Monday, August 26, 2013

1958 Sunbeam Rapier Series II Coupe de Sport

"The exciting new Sunbeam was born on the roaring straight-aways and tortuous turns of continental rallies and the world-famous Mille Miglia Road Race. British craftsmen took this success story of European racing and added the superb British touch. The result: family-car comfort coupled with brilliant sports-car performance – the new Sunbeam! Internationally-renowned drivers select the Sunbeam as their personal car. Americans choose it as a symbol of an exciting new era in motoring. Step into the bright, exciting world of sports car fun. Test-drive the incomparable Sunbeam at your Hillman/Sunbeam dealer's today!"

Just by reading the catalog poetry, one would certainly imagine that it describes something much bigger and more powerful than this tiny English sportscar. But while in America it was all power and style in the late 50s, postwar motoring in Europe still was a fair bit more frugal. And among other tiny boxes, the Sunbeam Rapier sure was quite a looker.  

The Sunbeam Rapier has its roots in the Rootes Group, one of the British postwar car conglomerates that united different brand names under one roof. It was essentially a coupe version of the Hillman Minx. What made the Sunbeam interesting among other offers was the sporting setup, developed and proven through Sunbeam's successful involvement in motorsport.

As it was common practice in England at the time, the little Sunbeam was built in a lot of versions, from the Series I in 1956 through the Series V in 1965. The Series II, built from February 1958 through summer 1959 and pictured here, was the first full facelift. Incidentally, the roofline, the outward pointing tailfins and the three-piece front grille made the car look like a midget version of Studebaker's Loewy Coupes. Technically, the Rapier Series II shined with a bigger "Rallyemaster" engine, now sporting 73 bhp, almost ten more than in the Series I. A floor mounted shifter, improved steering and bigger front brakes completed the sporting overhaul, and more than 15,000 customers fell in love with the tiny sportscar.

Every new Sunbeam Rapier had been travelling quite a few miles before even arriving at the dealer's: the bodies were stamped at Pressed Steel Company Ltd. in Cowley near Oxford, then shipped to Thrupp & Marberly Coachbuilders in Cricklewood near London to be painted and trimmed, and then shipped again to Ryton-on-Dunsmore near Coventry, where the final assembly took place in the Rootes main assembly plant. What sounds like complete madness, was a not very uncommon way of building cars in postwar UK to keep smaller factories busy. It's rather surprising that the Sunbeam was renown for its sound build quality, despite this complicated assembly process.

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