Earlier this year, we took a look at the unique fastback style worn by the original Plymouth Barracuda. A few years after the Barracuda, British manufacturer Sunbeam decided to make their own miniaturized version. Don’t fear the Rapier.
Sunbeam was a British outfit that was part of the ill-fated Rootes Group. Though the gaggle of brands started out as an independent venture thought up by the Rootes brothers, financial issues meant an eventual takeover by Chrysler of Europe. Chrysler added more brands to the mix, and eventually lost a lot of money. We touched on the Rootes Group story previously with the Talbot Tagora, so we’ll stick to Sunbeam today.
What North America received as the Alpine was called the Rapier in other markets. The Rapier name dated back to 1955, and was a line of two-door midsize cars in sedan, fastback, and convertible forms. The original version (though branded as a Rootes Group design) was actually designed by Raymond Loewy’s firm, and shared cues with the Studebaker Hawk. Sunbeam kept the same basic design through five successive Series of the Rapier, making only minor changes through the 1967 model year. By then a redesign was overdue.
Starting in 1967, the Rapier was based on Sunbeam’s new Arrow lineup. Arrow was the basis for several vehicles made between 1966 and 1979, and wore Chrysler, Dodge, Hillman, Humber, Paykan, Singer, and Sunbeam badges. The new Rapier was limited to a single body style – a fastback coupe. Under hood of the 174-inch car was a 1.7-liter inline-four which produced 88 horsepower. Zero to 60 arrived in a leisurely 12.8 seconds.
Two more versions of the Rapier were introduced to the very confusing Rootes Group lineup. 1968 saw the sporty Rapier H120. It had a modified engine that produced 108 horsepower, a close ratio manual transmission, and sporty exterior styling. In 1970 Sunbeam introduced a lower-spec Alpine Fastback Coupe for the European market. It had the same engine and a worse carburetor and produced fewer horsepower. It was the only time the Alpine name was used on a Sunbeam in Europe.
The Rapier lived on through the 1976 model year, but distribution of all Sunbeam models in North America ground to a halt between 1969 and 1970. The Rapier was the last Sunbeam model, as the brand was liquidated and folded back into the Rootes Group circa 1967.
Today’s Rare Ride is a 1969 example with a manual transmission and 39,000 miles. In somewhat restored condition, it asks $15,500.