The British, with their armies of skilled Old World craftsmen, were leaders in open air motoring for most of the last Century, ironically perhaps, given the British Isles' precipitation-rich climate. From All Steel bicycles to motorbikes all the way to lovely Roadsters or Drophead Coupés, reliable plein air transportation for the masses was never more diverse than in Her Majesty's kingdom. Bip, bip, cheerio!
If you lack the funds or motivation to acquire an Aston Martin or Bristol, yet feel that an MG or Triumph might be too pedestrian for your eclectic tastes, how 'bout something you won't find very often this side of the pond?
Enter Sunbeam. Way back in the 1920s, Sunbeam was mentioned in one breath with manufacturers the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Duesenberg, as they manufactured hugely expensive Grand Prix and Land Speed racing cars.
Acquired by the Rootes group during the 1930s depression, Sunbeam-Talbot, as the marque was called in the immediate post-WWII era, launched a mid-size saloon which, by 1950, had morphed into the Sunbeam-Talbot 90, with independent front suspension and a peppy, 2.3-liter overhead valve motor, good for a top speed of 90mph--hence the car's name.
Phenomenally successful Rallye cars in their day, Sunbeam-Talbot 90s were driven to many wins by famous drivers like Stirling Moss, John Fitch, and Mike Hawthorn. In 1953, slightly modified 90s acquired the moniker "Alpine" due to many Coupe des Alpes trophies. In 1955, a Sunbeam Alpine won the Rallye Monte Carlo outright!
The 1950 Sunbeam Talbot 90 LHD Drophead Coupé presented here, VIN *3803445*, is one of the few surviving examples that have always resided in the temperate regions of the American Southwest, thus escaping the merciless rust devil.
A sixty-year California resident, the car retains its British quirkiness, its proverbial good health, and its cheerful loveliness. Modern-day life can be mundane; why not indulge in something fascinating, entirely out of the ordinary? Dare to be different!
A plethora of documents accompanies the car. There are about 40 receipts for parts, mostly purchased during the 1980s, when the car apparently received a sympathetic refurbishing. A linen-bound owner's manual, titled "The Supreme Sunbeam Talbot 90" is included, as well as several issues of STARDUST Magazine, official publication of the Sunbeam Talbot Alpine Register.
Click on any of the above images for a full-size view
Engine bay looks tidy, all the mechanical components are well-kept. Large, polished alloy valve cover is very impressive. The motor itself runs like a sewing machine, and there are no oil leaks to report.
If circumstances should ever dictate it, the front license plate bracket easily folds down to insert the hand crank to start the car. Neat!
Moving on to survey the car's exterior, we are struck by the Sunbeam's well-proportioned design. Looking for all the world like a small Bentley MK VI, this particular example remains in a very well-preserved state, indeed. Body panels are straight, with only minor imperfections that come with use and age; doors, bonnet, and deck lid fit very well.
Hand-made, tan canvas convertible top is brand new, inside and out, and looks fabulous. We just paid $1,500.00 for the privilege, expensive perhaps, but definitely worth it!
Sunbeam's Primrose Yellow coachwork sparkles in the California sunshine, nicely offset by red steel wheels, wearing antique 6.00x16 tires and the early-style, smooth hub caps. An iconic color choice for the model, the finish, though very old, has aged well, with a few small touch-ups here and there, nothing to lose sleep over. Best of all, the car is bone dry, with no rust bubbling to note anywhere.
Semaphore turn signals, another classic touch, need to be coaxed.
Let's have a look at the Sunbeam's cockpit now!
Opening the wide door, we are very impressed by the attractive environment before our eyes. The dash, a marvel of Bakelite design and technology, looks simply stunning.
Black-on-cream Smiths gauges. Yes, they all work, as do lights and switches. LUCAS, the God of Darkness, must have had a good day when this car was built.
Note the dash's marvelous woodgraining. There are absolutely no cracks or other imperfections to report.
Utterly comfortable front seats, covered in a very attractive, vintage, Lipstick Red leatherette with cream piping.
Throne-like rear bench offers space for up to three adults. Everything is well-made, with many thoughtfully applied details such as three arm rests, chrome-plated ash receivers, and an interior light.
Ready for a test drive?
So are we, but before we indulge ourselves, let's check out trunk and undercarriage.
Equipped with a bottom-hinged trunk lid for the obligatory tailgate picknick at the Ascot races, Sunbeam's baggage compartment is very large, indeed.
Note the nice, original rubber mat.
Outright fantastic: complete set of large and small tools, resting on a horsehair pad concealed inside the deck lid.
Click on any of the above images for a full-size view
Details of undercarriage:
- Healthy floors without so much as a hint of previous repairs
- Bullet-proof drivetrain lacks the proverbial leaks "to mark the territory."
Driving a 60-year-old Sunbeam reminds us of better, more easy-going times. Back in the post-war era, there was no rush to get anywhere as quickly as possible, one simply did not encounter tire squealing muscle cars, boom box stereos, or crazy kids drag racing spoilered rice burners. A British Gentleman calmly entered his automobile, sat down, perhaps lit his pipe, pulled the conveniently located choke knob, turned the ignition key and pushed the starter button.
A minute of letting the engine warm up while gradually adjusting the choke, and it's time to take off. Depressing the clutch pedal and moving the column-mounted gear lever forward and upward engages first. Off we go!
First gear is rather low, one might call it a granny gear, and makes for peppy acceleration. Second is selected by pushing the lever downward, third gear by pulling it toward you and up. Third has a tendency to jump out, so we push the lever down again into forth; now we're ticking along happily in city traffic. Where's reverse? Yep, that's the tricky one: pull on the knob at the end of the shift lever, then push all the way down to the six o'clock position. Takes a little getting used to; once mastered, it's fun.
The Sunbeam's ambling along, tall bias-ply tires reminding us how tire technology has changed. They look cool, just right for this car, so we wouldn't change them for radials in a million years. Other motorists smile, give us encouraging thumbs up signs, and more than once we encounter small children pointing, the surprised mothers waving. We wave back.
Returning home, we are fascinated by the Sunbeam-Talbot. We marvel at real men like Stirling Moss, who were able to wring out every ounce of speed from this staid Brit made to trundle along hedgerow-flanked country lanes, pushing it to its limits. A thoroughly good-natured chap, this one, it is as rugged as the day is long. A Sunbeam will always start, never overheat or display any bad manners, and it'll run forever.
A nostalgic trip back to a better time, this Sunbeam-Talbot 90 is a bona fide collector car with a great pedigree. Loyal "90" owners all over the Globe offer support, so even if you may be the only person in your neck of the woods to own one, you'll never be lonely. All you need now is a worthy stablemate. How 'bout a Sunbeam Tiger?
May God Save The Queen!
We sold this Sunbeam in 2010.