- Engine: 1725cc/4-cyl
- Power (bhp/rpm): 88/5200
- Torque (lb ft@rpm): 100/4000
- Top speed: 103mph
- 0-60mph: 12.8sec
- Fuel consumption: 28mpg
- Transmission: 4-speed Mod
- Length: 14ft 6.5in (4.43m)
- Width (inc mirrors): 5ft 5in (1.65m)
- Weight: 2275lb (1034kg)
- Books: Cars of the Rootes Group by Graham Robson. MRP, ISBN 0-947981-35-7 (OOP)
- Clubs: www.speedyspares.co.uk; www.sunbeamrapier.com
- Websites: Sunbeam Rapier Owners’ Club. 01928 770762, www.sunbeamrapier.com
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Think classic coupé and you probably think Capri or Manta, but there’s a less obvious alternative that’s more stylish and even more affordable; the Sunbeam Rapier and Alpine. These Hillman Hunter-based pillarless fastbacks from 1967- 1976 offer space and style from under £1000, yet they’re well supported by clubs and specialists and offer genuine driving fun too. Launched in 1967, the Rapier has always been a good looker, but barely a year into production the rug was pulled from underneath it with the arrival of the Capri – a car that was cheaper, faster and available in a much wider range. Sunbeam’s riposte was the Rapier H120, a Holbayfettled edition that offered hotter performance with matching looks. But what Sunbeam needed was a cheaper option; this arrived in 1969 as the Alpine, with less power and a lower level of standard equipment. This did little to help sales though, and when production was halted in 1976, just 46,000 examples of the Alpine and Rapier had been built.
What to look for?
Anti-freeze concentrations must be maintained if the alloy cylinder head isn’t to corrode internally, while head gaskets tend to blow once 90,000 miles have been clocked up. Also make sure that the oil is in good condition; if it’s well past its best, blocked oilways and a damaged crankshaft are likely. While you’ve got the bonnet open, check the T-piece between the twin carbs; it perishes and splits with age, leaking petrol onto the exhaust manifold, with predictable results. Interior trim is hard to fi nd, new or used, so look for tears and splits because you’re probably going to have to patch things up. The biggest problem though is rot, so look for water-logged footwells, rotten headlamp surrounds and rusty window ledges on the doors. The sill covers mask potentially serious corrosion while the trailing edge of the bootlid also rots badly. Finally, if you’re looking at an H120, make sure it’s the real thing. The alloy rocker cover should feature a Holbay logo at the front, there are special inlet and exhaust manifolds plus a pair of Weber 40DCOE carbs – and AM3should be stamped between plugs two and three. Also check the registration document; chassis numbering sequences changed regularly with cars built up to July 1970 starting B391. Then came LG391 (to January 1972), LH120 (to October 1974) then fi nally R5ABK6 (until production ended in April 1976).
For a project that isn’t too far gone, you should expect to pay up to £400; anything that needs major work to revive would be worth a lot less though. Reasonably tidy, roadworthy cars start at £750 with something really good fetching up to £2000. The nicest cars go for £2500-£3000, although exceptional examples have been known to fetch more. All these prices are for the Rapier though; Alpines are worth a little less while the H120 fetches an extra £300-£500 depending on condition.
Even the entry-level Alpine offers a decent turn of speed, as it’s capable of 91mph; it also features higher gearing than the Rapier so it also makes for a relaxed cruiser. Overdrive was optional on the Alpine, while the Rapier go it as standard; with its close-ratio gearbox and twin-carb engine, acceleration is keener while there’s also a 103mph top speed on offer. However, the ultimate in thrills is delivered by the H120, with its 105bhp engine, which gives a 0-60 time of 11.1 seconds and a top speed of 105mph. Expect a slick gearchange (although second gear synchro can prove weak) and strong brakes, as all cars got a brake servo along with discs at the front.
The Rapier is introduced with a 1725cc engine and standard overdrive, with the option of an automatic gearbox.
The sporty Holbay-tuned 110bhp Rapier H120 is launched, with matt black grille, Rostyle wheels, side stripes and a rear spoiler.
The Alpine is released; it’s a cut-price Rapier with a 74bhp single-carb engine, optional overdrive and less comprehensive instrumentation but high backed seats.
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