I’ve got you a car, Sunbeam Talbot coupé. New tyres. Fast. Right car for these roads.

Live and Let Die, chapter 16

At the tail of the line stood the black Sunbeam Alpine of Commander John Strangways, RN (Ret.), Regional Control Officer for the Caribbean–or, less discreetly, the local representative of the British Secret Service.

DR NO, chapter 1

They got to the car. It was a black Sunbeam Alpine. Bond looked sharply at it and then at the number plate. Strangways’s car. What the hell? “Where did you get this, Quarrel?”

DR NO, chapter 4

See they look the part and send them off in the Sunbeam with the roof down. Right?”

DR NO, chapter 5

The Gleaner said that a Sunbeam Talbot, H. 2473, had been involved in a fatal accident on the Devil’s Racecourse, a stretch of winding road between Spanish Town and Ochos Rio–on the Kingston-Montego route. A runaway lorry, whose driver was being traced, had crashed into the Sunbeam as it came round a bend. Both vehicles had left the road and hurtled into the ravine below.

DR NO, chapter 7

The car’s outside. You remember Strangways? Well, it’s his old Sunbeam Alpine. The Station bought it, and now I use it. It’s a bit aged, but it’s still pretty fast and it won’t let you down. It’s rather bashed about, so it won’t be conspicuous. The tank’s full, and I’ve put the survey map in the glove compartment.”

The Man with the Golden Gun, Chapter 4

The various descriptions above have me a little confused as to whether Fleming is saying that the car that Strangways brought to Bond in Live and Let Die, is the same car Strangways still had in Dr No, and was still around for the events of The Man With The Golden Gun.

There are several factors here which bear pondering. In LALD, the car is described as a “Sunbeam Talbot coupé.” A 1951 model of this car is shown here:

Sunbeam Talbot drophead coupe 1951

The first two descriptions in Dr No describe Strangways car as a “Sunbeam Alpine” which was a two-seater sports car manufactured by Sunbeam-Talbot from 1953 – 1955 and then again from 1959 – 1968. Of the first series, (which would’ve been the car described in Dr No) only 1,582 were made. Outside of the UK, US and Canada, only 175 were sent to other world markets.

Sunbeam Alpine 1953 -1955

Despite the similarities, there are some differences here, namely that the Alpine (which to add the the confusion here was also known as the “Talbot” Alpine) was a true open car, it had no roll-up windows or roof. You’ll recall that Bond instructed Quarrel to send the two men “off in the Sunbeam with the roof down. Right?”

If this was a true Alpine, it had no roof to put down. There were snap-on roofs (and windows) available, but Bond’s direction was to put the roof down. The Talbot, as you can see in the top picture, did have a roof that could be put up and down.

Then, after the car is sent off, Bond sees the news that the Sunbeam Talbot was in a fatal accident. You see the confusion?

Then finally, Mary Goodnight is driving Strangways old Sunbeam Alpine? So was the accident on the Devil’s Racecourse fatal to the passengers, but the car was able to be hauled out of the ravine and then salvaged to the point that it could be driven again? Goodnight does describe the car as “rather bashed about” so I guess it is possible, if not plausible.

But again, we’re back from the “Talbot” to the “Alpine.” My guess here is that Fleming did intend for the car to be the same all the way through, and that it was actually a Sunbeam Talbot, from which the Sunbeam Alpine was derived. It seems that the terms were pretty interchangeable during that decade, and most readers then would not have noticed.

5 thoughts on “Sunbeam Alpine Talbot

  1. but also worth remembering that Jamaica was a colony at the time and British cars would have been imported, especially for the Colonial Service. Export cars were also given different names for marketing purposes.

  2. Always bothered my that the Secret Service kept using this same car (not just the model!) in Jamaica. To use Fleming’s term, wouldn’t it have been brûlé?

  3. Wonderful car. For those who want to see one “in action”, Grace Kelly drives one hellbent-for-leather in Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief”. She gives Cary Grant a tense time.

  4. A very interesting item by M.

    However, I have to put forward an argument that in Dr No and Live & Let
    Die, Ian Fleming did indeed mean Sunbeam Alpine in the books and not any other model.

    Firstly I have to disagree about the hood. The Sunbeam (Talbot) Alpine (1953-55) does in fact have a folding hood. It’s a pain to put up if you are on your own and it’s raining but it does fold and then slide down behind the seats rather nicely, where it becomes invisible.

    Secondly, all the cars in the Sunbeam Talbot family of the 1950’s, which includes the Saloons & Coupé’s as well as the Alpine, were very well built vehicles which were extremely tough and robust. The success of the cars in various international rallies including the Monte Carlo and Alpine shows this to be the case. There are a number of examples of Alpines that have been rebuilt after major incidents, and this part of the story is perfectly plausible.

    One interesting point is the black car pictured in M’s piece. This car belonged to Frank Jenkins up until a couple of years ago and was the only Alpine with black paint to come out of the factory in Coventry, England – Alpines were either Silver, Old English White or Red. This same car was used by Frenchman Patrick Vanson during 1955-6 as he covered thousands of miles, criss-crossing the USA selling Colgate products. A couple of interesting things about Patrick:
    He became a successful international rally driver himself in the 1960’s & 70’s and after a very fruitful career working for Lanson Champagne, in retirement, he restored a white example of an Alpine, which he sold last year after his 90th birthday.

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