Sunbeam Rapier: Not Sharp and Not Dull (Hella Sweet Lemons Car of the Week)

By: Eric Rood Photo Credits: Eric Rood, Bill Rainey, Phillip Thomas, Rich Von Sneidern
September 3, 2019

The 24 Hours of Lemons has featured no shortage of British cars in its 13 years. From MGBs and Jaguars to Triumph TR8s and even including a Sterling 827s, the finest British motoring has regularly polluted Lemons races. However, Lemons had seen exactly ZERO Sunbeams until The Real Hoopties of New Jersey at HooptieCon. Now two races into its no-doubt illustrious career (in the near future), The Rootes of All Evil (excellent team name) has made a splash with their extremely crusty Sunbeam Rapier.

Ran When Parked, Surely

Before we delve too deeply, it’s worth noting this Sunbeam—a 1959 Sunbeam Rapier II—long ago shed its 73-horsepower 1.5-liter engine. For that matter, the Rapier had shed most of its everything. Veteran Lemonista Bill Rainey scored it from a Ford Pinto parts supplier he’s used on his Lemons Rally Pinto Cruisin’ Wagon and his Pinto Liftback Lemons car. And when he found it, the original floors, drivetrain, and suspension were long gone.

The front and rear suspension had both been set up for a swapover from a Datsun 240Z strut-style suspension. That included homemade rear strut towers of possibly dubious nature and parts of the original wood trim. Bill and team chalked up the missing Sunbeam parts as unobtainium. What does one do to maintain Sunbeam’s original marketing claim of “surging acceleration from zero to sixty miles per hour in under 20 seconds?”

Pinto-fied

If you already own Pintos and know where to get more of the, the answer is pretty obvious. Bill and his team bought a very hammered old Pinto with complete(ish) suspension and drivetrain. That 2.3-liter Lima engine gave a monstrous 85 or so (in theory) horsepower. This car was sure to dominate!

The suspension and differential also fit in, although the wider track necessitated fender flares. And since the engine-donor Pinto was rusty beyond repair, Bill sliced up the Pinto hood and other sheet metal to make that. The hood tag even stayed on the metal for the front-left Sunbeam flare. The team used more Pinto sheet metal to patch the cabin floor, transmission tunnel, and the trunk floor.

 

Final touches

The whole build took only a few rushed weeks to complete, which makes its completion all the more impressive. With the front and rear suspensions swapped and the engine in, The Rootes of All Evil were just missing the driveshaft to connect them. They wavered on having a custom-made driveshaft. In taking measurements and poking around through parts websites, however, Bill found one driveshaft that would fit perfectly…from an AMC Gremlin. Yes, this is a 1970s domestic econobox superstar dressed as a ‘50s British sports car. And it’s perfect.

Well, almost perfect. The original Rapier II grille was among the laundry list of missing parts. However, it was the one original Sunbeam part that the team was able to find.

Sharp as a hammer

The final picture of the Sunbeam Rapier II epitomizes Lemons: gnarled and tired, patina’d and patched. It lacks both straightline speed and cornering ability, simply toodles on in the way that most British cars could dream of. This is no surprise to anyone who’s seen the team’s bright-orange Pinto slowly plod along, inevitably beating 70 percent of an East Coast Lemons field.

In this case, the Rapier was much slower than the Pinto. In fact, it was the fourth-slowest car in its debut at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Only a diesel Volkswagen Rabbit, a Nissan Axxess, and a limping Ford Ranger ran slower. Yet, the Rapier finished 69th overall. The Sinical Racing Hudson Pacemaker narrowly edged them for the Index of Effluency and they were upstaged by Speedycop’s double-fish-bowl Pacer for Organizer’s Choice. However, they did take home Judges Choice.

Similarly, they finished 53rd at the recent GP du Lac Charggoggagogg(etc) at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Connecticut. They were again narrowly beaten out for IOE, but this is a car we know has an excellent chance at Lemons’ Top Prize much as their Pinto did.

What’s next?

We’d love to see someone dig up a Rapier with the original Sunbeam engine. We’re also long overdue for a Sunbeam Alpine, which someone just might make into a homebrewed Sunbeam Tiger with a Ford 289.

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