Keeping it in the family
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THIS SUNBEAM SHINES ON
Carol and Peter Henry have a bit of history with this 1964 Sunbeam Alpine. It was Carol’s dad’s car. “We were out looking in car yards and I twisted his arm. He didn’t have enough money but he’d always wanted a sports car.”
That was in 1980, and he used it for work, drove it everywhere, she says. “Me and my brother would sit in the back — there isn’t really a seat there.”
Then her dad, Ken, joined the Sunbeam Car Club. Peter was a member, rallying and racing his own car, and Carol says that in 1983, “Dad talked me into going to this fancy dress thing and that’s where I met Peter.”
Life moved on, and about eight years ago, when her dad started having trouble getting in and out of the Alpine and had stopped driving it, he passed it on. “I was always going to inherit the car. He always said I made him buy it.”
It didn’t need much work but Peter has changed a few things.
“It was blowing head gaskets, so I’ve had a couple of heads on it, done valve grinds, replaced brake hoses and pads, replaced worn suspension. It’s been repainted the original colour, Old English White, and mechanically it’s reliable.”
The car is powered by a 1725cc four-cylinder motor, “tweaked up a bit, I run different carbs. Me and Ken rebuilt the engine, with a few tweaks. It goes well — we didn’t build it as a race car, but as a reliable Sunday-drive car.”
The couple use it a fair bit on runs and rallies, with Peter driving and Carol navigating, and they’re building up a fund of stories. Like the time they went up north on a run, drove the car on to the ferry, and Peter left the keys in and shot back on to the jetty for a pie. Naturally the ferry left, with wife, and car. “She was glad I’d left the keys in it … ”
Or the time, also up north, when the car was parked overnight with all the others on the rally, and when they got up they found the windscreen had shattered. “We thought some vandal, but it had shattered outwards. We think it was some combination of a 50-year-old screen, a crack and changing overnight temperatures. So the local garage made a temporary screen out of Perspex, and we drove back.
“We were lucky. We had to get one made — a guy in Warkworth has a mould — that was nearly $2000. But that’s what you have insurance for.”
How well does the folding canvas roof work? “We’ve had a few runs where I’ve insisted having the top down,” Peter says, “And we’ve got soaked. If it’s showering you don’t get too wet, but if it gets heavier … the worst one was going to Dargaville, following friends with their top down.
“We decided not to pull over until they did, and it turns out he was waiting for me. The sky ahead was black as, and we drove into it and got saturated. We were laughing at each other … If you get torrential rain for a while, eventually the hood does get soaked, even this one at just 10 years old, bought from England. “The ultra violet gets to them, the screen — the clear part — goes first, though if they’re garaged it’s okay.”
Peter has taken the car on the track — after all, Alpines were raced when new, and a Harrington Alpine won the Thermal Index of Efficiency at Le Mans in 1961. On one outing at Hampton Downs, “we were supposed to drive slowly, in procession. There was a V12 Jag in front of me, we went faster and faster and it was going quite fast.”
This Alpine came out with a four-speed transmission and overdrive, but Peter has fitted a Toyota five-speed manual, “It was just a matter of making a few bits up and making it fit.”
The original wire wheels were swapped for Minilites. “The wire ones needed constant maintenance”, and it’s been reupholstered as per original. “The wooden dash gets a hard time in an open car so the wooden part is new,” with the original instruments refitted. Replacement bits are often obtainable from the US or UK.
Which is lucky for this duo, already preparing for another run as we speak. It sounds as if this Alpine is one classic car that gets a lot of use.