Wednesday June 20, 2018
There are those cars that possess an innate sense of dash – cars such as the Sunbeam-Talbot 90. You can imagine Leslie Phillips or Terry-Thomas driving one to Goodwood or Henley, the hood down on the drop, the sliding roof open on the saloon, overtaking Ford Consuls and Vauxhall Wyverns with zest and élan.
The 90 and its 1.2 litre stablemate the 80 made their bow in July 1948 and the former offered the sporting motorist a top speed of over 75 mph – respectable if not dramatic by the standards of the day – a then-fashionable steering column gearchange and a choice of saloon or drophead bodies. By October 1950, the 80 had been dropped and the 90 Mk. II gained a 70bhp 2.3 litre engine and independent front suspension. Two years later, Sunbeam-Talbots team won the team prize in the Alpine Rally and the Stirling Moss/Desmond Scannell/John Cooper Mk. II team achieved second place behind Sydney Allard at the Monte Carlo Rally -
1952 also saw the new Mk. IIA with improved brakes, enhanced performance and a lack of rear wheel spats. March saw the introduction of the two-seater Alpine, more of which later this year, and in 1954 the 90 was rebadged as the “Sunbeam Mk. III”. The “Big Four” unit offered even more power and the trio of portholes below the bonnet made the coachwork look even more dynamic. The open version sadly ceased production in 1955, but not before a drophead co-starred with Dirk Bogarde in the thriller Cast A Dark Shadow. The latter was playing a complete rotter but at least he had the good taste to use anther marque of car for the final scenes of utter caddishness.
In that same year, Rootes launched the Sunbeam Rapier and by now the 90 looked, if not dated then charmingly redolent of an earlier era with its narrow track and rear-hinged back doors. This illusion was very quickly dispelled by the news of Shelia Van Damm’s Coupe Des Dames rize and the privately entered Per Malling/ Gunnar Fading Mk. III winning the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally - See Video's below. In the mid-1950s the Sunbeam may have been a seasoned design, but it was more than suited to the press-on motorist of the late 1950s. It was rapid, luxurious - the list of standard equipment included a multi-adjustable driver’s seat and a sunroof - and stylish, with its pillarless construction and an interior that combined hide upholstery with a 1940s art deco style fascia.
A Mk. III with a duotone paint finish also looked jaunty without looking like transport for spivs (a vital consideration for a respectable motorist at that time) while the instrument layout had a charm of its own. If you specified a tachometer it was positioned to be read by the driver’s left kneecap while the clock was mounted above the windscreen rail. On the road, the Sunbeam became ‘endearing the further and faster it is driven’, to quote Motor Sport, and if you wanted a Q-Car, the dealer Castles of Leicester would sell you a “Mk. III S Special” with a floor gear lever, tuned engine and a Halda Speed Calculator on the dashboard.
When the last Mk. IIIs departed the Ryton plant in 1957 it really was the end of an era for although Rootes unveiled the very agreeable and good-looking Humber Sceptre in 1963 they were never to build another four-door sports saloon in the 2 – 2 ½ litre class. To use a phrase that the great Terry-Thomas would have approved of, every model within the 90 family was ‘an absolutely bang on motor car!’.