Posted on: January 23, 1986

From Rootes Review
Vol. 11 #1, January 1986

by Steve Hansen

If anyone had any doubts at all that Sunbeams are fast becoming collector cars, the following story should put those doubts to rest once and for all. I know it is true because it happened to me during a recent business trip to California. It took place at a Lincoln-Mercury dealer in Santa Monica; although I suppose you could easily substitute the name of your favorite automobile dealership without changing the basic intent of the story ….

The ad in the L.A. Times said only: “Sunbeam ’63, must be seen” and gave the name and address of the aforementioned dealer. I filed it away in the Rootes portion of my brain for possible future reference, and as luck would have it, two days later I found myself with about 30 minutes between appointments in the general vicinity of Santa Monica. I parked the Volvo around the corner (in the best used-car buyer tradition) so it couldn’t be seen and proceeded down the street to scrutinize this California Sunbeam. Not very many seconds later, the salesman sidled up to me and the following conversation ensued:

“Gee, what kind of car is this? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like it before,” I said, feigning ignorance. “It looks kind of like one of those old T-Birds, you know.”

“Well,” the salesman answered, “that’s a classic English sports car…yeah, British, I think. It’s a Sunbeam.”

I was peering intently at the recovered seats, which had been Armor-Alled within an inch of their life. The seats were probably even more slippery than the salesman I was talking to! He obviously felt the need for a bit more explanation: “These cars were made by Volvo, you know. They only made ’em for a couple of years in the early ’60s.”

“Volvo?” I asked; restraining an impulse to show the character my business card with its VOLVO logo, I decided to have a little fun: “I thought Volvo only built those funny little hatchback type sports cars?”

“Yeah, they did,” my friend countered, “but that was later. They built these before then, like I say, only for a couple of years.”

“But you say it’s a ’63? Can you still find parts for these things?”

“Oh, sure. Any Mazda dealer, I think, would have ‘ em.”

Why on earth one would go to a Mazda dealer for parts for a Volvo-built sports car was beyond me. But I decided to take this on faith, too. After all, I was trying to be ignorant! “Well, the car doesn’t look too bad,” I ventured.

“Yeah, we just had the bumpers rechromed, “the salesman mentioned, carefully avoiding any reference to the bent grille bars or the missing “B” and “A” letters just above it. “The interior is nice, too,” he added, obviously having misinterpreted my shock at the Armor-Alled seats for genuine interest.

I peered into the driver’s window again. Someone had covered the crash pad with a nicely sewed black cover, replaced the steering wheel with one from a later Alpine, and completely forgotten the horn ring. The odometer also showed over 85,000 miles!

“I can start it up for you,” the voice at my shoulder continued. “It runs real well.”

“Yeah? Let’s see the engine,” I replied. He opened the driver’s door and groped around under the dash for the hood release for what seemed like an eternity. Doesn’t this guy realize that he doesn’t know anything about this car? I asked myself smugly, only to admit that he was probably sure that I knew even less! I was awakened from my Sunbeam reverie:

“Uh, hay, can you just pull up on the hood there while I…”

Aha, I thought, the typical out of adjustment hood release. If this were truly a California car, the hood would have popped up as smartly as you please, to reveal…

Well, there was an engine under there, that much I was fairly sure of. The engine compartment was a sight to behold: a spark plug had been used to plug the water hose leading to the intake manifold, the carburetor linkage was held together by various pieces of baling wire, and the amount of oil on the engine block and the inner fenders probably equaled the crankcase capacity!

“It’s got dual carbs, and everything,” the salesman ventured, “…but like I say, most of ’em are Mazda parts. In fact, they built some of these with V8’s, called ’em Alpine Tigers, I think. A friend of mine used to have one.”

I reflected on that for a minute. If everybody’s “friend” that I’ve heard of who owned a Tiger actually did, either there are about 10,000 Tigers that Rootes never bothered to count as they rolled off the line, or all of our cars are on their 15th owners! But the salesman was getting into high gear now, sensing that he was talking to someone who was genuinely interested in the car (or suffering from the first stages of heatstroke!).

“We went all through the car… sure you don’t want to hear it run? It runs real nice …Yeah, you don’t see too many of these any more, they’re real collector’s items. This car will actually appreciate while you own it… the tires are all new, well, they’re not NEW, actually, but they’re good…the paint is pretty good,

you can see that…we can make a deal on the, car if you like it.”

Oh, here it comes. A deal. Wonder what a repainted, oil-soaked, cobbled-up 1963 Sunbeam goes for out here? Putting on my best poker face, I asked: “What’s the car really worth?”

“We’re asking $4995 for it. It won’t be around long at that price!”

Gulp. I had all I could do to keep from laughing! $4995? You can still find a Tiger for that kind of money if you look around for awhile and don’t need a concours winner!

Suddenly, the salesman was called away by a telephone’s insistent ring. He pressed a business card into my hand, one where the last name of his predecessor had been crossed out in blue ink and his surname inserted instead. “We’re a little flexible on the price. And if you really want the car, we can throw in a full engine and drivetrain warranty for about $300 a year. There’s my card.”

Forty-nine ninety-five, I thought. Ridiculous. But, looking back over some of the Sunbeams I’ve owned, hindsight tells me that $300 a year for drive train insurance isn’t all that bad. And if I called him back with a counteroffer of, say, $750, and paid two grand to have it trucked across country ….

No, I don’t even have enough garage space for the ‘Beams I own now. And I definitely don’t need another project car. Luckily, I really did have another business appointment immediately afterward ….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *