Sunbeam Rapier

The Sunbeam Rapier from the Rootes Motor Group …

The Sunbeam Rapier was unveiled at the Motor Show of 1955. The first series of the Sunbeam Rapier was a two door 4 seater hard top coupe with the usual 1950s two-tone paint job. It was inspired by the Studebaker coupes of a couple of years earlier. If you owned a car in the 50s you were considered well off, in the case of the Rapier, it would have cost you over £1000 so you had to be well off by the standards of the time to own one.

It was fitted with a 1390cc engine which gave it a top speed of 85mph, though after the first year’s production, the engine was changed and it cut a second of the 0-60 time (a tad over 20 seconds instead of over 21) and increased the speed by 3mph. No big deal there!

The Sunbeam Rapier Series 2 was launched in 1958 with a lot of pomp and circumstance. Several cars were despatched to coincide with the finish of the Monte Carlo Rally (in which a series 1 Rapier came 5th) so that the press could try them. Externally, the main changes were the front grill, which looked a bit more old-fashioned as it had been replaced with the shorter and wider standard Sunbeam radiator grille. The spaces were filled with horizontal side grilles. The two-tone paint job was still there but reduced to just the roof and a go faster stripe along the side. The rear end sprouted fins.

Under the bonnet, a further modified engine with 100cc more capacity, produced a bit more power and thus increased performance. It had better front brakes and overdrive plus leather trim which were standard on the series 1 became options.

The Series 3 Sunbeam Rapier had various subtle bodywork changes such as an increase in windscreen area and thinner go-faster stripe lower down the side. The interior was radically redesigned and there were loads of mechanical changes, including changes to the gearing, front disc brakes, wider track width for better handling and gear change characteristics plus using the Alpine engine which was lighter and more powerful. This was the best performing Rapier so far, a fact reflected in its successes on the rally circuit. It was produced from 1959 to 1961 when it gave way to the Series 3a Sunbeam Rapier.

The 3a was essentially the 3 but with the newer 1592cc engine and better durability and handling. Despite the increase in engine capacity, the 3a was more sluggish than its predecessor.

Towards the end of 1963, Rootes Motor Group were set to retire the Sunbeam Rapier. But they soldiered on with the Series 4 which actually became the Mark I Humber Sceptre. The Series 5 was the fastest and probably best of the range but it never really sold. Since this was now half way through the ‘swinging sixties’ it probably only appealed to old blokes smoking pipes as it looked like the design had stayed in the fifties. It was discontinued in 1967 and is the rarest of the Rapiers with fewer than 4000 produced.

Rootes designers had probably realised that the design was now looking dated and plans had been afoot for a while to produce a more modern fastback version. These are the Rapiers that me and my mates ogled whilst we grew up during the early 70s. It was a performance car and had a top speed of 103 mph and a 0-60 time of just over 12 seconds. These performance figures were further increased in the H120 fastback. To me, it looked a bit like a Jensen but was considerably more frequently seen!

We have checked around for potential problems if you are thinking about purchasing one for restoration or as a classic car.

It is a rust bucket, but that is not uncommon in cars of that era. The sills seem to be particularly susceptible as does the floor. As you can probably already guess, performance and handling is grim and we have seen reports that the engine is a bit of a bugger to work on. In terms of engine faults, the dynamo is the only bit that we have found to be reported as something that regularly required replacing. There seems to have been a head gasket issue with the Sunbeam Rapier fastback which caused overheating and required replacement with a greater frequency than would be though as normal.

Sunbeam Rapier Owners Club – click here

Switch to our mobile site