A day at the Sunbeam Rally, 1999

by Brian Vogt, who lived in Germany from July 1998 to April 2000

Having been a Hillman car fan for 33 years, I decided to familiarise myself with one of the "cousins" within the Rootes Group – the Sunbeam.  I confess to having been quite ignorant about Sunbeam cars, and about open-top cars in general.
The remedy: a brief visit to the Sunbeam Rally as it came to south-west Germany on 20-21 August 1999.  The rally was organised by Sunbeam Club Deutschland, who mostly have the Alpine and Tiger models of the 1960s.  Their web page is http://www.sunbeamclub-deutschland.de/ (for those who understand German or use the Babelfish translator).  To just see a few pictures, click on the most recent "Jahrestreffen" (annual rally).

I departed Rüsselsheim (near Frankfurt) a bit before 4pm on Friday 20th August.  Feeling a bit tired, I wondered whether I should just do a U-turn and go only the next morning.  However, I pressed on through the slow traffic on Autobahn 5 (60-100 km/h) – typical for a Friday evening, and arrived in Breisach am Rhein (just west of Freiburg in the Black Forest region) at 6:30 pm.  After a very brief random search, I luckily found the rally gathering at the Hotel Bären, so I proceeded to find out what was happening.  Somebody introduced me to the retiring club president Lothar Ditter, who with his adult sons Bernd and Axel capably organised the rally.  I hadn't told anybody that I was coming, but several people chatted with me, and I was invited to join in the standard evening meal that the rallyists were having, for the fair price of 15 DMark.  They sat me at the table of some people from England and Switzerland.  (At this time, the Spanish contingent of 11 cars rolled in).  An English couple at the table had to abandon their 1954 Sunbeam Talbot in France during the day, due to distributor problems.  Sometime around 9 pm, I decided to drive 250 km back home for the night.  However, Bernd's common sense prevailed; he got on the mobile phone and booked me a cheap (45 DMark) room in the Hotel Schlüssel instead.

Münstertal region Having driven through France on Thursday and Friday, the rallyists spent Saturday doing a relatively short circular route through the hills of the "Schwarzwald" (Black Forest) region just south of Freiburg, and finishing back in Breisach.  Bernd wasn't content to see me just standing around, so he found someone who was travelling alone, and arranged a ride for the day – thanks to John Roseby from Cheshire in England, with an Alpine series 5 (1725cc, aluminium head).
The scenery in the Schwarzwald is excellent, although (like the rest of Germany) the air is prone to an annoying haze.  We spent the day following the instruction sheets, stopping at pre-arranged cafes for snacks, answering quiz questions, and generally having a fun time.  We travelled only 120 km (75 miles), so it was a very leisurely pace.  They let me participate in everything including lunch, so the one-day fee of 30 DMark was entirely fair.

A few of the cars lined up at Gästehaus (guest house) Zähringer Hof near Münstertal while we have a snack :
Alpines and Tigers at Gästehaus Zähringer Hof

The owner of the black Tiger tries to fix a misfire :
Alpines and Tigers at Gästehaus Zähringer Hof

Alpines and Tigers at Gästehaus Zähringer Hof

This picture at www.zaehringerhof.de is exactly what the area looked like.  No exaggeration.
Zähringer Hof surrounded by farm fields

Back out on the road after visiting Zähringer Hof :
Back out on the road after visiting Zähringer Hof

The array of cars in the rally was impressive.  Most were either Alpine or Tiger convertibles from the 1960s :

One German guy has an Alpine series 4 whose original 1600cc engine died very early in its life.  The then-current 1725cc aluminium head engine (from the series 5) was fitted as a factory-supplied replacement.  None of the Tiger owners seem to understand how a V8 engine fits into such a small engine bay in the car.  It makes me wonder about what's possible for my Hillman Gazelle.  Other cars in the rally included: The Talbot 90 from Luxembourg.  Modern seats & seat belts were fitted for the Peking-Paris Rally.
(If you're going to travel that far, you might as well be safe and enjoy it!) Talbot 90 from Luxembourg

The Rapier from Spain was too shiny to get a decent photograph, but it was really beautiful (believe me!).
Rapier from Spain

All up, I think there were just over 40 cars.  Rallyists came from Germany, England, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg.

At 7:30pm on Saturday evening, I thanked Bernd for his hospitality, and set off for home, much better informed about the Sunbeam marque and its friendly fans.  My original intent was just to photograph a lot of the cars, and generally spectate.  Instead, I became fully involved.  The rally continued into the night, as the people partied in a Weinkeller (winery cellar) full of dozens of huge wooden barrels, just outside Breisach.  On Sunday, they journeyed on the leg through Switzerland.

18 October 1999:   The story is continued by Peter Stephenson, an American who is currently running a company in Brussels, Belgium.  He drove a Sunbeam Tiger Mark Ia, upgraded with a 289 cu. inch motor.
"We went on to Switzerland where we acquired a couple more Tigers from the Swiss Tiger Club.  The Tigers were really in their element in the alpine passes (innumerable word plays possible!) where the poor Alpines suffered from the altitude on top of an underabundance of torque.  We were able to cover 4 - 5 times the distance as the rest of the group, so managed some excellent side forays.  Margaret and I blasted down to Lago Maggiore, on the Italian border, one morning with Henny Cate and Arthur Kelly in the UK Tiger, had an exquisite lunch on the lake shore in 25 degree sun, and then returned to the Gotthard Pass before the rest of the group had finished their lunch!  We are very much looking forward to next year.  Having done more than a couple of RAC rallies, we feel that Lothar & family did an outstanding job of organising and gave the event a much more relaxed air than other events we have done.  We did the Chrysler Euroclassic in mid-September which ran from Brussels (convenient for us!) to Salzburg. I particularly love this rally because it focuses on track time at major circuits.  We had hot laps at Spa-Francorchamps, the Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit, Anneau du Rhin, Presburg hillclimb, and Salzburgring.  Very tough on cars, though.  We tore both our traction bars loose from the chassis before we got to Salzburg and had to limp home on very light throttle!"

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