THE Sunbeam Alpine has proved to be a worthwhile addition to the Rootes Group range and has gained a strong foothold in the World’s sports-car markets in spite of being more of a luxurious sports tourer rather than an out-and-out sports car. Rather surprisingly the Alpine has not received a lot of attention from the specialist tuners and coachwork suppliers, but this has been remedied by Thomas Harrington Ltd., of Hove, in conjunction with George Hartwell Ltd., of Bournemouth. Harringtons have designed a long sweeping hard-top conversion for the Alpine and Hartwells supply various stages of tune, the result being designated the Harrington Alpine.
The conversion offered by Harringtons, who are an old established firm of coachbuilders, is very much in keeping with the nature of the car and transforms the Alpine into a fixed-head coupé. In order to accommodate the sweeping lines of the new top the boot lid has been removed and replaced by a smaller version which is used for extracting the spare wheel and any items which may be placed on the shelf which covers the spare wheel. This arrangement leaves a large luggage space behind the two seats which will accommodate several large suitcases, while longer items such as golf clubs can be fitted in with ease. A large parcels shelf is also provided. Alternatively, Harringtons offer a set of fitted suitcases to enable maximum use to be made of the accommodation. For those not interested in large luggage capacity an occasional seat is available as an extra.
The top is of double-skinned glass-fibre and as befits a company which has been in the coachbuilding business since the turn of the century the finish is excellent, with none of the ripples commonly associated with glass-fibre. Much of their experience has been gained with the use of glass-fibre panels on coaches. The roof has a plastic headlining fitted to match the interior of the car and two large rearward opening quarter-lights which assist in ventilating the car. The boot floor is carpeted, all panels are trimmed, and an interior light is fitted behind the passenger’s scat to illuminate the luggage space.
In this basic form a new Sunbeam Alpine will cost £1,225, including purchase tax. However, a number of extras are available such as competition-type bucket seats designed by Harringtons, fitted luggage, and normal Rootes extras such as wire wheels, overdrive, safety harness, etc., while the three-stage Hartwell tuning is also available. Stage 1 consists of reshaping and polishing of valve throats, induction ports and inlet manifold with the manifold matched to the head. The exhaust ports and combustion chambers are cleaned up and polished and the standard carburetters are thoroughly checked over. For the second stage the engine is removed from the chassis and stripped and a lightened flywheel, competition clutch, and high-lift camshaft are fitted, and the crank, clutch and flywheel are balanced as one unit. Similar polishing work to Stage 1 is carried out with the addition of stronger valve springs and raising of the compression-ratio to 9.5 to 1. The carburetters are also checked over and a twin-pipe exhaust system is fitted. The third stage consists of the same work carried out in Stage 2 but pistons and connecting rods are also balanced and the gearbox, rear axle, brakes, suspension and steering are all stripped and checked over, heavy-duty shock-absorbers and harder brake linings being supplied, together with an anti-roll bar. An electronic rev.-counter is fitted as well as a wood-rimmed steering wheel and competition bucket seats. Stage 1 costs £25, Stage 2 ,£75, and Stage 3 £215, the latter model having a claimed maximum speed of 110 m.p.h.
For our road impressions of the Harrington Alpine we were given a Stage 2 model fitted with overdrive. This car is, of course, the Mark II version introduced at Earls Court last year having the 1,592-c.c. engine which gives 85.5 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. in standard form but with Hartwell mods was giving around 93 b.h.p. at 5,700 r.p.m. In addition the Mk. II model has a stiffer crankshaft, larger water pump and oil pump and a better clutch than the Mk. I models. But perhaps the most important change is in the driving position, which came in for some criticism on the early models; the driver’s seat is re-positioned to provide 2 in. more leg room, the accelerator, clutch and brake pedals are now adjustable and the steering-wheel diameter has been reduced to give the driver more clearance.
This all adds up to one of the best driving positions on current sports models, while the interior is laid out in typical Rootes fashion so that one can motor in as much comfort as modern traffic conditions allow. On the road the Harrington Alpine certainly motored very briskly, the lightened flywheel allowing the revs to rise very quickly in 1st and 2nd gears so that care was needed not to exceed the 6,000 r.p.m. maximum. The twin-pipe exhaust system possessed a resonance period between 2,000 and 3,000 r.p.m., which gave a rather raucous exhaust note. This is rather out of keeping with the Alpine’s luxury character, as the most fearful explosions occurred when on the overrun in 3rd gear.
The Alpine provides very enjoyable motoring indeed, the Harrington model cruising at 80 m.p.h. with little effort and covering 0-60 m.p.h. in 12.8 sec., but when cornered really fast the car understeers and the spongy steering requires some effort to hold the desired line, while on bumpy corners the rear axle declines to stay in contact with the road. No doubt the Stage 3 suspension mods will overcome these difficulties for the man who wants to go really fast; meanwhile the Harrington Alpine offers a degree of individuality and luxuriousness which the starker and more harshly sprung sports models cannot approach.—M. L. T.