British Rarity: 1960 Sunbeam Rapier Series III – Sold!

Mar 2020 | Classifinds, Free For All Friday

Update: This one got away, but if you have your heart set on something similar, email us the details of what you’re looking for or call Rudy directly at (908)295-7330

Never heard of a Sunbeam Rapier?  That’s okay, you’re not alone.  While well know and respected in Great Britain, Series Three Rapiers like this example currently listed on Craigslist in Monmouth, New Jersey remain a very rare sight here in the colonies.  The current caretaker of this rare late-fifties sporty car is currently asking $13,500.  Referencing the NADA Guides Online Classic Car Valuation Tool, we find the private seller currently has his Rapier priced $100 higher than the “Low”, “Average”, and “High” retail value range of $4,750, $8,350, and $13,400, respectively.   

The Rootes Group was a British automotive conglomerate made up mainly of the Hillman, Humber, Singer, and Sunbeam brands.  The conglomerate struggled to stay afloat by the mid-sixties before Chrysler stepped in and bought it.  That’s a story for another time.  While many of you are likely familiar with Sunbeam’s Alpine and Tiger sports car, the brand was also known for its Rapier sports sedan of the late fifties and early 1960’s.

Rootes Group based the first generation Rapier Series 1 in 1955 as a sporty version of the company’s Hillman Minx that was actually launched one model year later.  If the Rapier seems to look familiar to you, the four-seat two-door hardtop received inspiration from Raymond Loewy’s design team, so with that knowledge in hand, you start to see influences of the Studebaker Hawk. Upgrades in styling and power formed the Series II Rapier built for the 1958 and 1959 model years.

Then for 1959, Rootes made subtle changes to the car’s body which individually were insignificant but when combined, considerably altered its appearance and thus, these cars today are known as the Series III Rapiers.  For example, the number of horizontal bars in each of the side grilles was increased from three to four and the boot lid acquired an oblong number plate recess and surround in place of the square one of the earlier cars. The most striking change was the redesigned side flash, now narrower and lower down the side of the car with the Rapier script on its rear end. The most subtle change, however, was a reduction in thickness of the windscreen pillars and a lowering of the scuttle line to give a 20% increase in the windscreen area.

Inside the Series III the changes were more evident. Rootes stylists completely redesigned the seats and interior panels and specified that they be trimmed in single color vinyl with contrasting piping. For the first time, deep pile carpets were fitted as standard in the foot-wells (previous versions had rubber mats). The steering wheel, control knobs, and switches were in black plastic instead of beige. The dashboard, instead of being, as in the earlier cars, padded metal and plastic, was covered in burr walnut veneer surmounted by a padded crash roll fitted with black-faced British Jaeger instruments.

Mechanically, the Series III benefited from the design of the Sunbeam Alpine sports car with which it shared its engine. While the inline-four cylinder’s engine displacement remained 1,494 cc, Sunbeam fitted it with a new eight-port aluminum cylinder head with an increased compression ratio, redesigned valves, and a sportier camshaft. The twin Zenith carburetors from the Series II remained but were mounted on a new water heated inlet manifold. The result of these changes added five horsepower to top out at 78 brake horsepower at 5400 rpm.

Gearbox changes included higher second, third, and top gear ratios, and a reduced angle of gear lever movement to make for shorter lever travel and snappier changes. New front disc brakes significantly improved the Rapier’s braking capability and widened its front track to give greater stability and improved road-holding.  A total of  15,368 units were built (hardtop and convertible) before Sunbeam launched the Series IIIA in April 1961.

Here’s a great overview of a car very similar to the one featured here.

An interesting part of British car history, this appears to be an attractive and very rare model, especially in the left-hand-drive export configuration that will get you plenty of questions every place you decide to drive it.  Good luck with the purchase!

Here’s the seller’s description:

“1960 sunbeam rapier moonstone blue with blue interior. Runs and drives, just fully serviced a few months ago,every nut and bolt checked, generator rebuilt and preventative maintenance done.
58000 miles 4spd with overdrive.
-make an offer
Located in central jersey”

Do you have a Sunbeam story you’d like to share?  Comment below and let us know!

1 Comment
  1. RS3

    Wow, I’ve never seen one of these before! Thank you for sharing!


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