The Sunbeam Rapier had been an attractive car at launch in 1955, and in many respects it was also an innovative leader. The original sedan featured attractive two-tone duco, leather upholstery and overdrive to the 3-On-The-Tree column change transmission all as standard kit.
Over the ensuing years the car was to slowly evolve, the main improvements being made to the mechanicals to allow the car better performance. But nearly a decade on the car still closely resembled the original.
Things changed radically in 1967
when the Fastback Coupe (or Arrow Rapier, and for US markets the Sunbeam Alpine GT) was launched. The all new and radically different styling, penned by Rapier stylist Roy Axe, looked more American than British. A clean-sheet design from the ground up, Rootes only dipped into their existing parts bin to source the rear tail lamps and valance, in this case sourcing them from the Hunter Estate.
Under the hood, the familiar Rootes 5 bearing 1724cc engine used in other Arrow models was fitted, although to ensure the bonet line remained as low as possible the engineers had to incline the engine slightly. The engine was fed by twin Stromberg 150CD carburetors, helping it develop 88 bhp @ 5200 rpm.
The Fastback Rapier was fitted with a 4 speed manual transmission with overdrive as standard, although a 3 speed Borg-Warner automatic could be optioned.
Manufacture of the Fastback began at Ryton-on-Dunsmore, with the beautiful body shell being manufactured, painted and trimmed by Pressed Steel Fisher at Cowley, Oxford. From 1969
manufacture swapped to Rootes Imp factory at Linwood in Scotland.
the Alpine Fastback was introduced, a lower specification model that filled the gap between the Coupe and Vogue. The 1725cc Hillman Hunter engine was used, it in turn being fed by a single Stromberg 150CD carby. To help keep costs down, the overdrive was no longer standard kit, although it could still be optioned.
Inside the Alpine was rather more luxurious than sporty, having fewer instruments than the
Rapier, and using timber on the dash instead of the latters cowled plastic version. Gone too were the aluminum sill surrounds, and the Rapiers attractive wheel trims were replaced by rather bland chrome hub caps. Top speed was around 95 mph, and 0-60 miles per hour took a leisurely 15 seconds. The lack of performance had a knock-on effect at the showrooms, and the Alpine was dropped from the line-up in 1975
, a year before the Rapier.
While any Fastback is today highly collectable and much sought after, there is one particular model that is the pick of the bunch, the Rapier H120. This iteration was tuned by Holbay Engineering, who amoungst other things replaced the Strombergs with twin Weber 40DCOE carburetors, fitted a tuned four branch exhaust manifold, special cylinder head and high lift camshaft. These modifications blessed the engine with an additional 20 bhp (108bhp @ 5200rpm).
Given the sporting nature of the H120, Holbay fitted a close-ratio manual gearbox, a heavy duty overdrive and high ratio rear axle (naturally the automatic transmission was not an option).
Making the H120 look the goods were polished sill covers, a matt black radiator grille, Rostyle wheels, side stripes and new boot lid that featured a faired in spoiler. H120 badges were then fitted to the front guards and centre of the grille. Maximum speed of the H120 was 109 mph (175 km/h) and it could reach 60 mph (97 km/h) from standstill in a shade over 10 seconds.