1955 SUNBEAM ALPINE MARK III

1955ClassicsPAGEMay17After a cold winter, complete with a record breaking March snowstorm, we are ready for some warm spring days.  Just as nature provides us signs that spring has in fact arrived; flowers are starting to bloom, the grass is turning green, and the days are getting longer; we also start to see collector cars awakening from their long winter naps.  May is the start of car shows/cruises season an exciting time for car enthusiasts, a time to renew old friendships, meet new enthusiasts and see some unique car with some unique stories.   This month’s car is a very unique and rare 1955 Sunbeam Alpine Mark III owned by Scotty Greenberger of Yulan, New York, since 1959.

Background:

At the end of World War II, (owned by the Rootes group), along with other British manufacturers, we are committed to fill a perceived gap in market between the basic sports cars such as the MG TD and the more luxury two-seaters such as the Jaguar XK 120.  Sunbeam and others failed in their initial quest, as they watched the gap filled by Austin (BMC) with the Austin Healey and Standard –Triumph with the TR2.

Sunbeam’s secondary effort into this market was led by George Hartwell, the Rootes distributor in Bournemouth.  His experience with Sunbeam dated back to 1949 when he drove for the works team that entered several postwar events, including that year’s Monte Carlo Rally.  In 1951, Hartwell modified the Sunbeam-Talbot’s 2267cc engine with four carburetors to increase output.  This upgrade failed to make the grade, but later in the year, Hartwell enjoyed more success with a supercharged engine installed in an open sports car featuring three-abreast seating and ran it in the 1951 MCC National Rally.

In the 1953 Alpine Rally, Sunbeam-Talbot entered two “Hartwell” Coupes.  What would ultimately become the limited-production, literally hand-built 1953 Sunbeam Alpine Series I was derived from the 1952 Sunbeam-Talbot 90 drop-head coupe.”  Although the coupe and sedan models did well in their rally racing, the style of the cars was not what the market was looking for in a sports car.  Sunbeam’s parent company, Rootes, hired Raymond Lowery, an American automotive and commercial designer, to help create the Sunbeam roadster.  The car’s design stayed consistent for the 1953-1955 model years during which time a total of 1,582 Series I and Series III (there was no Series II), were manufactured with 961 of the original Alpines being sold in the United States and Canada.  Worldwide, it’s believed that fewer than 200 Series I and Series III Alpines have survived.  The US base price for the Alpines was $2,899.

The special Alpine bodies were produced by Mulliners of Bordesley Green in Birmingham, to be mounted on reinforced frames donated by the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 drop-head coupe.  Its interior, with its leather-trimmed seats and wool carpets, was that of a high class sports car.  However, the instrument panel was lifted mostly intact from the Sunbeam-Talbot sedan.

Perhaps the most famous of all Sunbeam Alpines was the one featured in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock film, “To Catch A Thief”, the sexy blue sports car Grace Kelly drove at high speed along the steep cornices above the Mediterranean.  Cary Grant played the nervous passenger, hiding both his fear of Grace’s driving and his secret identity as the famous cat burglar, John Robie.

Featured Car:

1955 ALPINE MARKThe featured car is a beautiful 1955 Sunbeam Alpine Mark III, painted Mercedes Mars red, owned by Scotty Greenberger.  He has owned the car since June of 1959 (58 years next month).  The story on how he came to own the car is unique.  In 1959, Scotty was scheduled to start City College in Manhattan, NY and needed a car to commute from Yulan, NY to the college.  Scotty thought he was getting a 1950 Studebaker convertible, which he picked out at a dealer, but his mom, who was gifting him the car purchased the Sunbeam that was parked in front of the Studebaker.  So started a 58-year relationship with the wrong car!

The car’s classic design, wire wheels, sound, and plush interior have turned heads from the very start.  Scotty’s Alpine has required several mechanical upgrades in order to painstakingly preserve the car’s drivability.  His solutions to the car’s interesting challenges are a testament to his love of one unique car. The car originally had 80 horsepower with a five-speed transmission (including overdrive).  According to Scotty, it was not a very dependable car as the transmission was very weak.  Within the first four years he had the car (only using it during the summers), it had to have its transmission rebuilt five times.  Subsequently, he swapped the original transmission for a three-speed American Ford transmission, which worked out very well until the differential housing cracked and he had to get another one, which didn’t last too long either.  Subsequently, it now has a Chrysler differential, which seems to be perfect.  Sometime around l964, he was able to get a l956 Chevrolet 265 cu. inch engine and installed it.  It was very fast, but he realized it was too big for the car.  This led to the installation of a Ford 302, and that didn’t fit too well.  The next engine was a Pinto 2.0 overhead cam, which worked out really well for the next fifteen years until the camshaft went.  Currently, the drive train is a 2010 GM 4 cylinder Ecotech over-head cam engine coupled to its corresponding 5-speed transmission and computer controlled.  The car runs better than the original ever did.

The body on the car is flawless except for the factory modifications, which are evident throughout the car.  The seat mounts for the rear seat are still there, as well as the fact that there are no roll-up windows, and the cowling doesn’t fit perfectly due to the after built modifications at the factory.

The interior of the vehicle is totally upgraded but looks original.  The convertible top, which is new, was copied from the original.  The dashboard is newly designed as the original was one that had added-on parts from the factory.  The car has a GPS, DVD player, and satellite radio.  The tires were narrow 5:50 x l6 bias plies, which were changed to l95/75Rl5 radials, which really improved handling.

Owner:

Scotty Greenberger is a resident of Yulan, New York, a small town in Sullivan county close to the northeast Pennsylvania border and has been a car enthusiast all his life.  He retired from the New York City school system having taught Industrial Arts before transitioning to a Guidance Counselor position.  When not working on his cars (he does all his own work except painting), restoring antique gas-pumps and air stations, or doing projects around his home, he keeps busy being President of the Highland, NY, Seniors and teaches AARP Driving Safety classes.  He loves traveling, and throughout his visits to many countries around the world, he has been drawn to their many varied and unique transportation vehicles.

He enjoys the camaraderie of the car hobby, and because of his Alpine ownership, he has had many wonderful experiences and met many wonderful people.  People he met thirty or forty years ago ask him where he was able to find another one like it.  They are surprised when he tells them “it’s the same one.”  No matter where Scotty goes with his Alpine, people always ask me, “What is it?”  His background in industrial arts and out of necessity of owning the Alpine, Scotty has become a pretty good mechanic.

Scotty’s son, Eric, literally grew up with this car, and it has become a true father-son project for many years.  Eric has taken over and implemented the latest modifications.  In addition to the Sunbeam Alpine, Scotty’s garage has an l947 Cadillac limousine, a l999 GMC Sierra sport side, and a 2007 Corvette convertible.  Scotty’s Alpine is a great car with a great story.  He loves to show his car and swap car stories.  If you are attending a local car show/cruise in Northeastern PA or Yulan NY and happen to see a beautiful Mercedes Mars red sports car that you can’t recall the name of, stop by and say hi to Scotty.  He’ll gladly tell you about his Sunbeam, his first car that is one of only 21 remaining!

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