Sunbeam Rapier: Back to my Rootes

Looking forward to the return of historic rallies but behind schedule on a renovation? Simon de Burton has just the thing

Series II Rapier

This Series II Rapier, made from 1958-59, had a 1.5-litre engine enticingly referred to as the ‘Rallymaster’

If you have regrets about failing to tackle a project during lockdown and are now fretting about having nothing to drive when we get the green light to return to the cut and thrust of historic rallying, this competition-ready Sunbeam Rapier could well be worth a bid.

The Rapier was Rootes Group’s racy coupé that first appeared in 1955 having been inspired by American Studebakers. The first versions had unsporting column gear shifts, but that didn’t stop British rally driver and Rootes Group dealer Peter Harper taking one to a respectable fifth place in the 1958 Monte Carlo Rally.

Knowledge gained from such competition led to improvements on the Series II Rapier (launched the same year) that included a floor-change transmission, bigger front brakes, more precise steering and, best of all, an upgraded, 1500cc engine that pushed out 73bhp and gave the car a top speed of more than 90mph.

Dating from 1959, the Rapier on offer is a Mark II that has been prepared with care and consideration – a fact evinced by its eight finishes in the gruelling Monte-Carlo Historique.

Fully restored in 2019, it appears to be the turnkey solution for anyone lacking the time, inclination, skill or budget to source a standard car with a view to preparing it for competition.

The electrics – often a bugbear on hard-driven competition cars – have been neatly and logically sorted, Brantz rally meters have been installed and the sports seats are comfortable enough for long-range driving. The rear bench has also been left in place, as have the trim panels and winding mechanisms for the rear windows (good for ventilation).

The exterior has been de-bumpered and fitted with spotlights, the obligatory towing eyes, a bonnet-mounted stone deflector and some beefy-looking steel wheels. Two spares are stowed securely in the boot, along with the stainless steel fuel cell, twin pumps and battery.

Although there is slight evidence of surface rust here and there, the car looks thoroughly sound. It’s even worth a look if you don’t want to go rallying but just fancy a well-put-together, cool-looking classic for daily driving. But I won’t say anything about cutting a dash in town – you’ve had enough Rapier wit for now. Just bid.

1959 Sunbeam Rapier

On sale at Historics, Ascot Racecourse, Berkshire. April 17
Estimate: £13,000-£17,000



Forthcoming sale highlights

Bonhams, Los Angeles
April 10

Bonhams has dubbed this sale Supercars on Sunset and it focuses on contemporary collector cars. Included in the line-up is a special order Porsche GT3 RS built for comedian Jerry Seinfeld (and fitted with options costing £180,000), and one of just three Saleen S7-LMs in existence.

Hampson Auctions, Thornton Manor, Wirral
April 28

Newcomer Hampson hopes to make this a ‘live, buyer-attended auction’, Covid restrictions permitting. A varied selection of lots ranges from a 1973 Ford Escort RS1600 rally car to a 1955 Ford F100 pick-up truck.

Mecum, Las Vegas
April 28-May 1

This blockbuster motorcycle sale will feature an impressive 1,750 machines and take three days to conduct. Star lots include a 1940 Crocker ‘Big Tank’ Big Twin and a 1950 Vincent Black Lightning that was originally sold to Denmark ñ where it was used for sidecar dirt track racing.

RM Sotheby’s Amelia Island, Florida
May 22

This annual outing will likely be online-only and includes two single-seaters from the estate of the late Irish-American collector John Campion — a 2005 Lola B05/52 and
a 1981 March 811 F1 — plus the 1983 March-Chevrolet 83G IMSA GTP car Spirit of Miami that Emerson Fittipaldi credits with starting his ‘second career’.