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Lot 123: 1961 Sunbeam Harrington Alpine Coupe

Important Sports & Competition Motor Cars, Bonhams (16 September 2005)

Some 200 Sunbeam Harrington Alpines - ‘grand touring’ coachbuilt conversions based on the Rootes Group’s Sunbeam Alpine - were built by the Hove-based firm of coachbuilders, Thomas Harrington Limited, in the early 1960s. This car, ‘3000 RW’, was one of two works cars entered by Rootes for the 1961 Le Mans 24-Hour race. Driven by Peter Harper and Peter Proctor, ‘3000 RW’ (number ‘34’) ran faultlessly for the 24 hours covering a total of 2,194 miles at an average speed of over 91mph to win the coveted Index of Thermal Efficiency (then, the second most valuable prize) finishing 2nd in class (behind a Porsche) and 15th overall. Sadly this was probably the Sunbeam marque’s last major success on international motor racing circuits.
The car left the Rootes production line as a standard, Wedgwood Blue Series II Alpine on 14th January, 1961. The Sussex coachbuilders, Thomas Harrington Limited in Hove, had worked closely with the Rootes Group for many years as they were also main distributors, and the car was then despatched to them to have body modifications carried out. This was the only works car to feature Harrington’s coachbuilt conversion on the Alpine, which had only been introduced at the previous London Motor Show. Even this was not completely standard, for the glassfibre roof incorporated a roof vent above the rear window (a feature which appeared later on the production Harrington ‘C’ type version). ‘3000 RW’ also featured a unique aerodynamic front-end treatment with faired in lights (designed by Clifford Harrington - father of the present owner, Clive - it is believed in conjunction with the young Mike Parkes) together with aluminium doors, bonnet and boot lid, and Perspex windows. A special overdrive unit was fitted to the four-speed gearbox and the highest available rear axle ratio used. In addition, a large fuel tank was fitted directly behind the seats with a large, ‘Aston’-type filler in the driver’s side rear window. Microcell seats and a Colotti wood-rim steering wheel (subsequently abandoned after practice) were fitted. The other car, ‘3001 RW’ (number ‘35’) driven by Paddy Hopkirk and Peter Jopp, had ‘standard’ hardtop bodywork but also incorporated lightweight panels.
Prepared at Rootes’ Competition Department at Ryton under Competition Manager Norman Garrard and project leader Mike Parkes (later a Ferrari team driver) the two Le Mans cars had race-tuned engines, though being production-based 1,600cc push-rod units, these produced little more than 100bhp. It was this car’s success at Le Mans that gave its name to Thomas Harrington Ltd’s next conversion on the Alpine which was marketed as an official Rootes model (mainly in the USA) as the Sunbeam Harrington Le Mans, ‘Alpine’ being dropped.
Thomas Harrington Limited’s coachbuilding activities were closed following the acquisition of the Company by Rootes, mainly for its Sussex distribution outlets, in 1964. Some 15 years after this car’s success at Le Mans, Clive Harrington (son of the creator of these cars, Clifford, who had been MD of the company) tracked down ‘3000 RW’ to a field in the Midlands. Although in a sad state, the car was found to be remarkably original - including even the engine block bearing the original competition department’s experimental number, ‘EXP 421’ and the cylinder head ‘EXP 1’. The car had never been used in competition again after Le Mans but following various display appearances was sold as a road car, passing into private ownership in November 1962. It is believed that it was during this time that the original front bodywork was replaced with standard Alpine panels after the car met a milk float travelling considerably more slowly! Having then been sold in October 1964, the new owner ran it on the road until 1967 when it was then left in a shed in a field until purchased by Clive Harrington ten years later.

Lot Details
Auction Important Sports & Competition Motor Cars
Bonhams, Goodwood Revival, Chichester
Lot Number123
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£48000
Hammer Price (inc premium)£54300
Condition rating
Registration number3000 RW
Chassis numberB 9102730/OD/HRO
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors