The Rootes Group was a family concern. At its helm as chairman was William, later Lord (he was knighted First Baron Rootes of Ramsbury in 1959) "Billy" Rootes, with his younger brother, Sir Reginald, as financial advisor. Lord Rootes' sons, Brian and Geoffrey, were in charge of sales and manufacture respectively, while Sir Reginald's son Timothy was responsible for servicing. Those who knew Lord Rootes found him to be forceful, forthright, and impulsive. Rootes' cas were solid and reliable, but lacked individuality, with no pretence to power or performance. Indeed, Lord Rootes seemed quite unmoved by sports cars or motor sport of any kind, and was content to let firms such as MG and Jaguar monopolize this area of the market.
But within the company was a man who would ultimately persuade Rootes to change his mind; that man was Norman Garrad. Garrad realized the benefits to be had from a successful competitions team and approached Lord Rootes with his proposals. Lord Rootes finally agreed, and Garrad set about establishing the Rootes competitions department in 1948. Before long, he had accumulated a formidable collection of drivers. At the time, the current production saloon was the Sunbeam Talbot. Unfortunately, with its 22 litre ohv engine the car was not entirely suitable for competition use, being somewhat heavy and underpowered. Nevertheless, the team was very successful, and created a considerable amount of good publicity.
With an active competitions department established, Rootes were anxious to introduce a more sporting model into their range. Thus, when George Hartwell suggested producing a two-seater version of the Sunbeam Talbot, Lord Rootes readily agreed, deciding to call the car Sunbeam Alpine in honour of the Rootes Rally Team successes on the Alpine Rally. Introduced in 1953, it featured the same mechanics as the saloon, but utilized an open two-door bodyshell.
In the event, the "Talbot" Alpine remained in production for a mere two years, yet while it had several severe drawbacks -- it was, after all, only a modified saloon -- people bought it. Lord Rootes concluded that if the company were to produce a custom-made sports car, it would find a ready market, especially in America where a larger proportion of that market existed. Accordingly, he instructed that plans be drawn up for a new sports car, a model which would embody style, comfort, and performance; a compromise maybe, but in Lord Rootes' opinion, a very acceptable one.
The man in charge of the Rootes Group's styling department at this time was Ted White. His chief appearance designer was Jeff Crompton, and he was given the task of designing a new sports car, with the specific instruction that the new model should have international appeal. Unfortunately, Crompton's first clay model was considered to be not quite right.
In 1956 Crompton was joined by an assistant called Kenneth Howes. Born in the railway town of Swindon, Howes started his career in 1940 as an apprentice in the Great Western Railway's locomotive workshops. Later, there followed a period in the London office of the stylist Raymond Loewy, and in 1952 he transferred to Loewy's New York office where he joined the design team working for Studebaker. He then moved to Ford's styling centre in Detroit where he took charge of the design studio. This gave Howes invaluable experience in the use of colour, texture, and large quantity production techniques. On his return to Britain in 1956 he joined the Rootes Group where he took over from Crompton the work of designing the new sports car.
Together with his assistant, Roy Axe, Howes was able to develop his own ideas. The body shape had to gain its effect from purity of sculptured form rather than rely on superfluous and ostentatious decoration. Howes started by producing a quarter-scale clay model. This was then used to develop full-scale drawings from which a full-size wooden mock-up was built. Howes had decided that the model whould be painted a vivid red, a shade subsequently used on production cars, and known as Carnival Red. By December 1957, the model had been mounted on an electrically operated turntable situated at the end of the Rootes design studios, in readiness for presentation to Lord Rootes and his brother, Sir Reginald. When they saw it the were impressed. In Ted White's opinion, 80 per cent of the design was the work of Ken Howes, and 20 per cent the work of Jeff Crompton and the rest of the design team.
With the overall shape accepted, the body engineers responsible for tooling and fabrication started work on a seating buck. This took the form of a wooden platform which included floor-line, propeller shaft tunnel, dashboard and seating arrangements. From this, the designers were able to evaluate the headroom, legroom and safety factors of the new car.
To see how the new shape would behave under high-speed conditions a clay model was taken to the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) for wind tunnel evaluation. Body analysts had already calculated the theoretical performance data and this was compared with the measurements taken under test. With these proven correct the body engineers, under the leadership of George Payne, built metal prototypes so that a development and testing programme could begin. This programme included pave' tests (rough road), torsional rigidity tests, and behaviour under crash conditions. As we shall see, the result was a body strong enough to accept far more stresses than those imposed on it by the power of the 4-cylinder engine.
In the event, only two major problems were experienced during testing: carburetion and body vibration. The Zenith carburetion expert, Charles Fisher, recalls that initially they had difficulty in aligning the inlet manifold with the alloy cylinder head and this resulted in air leaks.
The body vibration problems were the result of too little body strength between the bulkhead and the engine compartment. Bernard Winter, head of the entineering department, took Peter Ware, engineering director, out for a demonstration drive in one of the pre-production models, and the body vibration horrified Peter Ware so much that he told Winter it would be necessary to fit strengthening stays between the bulkhead and wings. "He was such a charming man," recalls Ware, "that I hated upsetting him, but I just could not allow the car to go into production like that."
The Alpine's initial project engineer was a very experienced man called Johnny Johnson, who had been with the Singer Company for many years before Singer were taken over by Rootes. However, during a staff reorganization, Johnson was replaced by Alec Caine, who remained the Alpine's project engineer until the car's demise in 1968.
The development and testing of any new car is always a costly affair because of the considerable expenditure in time and manpower. By the time the Alpine had reached the testing stage, the Rootes engineers were heavily committed to the development of other forthcoming new models. Rather than involving them in yet another project it was decided that the Alpine's development and initial production programme should be subcontracted to Armstrong Siddeley Motors Ltd who were also in Coventry. This arrangement was not without benefit for Armstrong's as they in turn helped develop a facsimile of the Sapphire engine for Rootes' Super Snipe.
When creating the Alpine, Rootes sought to keep costs to a minimum by utilizing as many components as possible from other models. The chassis was based on that of the Hillman Husky, a durable two-door estate car which Rootes had launched in 1955. With a wheelbase of 7 feet 2 inches (10 inches shorter than the Minx/Rapier series) the Alpine shared the same whellbase as the Husky, but the front track was 2.5 inches wider. The bodies were of monocoque construction in welded steel using the basic Husky floorpan, underbody, and front and rear wheel arches. Three sub-assemblies were then welded on to this platform and together with the doors made up the complete body/chassis unit. These sub-assemblies were: the bulkhead and bonnet sides with two ties from bulkhead to wheel arches; a welded shell which formed the front wings, nose assembly and scuttle; and at the rear, a single spot-welded unit which made up the wing pressings and boot. In order to increase the strength of the original floorpan, additional cross-bracing was added on the underside.
The engine, clutch and gearbox were the same as those fitted to the Rapier, but with one main difference. The 1494 cc engine boasted a new cylinder head made of cast aluminium, which allowed for a compression ratio of 9.2:1. Twin Zenith downdraught carburettors were mounted on an alloy manifold and the power output was rated at 78 bhp at 5000 rpm. The steering mechanism consisted of a Burman recirculatory ball unit mounted high up in the engine compartment, accounting for the almost vertical steering wheel. The front suspension used coil springs with telescopic dampers and the rear suspension consisted of semi-elliptic leaf springs and lever arm dampers. The final drive operated via a Rootes-made rear axle, and a Laycock-de Normanville overdrive was available as an extra.
The appearance of the new Alpine was most impressive. The low bonnet line and extended rear wings gave a pleasant wedge shape and a well-balanced overall effect.
Several features were outstanding on this new model. The two doors were particularly wide, allowing for easy access, and the hood stowage was unusually neat, the canvas resting behind three metal flaps when not in use. This undoubtedly added to the clean lines of the car when the hood was down. Wind-up windows were featured rather than the archaic sliding perspex ones often favoured by other manufacturers.
On the road the new car proved to have adequate acceleration, top speed and stopping ability. In its road test, Autocar commented that "In the Alpine the needs of the sporting motorist with a young family are met. It is attractive, safe, and unquestionably fast in spite of the emphasis put on long distance comfort. The world's markets are overdue for such a car..."
The designers had aimed at combining good performance with comfort and clearly they had been successful. The result was not a compromise but a true dual purpose vehicle.
Motor commented, "If this is a sports car then it belongs to a new breed of sports car which is not merely weatherproof when required, but offers two people greater comfort than they would enjoy in many quite expensive touring cars."
Motoring correspondents invariably complimented Rootes on their attention to detail when producing a new model, and the Alpine was no exception. Selling for L971, it represented competitive rather than outstanding value. The hard top was an extra L60.
Wile the Alpine was a great improvement over the Mk III Sunbeam Talbot Alpine, competition from other manufacturers was still keen. The MGA, possibly the Alpine's closest rival, cost L940 and for the 1959 Motor Show, MG had made several detailed improvements to its specification -- the most significant being an increase in capacity to 1588 cc. (The power output was now rated at 79.5 bhp.) Also, the front brakes had been changed to Lockheed discs. But in contrast to the Alpine, the MGA remained true to its ancestors offering minimum suspension travel combined with excellent performance and roadholding. Autocar described it thus: "The MG, with its responsive engine combined with moderately heavy but low-slung chassis, adequate steering and superlative brakes, without any little vices or unpredictable traits in its behaviour, maintains the tradition of the high standards of the marque."
At the 1960 Motor Show, Rootes introduced the Alpine Mk II. Minor alterations to the rear suspension included an increase in the width of the leaf springs and larger dampers. The engine size was increased to 1592 cc and this new 1.6 litre unit now produced 80 bhp and 94 lb/ft of torque at 3800 rpm, compared to the 89.5 lb/ft at 3400 rpm of the 1500 cc engine.
For 1961 the MGA, now known as the 1600 Mk II, was also given an increase in engine size, the new 1622 cc unit producing 90 bhp at 5500 rpm and 97 lb/ft of torque at 4000 rpm. This ostensibly small increase in engine capacity had a significant effect. The car was now forced into the 1600-2000 cc competition class and, although it was still similar in appearance to the original 1955 model, it was now out of direct conflict with its Rootes rival.
In March 1961 the Sunbeam Harrington Alpine was introduced, built by Thomas Harrington and Company, a firm of coachbuilders in Hove, Sussex. This company had for some time pioneered the use of glass fibre in the construction of coach bodies, becoming particularly expert in the laying up and moulding of this revolutionary material. However, Harrington's considered that they were not realizing the full potential of glass fibre and, in addition, their moulding equipment was not working to full capacity. They thus decided to seek out some new project. In the event, the Harrington design team provided the answer -- one which would totally involve the specialist knowledge the company had acquired. They felt that there was a market for a coach-built touring version of the Alpine -- an Alpine with a fixed hard top in glass fibre. Clifford Harrington approached Alec Caine at Rootes and outlined his team's ideas. Alec was impressed, considering the new project to have distinct possibilities. (It appears that someone had criticized the size of the Alpine boot, saying flippantly that it was not large enough to accomodate a bag of golf clubs. Clearly, if the Harrington conversion overcame this particular problem, the project would be successful!)
Ron Humphries, Harrington's stylist, produced some designs from which the first moulds were built and a prototype 'hard top' was then laid up. A standard Alpine tourer was modified and fitted with the new bodywork -- with impressive results, totally surpassing expectations. For this was not merely a hard top but in fact a coach-built fastback -- one of the first.
Thomas Harrington Ltd (also a Rootes main vehicle distributor) had worked with Rootes for many years, using their commercial vehicle chassis and engines. Lord Rootes occasionally visited the Harrington factory in this connection, and Clifford Harrington took advantage of one such visit as an ideal opportunity to show off his new thoroughbred. When Lord Rootes arrived, Harrington guided him round the workshop and confronted him with the prototype. "What have you been up to now?" asked Lord Rooted, yet despite this characteristic reaction, he must have been impressed, for he encouraged Harrington to proceed with development. Later, when the Harrington Alpine was formally announced in March 1961, it was given full approval by the Rootes Group. It was available exclusively through Thomas Harrington and Company.
Shortly before the official introduction of the Harrington Alpine the Thomas Harrington Company was bought by the Robins and Day Group. This group was a private company owned by the Rootes family and run by George Hartwell who now became Harrington's new chairman. His experience was to prove invaluable in the tuning workshops, for when the Harrington Alpine was announced, among the optional extras offered were three stages of engine tune (all of which complied with FIA regulations). These tuned cars were available only through the engineering division of George Hartwell Ltd in Bournemouth. It was during this period that Desmond Rootes joined the Harrington Company, to take over the sales division.
Not long after production of the Harrington Alpine started, Rootes approached the Harrington Company with a view to modifying one of two cars they wished to enter in the 1961 Le Mans 24 hours. One of the problems for a large company such as Rootes was its inability to produce one-off prototypes conveniently. Manpower deployment and the inevitable red tape were simply not geared to low volume production and hence it was quicker, cheaper and easier for such work to be effected outside the company. Harringtons agreed to prepare such a car and work began. Using a standard Sunbeam Harrington Alpine as a basis, they created a unique car, flaring the headlights into the body and fitting a large undertray beneath the front valance in an attempt to reduce drag. Luckily, the car did very well at Le Mans -- much to the surprise of the Rootes Competition Team, who were in blissful ignorance of its position until John Wyer of Aston Martin came over and said, "Hey, your car is doing well, it's winning the Thermal Efficiency Index." Driven by Peter Proctor and Peter Harper, it covered a total distance of 2194 miles, averaging 91 mpg for the 24 hours without a stop, except to take on oil, fuel, and water. It finished in 16th place overall, second in the 1600 cc class to a Porsche/Abarth, and returned a higher than average speed and lower fuel consumption in terms of weight and engine capacity than any other car. Altogether, it lapped the 8.36 mile circuit 261 times and used 127.5 gallons of fuel, averaging 18 mpg. Unfortunately, the second car was disqualified.
So much interest was aroused by the Harrington race car that the company, in honour of their Le Mans achievement, introduced the Harrington Le Mans at the 1961 Motor Show. A great improvement over the Harrington Alpine GT, the new car featured a full length hard top from front windscreen to rear bumper. Access to the rear was made easy by an opening tailgate.
In order to fit this new glass fibre hard top, part of the original bodywork had to be removed and there were fears that this would cause the body to become weaker and thence to flex. A prototype was taken to the British Army's vehicle proving ground at Chobham, in Surrey and subject to extensive testing. No major weaknesses were revealed and, with this reassuring news, it was felt safe to go ahead with manufacture. The car also boasted the following refinements: Microcell seats, veneered dashboard, special wood-rimmed steering wheel, oil cooler, brake servo, competition clutch, and an engine tuned by George Hartwell to give 104 bhp at 6000 rpm. The result was a handsome, well equipped GT car, priced at L1495.
Harringtons had intended to introduce a third series of hard top. Like the series I, it would have required few body modifications, but would have featured the opening tailgate of the series II. In the event, only a handful of hard tops were made before production finally stopped. The price of the complete car was to have been L1196.
The decision to terminate construction of the Harrington Alpine was the result of a company policy meeting. The Harrington coachbuilding company, responsible for the construction of coach and motor bodies, utilized non-mass production techniques and it was decided to redirect their efforts into the Rootes franchise. Unfortunately, factory records giving accurate production figures have long since been destroyed, but it is thought that approximately 150 Harrington Alpine GTs were produced together with 250 or more Harrington Le Mans.
In November 1961, following Stirling Moss and Jack Brabham's success in an Alpine at Riverside Raceway, California, Rootes agents in the western states of America sold their entire stock of Alpines, and sales of the car in the forthcoming year were forecast to be L7 million.
But despite the Alpine's apparent success, it still had several shortcomings. Rootes themselves were aware of these and the car's project engineer, Alec Caine, was constantly thinking of ways to improve it. He drew up several plans for modifying the boot to provide greater space but as with the Harrington Le Mans project, the problem was in arranging for this development work to be carried out. However, a lucky opportunity presented itself when it became known that one of Rootes' Italian dealers owed the company some money. Rather than pursuing the debt, it was decided that the dealer would finance whatever modifications would be required and have them carried out by Carozzeria Superleggera Touring of Milan. Once the arrangements were made, Alec Caine set out for Italy in an Alpine one Friday evening. After only one week's work, the job was complete and he returned with two new wing fuel tanks and the spare wheel moved to a vertical position in the boot. This increased the boot capacity enormously and the modification was later included on production models.
In an attempt to make the series II Alpine more competitive, Rootes decided to offer a comprehensive selection of tuning parts (to attract the performance seekers) which were to be made available through spare parts stockists. To this end Jack Brabham was asked to develop a special Alpine which could be evaluated by the Rootes engineers. Unfortunately, the car was not completely successful under test, and so Rootes went ahead and manufactured their own tuning equipment and published a tuning guide: The Sunbeam Alpine Series II Special Tuning. Brabham, meanwhile, offered his own conversion for the Alpine separately.
By 1962, space had been found at Rootes' Ryton-on-Dunsmore plant and production of the Alpine was transferred from Armstrong's Parkside factory.
The Mk III Alpine was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1963. In addition to many worthwhile improvements to the open car, a GT model was also offered. The GT had a revised style of removable hard top which was more angular in shape than the earlier version, and in order to create the best styling effect when it was in position, Rootes had redesigned the doors, giving the leading edges square corners in place of round ones. Early owners had complained of a condition called 'Alpine neck', caused by draughts created by the original hard top. It was hoped that the new hard top would solved the problems. Alec Caine's rearrangement of the boot area with the twin rear tanks increased the fuel capacity to 11.25 gallons. Rootes recognized the potential mood of the GT by making the whole car quieter. This was achieved by fitting a twin-choke Solex carburettor fed through a large air cleaner, in place of the twin downdraughts of the tourer. However, this positive reduction in noise level lost the engine some 7 bhp which it could hardly afford. Other alterations included a change from a crossflow to a vertical flow radiator with integral header tank, a gearbox with revised ratios, telescopic rear dampers, a reinforced front cross-member, a larger diameter anti-roll bar, and an increase in the size of the front disc diameter. A vacuum servo was also standard on both models. A novel feature, also developed by Alec Caine, was the adjustable steering column. Merely by turning the steering wheel boss half a turn, the driver could move the wheel backwards or forwards by as much as 2.5 inches. The clutch and brake pedal positions could also be adjusted. Both the soft top and revised style hard top gave an extra 1 inch headroom. The price of the tourer was L840, while the GT cost L60 more.
With the introduction of the GT, potential customers had an awkward choice. The roadster was supplied with a soft top as standard equipment; the GT was not. So although a hard top bought as an extra could be fitted to the open (and cheaper) car, owners of the GT had but one choice of weather protection. On the other hand, the GT did benefit from the extra space behind the seats, in the rear.
Autocar commented, "What the new car may lack in punch, it makes up for in relative quietness of its progress: and one must admire its good looks."
Certainly, the Alpine was developing a reputation for excellent ride, finish and finesse. The only penalty was a lack of performance.
By 1963 the MGA had been superceded. Its successor, the MGB, was generally considered to be a superior car with a larger engine, wind-up windows, and a far better ride. 14 inch wheels replaced the earlier 15 inch fitted to the MGA, and not long after its introduction, overdrive was made available as an extra. The 1798 cc engine developed 95.6 bhp at 5400 rpm and 100 lb/ft of torque at 3000 rpm. Its price was a competitive L847.
However, the traditional open sports car now seemed to be entering a new phase. The emphasis was less on soft tops and more on heaters and hard tops. As the roads became more crowded, so a ride in an open sports car, with the inevitable smell of exhaust fumes, became less pleasureable. Also, statistics indicated that people were getting married earlier, which in turn was creating a market for sporting saloons, more suited to the young family man. Cars such as the Mini Cooper 1275 S costing L755 and the four-door Ford Cortina GT costing L780 offered near equal performance yet greater seating capacity.
When the Alpine was introduced in 1959, its wedge shape was generally thought to be very pleasing, but as styles changed so the pronounced fins became dated. Inevitably, this led Rootes' stylists to redesign the rear wing section, the new shape closely following the lines of the Hillman Minx saloon. During this period, Rootes signed a direct contract with Touring of Milan. The contract concerned the assembly of the Alpine for the Italian market, and the manufacture of a coupe version of the Sceptre, called the Venezia. In early November 1963, Touring exhibited an Alpine with the newly styled rear section at the Turing Motor Show.
Rootes displayed the new Mk IV Alpine at the Brussels Motor Show in January 1964. This latest Alpine embodied the same major restyling first seen on the Italian car two months earlier. The rear fins had been cut off vertically, giving the car a more taut, compact look. Minor alteration included a single chrome strip across the front of the radiator, replacing the previous four bar type, and a veneered dashboard was fitted to the GT. An automatic version was also offered which, Rootes claimed, was the first automatic sports car to be imported into the United States. John Panks, the director of Rootes Motors Incorporated (America), said it was expected that the addition of an automatic version would increase the company's sales in the States from between 35 to 50 per cent and would be especially attractive to Americans in the 18-30 age group who had little experience of gear changing. The prices of the new cars were: Tourer, L853; GT, L914; Automatic Alpine, L1004.
On the mechanical side, the GT and the roadster shared identical engines, both being fitted with the single twin-choke carburettor, which produced 82 bhp at 5000 rpm and 95 lb/ft of torque at 3500 rpm. By now some American States had introduced legislation against pollution, and the new engine had been modified to comply with the EPA regulations. Anti-fade dampers were fitted to the suspension and the spring rates were reduced to give a better ride. The Mk IV was the best so far. A car with panache, it appealed to customers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Unfortunately, while Rootes continued to produce cars of good quality (the Alpine among them), the company's financial position was deteriorating. A strike involving the British Light Steel Pressings at Acton in London, had drained Rootes of vital financial resources. By the time the company had resumed production, Rootes' profits were not sufficient to fund the development of much needed new models. In addition, the steady increase in the cost of raw materials, together with an upwards wages spiral, was taking its toll. The development programme and tooling costs for the Hillman Imp also weighed heavily upon the company's budget. Rootes' salvation came in the form of an agreement with Chrysler (American), finalized in June 1964, which gained the group L12 million of Chrysler finance, plus a L15 million rights issue underwritten by Chrysler. While Lord Rootes insisted that the new deal should be considered as a marriage of the two companies, the cost of the matrimony had set Chrysler back nearly $35 million.
In fact, this new link was a renewal of old acquaintances, for in earlier years Rootes had been a distributor for the Maxwell Company, the forerunner of the Chrysler Corporation. Under the terms of the 1964 agreement, the manufacturing, engineering and sales techniques of each company could be shared to mutual advantage. In reality, this advantage tended to weigh more heavily in Rootes' favour, for from this point on stylists in Chrysler's Detroit studios began sending design suggestions to their opposite numbers in Coventry. The major benefit to Chrysler, of course, was that they now gained a badly needed foothold in the British market.
In October 1964, Rootes made a significant improvement to the Alpine when they introduced an all synchromesh gearbox. This overcame a long-standing criticism of the car, and the opportunity was also taken to alter the body slightly. The trailing edges of the doors and bonnet were given rectangular corners.
The Mk V Alpine was the last of the line. Introduced in September 1965, the hood stowage was altered, the design incorporating a vinyl bag which held the hood when not in use. The boot edges were square-cornered and additional air vents positioned in the footwells assisted ventilation. On the mechanical side, an alternator replaced the dynamo. To overcome the fussiness of the Mk IV engine, the Mk V featured a five-bearing crankshaft which, with an increased throw, brought the capacity to 1725 cc. Two Stromberg carburettors replaced the twin choke Solex and, as a result, the power output was increased to 98.5 bhp and torque was 110 lb/ft at 3700 rpm. Rootes had obviously done their homework for the engine was now much smoother and petrol consumption, especially with the overdrive, was considered good for its day. Autocar was impressed: "No one seriously expects sports cars to be draughty, noisy and uncomfortable these days. Complete weather protection, comfortable seats and adequate luggage room with docile manners, and close on 100 mph are now demanded by the enthusiast. The Alpine V provides all these and although it's approaching its seventh birthday, continual improvements in equipment and power output have maintained its competitive position." The price of the Alpine remained competitive too, with the Tourer at L893 and the GT at L954.
In tracing the Alpine's history we have been able to see how the car was gradually developed from its initial introduction in 1959. Rootes finally terminated production in January 1968 -- thereby relinquishing all ties with the sports car market. Providing as it did comfortable, open-air motoring, the car always lacked performance. This fact did not escape the Rootes family, and as early as 1961 means of increasing the performance had been considered. John Panks, for example, had several meetings with the Rootes board and suggestions such as the possible use of the Humber Hawk engine had been discussed. In the event, two other units were tried. Don Tarbun (a member of Rootes' development department) recalls, "We were given the opportunity to install either the four cylinder 1600 cc Alfa Romeo engine or the Daimler 2.5 litre V8 unit, with the explicit instructions that the substitute engine had to be fitted with the minimum of body modifications. Alas, neither unit proved satisfactory and the idea was dropped.
In the early sixties, Jack Brabham, too, had ideas for vastly improving the Alpine's performance. His workshops were already involved in the production of tuning kits for the Alpine but, likes Rootes' development department, Brabham realized that the only real way to increase the Alpine's performance was to install a larger engine. To this end, he had several discussions with Rootes representatives and in particular, Peter Ware, suggesting the installation of an American V8 engine. However, as Brabham remembers, "They were listening but seemed embarrassed at the idea of an American engine in one of their cars."
Brabham is honest enough to admit that he was hoping Rootes would agree to his Alpine V8 ideas because of the inevitable increase in work this would give his engineering business. "We had the manpower and the knowhow," he continued, "and could have undertaken series production modifying standard Alpines and fitting V8 engines."
The proposed American Ford unit measured just 20 inches (508 mm) across the cylinder banks whereas the Daimler engine was over 28 inches (771.2 mm) and had a rear mounted distributor. This accounted for the difficulty Rootes' development department had in installing the Daimler engine into the Alpine.
When reflecting on the Alpine's development, it is interesting to note how Rootes were influenced from outside. The Alpine Harrington Le Mans with its luxurious appointments must have induced Rootes to develop their own GT soon after. The major body restyling, too, which resulted in the Mk IV Alpine, further illustrates how responsive the Rootes design team were to outside changes in style.
Back to the Alpines page.