The Roots of Rootes

Page 4

The "Modern Alpine Series"

For 1959, the Alpine name was revived on a new sports car. It combined the short wheelbase floorpan of the Hillman Husky, the running gear of the Rapier III, and a body styled by Kenneth Howes. Kenneth Howes was trained at Raymond Loewy's London branch, and at the Ford Styling Center. The new Alpine was assembled for Rootes by Armstrong Siddeley 11,904 Series 1 cars were made. For 1960, the Series 2 Alpine was introduced. The engine was upgraded to 1592cc. The only obvious external difference was the introduction of a window channel to the leading edge of the doors. Production switched to Rootes' Ryton facility midway through the Series 2's life. 19,956 examples were built.

In 1961 the Rapier was upgraded to the same specification as the Series 2 Alpine and became known as the Series 3A. The 3A had no external changes. Alpines were now available as either "Sports" or "GT" models. The GT came with a hardtop as standard, but the hood was deleted to make the interior more roomy. The GT came in a softer state of tune for comfort rather than performance. Total Series production was 5,863 units.

In England, coachbuilders Thomas Harrington & Company, Hove, Sussex, were also building their own Sunbeams. These were Alpines converted into GTs with the addition of a fibreglass roof. Very few were built and many were tuned by George Hartwell. Just prior to the 1961 introduction of the Harrington Alpine as an "Approved Rootes Car", the Harrington company was acquired by Robins and Day Group, a Roots Dealership and a Rootes Family owned concern. George Hartwell, was named Chairman of the Hariington Group, while still ownng his Bournemoth facility to produce various stages of tuning to the Alpines. Thomas Harrington remained as Managing Director.

For 1964, Rootes finally introduced the cropped fins for the Alpine Series 4. The grille was also changed and an automatic transmission (shudder!) became an option. Mechanically, there were still no significant changes. 12,406 were built.

The final version, the Series 5, was introduced in 1965. It featured the five bearing 1725cc engine. Production ceased in 1968. 19,122 Series 5's were made.

Here Comes The Tiger!!!

Ian Garrad, son of Competitions Manager Norman Garrad, was manager of Rootes' operations on the West Coast of the USA, had been watching with interest the success of the AC Cobra. The Cobra was the result of fitting a Ford V8 into the AC Ace. In 1963, Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles were each commissioned to build a prototype Ford V8-powered Alpine.

The Shelby prototype was eventually presented to Lord Rootes who was sufficiently impressed to give the project the go ahead. The Mk I Tiger, introduced in 1964, combined the Series 4 Alpine bodyshell with a 4.2 litre Ford V8 engine. The Tiger was assembled by Jensen in West Bromwich. It was dubbed Tiger in honour of the 1920's Sunbeam record car of the same name. In some markets, however, it was sold as the Alpine V8.

In addition to spawning this image boosting model, the Alpine had provided a means for Sunbeam's return to motor racing. The racing Alpines are probably best known for their assaults on Le Mans.

The Tiger was catching on in the U.S. Ads promoting the sporting performance and clean looks of the car were prominent, and many celebrities were seen in Tigers. Here is a picture of your Editor {9-> in one of the early promotions.

1961 saw Sunbeam return to the French circuit for the first time since the 1920's. One car was disqualified, but the other finished 16th overall, averaging 90.9 mph and winning the Index of Thermal Efficiency trophy. In 1962, an Alpine finished 15th, averaging 93.24 mph. 1963 would, perhaps, best be forgotten with both cars failing to finish.

For 1964, Tigers were entered. Again both cars failed to finish, although blame for this is sometimes attributed to the standard of engine preparation by Carroll Shelby. The Tiger was also used successfully in rallying. By the early 1960s Rootes were finding themselves increasingly in deeper financial trouble. There had been teething problems with the Imp, the two medium car ranges (Minx and Super Minx families) were proving to be a drain on resources and industrial relations problems were bringing production to a standstill.

Here comes help from the Americans!

Rootes found themselves with no option than to seek a merger with another company. Talks with Leyland came to nothing. In 1964, a deal was made with Chrysler. Chrysler bought 30% of the voting shares and 50% of the non-voting shares in the company.

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