- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

For decades in Britain, the Rootes Group consolidated automobile manufacturers. In 1935, a pair of independent automakers, Sunbeam and Talbot, were purchased and became part of the Rootes Group.

Eventually a Sunbeam Talbot Alpine model was introduced as a rally car to compete at the Monte Carlo and Alpine rallies. Only 86 were produced, with 100-horsepower, four-cylinder engines. One of them was manufactured on March 19, 1954, evidently as an export model, because it was built to U.S. safety standards and had the steering wheel on the left side. That car was shipped to an unknown buyer in the United States.

After a dozen years the sporty car was sold to William Landseld of Unionville, Pa., for his daughter to drive to law school in nearby Wilmington, Del. A few years later the car was handed down to a younger sister, who drove to Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

In 1972, the car was retired, with 43,000 miles showing on the odometer, and put up on blocks in Mr. Landseld’s barn. Frank Jenkins, a longtime friend of the Landseld family, had witnessed the comings and goings of the 1954 Sunbeam and kept waiting for the next chapter. It never came. By 2000, he suggested to Mr. Landseld that the car should be restored. Mr. Landseld agreed and surprised Mr. Jenkins by giving him the car.

“Before any work was done,” Mr. Jenkins says, “we had to see if the engine worked.” After some minor tinkering the long-dormant engine sputtered back to life.

The tires were low, but not flat, so we pushed the car out of the barn and onto a trailer, Mr. Jenkins recalls. The car was then towed to Barnard, Vt., where Steve Cota at the Lyme Pond Restoration Shop set about restoring the 1954 Sunbeam Talbot Alpine.

“It turned into a major renovation,” Mr. Jenkins says. Rust and corrosion necessitated extensive bodywork. The corroded floor pan was replaced with healthy steel. Whenever replacement parts could not be found Mr. Cota fabricated as he did with both rocker panels.

The beige-colored top was ordered from a supplier in Britain. Mr. Cota stretched the fabric over the supporting black bows. When in place the top protects the beige leather upholstery.

Beyond the front and rear bumpers there is not much chrome on the car. What chrome there is was sent off for replating while the restoration work progressed.

The original glass in the windshield and two wing vents was reused. The windows in the doors are plastic and slide open rather than roll down inside the doors.

When it came to accessories the original owner skimped on the extras. On the left front fender is a mirror to augment the one mounted on the dashboard. Beneath the dashboard is a heater and beside the horn button at the hub of the steering wheel is the lever to activate turn signals. The gearshift lever to operate the four-speed manual transmission is mounted on the steering column.

There is no power-assisted anything on the Sunbeam, but it is so well-balanced that steering the 15-inch white sidewall tires is no chore. “It handles very nicely,” Mr. Jenkins reports.

The target date of 2005 for the completion of the restoration came and went and the actual date finally arrived in 2007. Since then, Mr. Jenkins, who now resides in Sherborn, Mass., has employed the pristine car to deliver his own daughter, Sandra, to her wedding last August.

“The car was a black hole there for awhile,” Mr. Jenkins says. It was devouring both money and time. “But now it is a classy car with a strong engine, an excellent driver and a real head-turner,” Jenkins says.

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