a two seater sports roadster which was initially developed by a Sunbeam-Talbot dealer George Hartwell in Bournemouth as a one-off rally car that had its beginnings as a 1952 drophead coupé. It was named supposedly by Norman Garrad, (works Competition Department) who was heavily involved in the Sunbeam-Talbot successes in the Alpine Rally in the early 1950s using the Saloon model. The Alpine Mark I and Mark III (a Mark II was never made) were hand built like the Drophead Coupé at Thrupp & Maberly coachbuilders from 1953 to 1955 when production ceased after close to 3000 were produced. It has been estimated that perhaps only 200 remain in existence today. The Talbot name was dropped in 1954 for the Sunbeam Alpine sports car, making Sunbeam the sports-performance marque. In 1955 a Sunbeam saloon won the Monte Carlo Rally. Production ceased in 1956 and replaced by the sporty Sunbeam Rapier.

In 1959 a totally new Alpine was introduced, and the 1955 Rapier (essentially a badge-engineered Hillman Minx) was upgraded. After several successful series of the Alpine were released, director of US West-Coast operations, Ian Garrad, became interested in the success of the AC Cobra, which mounted a small-block V-8 engine in the small AC Ace frame to create one of the most successful sports cars of all time. Garrad became convinced the Alpine frame could also be adapted the same way, and contracted Carroll Shelby to prototype such a fit with a Ford engine. The result was the Sunbeam Tiger, released in 1964, which went on to be a huge success.

Chrysler era

But at this point, Rootes was in financial trouble. Talks with Leyland Motors went nowhere, so in 1964, 30 percent of the company (along with 50 percent of the non-voting shares) was purchased by Chrysler, who was attempting to enter the European market. Ironically, Chrysler had purchased Simca the year earlier, who had earlier purchased Automobiles Talbot, originally the British brand that had been merged into STD Motors many years earlier.

Chrysler’s experience with the Rootes empire appears to have been an unhappy one. Models were abandoned over the next few years while they tried to build a single brand from the best models of each of the company’s components, but for management, “best” typically meant “cheapest to produce,” which was at odds with the former higher-quality Rootes philosophy. Brand loyalty started to erode, and was greatly damaged when they decided to drop former marques and start calling everything a Chrysler. The Tiger was dropped in 1967 after an abortive attempt to fit it with a Chrysler engine, and the Hillman Imp–derived Stiletto disappeared in 1972.

The last Sunbeam produced was the “Rootes Arrow” series Alpine/Rapier fastback (1967–76), after which Chrysler, who had purchased Rootes, disbanded the marque. The Hillman (by now Chrysler) Hunter, on which they were based, soldiered on until 1978. A Hillman Avenger-derived hatchback, the Chrysler Sunbeam, maintained the name as a model, rather than a marque, from 1978 to the early 1980s, with the very last models sold as Talbot Sunbeams. The remains of Chrysler Europe were purchased by Peugeot and Renault in 1978, and the name has not been used since.

Electric cars – 2014

The Sunbeam trade mark was re-introduced with the approval of Peugeot SA in November 2014. The Sunbeam Motor Company Limited (Reg No SC 492037) became registered owner of Sunbeam class 12 trade mark on 17th November 2014 (UK3045611) to design and manufacture two, three and four wheel Sunbeam electric vehicles.


Sunbeam rear entrance Tonneau

1903 Sunbeam

Sunbeam car at the Black Country Living Museum 1903

Sunbeam Fire engine-BCLM_exhibit_05

Early fire engine on display at the Black Country Living Museum, preserved by the Marston Wolverhampton Heritage Trust

Sunbeam Cars


  • 1901–04 Sunbeam Mabley
  • 1902-03 Sunbeam rear entrance Tonneau
  • 1903–10 Sunbeam 12 hp
  • 1904-05 Sunbeam side entrance Tonneau
  • 1905–11 Sunbeam 16/20 and 25/30
  • 1908 Sunbeam 20
  • 1908–09 Sunbeam 35
  • 1909 Sunbeam 16
  • 1909–15 Sunbeam 14/20, 16/20, and 20
  • 1910–11 Sunbeam 12/16
  • 1911–15 Sunbeam 18/22, 25/30 and 30
  • 1912–15 Sunbeam 12/16 and 16
  • 1912–14 Sunbeam 16/20

Inter-war years

1932 Sunbeam saloon registered July 2194 cc

1932 Sunbeam 20

1935 Sunbeam Model 25 Saloon

1935 Sunbeam Model 25 Saloon

1950 Sunbeam-Talbot 90

1950 Sunbeam-Talbot 90

  • 1919–21 Sunbeam 16/40
  • 1919–24 Sunbeam 24, 24/60 and 24/70
  • 1922–23 Sunbeam 14 and 14/40
  • 1923–26 Sunbeam 20/60
  • 1924–33 Sunbeam 16 (16.9 and 18.2)
  • 1925–30 Sunbeam 3 litre Super Sports (Twin Cam)
  • 1926–32 Sunbeam Long 25
  • 1927–30 Sunbeam 20 (20.9)
  • 1930–33 Sunbeam 20 (23.8)
  • 1933–35 Sunbeam Speed Twenty
  • 1934–35 Sunbeam Twenty
  • 1934–35 Sunbeam Twenty-Five
  • 1934–35 Sunbeam Dawn

Rootes Group Cars

  • 1936–37 Sunbeam 30
  • 1938–48 Sunbeam-Talbot Ten
  • 1939–48 Sunbeam-Talbot Two Litre
  • 1938–40 Sunbeam-Talbot Three Litre
  • 1939–40 Sunbeam-Talbot Four Litre


1938-1948 Sunbeam-Talbot Ten

Sunbeam-Talbot Ten
1938-48 Sunbeam Talbot 10 Saloon
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Production 1938-1948
Body and chassis
Body style 4-door saloon
drophead coupé
Related Sunbeam-Talbot 2 Litre
Engine 1185 cc Straight-4
Transmission 4-speed manual
Wheelbase 94 in (2,388 mm)
Length 156 in (3,962 mm)
Width 60 in (1,524 mm)
Predecessor Hillman Minx
Successor Sunbeam Talbot 80

The Sunbeam-Talbot Ten is a four-door saloon manufactured by the Rootes Group between 1938 and 1939, and then reintroduced after the Second World War and sold between 1945 and 1948. A cabriolet version was also available.

The British piece of the Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq business fell into the hands of Rootes in 1935, and the new owner’s strategy was clearly to use the prestige of the Sunbeam-Talbot name for selling larger numbers of lower priced cars than hitherto. The Sunbeam-Talbot Ten was one of the first products of the Rootes strategy, being in effect a stylishly rebodied version of the company’s existing middle market saloon, the Hillman Minx.

The classic saloon featured the streamlining increasingly characteristic of mainstream British cars in the later 1930s, along with “stand-alone” headlights. Power came from a 1185 cc side-valve engine for which 41 bhp (30 kW) of power output was claimed. All four wheels were suspended using semi elliptical leaf springs. Top speed was quoted as 68 mph (109 km/h).

Visually the car was virtually indistinguishable from the faster Sunbeam-Talbot 2 Litre, although the faster car was actually about 3 inches (8 cm) longer in wheel-base and overall body length.

In 1948 the Sunbeam-Talbot Ten was replaced by the more modern Sunbeam-Talbot 80 which was essentially a restyled version of the same car.

Sunbeam-Talbot 90

Sunbeam-Talbot 90
1948 Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Sedan

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkI
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Production 1948-1954
20,381 built
Body and chassis
Body style 4-door saloon
2-door drophead coupé
Related Sunbeam-Talbot 80
Engine 1944 cc Straight-4
till 1952
2267 cc Straight-4
from 1952
Transmission 4-speed manual
Wheelbase 97.5 in (2,476 mm)
Length 167.5 in (4,254 mm)
Width 62.5 in (1,588 mm)
Height 59 in (1,499 mm)
Predecessor Sunbeam-Talbot 2 Litre
Successor Sunbeam MkIII

The Sunbeam Talbot 90 was a sporting car built by the Rootes Group in Ryton Coventry under their Sunbeam-Talbot brand.

The car was launched in 1948 along with the smaller-engined Sunbeam-Talbot 80 but many features dated back to the pre war Sunbeam-Talbot 2 Litre. The body was completely new and available as a four-door saloon or two-door drophead coupé. The saloon featured a “pillarless” join between the glass on the rear door and the rear quarter window.

The car went through three versions before the name was changed to Sunbeam MkIII (without “Talbot”) in 1954. It was the last car to bear the Sunbeam-Talbot name.

Sunbeam Talbot 90 Pillarless Rear Window

Sunbeam Talbot 90 “Pillarless” Rear Window

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkI 1948–1950

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkI Saloon

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkI Saloon

The original version had a 64 bhp (48 kW) 1,944 cc side-valve four-cylinder engine derived from a pre-war Humber unit carried over from the Sunbeam-Talbot 2-Litre. The chassis was derived from the Ten model but with wider track and had beam axles front and rear and leaf springs. The brakes were updated to have hydraulic operation. Saloon and Drophead coupé bodies were fitted to the chassis and the rear wheel openings were covered by metal “spats”.

4000 were made.

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkII 1950–1952

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Mk II cabriolet

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Mk II cabriolet

The Mk II got a new chassis with independent front suspension using coil springs. The engine was enlarged to 2267 cc. The increased engine block capacity was shared with the company’s 1950 Humber Hawk, but in the cylinder head the Humber retained (until 1954) the old side-valve arrangement. The Sunbeam’s cylinder head was changed to incorporate overhead valves, giving rise to a claimed power output of 70 bhp (52 kW), compared with only 58 bhp (43 kW) for the Humber. The favourable power-to-weight ratio meant that the Talbot could be “geared quite high” and still provide impressive acceleration where needed for “quick overtaking”.

The front of the Talbot 90 body was modified; the headlights were higher and there were air inlet grilles on either side of the radiator

A Coupé version tested by The Motor magazine in 1952 had a top speed of 85.2 mph (137.1 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 20.2 seconds. A fuel consumption of 22.5 miles per imperial gallon (12.6 L/100 km; 18.7 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £1393 including taxes.

5493 were made.

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkIIA 1952–1954

The Mk IIA had a higher compression engine raising output to 77 bhp (57 kW). To cater for the higher speeds the car was now capable of, the brakes were enlarged and to improve brake cooling the wheels were pierced. The Talbot MkIIA coupe/convertible is regarded as the rarest of the Sunbeam Talbots.

The rear wheel spats were no longer fitted.

10,888 were made.

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Mk IIA saloon
Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Mk IIA saloon
1953 Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkIIA Drophead Coupe
Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkIIA Drophead Coupe of 1953
Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkIIA Sedan
Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkIIA Sedan
Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkIIA Drophead Coupe
Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkIIA Drophead Coupe
Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkIIA Drophead Coupe a
Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkIIA Drophead Coupe

Sunbeam Mk III

Sunbeam Mk III
1956 Sunbeam Mk III

1956 Sunbeam Mk III
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Production 1954-1957
2,250 built
Assembly United Kingdom
Body and chassis
Body style 4-door saloon
2-door drophead coupé
Engine 2267 cc Straight-4
Predecessor Sunbeam-Talbot 90

From 1954 to 1957 the car continued, but without the Talbot name and was marketed as the Sunbeam MkIII and badged on the radiator shell as Sunbeam Supreme. The drophead coupé was not made after 1955.

There were some minor styling changes to the front with enlarged air intakes on each side of the radiator shell and three small portholes just below each side of the bonnet near to the windscreen. Duo-tone paint schemes were also available. Engine power was increased to 80 bhp (60 kW) and overdrive became an option.

A Mk III tested by The Motor magazine in 1955 had a top speed of 93.6 mph (150.6 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 17.4 seconds. A fuel consumption of 22.1 miles per imperial gallon (12.8 L/100 km; 18.4 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £1191 including taxes.

The main Rootes Group dealers in Leicester, Castles of Leicester, offered a conversion that moved the gearchange to the transmission tunnel, modified the cylinder head, fitted a bonnet air scoop and changed the way the boot lid opened. These models were not connected with the Sunbeam factory but are sometimes referred to as the Mk IIIS. Some 30-40 cars were modified. The revised gearchange was also offered as an after market accessory and was suitable for fitting to earlier models also.

Approximately 2250 were made.

1953-75 Sunbeam Alpine

Sunbeam Alpine
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Production 1953–75
Assembly Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Warwickshire, England
Body and chassis
Body style Sports car
Layout FR layout

The Sunbeam Alpine is a sporty two-seat open car from Rootes Group‘s Sunbeam car marque. The original was launched in 1953 as the first vehicle from Sunbeam-Talbot to bear the Sunbeam name alone since the 1935 takeover of Sunbeam and Talbot by the Rootes Group.

Alpine Mark I and III

Sunbeam Alpine Mark I & III
TMP3 Sunbeam Alpine Mark I & III
Production 1953–55
1.582 made
Assembly United Kingdom
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door roadster
Related Sunbeam-Talbot 90
Engine 2267 cc (2.3L) I4
Wheelbase 97.5 in (2,476 mm)
Length 168.5 in (4,280 mm)
Width 62.5 in (1,588 mm)
Successor Series Alpine

The Alpine was derived from the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Saloon, and has become colloquially known as the “Talbot” Alpine. It was a two-seater sports roadster initially developed by Sunbeam-Talbot dealer George Hartwell in Bournemouth, as a one-off rally car. It had its beginnings as a 1952 Sunbeam-Talbot drophead coupé, and was supposedly named by Norman Garrad of the works Competition Department, who was heavily involved in Sunbeam-Talbot’s successes in the Alpine Rally during the early 1950s using the saloon models.

The car has a four-cylinder 2267 cc engine from the saloon, but with a raised compression ratio. However, since it was developed from the saloon platform, it suffered from rigidity compromises despite extra side members in the chassis. The gearbox ratios were changed, and from 1954 an overdrive unit became standard. The gearchange lever was column-mounted.

The Alpine Mark I and Mark III (no Mark II was made) were hand-built – as was the 90 drophead coupé – at Thrupp & Maberly coachbuilders from 1953 to 1955, and remained in production for only two years. Of the 1582 automobiles produced, 961 were exported to the USA and Canada, 445 stayed in the UK, and 175 went to other world markets. It has been estimated that perhaps as few as 200 have survived.

The Sunbeam Alpine Mk 1 Special: It was based on the 2267cc Mk 1 Sunbeam Talbot motor, with alloy rocker cover and Siamese exhaust ports [ cylinders 2 and 3 ]. These motors developed a reputed ,97.5 bhp at 4,500 rpm, mainly by raising the compression ratio to 8.0:1 and incorporating a special induction manifold with a twin choke solex 40 P.I.I carburettor .

Sunbeam Alpine Team Cars : MKV 21 – 26: The motors were configured the same as the Sunbeam Alpine Mk I Special, with further tuning by ERA to raise power to over 100 bhp.

Sunbeam Alpine Mk II

Alpine Mk III

In the 1953 Alpine Rally four Alpines won the Coupe des Alpes, one of which, finishing 6th, was driven by Stirling Moss; Sheila van Damm won the Coupe Des Dames in the same rally.

Very few of these cars are ever seen on the big screen. However, a sapphire blue Alpine featured prominently in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. More recently, the American PBS show History Detectives tried to verify that an Alpine roadster owned by a private individual was the actual car used in that movie. Although the Technicolor process could “hide” the car’s true colour, and knowing that the car was shipped back from Monaco to the USA for use in front of a rear projection effect, the car shown on the programme was ultimately proven not to be the film car upon comparison of the vehicle identification numbers.

Alpine Series I to V

Sunbeam Alpine Series I to V
Sunbeam alpine IV arp
Production 1959–1968
69,251 made
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door roadster
Related Sunbeam Tiger
Engine Series I: 91.2 cu in (1.5 L) I4
Series II, III & IV—1592 cc (1.6L) I4
Series V—1725 cc (1.7L) I4
Wheelbase 86 in (2,184 mm)
Length 155 in (3,937 mm)
Width 61 in (1,549 mm)
Height 51 in (1,295 mm)
Successor none

Kenneth Howes and Jeff Crompton were tasked with doing a complete redesign in 1956, with the goal of producing a dedicated sports car aimed principally at the US market. Ken Howes contributed some 80 per cent of the overall design work, which bears more than incidental resemblance to the early Ford Thunderbird; Howe had worked at Ford before joining Rootes.

The Alpine was produced in four subsequent revisions through to 1968. Total production numbered around 70,000. Production stopped shortly after the Chrysler takeover of the Rootes Group.

Series I 1959–1960

The “Series” Alpine started production in 1959. One of the original prototypes still survives and was raced by British Touring car champion Bernard Unett.

The car made extensive use of components from other Rootes Group vehicles and was built on a modified floorpan from the Hillman Husky estate car. The running gear came mainly from the Sunbeam Rapier, but with front disc brakes replacing the saloon car’s drums. An overdrive unit and wire wheels were optional. The suspension was independent at the front using coil springs and at the rear had a live axle and semi-elliptic springing. The Girling-manufactured brakes used 9.5 in (241 mm) disc at the front and 9 in (229 mm)drums at the rear.

Coupe versions of the post-1959 version were built by Thomas Harrington Ltd. Until 1962 the car was assembled for Rootes by Armstrong Siddeley.

An open car with overdrive was tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1959. It had a top speed of 99.5 mph (160.1 km/h) and could accelerate from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 13.6 seconds. A fuel consumption of 31.4 miles per imperial gallon (9.0 L/100 km; 26.1 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £1031 including taxes.

11,904 examples of the series I were produced.

In 1960 Sunbeam marketed a limited-production three-door variant of the Alpine, marketed as a shooting brake. With leather interior and walnut trim, its price was double that of its open counterpart.

The Series I featured a 1494 cc engine and was styled by the Loewy Studios for the Rootes Group. It had dual downdraft carburetors, a soft top that could be hidden by special integral covers and the first available roll up side windows offered in a British sports car of that time.

Series II 1962

The Series II of 1962 featured an enlarged 1592 cc engine producing 80 bhp and revised rear suspension, but there were few other changes. When it was replaced in 1963, 19,956 had been made.

A Series II with hardtop and overdrive was tested by The Motor magazine in 1960, which recorded a top speed of 98.6 mph (158.7 km/h), acceleration from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 13.6 seconds and a fuel consumption of 31.0 miles per imperial gallon (9.1 L/100 km; 25.8 mpg-US). The test car cost £1,110 including taxes.

Series III 1963–1964

The Series III was produced in open and removable hardtop versions. On the hardtop version the top could be removed but no soft-top was provided as the area it would have been folded into was occupied by a small rear seat. Also, the 1592 cc engine developed less power. To provide more room in the boot, twin fuel tanks in the rear wings were fitted. Quarter light were fitted to the windows. Between 1963 and 1964, 5863 were made. alpine

Series IV 1964–1965

The lower-output engine option was now dropped with convertible and hardtop versions sharing the 82 bhp engine with single Solex carburettor. A new rear styling was introduced with the fins largely removed. Automatic transmission with floor-mounted control became an option, but was unpopular. From autumn 1964 a new manual gearbox with synchromesh on first gear was adopted in line with its use in other Rootes cars. A total of 12,406 were made.

Series V 1965–1968

The final version had a new five-bearing 1725 cc engine with twin Zenith-Stromberg semi-downdraught carburettors producing 93 bhp. There was no longer an automatic transmission option. 19,122 were made. In some export markets, 100 PS (99 bhp) SAE were claimed.

1967 Sunbeam Alpine Series V
1967 Sunbeam Alpine Series V

1967 Sunbeam Alpine Series Va

1967 Sunbeam Alpine Series V

A muscle-car variant of the later versions was also built, the Sunbeam Tiger.


1961 Sunbeam Harrington Alpine Engine 1592cc S41961 Sunbeam Harrington Alpine

1961 Sunbeam Harrington Alpine

The Alpine enjoyed relative success in European and North American competition. Probably the most notable international success was at Le Mans, where a Sunbeam Harrington won the Thermal Index of Efficiency in 1961. In the United States the Alpine competed successfully in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) events.

Vince Tamburo won the G-Production National Championship in 1960 using the 1494cc Series I Alpine. In 1961 Don Sesslar took 2nd in the F-Production National Championship followed by a 3rd in the Championship in 1962. For 1963 the Alpine was moved into E-Production facing stiff competition from a class dominated by the Porsche 356. Sesslar tied in points for the national championship while Norman Lamb won the Southwest Division Championship in his Alpine.

A championship for Don Sesslar finally was achieved in 1964 with 5 wins (the SCCA totaled the 5 top finishes for the year). Dan Carmichael won the Central Division Championship in 1964 and 65. Carmichael continued to race the Alpine until 1967, when he finished 2nd at the American Road Race of Champions.

Bernard Unett raced factory prototype Alpine (registration number XRW 302) from 1962 to 1964 and in 1964 won the Fredy Dixon challenge trophy, which was considered to be biggest prize on the British club circuit at the time. Unett went on to become British Touring car champion three times during the 1970s.

A six-car works team was set up for the 1953 Alpine Rally. Although outwardly similar to their production-car counterparts they reputedly incorporated some 36 modifications, boosting the engine to an estimated 97.5 bhp.

Alpine “Fastback”

Sunbeam Alpine “Fastback”
1969 Sunbeam Alpine 'Fastback' Coupe
Production 1969–1975
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door fastback
Engine 1725 cc (1.7L) I4
Wheelbase 98.5 in (2,502 mm)
Length 174.5 in (4,432 mm)
Width 64.75 in (1,645 mm)
Successor none
Main article: Rootes Arrow

Rootes introduced the “Arrow” range in 1967, and by 1968 the saloons and estates (such as the Hillman Hunter) had been joined by a Sunbeam Rapier Fastback coupé model. In 1969, a cheaper, slightly slower and more economical version of the Rapier (still sold as a sporty model) was badged as the new Sunbeam Alpine.

All models featured the group’s strong five-bearing 1725 cc engine, with the Alpine featuring a single Stromberg CD150 carburettor to the Rapier’s twins, and the Rapier H120’s twin 40DCOE Weber carburettors.

Although drawing many parts from the group’s “parts bin”, including the rear lights of the estate Arrow models, the fastbacks nevertheless offered a number of unique features, including their pillar-less doors and rear side windows which combined to open up the car much like a cabriolet with a hardtop fitted. Extensive wooden dashboards were fitted to some models, and sports seats were available for a time.

Post-Sunbeam Alpine

The Alpine name was resurrected in 1976 by Chrysler (by then the owner of Rootes), on a totally unrelated vehicle that could not have been more different: the UK-market version of the Simca 1307, a French-built family hatchback. The car was initially badged as the Chrysler Alpine, and then finally as the Talbot Alpine following Chrysler Europe’s takeover by Peugeot in 1978. The name survived until 1984, although the design survived (with different names) until 1986.

Sunbeam Rapier

Sunbeam Rapier
Sunbeam Rapier convertible at Battlesbridge Classic car Show

Sunbeam Rapier IIIA convertible
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Production 1955-1976
Body and chassis
Body style 2 door saloon
2 door convertible
2 door fastback coupe
Related Hillman Minx
Singer Gazelle
Sunbeam Alpine Fastback coupé
Predecessor Sunbeam Mark III
Successor none

The Sunbeam Rapier is an automobile produced by the Rootes Group from 1955 to 1976, in two different body-styles, the “Series” cars (which underwent several revisions) and the later (1967–1976) fastback shape, part of the “Arrow” range.

The first generation Rapier was the first of the “Audax” range of light cars produced by the Rootes Group, in this instance as part of their Sunbeam marque. Announced at the London Motor Show in October 1955, it preceded its Hillman Minx and Singer Gazelle counterparts which were not introduced until 1956.

A four seat, two door hardtop coupé – designated Series I with the introduction of the Series II in 1958 – it was different from the Sunbeam Mark III, the car it would eventually replace. Although designed “in house” by the Rootes Group, it was inspired, via the Raymond Loewy design organisation, by the new-generation Studebaker coupés of 1953.

Series I

Sunbeam Rapier I
Sunbeam Rapier Series I. Picture by David Parrott.
Production 1955–1958
7477 produced.
Body and chassis
Body style 2 door saloon
Engine 1390 cc overhead valve Straight-4
Wheelbase 96 in (2,400 mm)
Length 160 in (4,100 mm)
Width 60 in (1,500 mm)
Height 57 in (1,400 mm)

The styling of the Series I Rapier was undertaken by the design firm of Raymond Loewy Associates and showed a great deal of influence of Raymond Loewy‘s 1953 Studebaker Hawk (itself an acclaimed design). Available in a range of two-tone colour schemes typical of the period, it had a steering column gear change, leather trim and an overdrive as standard fittings. Vinyl trim was an option in the UK and standard in certain export territories. Rapier bodies were built by Pressed Steel, shipped to Thrupp & Maberly in north London where they were painted and trimmed, then shipped again to the Rootes assembly plant at Ryton-on-Dunsmore near Coventry where the engines, transmission and running gear were fitted. This complex situation persisted until late 1963 when the Series IV was introduced.

The Rapier’s 1390 cc engine was essentially the same as that fitted to the Hillman Minx but with a raised compression ratio (8:1 instead of 7:1), a Zenith DIF 36 carburettor and revised inlet and exhaust manifolds. In this form it developed 62.5 bhp (47 kW; 63 PS) at 5000 rpm. A column change, four speed transmission with overdrive on third and top was included in the price as a standard feature.

From October 1956, directly as a result of experience gained in international rallying by Rootes’ competition department, the Rapier was fitted with the updated R67 engine on which the Stromberg carburettor was replaced by twin Zenith 36 WIP carburettors on a new inlet manifold. This engine produced 67.5 bhp (50 kW; 68 PS) at 5000 rpm, the effect of which was to reduce the Rapier’s 0-60 mph time by almost 1 second and increase its top speed by 3 mph (4.8 km/h).

British magazine The Motor tested a Series I twin carburettor saloon in 1957, recording a top speed of 85.7 mph (137.9 km/h) and acceleration from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 20.9 seconds and a fuel consumption of 30.5 miles per imperial gallon (9.3 L/100 km; 25.4 mpg-US). The test car cost £1043 including taxes of £348.

In competition, a Rapier driven by Peter Harper finished in fifth place in the 1958 Monte Carlo Rally.

In total, 7,477 units were produced of this initial version of the Sunbeam Rapier. It was discontinued in 1958 on the introduction of the Series II.

Series II

Sunbeam Rapier II
Sunbeam Rapier Series 2 Convertible. Picture by David Parrott
Production 1958–1959
15,151 produced.
Body and chassis
Body style 2 door saloon
2 door convertible
Engine 1494 cc overhead valve Straight-4

The Sunbeam Rapier Series II was announced on 6 February 1958, available in hardtop and convertible forms. Rootes arranged for nine of the new cars to be in Monte Carlo for the press to try at the end of the 1958 Monte Carlo Rally.

The traditional Sunbeam radiator grille was reintroduced, albeit shortened and widened and the spaces at its sides were filled with horizontal side grilles. The two-tone lower body colour scheme of the Series I was discontinued in favour of a broad full length flash in the same colour as the roof, but the most obvious change was the appearance on the rear wings of pronounced fins.

The interior of the Series II was little changed from that of the Series I, except that a floor gear change replaced the column change, a modification, developed on the works Series I rally cars. To keep costs down, the leather upholstery, standard on the Series I, was discontinued in favour of vinyl and overdrive became an extra cost option.

An improvement in the Series II though, was its more powerful engine. Referred to as the Rallymaster, it had an increased capacity of 1494 cc. The capacity increase combined with a higher compression ratio of 8.5:1 and larger inlet and exhaust valves to raise the power output to 73 bhp (54 kW; 74 PS) at 5,200 rpm. Autocar quoted the top speed as 91 mph (146 km/h) with a 0-60 mph time of 20.2 seconds. Also as a direct result of competition experience, the Series II was fitted with larger front brakes and a recirculating ball steering box instead of the worm and nut box of the Series I.

The Series II was discontinued in favour of the Series III in 1959 after 15,151 units (hardtop and convertible) had been built.

Series III

Sunbeam Rapier III
Sunbeam Rapier Series 3 Convertible. Picture by David Parrott.
Production 1959–1961
15,368 produced.
Body and chassis
Body style 2 door saloon
2 door convertible
Engine 1494 cc overhead valve Straight-4

The Series III was introduced in September 1959.

Rootes made subtle changes to the car’s body which individually were insignificant but when combined, considerably altered its appearance. For example, the number of horizontal bars in each of the side grilles was increased from three to four and the boot lid acquired an oblong number plate recess and surround in place of the square one of the earlier cars. The most striking change was the redesigned side flash, now narrower and lower down the side of the car with the Rapier script on its rear end. The most subtle change, however, was a reduction in thickness of the windscreen pillars and a lowering of the scuttle line to give a 20% increase in windscreen area.

Inside the Series III the changes were more evident. Rootes stylists completely redesigned the seats and interior panels and specified that they be trimmed in single colour vinyl with contrasting piping. For the first time, deep pile carpets were fitted as standard in the foot-wells (previous versions had rubber mats). The steering wheel, control knobs and switches were in black plastic instead of beige. The dashboard, instead of being as in the earlier cars padded metal and plastic, was covered in burr walnut veneer surmounted by a padded crash roll fitted with black-faced British Jaeger instruments.

Mechanically, the Series III benefited from the design of the Sunbeam Alpine sports car with which it shared its engine. Although the engine’s displacement was still 1494 cc, it was fitted with a new eight-port aluminium cylinder head with an increased compression ratio and redesigned valves, and used a new, sportier camshaft. The twin Zenith carburettors from the Series II remained but were mounted on a new water heated inlet manifold. The result of these changes was a power increase of 5 bhp (4 kW; 5 PS) to 78 bhp (58 kW; 79 PS) at 5400 rpm.

Gearbox changes included higher second, third and top gear ratios, and a reduced angle of gear lever movement to make for shorter lever travel and snappier changes. New front disc brakes significantly improved the Rapier’s braking capability and widened its front track to give greater stability and improved road-holding.

A saloon with overdrive was tested by British magazine The Motor in 1960 and had a top speed of 91.7 mph (147.6 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 16.6 seconds. A fuel consumption of 29.5 miles per imperial gallon (9.6 L/100 km; 24.6 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £1045 including taxes.

The Series III, of which 15,368 units were built (hardtop and convertible) gave way to the Series IIIA in April 1961.

Series IIIA

Sunbeam Rapier IIIA
Sunbeam Rapier Series IIIA. Picture by David Parrott.
Production 1961–1963
17,354 produced.
Body and chassis
Body style 2 door saloon
2 door convertible
Engine 1592 cc overhead valve Straight-4

In 1961 the Series IIIA was announced with the Series II Sunbeam Alpine 1592 cc engine.[7]

Externally and internally the Series IIIA was identical to the Series III. The improvements were directed solely at improving the durability of the car. To this end, engine capacity was increased to 1592 cc and a stiffer crankshaft fitted. To increase reliability, the crankshaft incorporated larger diameter connecting rod bearings which called for modifications to the connecting rods and gudgeon pins. Modified oil and water pumps completed the engine changes. As a result, power output increased from 78 bhp (58 kW) to 80.25 bhp (60 kW; 81 PS) at 5,100 rpm and torque increased from 84 lb·ft (114 N·m) at 3500 rpm to 88.2 ft·lbf (119.6 N·m) at 3,900 rpm.

In addition, the Series IIIA included many detail changes such as an increased diameter front anti-roll bar which greatly improved roadholding, a redesigned clutch bell housing, a revised clutch assembly with nine pressure springs instead of six and a redesigned air cleaner assembly. Inside the car a fresh-air heater, hitherto available only at extra cost, became a standard fitting. All of these changes combined to make the Series IIIA subtly different from its predecessor and to give the Sunbeam Rapier a new lease of life in the showroom.

Maximum speed for the Series IIIA was lower than the Series III at 90 mph (140 km/h). It also took longer than the Series III to get to 60 mph (19.3 seconds) but its engine was far more durable.  in mid 1963, the Series IIIA convertible was discontinued but the hardtop soldiered on until October 1963 when it was replaced by the Series IV. When production of the Series IIIA ceased, 17,354 units had been built.

Series IV

Sunbeam Rapier IV
Sunbeam Rapier Series 4. Picture by David Parrott.
Production 1963–1965
9,700 produced.
Body and chassis
Body style 2 door saloon
Engine 1592 cc overhead valve Straight-4

Late in 1963, Rootes were set to drop the Rapier. It was no longer the mainstay of the competitions department because Rootes had directed its competitive effort towards the Hillman Imp and the Sunbeam Tiger. In fact a totally new Series IV Rapier had been designed, prototypes built and testing completed, and then the Rootes Group changed its mind! The new Series IV Rapier became the Mark I Humber Sceptre and the old Series IIIA Rapier was redesigned, hopefully to give it a new lease of life as a touring saloon rather than a sports coupé.

The most obvious difference was the change to 13-inch (330 mm) road wheels in common with the rest of Rootes’ Light Car range. This meant that the stainless steel wheel trims of earlier Rapiers were replaced by Rootes corporate hub caps and rim finishers. At the front, the car was redesigned to make it look more up-to-date. A new bonnet made the front look lower and flatter and the front wings were modified to accept extensions housing alloy side grilles and sidelights with amber turn indicators. The traditional Sunbeam grille, already stylised for the Series II, was further modified to give a lower, more square shape with a pronounced convex profile. New headlamp rims were fitted, in fact Sunbeam Alpine items but chromed for the Rapier, and a new front bumper using the same shape and profile as the rest of the Light Car range. At the back, a new full width number plate plinth appeared with a new Light Car range bumper. To give a more open look from the side, the frames were removed from the side windows. Finally, small badges fitted at the bottom of each front wing and on the boot lid proclaimed each car to be a “Series IV”.

Inside, a new dash, still in walnut veneer, but with the glove box raised into the dash itself allowed the inclusion of a proper storage shelf on each side of the car. Instrumentation and controls were much as before except that the heater switches and ashtray were now housed in a console in front of the gear lever. To aid driver comfort, an adjustable steering column was fitted along with new front seats which allowed more fore and aft adjustment and for the first time, included backrest adjustment.

In common with the rest of the Light Car range, the Rapier’s front suspension was re-engineered to replace the half king pin on each side of the car with a sealed for life ball joint. All other suspension joints became either sealed for life or were rubber bushed thereby eliminating every grease point on the car. Gearing was adjusted overall to compensate for the smaller wheels and the front brake discs were reduced in size so that they would fit inside the wheels. A brake servo became standard and the spring and damper settings were adjusted to give a softer ride. A new diaphragm clutch and new clutch master cylinder brought lighter and more progressive clutch operation.

The 1592 cc engine from the Series IIIA was unchanged but the twin Zenith carburettors finally gave way to a single twin-choke Solex 32PAIA in the interests of serviceability. The effect of the new carburettor was to increase power to 84 bhp (63 kW; 85 PS) and torque to 91 lb·ft (123 N·m) at 3,500 rpm.

In October 1964, along with the rest of the Light Car range, the Series IV received the new Rootes all synchromesh gearbox, a change which coincided with the introduction of a new computerised chassis numbering system.

The Motor road test of April 1964 gave the Series IV Rapier’s maximum speed as 91 mph (146 km/h) and its 0-60 mph time as 17 seconds.

When production of the Series IV ceased in 1965, 9700 units had been built.

Series V

Sunbeam Rapier V
1966 Sunbeam Rapier Series V Metallic Green

Rapier Series V 1966
Production 1965–1967
3,759 produced.
Body and chassis
Body style 2 door saloon
Engine 1724 cc overhead valve Straight-4

Pending completion of the new Fastback Rapier, Rootes decided to have one more go at updating the Sunbeam Rapier. In September 1965 they introduced the Series V version which looked exactly like the Series IV inside and out except for badges on wings and boot which now said “1725”, revealing a re-developed engine, although the actual capacity was 1724 cc.

Rootes redesigned the Rapier’s four cylinder engine to increase the capacity, with a new five main bearing crankshaft, making the unit stronger and smoother. This engine would be developed for many subsequent models. In the Series V Rapier the engine developed 91 hp (68 kW; 92 PS) at 5,500 rpm.

To further update the car, they changed its polarity from positive to negative earth and fitted an alternator in place of the dynamo. They also devised a new twin pipe exhaust system so that the new engine could breathe more easily.

The effect of these changes was to increase the Rapier’s maximum speed to 95 mph (153 km/h) and reduce its time from rest to 60 mph (97 km/h) to 14.1 seconds. However, for all its improvements, the Series V just did not sell. By the time it was discontinued in June 1967, only 3,759 units had been built, making it the rarest of all the “Series” Sunbeam Rapiers.

Sunbeam Rapier Fastback coupé

Sunbeam Rapier Fastback
Sunbeam Rapier 'Fastback' Coupe. Picture by David Parrott.
Production 1967–1976
46,204 produced including Alpine and H120.
Body and chassis
Body style 2 door fastback coupe
Related Rootes Arrow range
Engine 1725 cc overhead valve Straight-4

By 1967 Rootes’s “Arrow” range was ready. As well as the Hillman Hunter, the range also included a new generation of Sunbeam Rapiers, with fastback coupé bodies and a sporty image. Like the earlier Series 1–5 models, it was a two-door pillarless hardtop.

The Arrow Rapier – or Fastback, as it came to be known – launched in October 1967, was a four-seat coupé based on the chassis of the Hillman Hunter Estate. Although the Rapier used the tail lamps and rear valance from the Hunter Estate, the rest of its superstructure was unique.

The Rapier used the Rootes four-cylinder, five-bearing 1725 cc engine, which was tilted slightly to the right to enable a lower bonnet line, in common with the other Arrow models. With its twin Stromberg 150CD carburettors the engine produced 88 hp (66 kW; 89 PS)at 5200 rpm. Overdrive was standard with the manual gearbox, and Borg-Warner automatic transmission was an optional extra.

The Fastback Rapier continued almost unchanged until 1976, when it was discontinued without a replacement. During its lifetime it formed the basis for the more powerful Sunbeam Rapier H120, introduced in October 1968 and identifiable by its boot-lid spoiler and polished sill covers: it shared its Holbay Engineering-tuned 110 bhp engine (with twin Weber carburettors) with the Hillman Hunter GLS. The Rapier was also the basis for the slightly cheaper but similarly bodied, single-carburettor Sunbeam Alpine Fastback introduced in October 1969. Rapier running gear (though not the estate chassis) was also used in the Humber Sceptre MkIII, Hillman GT and Hillman Hunter GT models from the Arrow range.

Between 1967 and 1969, the Rapier was built at Ryton-on-Dunsmore, but from 1969 until its demise in 1976, it was built at Rootes’ Hillman Imp factory at Linwood in Scotland. In all, 46,204 units were built (including Rapier, H120 and Alpine versions).

Maximum speed of the Rapier was 103 mph (166 km/h) and it could reach 60 mph (97 km/h) from rest in 12.8 seconds. In the United States, it was marketed as the Sunbeam Alpine GT.

Sunbeam Alpine Fastback coupé

Sunbeam Alpine Fastback Coupé
1969 Sunbeam Alpine Fastback

Sunbeam Alpine Fastback coupé
Production 1970–1975
Body and chassis
Body style 2 door fastback coupe
Engine 1725 cc overhead valve Straight-4

The Sunbeam Alpine Fastback, introduced for 1970, was essentially a Rapier with a simplified specification, developed to plug a gap in the Arrow range above the Singer Vogue. It used the same 1725 cc engine as the Hillman Hunter which, fitted with a single Stromberg 150CD carburettor, developed 74 hp (55 kW; 75 PS) at 5500 rpm. Transmission options included overdrive on cars with a manual gearbox or a Borg-Warner automatic transmission.

The Alpine, though well equipped, was less sporty in style than the Rapier. It had a wooden dashboard with fewer instruments, instead of the Rapier’s cowled plastic one, and wood instead of metal on the transmission tunnel. There were also different wheel trims, no aluminium sill finishers (nor the polished ones of the H120) and no vinyl trim on its C pillars. Above all at GBP1086 in the UK it was significantly (for the time) cheaper than the GBP1200 Rapier.

Maximum speed of the Alpine was 91 mph (146 km/h) and it could reach 60 mph (97 km/h) from rest in 14.6 seconds.

The Fastback Alpine was discontinued in 1975, before the Rapier and H120.

Sunbeam Rapier H120

Sunbeam Rapier H120
Sunbeam Rapier H120 'Fastback' Coupe. Picture by David Parrott. Summary
Production 1970–1976
Body and chassis
Body style 2 door fastback coupe
Engine 1725 cc overhead valve Straight-4

To produce a faster version of the Fastback Rapier, Rootes developed the H120. Based on the Rapier, the H120 had a more powerful version of the 1725 cc engine specially developed by Holbay Engineering. It produced 108 bhp (gross) at 5,200 rpm and was fitted with a special cylinder head, high lift camshaft, tuned length four-branch exhaust manifold, special distributor and twin Weber 40DCOE carburetters. The H120 had a close ratio gearbox, a heavy duty overdrive and a high ratio rear axle.

To add to its sporty image, the H120 had wider Rostyle wheels, broad side flashes, polished sill covers, a matt black radiator grille and a new boot lid incorporating a faired-in spoiler. To further distinguish the model from others in the range, it had H120 badges on the front wings and in the centre of the grille.

Maximum speed of the H120 was 106 mph (171 km/h) and it could reach 60 mph (97 km/h) from standstill in 11.1 seconds.

The H120 was discontinued with the Fastback Rapier in 1976.

Sunbeam Tiger

Sunbeam Tiger
Sunbeam Tiger Red
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Production 1964–67
7083 built
Assembly West Bromwich, England
Body and chassis
Class Sports car
Body style 2-door roadster
Layout FR layout
Related Sunbeam Alpine
Engine Tiger I: 260 cu in (4.3 L) V8 (Ford)
Tiger II: 289 cu in (4.7 L) V8 (Ford)
Transmission Ford 4-speed manual
Wheelbase 86 in (2,184 mm)
Length 156 in (3,962 mm)
Width 60.5 in (1,537 mm)
Height 51.5 in (1,308 mm)
Kerb weight Tiger I: 2,565 lb (1,163 kg)
Tiger II: 2,574 lb (1,168 kg)

The Sunbeam Tiger is a high-performance V8 version of the British Rootes Group‘s Sunbeam Alpine roadster, designed in part by American car designer and racing driver Carroll Shelby and produced from 1964 until 1967. Shelby had carried out a similar V8 conversion on the AC Cobra, and hoped to be offered the contract to produce the Tiger at his facility in America. Rootes decided instead to contract the assembly work to Jensen at West Bromwich in England, and pay Shelby a royalty on every car produced.

Two major versions of the Tiger were built: the Series I (1964–67) was fitted with the 260 cu in (4.3 L) Ford V8; the Series II, of which only 633 were built in the final year of Tiger production, was fitted with the larger Ford 289 cu in (4.7 L) engine. Two prototype and extensively modified versions of the Series I competed in the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans, but neither completed the race. Rootes also entered the Tiger in European rallies with some success, and for two years it was the American Hot Rod Association‘s national record holder over a quarter-mile drag strip.

Production ended in 1967 soon after the Rootes Group was taken over by Chrysler, which did not have a suitable engine to replace the Ford V8. Owing to the ease and affordability of modifying the Tiger, there are few surviving cars in standard form.


The Sunbeam Tiger was a development of the Sunbeam Alpine, introduced by the British manufacturer Rootes in 1953. Rootes realised that the Alpine needed more power if it was to compete successfully in world markets, but lacked a suitable engine and the resources to develop one. The company therefore approached Ferrari to redesign the standard inline-four cylinder engine, recognising the sales cachet that “powered by Ferrari” would be likely to bring. Negotiations initially seemed to go well, but ultimately broke down.

In 1962 racing driver and Formula 1 champion Jack Brabham proposed to Rootes competition manager Norman Garrad the idea of fitting the Alpine with a Ford V8 engine,[a] which Garrad relayed to his son Ian, then the West Coast Sales Manager of Rootes American Motors Inc. Ian Garrad lived close to where Carroll Shelby had his Shelby American operation, which had done a similar V8 conversion for the British AC Cobra.

Initial prototypes

According to journalist William Carroll, after measuring the Alpine’s engine bay with “a ‘precision’ instrument of questionable antecedents” – a wooden yardstick – Ian Garrad despatched his service manager Walter McKenzie to visit the local new car dealerships, looking for a V8 engine that might fit. McKenzie returned with the news that the Ford 260 V8 engine appeared to be suitable, which apart from its size advantage was relatively light at 440 lb (200 kg). Ian Garrad asked Shelby for an idea of the timescale and cost to build a prototype, which Shelby estimated to be eight weeks and $10,000. He then approached Brian Rootes, head of sales for the Rootes Group, for funding and authorisation to build a prototype, to which Brian Rootes agreed.

Well all right, at that price when can we start? But for God’s sake keep it quiet from Dad [Lord Rootes] until you hear from me. I’ll work the $10,000 (£3,571) out some way, possibly from the advertising account.

Brian Rootes

Ian Garrad, impatient to establish whether the conversion was feasible, commissioned racing driver and fabricator Ken Miles to build another prototype as quickly as he could. Miles was provided with a budget of $800, a Series II Alpine, a Ford V8 engine and a 2-speed automatic transmission, and in about a week he had a running V8 conversion, thus proving the concept.

Shelby began work on his prototype, the white car as it came to be known, in April 1963, and by the end of the month it was ready for trial runs around Los Angeles. Ian Garrad and John Panks, director of Rootes Motors Inc. of North America, tested an early version of the car and were so impressed that Panks wrote a glowing report to Brian Rootes: “we have a tremendously exciting sports car which handles extremely well and has a performance equivalent to an XX-K Jaguar … it is quite apparent that we have a most successful experiment that can now be developed into a production car.”

Provisionally known as the Thunderbolt, the Shelby prototype was more polished than the Miles version, and used a Ford 4-speed manual transmission. The Ford V8 was only 3.5 inches longer than the Alpine’s 4-cylinder engine it replaced, so the primary concern was the engine’s width. Like Miles, Shelby found that the Ford V8 would only just fit into the Alpine engine bay: “I think that if the figure of speech about the shoehorn ever applied to anything, it surely did to the tight squeak in getting that 260 Ford mill into the Sunbeam engine compartment. There was a place for everything and a space for everything, but positively not an inch to spare.”



Lack of space under the bonnet makes some maintenance tasks difficult.

All Rootes products had to be approved by Lord Rootes, who was reportedly “very grumpy” when he learned of the work that had gone into the Tiger project without his knowledge. But he agreed to have the Shelby prototype shipped over from America in July 1963 for him and his team to assess. He insisted on driving the car himself, and was so impressed that shortly after returning from his test drive he contacted Henry Ford II directly to negotiate a deal for the supply of Ford V8 engines. Rootes placed an initial order for 3000, the number of Tigers it expected to sell in the first year, the largest single order Ford had ever received for its engines from an automobile manufacturer. Not only did Lord Rootes agree that the car would go into production, but he decided that it should be launched at the 1964 New York Motor Show, only eight months away, despite the company’s normal development cycle from “good idea” to delivery of the final product being three to four years.

Installing such a large engine in a relatively small vehicle required some modifications, although the exterior sheet metal remained essentially the same as the Alpine’s. Necessary chassis modifications included moving from the Burman recirculating ball steering mechanism to a more modern rack and pinion system.

Although twice as powerful as the Alpine, the Tiger is only about twenty per cent heavier, but the extra weight of the larger engine required some minor suspension modifications. Nevertheless the Tiger’s front-to-back weight ratio is substantially similar to the Alpine’s, at 51.7/48.3 front/rear.

Shortly before its public unveiling at the New York Motor Show in April 1964 the car was renamed from Thunderbolt to Tiger, inspired by Sunbeam’s 1925 land-speed-record holder.



The chrome strips either side of the Tiger logo show this to be a Series I car

Shelby had hoped to be given the contract to produce the Tiger in America, but Rootes was somewhat uneasy about the closeness of his relationship with Ford, so it was decided to build the car in England. The Rootes factory at Ryton did not have the capacity to build the Tiger, so the company contracted the job to Jensen in West Bromwich. Any disappointment Shelby may have felt was tempered by an offer from Rootes to pay him an undisclosed royalty on every Tiger built.

Jensen was able to take on production of the Tiger because its assembly contract for the Volvo P1800 had recently been cancelled. An additional factor in the decision was that Jensen’s chief engineer Kevin Beattie and his assistant Mike Jones had previously worked for Rootes, and understood how the company operated. The first of 14 Jensen-built prototypes were based on the Alpine III bodyshell, until the Series IV became available at the end of 1963.

1960s left_hand_drive_Sunbeam_Tiger_dash

The Tiger’s interior is almost identical to the Alpine on which it is based.

The Tiger went into production in June 1964, little more than a year after the completion of the Shelby prototype. Painted and trimmed bodies were supplied by Pressed Steel in Oxfordshire, and the engines and gearboxes directly from Ford in America. Installing the engine required some unusual manufacturing methods, including using a sledgehammer to bash in part of the already primed and painted bulkhead to allow the engine to be slid into place. Jensen was soon able to assemble up to 300 Tigers a month, which were initially offered for sale only in North America. The first few Tigers assembled had to be fitted with a Borg-Warner 4-speed all-synchromesh manual gearbox, until Ford resolved its supply problems and was able to provide an equivalent unit as used in the Ford Mustang.

Several performance modifications were available from dealers. The original 260 CID engine was considered only mildly tuned at 164 hp (122 kW), and some dealers offered modified versions with up to 245 hp (183 kW) for an additional $250. These modifications were particularly noticeable to the driver above 60 mph (97 km/h), although they proved problematic for the standard suspension and tyres, which were perfectly tuned for the stock engine. A 1965 report in the British magazine Motor Sport concluded that “No combination of an American V8 and a British chassis could be happier.”



Apart from the bigger engine the changes to the Series II Tiger were largely cosmetic: the most obvious are the speed stripes and the “egg crate” radiator grille.

Production reached 7128 cars over three distinct series. The factory only ever designated two, the Series I and Series II, but as the official Series I production spanned the change in body style from the Series IV Alpine panels to the Series V panels, the later Series I cars are generally designated Series IA by Sunbeam Tiger enthusiasts. The Series II Tiger, fitted with the larger Ford 289 cu in (4.7 L), was intended exclusively for export to America and was never marketed in the UK, although six right-hand drive models were sold to the Metropolitan Police for use in traffic patrols and high-speed pursuits; four more went to the owners of important Rootes dealerships.

All Tigers were fitted with a single Ford twin-choke carburettor. The compression ratio of the larger Series II engine was increased from the 8.8:1 of the smaller block to 9.3:1. Other differences between the versions included upgraded valve springs (the 260 had developed a reputation for self-destructing if pushed beyond 5000 rpm), an engine-oil cooler, an alternator instead of a dynamo, a larger single dry plate hydraulically operated clutch, wider ratio transmission, and some rear-axle modifications. There were also cosmetic changes: speed stripes instead of chrome strips down the side of the car, a modified radiator grille, and removal of the headlamp cowls. All Tigers were fitted with the same 4.5 in (110 mm) wide steel disc bolt-on wheels as the Alpine IV, and Dunlop RS5 4.90 in × 13 in (124 mm × 330 mm) cross-ply tyres. The lack of space in the Tiger’s engine bay causes a few maintenance problems; the left bank of spark plugs is only accessible through a hole in the bulkhead for instance, normally sealed with a rubber bung, and the oil filter had to be relocated from the lower left on the block to a higher position on the right-hand side, behind the generator.

Series I

Sunbeam Tiger Series I
Production 1964–67
6450 made
Engine 260 cu in (4.3 L) Ford V8

The Ford V8 as fitted to the Tiger produced 164 bhp (122 kW) @ 4400 rpm, sufficient to give the car a 0–60 mph (97 km/h) time of 8.6 seconds and a top speed of 120 mph (190 km/h).

The Girling-manufactured brakes used 9.85 in (250 mm) discs at the front and 9 in (229 mm) drums at the rear. The suspension was independent at the front, using coil springs, and at the rear had a live axle and semi-elliptic springs. Apart from the addition of a Panhard rod to better locate the rear axle, and stiffer front springs to cope with the weight of the V8 engine, the Tiger’s suspension and braking systems are identical to that of the standard Alpine. The fitting points for the Panhard rod interfered with the upright spare wheel in the boot, which was repositioned to lie horizontally beneath a false floor; the battery was moved from beneath the rear seat to the boot at the same time. The kerb weight of the car increased from the 2,220 lb (1,010 kg) of the standard Alpine to 2,653 lb (1,203 kg).

In 1964, its first year of production, all but 56 of the 1649 Series I Tigers assembled were shipped to North America, where it was priced at $3499. In an effort to increase its marketability to American buyers the car was fitted with “Powered by Ford 260” badges on each front wing beneath the Tiger logo. The Series I was unavailable in the UK until March 1965, when it was priced at £1446. It was also sold in South Africa for R3350, badged as the Sunbeam Alpine 260.

Series II

Sunbeam Tiger Series II
Production 1967
633 made
Engine 289 cu in (4.7 L) Ford V8

Priced at $3842, the Series II Tiger was little more than a re-engined Mark IA; by comparison, a contemporary V8 Ford Mustang sold for $2898. The larger 289 cu in (4.7 L) Ford engine improved the Tiger’s 0–60 mph (97 km/h) time to 7.5 seconds, and increased the top speed to 122 mph (196 km/h). Officially the Series II Tiger was only available in the US, where it was called the Tiger II. By the time the Series II car went into production Chrysler was firmly in charge of Rootes, and the “Powered by Ford” shields were replaced by “Sunbeam V-8” badges.


Sunbeam Tiger_in_Yountville_2013

Series I Tiger fitted with after-market tyres and alloy wheels

Rootes had always been insufficiently capitalised, and losses resulting from a damaging thirteen-week strike at one of its subsidiaries, British & Light Steel Pressings, coupled with the expense of launching the Hillman Imp, meant that by 1964 the company was in serious financial difficulties. At the same time, Chrysler was looking to boost its presence in Europe, and so a deal was struck in June 1964 in which Chrysler paid £12.3 million ($34.44 million) for a large stake in Rootes, although not a controlling one. As part of the agreement Chrysler committed not to acquire a majority of Rootes voting shares without the approval of the UK government, which was keen not to see any further American ownership of the UK motor industry. In 1967 Minister of Technology Anthony Wedgewood Benn approached BMH and Leyland to see if they would buy out Chrysler and Rootes and keep the company British, but neither had the resources to do so. Later that year Chrysler was allowed to acquire a controlling interest in Rootes for a further investment of £20 million.

Manufacturing a car powered by a competitor’s engine was unacceptable to the new owner, but Chrysler’s own 273 small-block V-8 was too large to fit under the Tiger’s bonnet without major modifications. Compounding the problem, the company’s small-block V8 engines had the distributor positioned at the rear, unlike the front-mounted distributor of the Ford V8. Chrysler’s big-block V8 had a front-mounted distributor but was significantly larger. Shortly after the takeover Chrysler ordered that production of the Tiger was to end when Rootes’ stock of Ford V8 engines was exhausted; Jensen assembled the last Tiger on 27 June 1967. Chrysler added its pentastar logo to the car’s badging, and in its marketing literature de-emphasised the Ford connection, simply describing the Tiger as having “an American V-8 power train”.

Rootes’ design director Roy Axe commented later that “The Alpine and Tiger were always oddballs in the [Rootes] range. I think they [Chrysler] didn’t understand it, or have the same interest in it as the family cars – I think it was as simple as that.”

The Tiger name was resurrected in 1972 when Chrysler introduced the Avenger Tiger, a limited-edition modified Hillman Avenger intended primarily for rallying.

Competition history

There is no doubt that the Tiger is somewhat misnamed, for it has nothing of the wild and dangerous man-eater about it and is really only as fierce as a pussy cat. A woman would find it easy to control.

Autocar roadtest, 1964

Three racing Tigers were constructed for the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans, a prototype and two that were entered in the race. Costing $45,000 each, they were highly modified versions of the production cars, fitted with fastback coupe bodies produced by Lister. But they were still steel monocoques, and made the Le Mans Tigers 66 lb (30 kg) heavier than a road-going Tiger at 2,615 lb (1,186 kg), almost 600 lb (270 kg) more than the winning Ferrari. The standard Ford four-speed manual transmission was replaced with a BorgWarner T10 close-ratio racing transmission, which allowed for a top speed of 140 miles per hour (230 km/h).

Both Tigers suffered early mechanical failures, and neither finished the race. The engines had been prepared by Shelby but had not been properly developed, and as a result overheated; Shelby eventually refunded the development cost to Rootes. All three of the Le Mans Tigers have survived.

Once Rootes had made the decision to put the Tiger into production an Alpine IV minus engine and transmission was shipped to Shelby, who was asked to transform the car into a racing Tiger. Shelby’s competition Tiger made an early appearance in the B Production Class of Pacific Coast Division SCCA races, which resulted in some “highly successful” publicity for the new car. But Shelby was becoming increasingly preoccupied with development work for Ford, and so the racing project was transferred to the Hollywood Sports Car dealership, whose driver Jim Adams achieved a third place finish in the Pacific Coast Division in 1965. A Tiger driven by Peter Boulton and Jim Latta finished twelfth overall and first in the small GT class at the 1965 Dayton Continental. The Tiger was also raced on quarter-mile drag strips, and for two years was the American Hot Rod Association‘s national record holder, reaching a speed of 108 mph (174 km/h) in 12.95 seconds.

Rootes entered the Tiger in European rallies, taking first, second and third places in the 1964 Geneva Rally. Two Tigers took part in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally, one finishing fourth overall, the highest placing by a front-engined rear-wheel drive car, and the other eleventh. After finally having sorted out the engine overheating problem by fitting a forward-facing air scoop to the bonnet, Rootes entered three Tigers in the 1965 Alpine Rally, one of which crossed the finishing line as outright winner. Scrutineers later disqualified the car however, because it had been fitted with undersized cylinder head valves. By the end of the 1966 Acropolis Rally though, it had become clear that low-slung sports cars such as the Tiger were unsuited to the increasingly rough-terrain rally stages, and the car was withdrawn from competition soon after. In the words of Ian Hall, who drove the Tiger in the Acropolis Rally, “I felt that the Tiger had just had it – it was an out of date leviathan”.

In popular media

1966 Sunbeam_Tiger_1966_view_of_rear

Rear view of a 1966 Sunbeam Tiger showing the twin exhausts

The 1965 Tiger Series I gained some exposure on American television as the car of choice for Maxwell Smart in the spoof spy series Get Smart. The Tiger was used for the first two seasons in the opening credits, in which Smart screeched to a halt outside his headquarters, and was used through the remainder of the series in several episodes. Some of the scenes featured unusual modifications such as a retractable James Bond-style machine gun that could not have fitted under the Tiger’s bonnet, so rebadged Alpine models were used instead.

Don Adams, who played the protagonist Maxwell Smart, gained possession of the Tiger after the series ended and later gave it to his daughters; it is reportedly on display at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. During its early years Rootes advertised the car extensively in Playboy magazine and lent a pink Tiger with matching interior to 1965 Playmate of the Year Jo Collins for a year.

The Tiger also featured in the 2008 film adaptation of the Get Smart TV series. A replica Tiger had to be constructed using a stock Sunbeam Alpine and re-created Tiger badging as no available Tiger could be found in Canada, where the film was produced. The production team recorded the sound of an authentic Tiger owned by a collector in Los Angeles and edited it into the film.

1963-1976 Hillman Imp

Hillman Imp
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Also called Hillman GT (Australia)
Hillman Husky
Commer Imp Van
Singer Chamois
Sunbeam Imp
Sunbeam Sport
Sunbeam Chamois
Sunbeam Stiletto
Sunbeam Californian
Production 1963–1976
440,032 made
Assembly Linwood, Scotland
Petone, New Zealand
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door coupe
2-door saloon
3-door estate (Husky)
3-door panel van
Layout RR layout
Engine 875 cc Straight-4 Overhead camshaft
Transmission 4-speed manual all-synchromesh.
Wheelbase 2,082 mm (82.0 in)
Length 3,581 mm (141.0 in)
Width 1,524 mm (60.0 in)
Height 1,385 mm (54.5 in)
1,330 mm (52.4 in)
1,475 mm (58.1 in)
Hillman Husky/Commer Imp
Kerb weight 725 kg (1,598 lb)
Predecessor none
Successor Chrysler Sunbeam


Hillman Imp, with the engine cover and the rear window lifted

1969 Singer_Chamois

The Singer Chamois version sold at a premium: additional features included a distinctive false grill and, from October 1969, twin headlights.

1967 Singer_Chamois_Coupe_license_plate_1967

‘Coupe’ variants badged respectively as the Hillman Imp Californian, the Sunbeam Stiletto and (as here) the Singer Chamois coupe featured a more steeply raked rear window which could not be opened.

The Hillman Imp is a compact, rear-engined saloon car, manufactured under the Hillman marque by the Rootes Group (later Chrysler Europe) from 1963 to 1976. The Imp was assembled at a purpose-built plant atLinwood, near Paisley, in the West of Scotland conurbation.

A small van, the Commer Imp, was introduced in November 1965 and an estate version, using most of the same panels but with side windows behind the b-pillar, known as the Hillman Husky was produced from 1967.


Known internally at Rootes as the “Apex” project, the Imp was to be the group’s first post-Second World War small car. Its main rival on the home market was the BMC Mini, which preceded the Imp by almost four years.


The Imp used an 875 cc all-aluminium power unit, adapted by Rootes from a Coventry Climax FWMA fire pump engine which had enjoyed some racing success, but significantly different in areas such as cylinder head design. It was mounted behind the rear wheels and canted over at 45°, keeping the centre of gravity low to optimise road-holding.


As reported in tests such as the Practical Car and Driver, rear-engined cars generally suffer from oversteer handling characteristics to some extent, and to counteract this as much as possible, the Imp had a semi-trailing arm independent rear suspension system. This relatively costly and sophisticated solution, atypical for small car design at the time, was insisted upon by its designers after testing at length a Chevrolet Corvair with swing axles. To attain balanced handling, the Imp actually used swing axle geometry at the front, but this initially led to too much understeer and the camber was later reduced by lowering the pivot points. Rootes relied upon a team led by two young designers, Tim Fry and Mike Parkes who were given an almost free hand to come up with a small car that would fit well into the Rootes car programme. This at the time centered on derivatives of the Hillman Minx car.

Variants and “Badge Engineering”

Over the life of the car, Rootes (and later Chrysler UK) produced three basic body styles. The original Saloon was introduced in May 1963 and ran through to the end of production in 1976. It had an opening rear window, making it effectively a hatchback. The opening rear window was intended to make it easier to load the small luggage area behind the fold-down rear seat. The fold-down nature of the rear seat was itself unusual in small car design at the time, being more often associated with larger upmarket estate cars. In 1965 a van badged as the Commer Imp was introduced. A coupe, the Imp Californian, was introduced in 1967 at the same time as the van’s pressings were used to create an estate car, badged Hillman Husky. Several estate car prototypes using the saloon body with extended rooflines were tried, but never offered to the public. Instead, buyers choosing the estate had to settle on a van-derived car with somewhat uneasy styling. Both the van and estate ceased production in 1970.

In an attempt to interest a wider public when sales figures fell well short of the intended 100,000 or more cars per annum, several badge-engineered derivatives, such as the luxury Singer Chamois (launched October 1964), and the Sunbeam Sport (launched October 1966), with a more powerful twin-carburettor engine, were offered with varying degrees of success. For marketing reasons the Singer variants were sold as Sunbeams in many export markets, even before May 1970 when the Singer marque was discontinued altogether by Chrysler UK. In some markets, such as France, the “Sunbeam” name was used on all British Rootes products, including the Imp and the Husky.

The coupe bodyshell was similar to the standard body but featured a more shallow-raked windscreen and rear window which, unlike that on the standard bodied cars, could not be opened. The attempt at a more sporty design did not translate into better acceleration or top speed figures and the aerodynamics of the standard saloon were actually slightly better. The new body style made its first appearance at the Paris Motor Show in October 1967, with the introduction of the sporting Sunbeam Stiletto. The coupe body had also appeared, with less powerful engines, in the Hillman Imp Californian announced in January 1967 and the more luxurious Singer Chamois coupe.

Linwood plant

The Imp was a massive and expensive leap of faith for Rootes. The company did not have recent experience building small cars, even though it started off as a car builder by offering the then small Hillman Minx back in 1931. However, the Minx had since grown larger, and by the time the Imp was introduced it was well established as a medium-size family car. For the Imp, Rootes pioneered the use of an aluminium engine in a mass-production car. This process proved to be more complicated than simply substituting a familiar and well-understood cast iron design with a new aluminium one. Rootes had to build a new, computerised assembly plant on the outskirts of Glasgow, in the town of Linwood, in which to assemble the Imp, since planning regulations had prevented it from expanding its Ryton plant near Coventry. UK Government Regional Assistance policy provided financial grants to the Rootes Group to bring approximately 6,000 jobs to the area. Linwood had become an area of significant unemployment because of redundancies in the declining shipbuilding industry on the nearby river Clyde. The investment also included an advanced die-casting plant to manufacture the aluminium engine casings, and a stake in a brand new Pressed Steel Company motor pressings works, which manufactured all the new car’s body panels. The location of the plant led to significant logistical issues for the manufacturing process. Linwood was over 300 miles (480 km) away from Ryton, but the engine castings made in Linwood had to be sent to Ryton to be machined and assembled, then sent back up to be put on the cars – a 600-mile (970 km) round trip. This was addressed by a complex schedule of trains shifting completed cars and raw castings south, and trains loaded with engine – gearbox assemblies and many other Ryton sourced goods running north. This schedule remained in operation for the duration of Linwood Imp production.

The local West of Scotland workforce, mainly recruited from the shipbuilding industry, did not bring the distinct skills necessary for motor vehicle assembly, and Imp build quality and reliability suffered accordingly (many years later Alfa Romeo suffered similar problems when they established Alfasud in Naples as a production satellite of Alfa Nord in Milan). However industrial relations was also an issue in production. Industrial disputes and strike action became a regular occurrence, as was the case in many parts of British industry in the 1960s and ’70s. In 1964 there were 31 stoppages and only one-third of the plant’s capacity was realised – 50,000 rather than 150,000. The Imp was nonetheless regarded as a “Scottish car” and was more popular in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK.


Initially, the Imp was seen by Rootes as a potential second car for families with the means to acquire one. In this incarnation, it was a somewhat revolutionary, high-quality small car, with some above average features. Later the concept evolved into a kind of ultra-economy car with some cheaply and poorly executed, design features as a utilitarian vehicle, like some of the Eastern European marques of the time like Škoda, and later Lada, which were relatively low-cost economy cars, popular with British consumers. At one point the basic Hillman Imp was the cheapest new car on the British market, which increased low sales figures for a time.

Revisions during model lifespan

At launch the innovative design of the Imp was underdeveloped, in part because of UK Government pressure to start production quickly in response to the job losses in shipbuilding. Mechanical and cooling system problems were commonplace in the early cars. At the end of 1965 a major revision to the Imp was introduced, effectively splitting the marque into Mk I and Mk II cars. The Mk I Imps had a pneumatic throttle linkage and an automatic choke, both of which were replaced by more conventional items on the Mk II. The Mk II also had improved front suspension geometry and several trim and detail changes. Although the car was constantly improved over its production life, there was no single change as significant as that in 1965.

A further upgrade took place in 1968. The instrument panel and steering wheel were redesigned. The large speedometer previously positioned behind the steering wheel was replaced by a horizontal row of four circular dials/displays of varying detail and complexity according to the model specified. The right-hand dial, the speedometer, was now to one side of the driver’s normal sightline, while one multi-functional stalk on the right side of the steering column replaced the two control stalks that had been directly behind the steering wheel, one on each side. The earlier Imp had been praised for the good ergonomic quality of its dash-board/fascia, and its replacement reflected similar trends in other new and modified UK vehicles at a time of “production rationalization”. On the Imp, the more modern arrangement was seen by some as a missed opportunity.


The initial problems damaged the Imp’s reputation and popularity trailed off, with half of all production being from the first three years. It still sold thanks to its competitive price, distinctive styling, and cheap running costs, but sales never lived up to expectations for what had become a very competent small car. Another problem that contributed to the reputation of poor reliability, was the lack of understanding of the maintenance needs of alloy engines by owners and the motor trade in the 1960s. It was overshadowed in popularity by the Mini. Although the Mini initially sold poorly, by the mid ’60s it was the ‘in’ thing to have, whereas the Imp never enjoyed such status as a fashion statement.

Rootes, Chrysler and end of Imp production

The company’s huge investment in both the Imp and the Linwood production plant was to be a significant part of the demise of the Rootes Group. The Imp’s commercial failure added to the major losses suffered by Rootes, although the main reasons for these losses were unresolved industrial unrest and the effects of the link with the Chrysler Corporation of the USA. The link was initiated by Lord (William) Rootes in 1964 as a partnership, but he died in October of that year and by 1967 the company had been acquired by Chrysler, to become part of Chrysler Europe. A year later, ahead of the 1968 London Motor Show, the recommended retail prices of most Imp models were reduced for the domestic market by more than four per cent, despite the general price inflation affecting the UK. Chrysler stewardship was blamed by some for the demise of the Imp in March 1976, after fewer than 500,000 had been built, but the entire Chrysler Europe operation was not a success and two years later it became part of Peugeot. The Imp was one of Britain’s longest-running production cars with a 13-year run, despite lower sales in its later years. Its place in the Chrysler UK range was taken the following year by the Chrysler Sunbeam, a three-door hatchback based on the Avenger rear-wheel drive underpinnings. Both cars continued to be produced at the Linwood plant until it closed in 1981, after just 18 years in use.

The Ryton assembly plant continued in operation until December 2006, when production of the Peugeot 206 was switched to Slovakia.


Approximately half a million, half of this number coming in the first three years of production. The Imp used a derivative of the Climax FWMA engine whereas the Lotus cars used an FWMC engine which had an entirely different cylinder head.


Unassembled cars were exported for assembly in Ireland, France, New Zealand, Portugal, Venezuela, Uruguay, Costa Rica, South Africa and Australia. New Zealand cars were assembled as Hillmans by Chrysler/Hillman importer Todd Motors from about 1964 for several years. The model returned, this time as a four-headlamp Sunbeam with the newer dashboard, around 1970 but was only offered for about two more years.

Imp variants

1967 Hillman_Husky_front

The Hillman Husky name was resurrected in 1967 for an Imp-based estate car.

  • Hillman Imp Mark I (1963–65)
  • Hillman Imp de Luxe Mark I & Mark II (1963–68)
  • Hillman Super Imp (1965–74)
  • Hillman Imp (1968–76)
  • Hillman GT  (1967–?) Developed by Chrysler Australia from the Singer Chamois Sport, it was never badged nor officially referred to as the Hillman Imp GT
  • Hillman Imp Californian (19–1970) Coupé / fastback saloon version
  • Hillman Husky (1967–70) Estate version of the Imp
  • Commer Imp Van (1965–68)
  • Hillman Imp Van (1968–70)
  • Hillman Imp Caledonian (Limited Edition model with additional accessories and available in Super or De luxe models)
  • Singer Chamois Mark I, Mark II, (1964–70)
  • Singer Chamois Sport, & Coupé (1967–70)
  • Sunbeam Imp Sport (1966–70)
  • Sunbeam Sport (1970–76)
  • Sunbeam Chamois (Export markets outside of UK only)
  • Sunbeam Stiletto (1967–72)
  • Sunbeam Californian
  • Sunbeam Imp Basic (North America)
  • Sunbeam Imp De Luxe Mark I & Mark II (North America)

Cars using Imp mechanicals

Imps in motorsport

The engine proved flexible and very easy to tune. The overhead camshaft design meant that the head could be flowed and ported to allow the engine to run at high speeds. Useful improvements in power could be gained by replacing the standard silencer with one that impeded the exhaust gas flow less and with better carburettors. However, in adapting the design to suit modern mass-production methods, Rootes had left the engine somewhat more fragile than the Coventry Climax model from which it had been derived.

The Imp enjoyed modest success in both club and international rallying. Rootes introduced a homologation special called the Rally Imp in 1964. The Rally Imp featured many modifications over the standard model, the most important of which was an engine enlarged to 998 cc. Notable successes for this model include the 1965 Tulip Rally in which the works Imps of Rosemary Smith and “Tiny” Lewis finished first and second overall.

Imps were also successful racing cars. The privateer team of George Bevan dominated the British Saloon Car Championship (later known as the British Touring Car Championship) in the early 1970s. Driven by Bill McGovern, the Bevan Sunbeam Imp won the championship in 1970, 1971 and 1972 with limited factory support.

In UK club racing the Imp variants became highly successful in the under 1000 cc Special Saloon category. Notable exponents of the Imp in racing include Ian Forrest, Harry Simpson, Ricky Gauld, John Homewood, Roger Nathan, Gerry Birrell, Ray Payne and Chris Barter. To this day Imps still compete on historic rallies in the UK, with the Vokes’ car often making it onto the podium in the HRCR Clubmans Rally Championship.

The Imp was also successfully raced and rallied in other parts of the world, notably Asia, where drivers including Andrew Bryson and Pardaman Singh regularly won saloon car categories into the 1980s.

998 cc Imp engines were also used in three-wheeled racing sidecars in the 1970s and 1980s. Exhaust systems were naturally constructed on a one off basis, and often sporting the Twin Weber twin choke set up. A number of sidecar crews raced Imp-engined outfits at the Isle of Man TT races, best placement being Roy Hanks in eleventh place in the 1976 TT 1000cc Sidecar. Imp-engined outfits are still regularly championed in classic racing.

Andy Chesman won the 1972 World Hydroplane championship using an Imp engine. He bought Imp specialist company Greetham Engineering, and designed a wedge head to increase the 998 cc engine to 125 bhp with twin 40DCOE Webers. He also fitted a spacer on top of the wet block to accommodate longer piston liners, increasing capacity to 1220 cc. At the BP-sponsored Lake Windermere records week in October 1972, he raised the R1 Class water speed record to 89 miles per hour (143 km/h). He was killed in 1998 in a power boat accident, still holding the record.

1977-1981 Chrysler Sunbeam

Chrysler Sunbeam
Talbot Sunbeam Lotus
Manufacturer Chrysler Europe
Also called Talbot Sunbeam (1980–1981)
Production 1977–1981
Assembly Linwood, United Kingdom
Body and chassis
Class Supermini
Body style 3-door hatchback
Layout FR layout
Related Hillman Avenger
Engine 928 cc ohc I4
1295 cc ohv I4
1598 cc ohv I4
2172 cc 16V Lotus slant 4
Transmission 4 speed manual
Wheelbase 2,413 mm (95.0 in)
Length 3,829 mm (150.7 in)
Width 1,603 mm (63.1 in)
Height 1,395 mm (54.9 in)
Curb weight 1,260 kg (2,780 lb) – 1,320 kg (2,910 lb)
Predecessor Hillman Imp
Successor Talbot Samba

Chrysler Sunbeam in profile

The Chrysler Sunbeam is a small supermini three-door hatchback manufactured by Chrysler Europe at the former Rootes Group factory in Linwood in Scotland. The Sunbeam’s development was funded by a British government grant with the aim of keeping the Linwood plant running, and the small car was based on the larger Hillman Avenger, also manufactured there. After the takeover of Chrysler’s European operations by PSA, the model was renamed “Talbot Sunbeam” and continued in production until 1981. A Talbot Sunbeam Lotus version was successful in rallying and won the World Rally Championship Manufacturers’ Title for Talbot in 1981.


In the mid-1970s, the British automotive industry was in crisis, marred by frequent strikes and decreasing competitiveness compared to the increasingly successful Japanese automakers. It took its toll on Chrysler UK, which was the name given to the former Rootes Group after its takeover by the US-based Chrysler Corporation. In particular, the Linwood facility was generating losses due to many reasons, including underutilized capacity.

In 1975, the famous Ryder Report led to the effective nationalization of Chrysler UK’s major competitor, British Leyland. Chrysler management decided that the company should therefore also benefit from state aid, and pressed the government for it by threatening to close the UK operations. The government agreed to a state grant reported at GBP 55 million to fund the development of a small car, to be developed in Chrysler’s UK facilities and manufactured in Linwood.


The development of the new car started in January 1976, under the codename “Project R424”. The technical side was the responsibility of the engineering team in Ryton, while the styling was the responsibility of Chrysler’s Whitley design studio in Coventry, led by Roy Axe (who would leave the UK for Chrysler’s headquarters in the US before the car was launched). Many constraints, such as a very tight schedule, low budget and the need to use as many British components as possible, led to the decision to use the rear-wheel drive Hillman Avenger as the base for the new vehicle, rather than the more trendy front-wheel driveconstructions of Chrysler’s French subsidiary, Simca. The Sunbeam was, unlike the larger Horizon and Alpine models which were launched by Chrysler in the mid to late 1970s, never sold in France as a Simca.

Basing the car on the Avenger’s platform allowed for the car not only to use as many existing components as possible, but also to put it in production in Linwood quickly and at minimal investment. The Avenger’s wheelbase was shortened by 3 inches (76 mm), and some modifications were made to accommodate the small 928 cc Coventry Climax engine, a version of the unit inherited from the Hillman Imp, also made in Linwood. Other than that, most components were identical to those of the Avenger. Nevertheless, the car took its steering wheel and instrument pod from Chrysler’s recently launched award winning Simca 1307/Chrysler Alpine.

On the outside, with the exception of the doors, which were straight from the two-door Avenger, the R424 was given an all-new body, styled very much in line with Chrysler’s new, angular “international” style, conceived by Roy Axe, which was first presented with the debut of the 1975 Simca 1307/Chrysler Alpine, and would later also be represented by the 1977 Simca/Chrysler Horizon (“Project C2”). This ensured that the R424 would fit in well with the new Chrysler lineup and come across as fairly modern. Nevertheless, a constraint in the development process took its toll on the initial look of the car – as the C2’s (Horizon’s) headlamps would not be available at the planned launch time of the R424, the small car was given the lamps of the recently restyled Avenger, which required the characteristic “recessed” mounting in the front fascia. The GLS version had a vinyl roof as standard.

1979 Talbot Sunbeam 1.6 GLS

1979 Talbot Sunbeam 1.6 GLS, with non-standard fog and driving lights, door-mirrors, mudflaps and seat covers

There was only one body style for the Sunbeam, that of a three-door hatchback. The car was literally a hatchback, with the rear hatch formed out of a single piece of glass as seen previously on the Hillman Imp. This required a high rear sill to provide some structural rigidity and which consequently made the loading and unloading of luggage rather difficult. Although it was a good looking car with clean modern lines, the tricky luggage compartment and the lack of alternative bodystyles – the reasoning being that the Avenger range already offered saloon and estate variants – ultimately compromised the car’s appeal in the UK market. The Sunbeam’s main competitors in the UK, the Ford Escort, Vauxhall Chevette and Austin Allegro, were produced in different body styles to cater for a broader range of customer.

On the interior side, the “GL” version was the first car to sport printed “melded” fabric from Cambrelle on its seats. These have been considered similar to the Avenger in their comfort.

Until the R424 launch, most Chrysler UK products were sold in export markets under the Sunbeam brand of the former Rootes portfolio. Chrysler, however, was striving to cut down on the Rootes brand palette (which at that time existed solely by means of badge engineering) and introduce a pan-European image using the Chrysler brand as the only one for the whole range. The result was naming the car, “Chrysler Sunbeam”, and the Sunbeam brand was discontinued, with the remaining Rootes Group models also rebranded as Chryslers in 1976.

Capacity 927–2172 cc
Power 42–155 hp (31–116 kW)
Max. speed 128–200 km/h (80–124 mph)
Acceleration 0–62.5 mp/h: 22.2–8.3 seconds

The launch

After a remarkably short development period of just 19 months, the Chrysler Sunbeam was launched on July 23, 1977, to a quite positive reception by the British automotive press. An advertising campaign featured Petula Clark singing “…put a Chrysler Sunbeam in your life.” There were initially three engine sizes; 0.9, 1.3 and 1.6 litres, and three trim level available – base “LS”, better-equipped “GL” and the most expensive “S”. To reduce in-house competition, the more basic versions of the two-door Avengers were dropped at the same time in the UK market, and the Chrysler Horizon was only available in five-door form. The Sunbeam sold well, but was not a runaway success.

In spite of the ability to keep the UK business afloat, Chrysler was still making losses both in Europe and at home, and, facing the possibility of complete bankruptcy, decided to sell Chrysler Europe to the French PSA. The French company took control of the former Chrysler Europe effective January 1, 1979, and in the course of the year announced all former Chrysler Europe products would be rebranded to Talbots starting August 1, 1979. The Sunbeam was simply rebadged in the strictest sense of the word, with the Chrysler badge on the bonnet replaced by one that read “Talbot”, but retaining its grille with a prominent Chrysler pentastar until 1981.

Sunbeam Ti and Sunbeam Lotus

2008 Sunbeam Lotus at the Race Retro 2008

Sunbeam Lotus at the Race Retro 2008

In order to boost Sunbeam’s image, a “hot hatch” version of the Sunbeam was launched at the 1978 British International Motor Show and Paris Motor Show, called “Sunbeam Ti”. It was based on the former Avenger Tiger (itself hailing back to the Sunbeam Tiger), a sporty version of the Avenger. The 1.6-litre (1598cc) engine fitted to the Sunbeam with twin Weber carburetors delivered 100 bhp (75 kW; 101 PS). It featured sporty two-tone paint and body kit, and was very sport-oriented, being stripped of equipment that would compromise its performance (and image). It proved quite popular with reviewers and enthusiasts, and helped to emphasize the advantages of Sunbeam’s rear-wheel drive against more trendy (and spacious) front-wheel drive rivals.

1979 Talbot Sunbeam Lotus at the 1979

Tony Pond driving his Talbot Sunbeam Lotus at the 1979 Manx International Rally

Chrysler had also commissioned the sports car manufacturer and engineering company Lotus to develop a strict rally version of the Sunbeam. The resulting ‘”Sunbeam Lotus” was based on the Sunbeam 1.6 GLS, but fitted with stiffer suspension, a larger anti-roll bar and a larger transmission tunnel. The drivetrain comprised an enlarged 2172 cc version of the Lotus 1973 cc 907 engine, a 16V slant four engine (the Sunbeam version being type 911, similar to the “Lotus 912“), along with a ZF gearbox, both mounted in the car at Ludham Airfield, close to the Lotus facility in Hethel, Norfolk, where the almost-complete cars were shipped from Linwood. Final inspection, in turn, took place in Stoke, Coventry.[3] In road trim, the Lotus type 911 engine produced 150 bhp (112 kW; 152 PS) at 5,750rpm and 150 lb·ft (203 N·m) of torque at 4,500rpm. In rallying trim this was increased to 250 bhp (186 kW; 253 PS).

The Sunbeam Lotus was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in April 1979, but the road-going version of the rally car was not actually ready for deliveries to the public until after the rebranding, and thus became the “Talbot Sunbeam Lotus”. At first these were produced mostly in black and silver, although later models came in a moonstone blue and silver (or black) scheme. The car saw not only enthusiastic press reviews, but also much success in the World Rally Championship – in 1980, Henri Toivonen won the 29th Lombard RAC Rally in one, and, in 1981, the Sunbeam Lotus brought the entire manufacturer’s championship to Talbot.

Sunbeam’s short life

After the takeover, PSA decided that keeping Linwood running would remain unprofitable in the long run and that the facility would have to be closed. This would also mean the end of the Avenger and Sunbeam model lines. The decision was quite reasonable, given the advanced age of the former and the fact “C2-short” while in development, would be launched. Even though the C2-short programme was eventually scrapped, PSA prepared their own version, the Talbot Samba (based on PSA’s own front-wheel drive supermini, the Peugeot 104), which was to be launched in 1981, signalling the time Sunbeam would take its final bow.

Even though the end was looming, the Sunbeam was afforded a facelift for its final 1981 model year, finally gaining flush headlamps along with an entire new front end, featuring the Talbot logo in lieu of the pentastar, which made it look completely in line with the new Talbot lineup. Until the time production ended, about 200,000 Sunbeams were made.

1978-1987 Simca-Talbot Horizon

Simca Horizon
1979 Simca Chrysler Horizon GLS (Made in France) 1.5L petrol engine, painted Bronze Transvaal

1979 Talbot Horizon
Manufacturer Chrysler
PSA Group
Also called Chrysler Horizon (UK: 1978-79)
Talbot Horizon (Europe: 1979-1986)
Production 1978–1987
Body and chassis
Class Subcompact
Body style Hatchback
Layout FF layout
Platform L-body
Related Dodge Charger
Dodge Omni
Dodge Omni 024
Dodge Rampage
Plymouth Horizon
Plymouth Horizon TC3
Plymouth Scamp
Plymouth Turismo
Engine 1,118 cc Poissy I4 (gasoline)
1,294 cc Poissy I4 (gasoline)
1,442 cc Poissy I4 (gasoline)
1,905 cc I4 (diesel)
Predecessor Simca 1100
Successor Peugeot 309

The Horizon was a supermini developed by Chrysler Europe and was sold in Europe between February 1978 and 1987 under the Chrysler, Simca, and Talbot nameplates. Derivative variants of the Horizon were manufactured and marketed in the United States as the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon until 1990.


The Horizon was designed by Simca, the French division of Chrysler Europe, and introduced in summer 1978. In France it was initially sold under the Simca brand, whilst elsewhere in Europe it was initially badged as a Chrysler. As a result of the acquisition of Chrysler’s European car division by Peugeot in 1978, both the Chrysler and Simca brands were dropped and the car was then sold under the Talbot brand in all its European markets.

Talbot Horizon in profile

Talbot Horizon in profile

The Horizon, or Project C2 as it was known inside Simca during development, was intended to be a “world car”, meaning that it was designed for consumers on both sides of the Atlantic, but in execution, the European and North American versions of the vehicle actually turned out to have very little in common. Born largely out of the need to replace the ageing Simca 1100 in France, the Horizon was essentially a shortened version of the larger Alpine model, giving the vehicle an unusually wide track for its length. Featuring“Poissy engine” of transversely mounted, Simca-designed 1.1, 1.3 and 1.5 litre OHV engines, 4-speed gearbox and torsion-bar suspension, the Horizon gained praise for its crisp styling, supple ride, and competent handling. The SX version which joined the range for the Paris Motor Show, in October 1978, attracted much interest on account of its innovative trip computer. The device took information from three sources, a clock, a “débitmètre” mounted on the fuel feed to the carburetor and a distance information from the feed for the odometer. Using these three pieces of information the “computer” was able to report current fuel consumption and average speeds as well as information on distances and times.

The Horizon was voted European Car of the Year in 1979. Initially only available in LS or GL trim, its launch saw the end of the rear-engined Simca 1000. The Simca 1100remained in production in France till 1981 being sold for a time as a low cost alternative to the Horizon, but the two cars competed in virtually the same segment and the older car, its model range drastically reduced, saw its sales plummet. On the British market, the rear-wheel drive Avenger saloons and estates remained in production alongside it, giving British buyers a full choice of bodystyles in a market where hatchbacks still only accounted for a minority of sales.

The car was the first British-built hatchback of this size — launched two years before the Vauxhall Astra, three years before the European Ford Escort Mark III and five years before the Austin Maestro. It did not officially replace any of the British Chryslers, despite being a similar size to the traditional rear-wheel drive Avenger saloon and estates which had been on sale since 1970 and did not finish production until 1981.

North American variants

Main article: Dodge Omni
1984-'85 Dodge Omni GLH

1984-’85 Dodge Omni GLH

The North American versions of the Horizon were known as the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon. Although they appeared to share the same external bodywork as the European Horizon (the panels were in fact not interchangeable), they were vastly different mechanically — using a larger engine (of VW, then PSA origins on the early versions, replaced by Chrysler’s own 2.2L OHC “Trenton” I-4 later) and MacPherson strut suspension at the front instead of the more complex torsion bar system found in the European version. They also featured larger reinforced aluminum bumpers to comply with stricter US safety legislation. Despite the car’s European origins, then Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca played this down, emphasizing that features such as the trip computer and electronic ignition were of American design.

1986 Dodge Shelby GLHS

1986 Shelby GLHS

The ultimate Dodge Omni was the modified Omni GLH. The original name, “Coyote”, was rejected, and Carroll Shelby’s choice, the initials GLH, which stood for “Goes Like Hell”, were taken instead. 1984 was the first year of the GLH, which carried over most of the modifications that had been made the previous year to the Shelby Charger. 1985 was the debut of the GLH-T model with the Turbo I (K) engine option. This engine, at low boost (7.2 PSi) coupled with the car’s very low weight (as low as 2,200 lb (1,000 kg)), earned this car its name. The car carried over into 1986 unchanged aside from the addition of a hatch-mounted third tail light, and production was then stopped.

In the US, many variants were eventually produced, including three-door coupé versions (“Charger” and “TC-3 / Turismo”), econo versions (“America”, “Miser”), and powered-up versions such as the GLH, GLH Turbo, and Shelby GLH-S (turbocharged, intercooled, 174 bhp). Even a small pickup truck was based on the Horizon (“Scamp” and “Rampage”). Some of these cars had successful careers in racing venues such as Auto-X, road and endurance racing, and pro rallying.

Production life

Subsequent to the collapse of Chrysler Europe in 1978 and its sale to Peugeot, the Horizon was rebadged as a Talbot in 1979.

In 1981, the revisited models were introduced with minor improvements. By then however, the Horizon was becoming increasingly uncompetitive next to rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf (which was actually four years older), Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra and the third generation Ford Escort. The unrefined ohv engines which had been carried over from the Simca 1100 were largely to blame, while body corrosion was a serious issue, at least until Series II, giving many cars a short service life.

The series two Horizon launched in July 1982 had a 5 speed gearbox, and badged series II 5 speed. The bumpers were painted black and the rear windscreen was smaller, because the parcel shelf was raised to increase the size of the boot. Some models had an electronic LED ‘econometer’ which lit up several lights around the edge of the speedometer dial, There was also an LED tachometer on top of the range models which was a row of green,yellow and red LEDs and was positioned atop the steering column.

The Horizon was then updated in 1985, with different interior trim again slight changes to instrument dials and door cards were to make the car look more modern, but along with the Fiat Ritmo/Strada, it was now the oldest mainstream family hatchback on sale in Europe, and was now faced with competition from even more new competitors.

Fewer paint colours were available and fewer models. Many of the late cars, which were built between 1985 and 1986, were painted in an un-sympathetic pale green or cream. Horizons had initially been available in more adventurous colours including orange, but many of these colours had gone out of fashion after the 1970s.

A Talbot Horizon turbo concept car was produced in 1984 with a full cream leather interior and sporty body kit, the car was designed at Whitley, Coventry. The Turbo Horizon is very different from those models once seen out on the street and is kept at Coventry Transport Museum, Coventry England.

Due to corrosion problems there are few left, Horizon is now a rare sight with possibly less than 200 surviving examples in the UK.

The main production lines of Horizon were Poissy in France and PSA Ryton Assembly in England (from 1980). It was also manufactured in Finland and in Spain by SaabValmet from 1979 onwards. The Finnish-made Talbot Horizons integrated many Saab components, especially in the interior and electrical system. The Saab-Valmet factory also made a series of 2,385 cars that ran on kerosene or turpentine.

The Horizon was produced in France and also Britain (where production had begun in the 1980s) until June 1986, and in Spain and Finland until 1987. Its successor was the Peugeot 309, a car developed in the UK and launched towards the end of 1985, originally destined to be sold as the Talbot Arizona.[5] The end of Horizon production early in 1987 also marked the end of the Talbot badge on passenger cars. However, the North American version of the car continued to be produced until 1990.

The PSA XUD9 diesel engine of 1905 cc diesel engine was fitted to certain models of the Horizon, which was the first example of this engine available in the UK. All UK diesel Horizons were made in Spain. The Peugeot-Talbot brochure of October 1984 shows the only diesel Horizon being the LD1.9, the XUD9 engine only available in the Peugeot 305 GRD as well. The Horizon was not the first diesel in the Talbot family of cars with the Chrysler 180 in Spain being powered by diesel.

The Peugeot 309 made use some of the Horizon range of Simca based engines for most of its production life, until replaced with the more modern Peugeot TU engine in 1992.

Horizon in the UK

In Britain, it was seen as a modern alternative to the existing Rootes-designed Avenger models, offering buyers a front-wheel drive hatchback alongside the rear-wheel drive saloons and estates. The Avenger was produced alongside it until 1981, by which time the company had come under Peugeot ownership and no new models were launched to replace it, as the front-wheel drive hatchback style was becoming more popular and Peugeot already had the similar-sized 305 saloon and estates in production.

UK sales of the Horizon (which went on sale there in early 1978 and was badged as a Chrysler until 1 August 1979, when it became a Talbot) were initially quite strong, but by 1983 it was starting to lose sales in a segment dominated by an increasing number of newer models including the Ford Escort Mark III, Vauxhall Astra and Austin Metro. Foreign models like the Volkswagen Golf, Renault Super 5, and Datsun Sunny were also proving popular in the early 1980s.

The last British Horizons were sold in 1986, soon after the launch of Peugeot’s Ryton-built 309 which had originally been intended for sale as the Talbot Arizona, as a Talbot-branded successor to the Horizon, and went on sale in January 1986. The 309 continued the Simca heritage by using Simca-derived engines in its smaller models.

The Ryton factory remained open until December 2006.

UK Specifications range

Capacity 1118–1905 cc
Power 59–90 hp
Max. speed 147 km/h (91 mph) – 175 km/h (109 mph)
Acceleration 0–60 mp/h: 17.9–11.4 seconds


The UK Horizon was available in the following trim levels:

  • 1100 GL
  • 1100 GLE
  • 1300 GL
  • 1300 GL Auto
  • 1300 LS
  • 1300 LX
  • 1300 GLX
  • 1500 LE
  • 1500 LS
  • 1500 LS EXS
  • 1500 GLS
  • 1500 S
  • 1500 SX Auto
  • 1500 EX
  • 1900 LD

Most models were available with 4 or 5-speed gearboxes, which were initially a carry-over of the Simca gearbox, and then later the PSA BE gearbox. Automatic transmission was available on most 1500 models, and was standard equipment on the 1500 SX model.

Some limited editions were:

  • 1500 “Pullman” top of range model. This had upmarket trim and a design of alloy wheel similar to the Lotus Sunbeam and a wider tyre. The Pullman also had radio upgrade with 4 speakers, and rear seatbelts. Most had beige over brown metallic, two-tone paintwork. Around 20% of the Pullman models were two tone silver and blue.
  • 1300 “Summertime Special” This had red plastic trim in place of the usual black.
  • 1500/1300 “Ultra” (1985) an upmarket high-spec car in silver metallic, had its name ‘ULTRA’ on the front wings in black lettering. Ultra had grey velour interior with red piping.
  • 1500 “Silver Fox” which had two tone paintwork half silver, half blue metallic.

Double decker buses

  • Sikh 1930-33 (three built)
  • Pathan 1930-1938 (at least four built for Woverhampton Cotp’n)
  • DF2 1936-1948 (one built for Wolverhampton Corp’n.)

Double decker trolleybus

  • MS2 1934-1948
  • MS3 1934-1948
  • MF1 1934-1949
  • MF2 1935-1952
  • W4 1943-1947
  • F4/F4A 1948-1965
  • S7/S7A 1948-58

Double or single deck trolleybus

  • MF2B 1934-65

Export only

1932-70 Hillman Minx

Hillman Minx
1964 Hillman Minx Series V

Hillman Minx Series V
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Production 1932–70
Body and chassis
Body style 4-door saloon
2-door coupé
2-door convertible
2-door standard estate
2-door short wheelbase estate
2-door van
2-door coupé utility
Predecessor Hillman 14
Successor Hillman Hunter
Hillman Avenger

The Hillman Minx is a series of middle -sized family cars produced under the Hillman marque by the Rootes Group (1932-70). There have been many versions of the Minx over the years, as well as various badge-engineered versions sold under the Humber, Singer, and Sunbeam marques.

For most of the 1960s, the Minx and its derivatives were the greatest-volume sellers of the “Audax” family of cars from Rootes, which also included the Singer Gazelle and Sunbeam Rapier. The final version of the Minx was the “New Minx” launched in 1967, which was part of the “Arrow” family and essentially a basic version of the Hillman Hunter. Generally, the Minx was available in four-door saloon and estate forms, with a 1496-cc engine.

The Hillman Super Minx was a slightly larger model offered during the Audax era.

Throughout the life of the Minx, there was usually an estate version; and, from 1954 to 1965, there was also a short-wheelbase estate, the Hillman Husky, and a van derivative known as the Commer Cob.

The Minx brand was revived briefly – along with the “Rapier” model name, as applied to the Sunbeam Rapier version of the Audax family – as a special edition late in the life of the Talbot Alpine / Talbot Solara cars, produced by Chrysler Europe after its takeover of the Rootes Group.

Pre-WWII Minx

Hillman Minx 1932
1932 Hillman_Minx_1124cc_first_reg_December_1932

Hillman Minx 1932: the early Minx was a conservatively designed car

The original Minx was introduced in 1932 with a pressed-steel body on separate chassis and 30 bhp 1185 cc engine. It was upgraded with a four-speed transmission in 1934 and a styling upgrade, most noticeably a slightly V-shaped grille. For 1935, synchromesh was added but the range was otherwise similar.

The 1936 model got a new name, the Minx Magnificent, and a restyle with much more rounded body. The chassis was stiffened and the engine moved forwards to give more passenger room. The rear panel, hitherto vertical, was now set at a sloping angle, and the manufacturers offered the option of a folding luggage grid which could be attached to the rear panel and was available for “two pounds, seven shillings and sixpence” (slightly under £2.40) painted. A Commer-badged estate car was added to the range.

The final pre-war model was the 1938 Minx. There were no more factory-built tourers but some were made by Carbodies. The car was visually similar to the Magnificent, with a different grille, and access to the luggage boot (trunk) was external (that on the predecessor was accessed by folding down the rear seat). There were two saloon models in the range, the basic “Safety” model with simple rexine trim instead of leather, no opening front quarterlights, and less luxurious trim levels. The De Luxe model had leather trim, opening quarterlights, extra trim pads, and various other comfort benefits. The 1938 model was not the final iteration before the outbreak of war, however, as the 1939 model was considerably different mechanically, with virtually the entire drivetrain improved to the extent that few parts are interchangeable with the 1938 model. This includes gearbox, differential, half shafts, steering box, and a great many other mechanical and cosmetic changes. Even the front grille, which to the casual eye looks almost identical to the 1938 model, became a pressed alloy component rather than a composite.

Wartime Minx

During the Second World War, British car companies produced simple Utility load carriers, the Car, Light Utility or “Tilly”. For Hillman it was the Hillman 10HP, a Minx chassis with two-person cab and covered load area behind. The basic saloon was also produced for military and essential civilian use from 1940 to 1944.

Minx Mark I to VIII (1945–57)

Hillman Minx Mark I to VIII
1954 Hillman_Minx_Special_4-D_Saloon Phase VIII

Hillman Minx Mark VIII 4-Door Saloon
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Production 1945–56
Assembly United Kingdom
Japan (by Isuzu)
Body and chassis
Body style 4-door saloon
3-door estate
2-door convertible
2-door hardtop
Related Hillman Husky
Commer Light Pick-up
Commer Express Delivery Van
Commer Cob
Engine 1,185 cc I4
1,265 cc I4
1,390 cc I4

The Minx sold between 1945 and 1947 had the same 1185 cc side-valve engine, the same wheelbase and virtually the same shape as the prewar Minx. This postwar Minx became known as the Minx Mark I (or Minx Phase I). Between 1947 and 1948 a modified version, known as the Minx Mark II was offered.

A much more modern looking Minx, badged as the Mark III, was sold from 1948. This was the first Minx with a protruding boot / trunk which effectively respected the Ponton, three-box design by then replacing the ‘flat back’ look, inherited from models that had made their debut in the 1930s. Three different body styles were offered initially, these being saloon, estate car and drophead coupé (convertible). Beneath the metal, however, and apart from updated front suspension, little had changed: the Mark III retained the 1185 cc side-valve engine of its predecessor. Claimed power output, at 35 bhp (26.1 kW), was also unchanged. However, in 1949 the old engine was bored out and compression ratio increased, for the Mark IV Minx, to 1265 cc, and power output increased by 7 per cent to 37.5 bhp (28.0 kW). A Mark IV saloon tested by The Motor magazine in 1949 had a top speed of 67 mph (108 km/h) and could accelerate from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 39.7 seconds. A fuel consumption of 32.1 miles per imperial gallon (8.8 L/100 km; 26.7 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £505 including taxes, the price including radio (£36), over-riders (£5) and heater (£18).

Further minor facelifts followed. In 1953, with the Minx Mark VI, a fourth body variation was added, being the so-called Hillman Minx Californian, a two-door hard-top coupé with, slightly unusually, a b-pillar that wound down out of sight along with the rear side window to give an unbroken window line when all windows were fully opened: the rear window assembly was of a three-piece wrap-around form. The wheelbase and overall length of the car remained the same as those of the four-door saloon and convertible permutations. For the Mark VIII, in 1954, a new ohv 1390 cc engine was installed. This was the engine which, two years later, would be carried over into the first of the new “Audax series” Minxes.

For a short time in the early 1950s Hillman Minxes were sold in the USA to Americans seeking better gas mileage. The reviews of the vehicle in the US were lukewarm. Between 1953 and 1956 the Mark VI to Mark VIII Isuzu Hillman Minx was produced in Japan by Isuzu Motors, prior to their 1961 introduction of the Bellel.

Audax design Hillman Minx (Series I to Series VI, 1956–67)

Hillman Minx Series I to Series VI

Hillman Minx Series IIIC
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Also called Sunbeam Minx
Humber 80
Production 1956–67
Assembly United Kingdom
New Zealand
Body and chassis
Body style 4-door saloon
2-door convertible
4-door estate
Related Commer Cob
Hillman Gazelle
Hillman Husky
Singer Gazelle
Sunbeam Rapier
Engine 1,390 cc I4
1,494 cc I4
1,592 cc I4
1,725 cc I4
Successor Hillman New Minx

The Audax body was designed by the Rootes Group, but helped by the Raymond Loewy design organisation, who were involved in the design of Studebaker coupés in 1953. The car went through a series of annual face lifts each given a Series number, replacing the Mark number used on the previous Minxes; there was no Series IV. The engine was new for the model with overhead valves – a first for a post war Hillman. Over the years the engine grew from 1390 cc (in the Series I and II) to 1725 cc in the Series VI. A variety of manual transmissions, with column or floor change, and automatic transmissions were offered. For the automatic version, the Series I and II used a Lockheed Manumatic two pedal system (really only a semi-automatic), the Mark III a Smiths Easidrive and the V/VI a Borg Warner.

A Series III deLuxe saloon with 1494 cc engine tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1958 had a top speed of 76.9 mph (123.8 km/h) and could accelerate from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 25.4 seconds. A fuel consumption of 31.8 miles per imperial gallon (8.9 L/100 km; 26.5 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £794 including taxes of £265.

There were Singer Gazelle and Sunbeam Rapier variants of all these Hillman Minx models, and the names were again used on derivatives in the later Rootes Arrow range. Some models were re-badged in certain markets, with the Sunbeam and Humber marques used for some exports.

The New Zealand importer/assembler Todd Motors created the Humber 80 and Humber 90, badge-engineered models based respectively on the Minx and Super Minx, as a way to secure scarce additional import licences for CKD assembly kits. Although the 90 was identical to the Super Minx, the cheaper 80 could be spotted by a horizontal bar grille design. The Humber 80 was acknowledged in the 1980s Roger Hall playPrisoners of Mother England, in which a newly arrived immigrant in New Zealand spots one and exclaims: “Humber 80? There’s no such car!”

In Australia, the first of the series V vehicles fitted with all-synchro gearboxes was known locally as the series Va. This little-known fact is rarely referenced within Australia and virtually unknown elsewhere.

The Audax Minx was also built in Japan by Isuzu Motors as the Isuzu Hillman Minx under licence from Rootes between September 1956 and June 1964. Isuzu produced their own unique estate car version, the Isuzu Hillman Express, from 1958 to 1964.

Super Minx (1961–67)

Hillman Super Minx

1965 Hillman Super Minx (with revised C-post)
Main article: Hillman Super Minx

Launched late in 1961, the Hillman Super Minx was intended at one stage to replace the Minx Series III. In the event the Series III would be replaced in 1963 by the Series V, while the Super Minx was launched as a separate, albeit closely related, model.

New Minx (1967–70)

Hillman New Minx
1967 Hillman_Minx_registered_July_1967_1496cc

Hillman New Minx
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Also called Sunbeam Minx
Production 1967–70
Assembly United Kingdom
Body and chassis
Body style 4-door saloon
4-door estate
Related Hillman Hunter
Singer New Gazelle
Engine 1496 cc I4
1725 cc I4
Predecessor Hillman Minx Series VI
Successor Hillman Hunter

A replacement Minx (sometimes identified, retrospectively, as the New Minx) took over from the Series VI in 1967. It was a reduced specification version of the Hillman Hunter. Saloon and estate versions were produced, initially equipped with a 54 bhp 1496 cc 4 cylinder engine. A 61 bhp 1725cc engine became available in 1968. The final Minx was replaced by a Hillman Hunter De Luxe model in 1970.

Paykan Pickup.Hillman_Minx

Paykan (Arrow) pickup, a version of Hillman new Minx, made by Iran Khodro

1966-79 (2005((IRAN)) Rootes Arrow

Rootes Group “Arrow” series
1967 Hillman_Hunter_with_second_of_the_four_fronts_1725cc_first_registered_October_1967

1967 Hillman Hunter Saloon
Manufacturer Rootes Group
Chrysler Europe
Production 1966–1979 (until 2005 in Iran)
Assembly Ryton-on-Dunsmore, United Kingdom
Linwood, United Kingdom
Santry, Republic of Ireland
Tehran (Iran Khodro), Iran
Port Melbourne, Australia
Petone and (from 1975) Porirua,New Zealand
Designer Rex Fleming (overall)
Roy Axe (estate and coupé)
Body and chassis
Body style 4-door saloon
5-door estate
2-door coupé
2-door pick-up
Related See article for list of Arrow marques
  • 1500 cc 4
  • 1725 cc I4
Transmission 4 speed manual
4-speed manual + D-type Laycock Overdrive (1966–1972)
4-speed manual + J-type Laycock Overdrive (1972 on)
Borg-Warner 35/65 automatic
Wheelbase 98 in (2,489 mm) (saloon)
Length 171 in (4,343 mm) (saloon)
Width 63 in (1,600 mm) (saloon)
Height 56 in (1,422 mm) (saloon)
Curb weight 2,100 lb (953 kg) (saloon)
Predecessor Hillman Minx
Successor none

Rootes Arrow was the manufacturer’s name for a range of cars produced under several badge-engineered marques by the Rootes Group (later Chrysler Europe) from 1966 to 1979. It is amongst the last Rootes designs, developed with no influence from future owner Chrysler. The range is sometimes referred to by the name of the most prolific model, the Hillman Hunter.

A substantial number of separate marque and model names applied to this single car platform. Some were given different model names to justify trim differences (Hillman GT, Hillman Estate) and that from time to time all models were sold in some European markets under the Sunbeam marque (Sunbeam Sceptre for instance), and at other times used UK marque/model names. To add complication, Singer Gazelle/Vogue models were also sold in the UK for one season badged as Sunbeams after the Singer brand was withdrawn.

The models sold – not all concurrently – were, alphabetically by marque:

The most prolific model within the Arrow range, the Hillman Hunter, was the Coventry-based company’s major competitor in the medium family car segment. In its 13-year production run, its UK market contemporaries included the Ford Cortina, Morris Marina and Vauxhall Victor, although model positioning within the range meant competition with some larger cars as well, including the Austin 1800.

The Arrow range extended to several body styles: saloon, estate, fastback coupé and a pick-up (sold mainly in South Africa as the Dodge Husky). Depending on the model, they had two doors or four doors. Not all marques were represented in all body styles, with the coupés being reserved for Sunbeam.


The Arrow range was conceived in 1962. Following the Hillman Imp, consideration was given to developing a larger rear-engined car, but this concept was dismissed, and the engineering settled on for the new car was more conventional and closer to the layout of the existing Audax series (which included the previous Hillman Minx).

With cash-strapped Rootes struggling amid continuing engine cooling problems with the Imp, which often resulted in warped cylinder heads, the cautious Arrow broke little new engineering ground. New parts were largely based on tried and tested Rootes components, using a new but strong 5-bearing version of the well-proven 1725 cc overhead valve petrol engine as a starting point which varied in output from 66 bhp (49 kW) to 88 bhp (66 kW) (in the Humber Sceptre). The engine was inclined by a modest 15 degrees, to allow for a lower bonnet line and to enable packaging of the carburettors. This engine was further uprated by specialists Holbay, employing two Weber 40DCOE carburettors to produce 107 bhp (80 kW) for the Sunbeam Rapier H120 and Hillman Hunter GLS. A smaller 1500 cc engine was the standard for manual versions of the Hillman Minx and the Singer Gazelle, and the Hillman Hunter DeLuxe model which succeeded the Minx. Automatic models were all powered by the 1725 cc engine. Particular attention was paid to weight and cost to bring the vehicle in line with its natural competitors, including the Mark 2 Ford Cortina.

For the first time in a Rootes car MacPherson strut suspension featured at the front, with a conventional live axle mounted on leaf springs at the rear. Other firsts for Rootes in the new car were curved side glass and flow-through ventilation.

Manual transmissions were available in four-speed form with an optional Laycock de Normanville overdrive, or Borg-Warner automatic transmission, again as an option. Initially, the Borg Warner Type 35 3-speed automatic was offered, then the Type 45 four-speed automatic became available in 1973.

The handbrake was situated between the driver’s seat and door (i.e. on the driver’s right-hand side for a right-hand drive car) rather than between the front seats. This followed the practice in the ‘Audax’ cars.

The first Arrow model to be launched, the Hillman Hunter, was presented as a replacement for the Hillman Super Minx. The Hunter was lighter than its predecessor and the wheel-base of the new car was actually 2½ inches (6.4 cm) shorter than that of the old, but the length of the passenger cabin was nonetheless increased by moving the engine and the toe-board forwards.

For the first two years there were few changes. However, in May 1968 power assisted brakes were made available as a factory fitted option. Hitherto this possibility had been offered only as a kit for retro-fitting: it was stated that the factory fitted servo-assistance, at a domestic market price slightly below £13, would be cheaper for customers.

A mild facelift in 1970 gave new grilles to the various Hunter trim levels, and some derivatives gained a (then) more fashionable dashboard, exchanging wood for plastic, but the car remained fundamentally the same throughout its life.

A more detailed facelift for 1972 brought a new all-plastic dashboard with deeply hooded round dials (earlier versions had either a strip speedometer or round dials in a flat dashboard for more expensive models like the Vogue), new steering wheel, plastic instead of metal air cleaner, reshaped squarer headlamps in a new grille and some engine tuning changes.

For 1975, bumpers were enlarged and the tail lights were enclosed in a full-width anodised aluminium trim piece.

Following the 1967 acquisition of Rootes by Chrysler, the Arrow derivatives were rationalised until only the Hillman Hunter version was left by 1976. From September 1977 it was re-badged as a Chrysler, which it was to be for the remaining 2 years of its life. Hunter production was switched in 1969 to Rootes’ troubled Imp plant in Linwood, from its original home of Ryton.

Sales were lower after 1975 following the launch of the Chrysler Alpine, a similar sized car but with front-wheel drive and a hatchback bodystyle, at a time when rear-wheel drive saloons still dominated in this sector.

Following the Hillman Avenger‘s move to Linwood in 1976, the very last European Hunters were assembled in the Santry plant, Shanowen Road, Ireland from “complete knock down” (CKD) kits until production ended in 1979 – but no evidence exists to suggest that the Talbot badge was applied to any production Hunter following Chrysler Europe’s 1978 takeover by Peugeot, and the application of that badge to other Chrysler models sold on or after 1 August 1979.

The final Chrysler Hunter was built in September 1979 in Porirua, New Zealand, and was donated to the Southward Museum. In 2000 the Museum sold the car to a private collector.

Models and market positions

As Rootes looked to rationalise the number of platforms and the total engineering cost of their vehicle line-up during the 1960s, they kept alive the many names of the companies they had purchased to maintain product differentation out in the market place. As such, the Arrow was simultaneously aimed at several slightly different market segments, using a range of brand and model names during the car’s 13-year production run.


1970 Hillman_Minx_Arrow_type_near_Biggleswade

1970 Hillman Minx

The first models, launched on the domestic market in October 1966 with a 1725 cc engine, were given the Hillman Hunter name with the respected name Hillman Minx (for the cheaper 1496 cc version), following in January 1967. Hillman would remain the British group’s most prolific marque. The Hunter model name was not in fact entirely new for a Rootes-related car, having been used for one year’s production of the Singer SM1500.

Sports models included the Hillman GT, which was based on the Minx trim, but was a model in its own right (not a “Hillman Minx GT” nor “Hillman Hunter GT”). It featured a twin Zenith Stromberg CD150 carburettor version of the 1725 engine developing 94 bhp and Ro-Style wheels. in 1972 came the Hillman Hunter GLS with a specially-tuned twin-Weber-carburettor engine (by Holbay) shared with the Sunbeam Rapier H120 model, as well as close ratio gearbox and quad headlights.

The estate version, announced in April 1967, was originally launched as the “Hillman Estate Car” without either Hunter or Minx badging. It came with a one piece tailgate which was much cheaper to produce than the horizontally split two piece tailgate featured on the car it replaced, but the change nevertheless drew some unfavourable press comment.

The car’s image was boosted when a Hunter driven by Andrew Cowan won the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon rally.

The range was soon simplified with trim levels and varying engine specifications: the Hillman Hunter DeLuxe or DL replaced the Minx and retained the 1496 cc engine; the 1725 cc engine with an iron cylinder head being an option on these entry level models. Above that were the Hunter Super and Hunter GL, both with the higher specification alloy headed engine and two different trim levels. The twin carburettor engined “Hillman Hunter GT” eventually replaced the Hillman GT, and the Holbay-engined GLS was positioned at the top of the range.

For the 1975 Motor Show, a limited edition Hillman Hunter Topaz was produced. This was largely based on the Hunter Super and equipped with overdrive, radio, vinyl roof, Rostyle wheels and a special half cloth upholstery as standard. This car was only available in a unique metallic bronze paint finish. The price was less than that of the standard Hunter Super when fitted with the optional overdrive. A Hillman Break de Chasse was sold in French-speaking markets, based on the Minx specification. (Also offered was a similar Sunbeam Break de Chasse; “break” being a French term for an estate,and the phrase break de chasse translating roughly as shooting-brake.)


1969 Sunbeam_Vogue_License_plate_ca_1969

Circa 1969 Sunbeam Vogue

The Singer Vogue and Singer Gazelle were positioned slightly upmarket of the Hillman Hunter and the Minx respectively. Nevertheless, the need to compete on price was evidenced with the announcement of the Singer Vogue estate car. The Vogue saloon was fitted with an alternator, but the Vogue estate, announced in April 1967, was fitted with a dynamo; the manufacturers explained that the change was made to help keep the model’s recommended UK-market selling price below £1,000.

The Singers were short-lived models, retired early in 1970 along with the rest of the Singer range. Briefly following the retirement of the Singer brand, and throughout the model life for principal export markets, the Singer Vogue was badged as a Sunbeam.


1974 Sunbeam.rapier.arp

1974 Sunbeam Rapier fastback coupé in “Grasshopper” green

The single-carburettor Sunbeam Alpine and twin-carburettor Sunbeam Rapier were only sold as fastback coupés, and were marketed with a strong sporting image – although it was eventually the Hillman Hunter which was used in long-distance rallying. The sportiest Sunbeam was the Rapier H120 model, though this shared its specially tuned Holbay engine with the Hillman Hunter GLS.

Sunbeam Arrow, Sunbeam Break de Chasse, Sunbeam Hunter, Sunbeam Minx, Sunbeam Sceptre, and Sunbeam Vogue were used for export markets where the Sunbeam name was more familiar or deemed more likely to succeed. The Sunbeam Arrow name was used in North America. Sunbeam Break de Chasse, Hunter, Vogue, and Minx were offered in some French-speaking markets (where “break” is a term for an estate).

A Sunbeam Sceptre appeared in France and some German-speaking markets (at least), and carried the Humber Sceptre level of specification, as described below. The Sunbeam Vogue was also available in the home (British) market for a short period after the Singer marque was retired in 1970.


Main article: Humber Sceptre
1975 humber.sceptre.arp

1975 Humber Sceptre

The Humber Sceptre traded on Humber’s tradition of building luxury cars and was the best-appointed version, with the exception of the similar Sunbeam-branded Sunbeam Sceptre sold in some markets.

The manual-gearbox model featured either the D-type or the later J-type Laycock De Normanville overdrive, with the J-type fitted from chassis numbers L3 onwards starting in July 1972. As with all Arrows, an automatic gearbox was an option. A closer ratio G-type gearbox was fitted to later Sceptres, using the J-type overdrive.

An estate version of the Humber Sceptre was introduced at the London Motor Show in October 1974. It featured a built-in roof rack and a carpeted loading floor protected by metal strips and illuminated by an additional interior light. Washer and wiper were provided for the rear window, a rare feature on UK-market estate cars of the time.


The Hillman Hunter was rebranded as the Chrysler Hunter for the UK market in September 1977, receiving at the same time a four headlight frontal treatment similar to that of the Hunter GLS model and the Humber Sceptre. In order to try to prolong the model life an improved level of equipment included a central console and a voltmeter. The Super version also featured an aluminium-head engine and viscous fan coupling along with reclining seats, a vinyl-covered roof and “simulated wood treatment” for the facia and door sills. By this time, however, Chrysler UK dealers had been selling the French-built Chrysler Alpine for more than two years: more than ten years after the launch of the original Hillman Hunter, the Chrysler Hunter was self-evidently a run-out model, and relatively few were produced. According to How Many Left, only 4 are still on UK roads. It was effectively replaced by the Talbot Solara – a four-door saloon version of the Alpine hatchback – which was launched in April 1980.

Iranian, Australian and New Zealand ranges


Starting in 1967, Chrysler Australia Ltd assembled the Hillman Hunter from imported CKD packs at their Port Melbourne factory, which they inherited as part of Chrysler’s acquisition of Rootes Australia.

Production commenced in 1967 with 2 models, designated as the HB series: the Arrow (with a trim level corresponding with the home market (United Kingdom) Minx, but with a front bench seat), and the Hunter.

These were replaced by the HC series in 1969. The major changes were adoption of the UK face-lifted Hunter radiator grille and rectangular headlights, and the renaming of the Arrow as the Hunter, retaining the Arrow’s trim specification and bench seat. At the same time came the introduction of the Safari estate (known in Australia as a station wagon.) The Safari name was also used to identify the Australian Chrysler Valiant estate model. There was also the addition of two, new, more upmarket saloon variants: the Hunter Royal (corresponding in trim level with the UK Singer Vogue, but retaining the Hunter plastic moulded dashboard, with simulated wood trim), and the Hunter GT, which corresponded with the UK Humber Sceptre in trim level, but with the standard Hunter grille. These cars featured trim parts from various UK models, including UK Humber Sceptre bonnet ornaments.

The Safari estate was a popular seller, particularly as the competing Holden Torana was not available as an estate.

In 1971, the Australian version of the Hunter was face-lifted again, with the introduction of the HE series. Marketing of the car, plus its rear badges, referred to it as the Hunter, rather than a Hillman.

The facelift involved a change to the radiator grille, with new and smaller rectangular headlights. Also, the appearance of the rear of the car was changed with a flush trim panel under the boot lid and new twin-lens tail lights. Depending on the model, this panel was painted in the body colour or a matte grey; this facelift was unique to Australia.

Inside, the HE models received a new collapsible steering column, with the Valiant’s steering wheel.

The model range was later modified again: a new cut price performance version called the Hustler was introduced. This was similar in concept and execution to the UK Hillman GT – a sparsely trimmed car with high performance.

The Hunter GT was renamed the Hunter Royal 660. Outside, this car gained Rostyle wheels. Inside, the car was trimmed in the same “buffalo grain” textured vinyl, which also was to be found in the VG series luxury Valiant, the Regal 770.

These cars sold steadily, but they became overshadowed when Chrysler Australia commenced assembly of the Mitsubishi Galant in 1972. By this time, the Mitsubishi was a conspicuously more modern car, and by 1973, the Hunter was phased out, and became the last Rootes car to have been marketed in Australia. Chrysler Australia then closed the former Rootes factory, focusing Australian production at their Tonsley Park plant in Adelaide.

New Zealand

New Zealand importer and CKD assembler Todd Motors also created its own unique versions of the Arrow line. The single 1967 launch version (1725 cc aluminium head engine with four-speed manual transmission or three-speed Borg Warner 35 automatic transmission with twin fron seats) was almost identical to its UK counterpart but Todd started to use its own upholstery designs from the 1969 rectangular headlight update. For 1970, it added a silver rear trim panel to the Hunter and introduced the estate although this had a lower specification than the saloon – an iron head 1725 cc engine, no automatic option, simpler dashboard trim (no locking glovebox), painted rather than bright metal door window trim and fixed rather than opening front quarter-lights.

Todd’s also offered a Singer Vogue saloon with a 1725 cc engine and a more upmarket wood veneer dashboard from 1967–71 when it was replaced by the Hunter GL.

The range was given a unique-to-NZ update early in 1971: the iron head “deluxe” estate (never badged as such) was almost unchanged apart from the side “Hunter” badges moving from the front doors to the front guards and revised seat and door trim patterns, and the door tops switched from black to the same colour as the seats. The alloy headed “super” saloon got these changes plus a spray-on black, instead of silver, tail panel — the texture of this changed from textured fake vinyl to a matte black over the year’s run. Initially the cars were offered with tan, red, blue or black upholstery with the dash painted to match but after a few months, Todd’s switched to a new type of vinyl with different texture for their Avenger, Hunter and Valiant lines and the blue option was dropped and the dashboards reverted to black paint. By now the equivalent Super model in the UK had seen its specification reduced to the iron head engine, no bumper over-riders, less exterior bright metal detailing and fixed front quarterlights — so the New Zealand version was unique.

The range’s first major facelift for 1972 brought an uprated motor with new carburettor and ignition tuning, re-profiled camshaft and a plastic air cleaner housing (these models were always harder to keep in tune than their predecessors), smaller, squarer headlamps, a new dashboard with deeply hooded round dials (the Hunters had strip speedometers previously), high-backed front seats, and a revised silver trim panel surrounding the tail lights.

Todds also added a new “GL” model, replacing the Singer Vogue, that initially had little to distinguish it (and justify a higher price) apart from wooden dashboard and door inserts, the same different trim patterns from the old Vogue and standard reversing lights. In 1973 Todds created another completely unique model by updating the GL with the four-headlight nose from the upmarket Humber Sceptre (a rare UK-assembled import) and altering the tail with a new silver strip below the tail lights, incorporating the reversing lights. These changes gave the GL a much more distinctive appearance front and rear.

By the mid-70s, the Hunter was an old model and under siege from newer Japanese rivals. Todd’s Hunters adopted the larger bumpers and new grille introduced for 1975 in the UK but the range was eventually rationalised into a single Super saloon model with the four-headlight front end and “wood” dashboard inserts (by then it was synthetic wood rather than the real material used originally). The final updates included standard cigarette lighter and heater control illumination.

Around 1975, the optional automatic was uprated from the three-speed Borg Warner 35 to the new, four-speed 45 but there were supply problems and Todds reverted to the 35 three-speed for several assembly runs of the automatic versions.

As in Australia, though six years later, Mitsubishis from Japan sounded the Hunter’s death knell. After beginning with CKD assembly of a single Galant coupé model in 1972, Todds had added the Lancer saloon in 1975 and launched its first mid-size Mitsubishi Galant Sigma saloon line in 1977, effectively replacing the Hunter. The far more modern, better equipped “Mitsis” were pricier, and the Hunter still had its fans and lingered on until 1979, when it was axed in the UK and Todd’s built the last Chrysler-badged version anywhere.

The Hunter’s other claim to Kiwi fame was being the first CKD model line to pass the 30,000-unit mark during its 12-year run.

Iranian Paykan

In 1966, Iran National (now Iran Khodro) of Iran began to assemble Hillman Hunters from CKD kits, after a deal was struck between the Rootes Group and Iran National’s director, Mahmoud Khayami. The resulting Paykan (Persian for arrow) saloon, pick-up and taxi models became known as Iran’s national car.

Earlier versions used the Hunter 1725 cc engine, but later kits were shipped with the Avenger’s 1600 cc engine mated to the Arrow range 4-speed gearbox via a special bell-housing. Later, they were all equipped with a 5-speed gearbox. The engine was upgraded to a Multi Point Electronic Fuel Injection made by Sagem Company. Also the Spark distributor was replaced with ECU Controlled Spark Coils. The differential was also upgraded to a more compatible version to Avenger Engine.

Full local production began in 1985, after the original British production lines were closed. The new owner in Britain, Peugeot, established a new contract whereby Iran Khodro would manufacture the Paykan with the same body panels but Peugeot 504 engines and suspension, for six more years. This deal has a similarity to one in South Africa, where Hunters were once built with locally made Peugeot 404 engines (from which the 504 units evolved) to meet strict local-content laws applicable in the late 1960s.

The Paykan saloon ceased production in May 2005, to be replaced by the Peugeot RD, based on the Peugeot 405 platform. The Bardo 1600i, the pick-up version of the Paykan is still in production (2012) (Although they do not achieve the required standards like having ABS and Airbag). The production rights for the Paykan have now been acquired by the government of Sudan, and production of the Paykan is expected to restart.

  • Sunbeam Funwagon/Sunbeam Highwayman

Sunbeam-Coatalen engines

Sunbeam, Wolverhampton, England, started to build aircraft engines in 1912. Louis Coatalen joined Sunbeam as chief engineer in 1909, having previously been Chief Engineer at the Humber works in Coventry. The company quickly became one of the UK’s leading engine manufacturers and even designed an aircraft of its own. Sunbeam discontinued the production of aero engines after Coatalen left the company in the 1930s.