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1972 Sunbeam Rapier – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

Sunbeam, a product of the Rootes Group based around the Arrow, which was a Hillman Hunter, was the name attached to the sporty and sexy Rapier to help differentiate it from the rest of the Rootes pack. The Sunbeam Rapier stood alone as a machine that symbolised speed, performance and eye-catching looks. In reality, it was nothing more than a sporty Hillman Hunter, but thanks to savvy marketing men and their insistence on using the Sunbeam name, nobody really noticed. It harked back to the Rapiers of the ’50s and ‘60s, a cool pillarless, upmarket coupe. Despite just being a Singer Gazelle saloon.  

Because of the clever ‘throwback’ marketing, we saw the Sunbeam Rapier as a car higher than the Hunter on which it was based, and with that we saw it as a car to aspire to. And to drive that point home, the Rootes Group bosses could be found pitching it against the likes of the Ford Capri, the MGB GT and the Vauxhall Firenza.

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In reality, the Singer couldn’t compete with the aforementioned models. The build quality wasn’t there, and the 1,725cc overhead valve engine, while decent, wasn’t the performer we wanted it to be. That said, we still bought Singer to the tune over 45,000 cars over its production run. And that’s a production run that saw minimal changes, in fact from ‘67 to ‘76, the Sunbeam Rapier remained pretty much the same. 

What is it? 

What you’re looking at here is a 1972 Sunbeam Rapier Fastback, which puts it right in the middle of the production run. Being a ‘72, this is a Scottish-built car, which means it’s full of delicious Irn Bru. Anyway, it’s got that slant 1,725cc inline four-cylinder petrol engine, though unusually it’s mated to the optional automatic transmission rather than the standard four-speed manual.

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The vendor says it has 44,000 on the clock, which it nothing for a car of this vintage. It was owned by his father from 1995, and was last in regular use in 2005. Ever since then, the car has been in storage. Decent storage at that, as these cars love to dissolve, yet this one seems to be all present and correct and free of frilly metal. Nice.

The car apparently runs and drives and as such, errs more on the side of needing a gentle recommissioning rather than a full nut and bolt restoration, though of course that’s for the new owner to decide. Either way, it looks like a solid slice of one of Scotland’s finest exports.

Why is it a project? 

As we mentioned above, the car has been in storage for fourteen years, so as a bare minimum it’s going to need a full, front-to-back, recommission. All the hoses, the brakes, the tyres, the rubbers – they’re all going to need replacing. And while the vendor states that the car does indeed run, you’d really want to flush the tank, replace the hoses and give the engine a complete service for peace of mind, and don’t forget to do the gearbox, too. 

Other than that though, this Rapier looks pretty good. There is some paint fade going on, but that’s to be expected. The engine bay is in desperate need of some love. The interior looks wonderful, with the exception of some rips in the driver’s seat, though they look to be easily repairable.

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This car, if it’s as solid as it looks, is prime to be a rolling restoration. Get the mechanical stuff done, drive it over the winter and get it to prove itself from a running point of view, then reward it in the Spring with a partial strip-down and some new paint/trim. Then, you’ve got a stunning little coupe ready and waiting for the 2020 show season. Winner.

Five things to look for:

1) Rust

Solid though it looks, there is no getting away from the fact the Sunbeam Rapier loves to rot. So check everything and check it twice. Outer panels, inner wings, suspension mountings, chassis rails, the bulkhead, the A pillars, all of it. 

2) Glass

Glass is exceptionally hard to find for this car, especially the rear glass. As such, you need to be sure that what is there is free of scratches and fading. If these issues are present, then you’re going to have to live with them for a long time. 

3) Trim

The trim on this particular car looks to be all present and correct. This is good, as it’s exceptionally hard to find. Just remember though, that if anything needs to be replaced, it’s going to mean custom work or repairing what’s there, so make sure it’s good enough for that at least. 

4) Transmission

The Borg Warner four-speed transmission is a hardy bit of kit. However, it won’t be happy at being laid up for fourteen years, so check the fluid is red and clear, and also check it engages gear without too much fight. Any reluctance could mean big trouble.

5) Engine

Happily, while the car itself is a rare beast, the engine isn’t. Still, check for any serious leaks, listen for any deep internal grumbles and make sure it revs freely. Replacing it would be no big issue, though it would be better to keep this 44,000 mile engine in the car. So satisfy yourself it runs well, that can sit at temp and doesn’t sound ill.

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What should you do with it? 

As we said above, we would do the mechanical work and get the old Rapier fighting fit before putting it back on the road. Give it a few months of use to weed out any remaining mechanical issues, and then when it’s proven itself, we would do the visual stuff. 

It would be expensive, but we’d look at giving that glorious interior a full bespoke re-trim in similar colours to what’s there. Then, we’d have the body re-painted in the same gorgeous shade of metallic green. And that’s it, we’d be done with it. The Sunbeam Rapier of this era was and still is a great-looking car, and we’d be happy to celebrate those lines.

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