SUNBEAM RAPIER – SE­RIES I to V

Classics Monthly - - Reader Resto -

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.

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