SUNBEAM RAPIER – SERIES I to V
In October 1955 the Rootes Group unveiled a stylish twodoor saloon at the Earls Court Motor Show that would eventually go on sale as the Sunbeam Rapier. Designed by the noted stylist Raymond Loewy, the Rapier was the first of Rootes new Audax range to go on sale and the medium sized Sunbeam was quickly followed by the entry level Hillman Minx and luxuriously equipped Singer Gazelle.
What made the Series I Rapier stand out from the crowd was its attractive two-tone paintwork and exaggerated rear fins. Power for the Series I came from a 1390cc inline-four driving the rear wheels through a four-speed gearbox. From late 1956 Rootes fitted the uprated R67 engine to the Series I Rapier and ditched the Stromberg carburettor in favour of a twin Zenith 36 WIP.
In 1958 Rootes launched the much- improved Series II and introduced a stylish convertible into the range. External styling changes gave the revamped Rapier a more traditional looking Sunbeam radiator grille, while the two-tone colour scheme now featured a coloured flash down the car’s flanks the same colour as the roof.
Although the Series II’s interior looked very familiar, a floor- mounted lever now replaced the column gearchange. Vinyl replaced leather on the seat facings and under the bonnet the Series II’s 1494cc now pushed out 73bhp at 5200rpm. Other improvements included upgrading the brakes and replacing the Series I’s worm and nut steering box for a more positive feeling recirculating ball box.
The Series II bowed out in 1959 and was replaced with the Series III. A quick identifier was that the number of horizontal bars in the air vents on each side of the grille was increased from two to four and the side flash was now much narrower. A styling make over had completely redesigned the Rapier’s interior and the Series III featured a smart wooden dashboard instead of the previous padded affair. The new Rapier shared the same 1494cc engine as the Alpine and the gearbox in the Series III used a different set of ratios. Improvements to the braking system included fitted front discs.
In 1963 Rootes took the covers off the Series IIIA. Although the new model was virtually identical to the outgoing one, Rootes had worked hard to improved the Rapier’s durability. The revised model was now powered by a 1592cc engine fitted with a twin- choke Solex carb in place of the Zenith, a stiffer crankshaft and a stronger clutch, while suspension and brake upgrades included fitted a thicker anti- roll bar and a vacuum assisted servo.
By now the Rapier was starting to show its age and despite considering withdrawing the car, Rootes introduced the redesigned Series IV featuring a new bonnet, a restyled grille and different profiled bumpers. Interior changes included fitted a new dashboard and an adjustable steering wheel. The Audax series Rapier’s swansong came in 1965 with the introduction of the Series V. Powered by a more powerful 1725cc five-bearing engine, this revised Rapier was nothing more than a stopgap prior to the launch of the Arrow series Fastback Rapier and the last of the Audax series Sunbeam Rapiers finally bowed out in 1967.