Whatever happened to…The Chrysler Alpine

Go on, admit it. You’d totally forgotten about the Chrysler Alpine hadn’t you? When was the last time you saw one? I’d hazard a guess that the last time I saw one was approximately 3:26pm on October 12th 1984. And it was a strange metallic orange colour. Or actually, it could have been rust, which was about to become a major problem for the Alpine (see later in the article).

It may be so long ago that you saw an Alpine that you have totally erased the image of the car from your mind. So here’s a reminder.

Chrysler / Talbot Alpine
They don’t make them like this anymore

Following the shock of seeing the athletic, sweeping lines of the Alpine, prepare to be hit by a double-whammy. The Chrysler Alpine was actually voted European Car of the Year in 1976. It beat the BMW 3-series into second place by some 50 votes. This is something the chaps in Munich don’t tend to include in their current sales literature.

The Chrysler Alpine (renamed the Talbot Alpine in 1980) and not to be confused with the Sunbeam of the same name, was designed by Roy Axe, who went on to play a part in giving the world the Montego and Maestro. Weighing just over 1000kg, the Alpine was by today’s standards, an incredibly lightweight car. Indeed, a 5-door hatchback weighing little more than a VX220 Turbo, would be somewhat of a power-to-weight ratio dream. Unfortunately, it was the Alpine’s, shall we say, minimalist approach to build quality that eventually led to it’s downfall. Indeed, the reason you don’t see any Alpines on the road today is that they are all hidden away in heated garages within enthusiasts’ private collections. No wait, that’s not right. The reason you don’t see them anymore is because rust was a serious issue and there are rumoured to be only 15 left in the UK. The Alpine’s lack of rust protection is rivaled only by the Lancia Beta.

But it wasn’t just the build quality that hampered the Alpine’s chances of success. The car was also caught up in the political turmoil that surrounded British car manufacturing of the time, with Chrysler’s American owners growing increasingly sick and tired of constant strikes and shutdowns.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Petrolblog couldn’t find a single example of the Alpine for sale today, therefore making it one of the rarest cars in the UK. I’m pretty sure that once upon a time, the Alpine would have been a common sight in the country. OK, so not as popular as the Cortina or Cavalier, but common all the same. Then, they seemed to disappear overnight. Maybe quite literally, with rust reducing the car to dust by the time the milkman did his rounds the next day.

Today, footage of the car is rare, other than this timeless advertisement from the past. Look out for rare footage of the Cheeky Girls before they were famous, as well as a cameo appearance from JR Hartley and his dog.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

31 comments

  1. December 17, 2010
    Simon Hingston

    For years (or so it seemed) my Granded had a new Alpine and my Grandma a new Horizon evry 6 months. I guess now I know why so often!

    Reply
    • December 17, 2010
      MajorGav

      To be fair, your grandparents did well to make them last that long. I doth my hat to them! 😉

      Reply
  2. January 19, 2011
    Douglas Youngson

    There’s one up for sale on eBay right now, but I’d put down that cup of tea before you see the price.

    http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/1979-TALBOT-ALPINE-GL-BLUE-/320643367430?pt=Automobiles_UK&hash=item4aa7d58206#ht_500wt_1156

    Reply
    • January 19, 2011
      MajorGav

      Good grief! £4k! One of only three left allegedly, so an extremely rare car, but even so…

      Good find!

      Reply
  3. October 17, 2011
    David Milloy

    I liked the Alpine when I was a lad. To my young eyes, it looked better than most of the three-box competition. It was spacious, versatile, relatively sprightly, handled well and had the ride comfort typical of a French car.

    Apart from the Alpine’s vulnerability to rust, the other main problem with the car – in the UK market, at least – was the lack of more modern and larger capacity powerplants. The small pushrod engines that were available – 1294cc and 1442cc and, later, 1592 cc – were reasonably powerful for their capacity, but were old designs which within a matter of months would invariably sound like amplified knitting needles.

    Like many cars of the 70s and 80s, the Alpine hasn’t found favour with the classic car movement. The result is that, according to the DVLA, there are only 24 Alpines taxed for use on UK roads at present and a further 44 on SORN.

    Reply
    • October 18, 2011
      David Milloy

      My 12 year-old self has supplied some additional data about Chrysler Alpine sales, courtesy of a school project book that my mother coincidentally unearthed today. The Alpine’s best year for sales was 1977, when it was the 11th best selling car in the UK with 33,314 being registered. Add to that a further 16,000+ sales in 1976 and continuing sales to the mid-1980s, albeit in ever decreasing numbers, and there must have been well over 100,000 on UK roads at one time.

      Reply
      • October 18, 2011
        MajorGav

        I’m loving your 12 year old self’s knowledge bank! Keep the info coming…

        Reply
  4. October 22, 2011
    Bob

    Rotten they may have been,but very confortable andnice to drive.

    Reply
  5. April 2, 2014
    Rob

    I owned two Alpines for about 5 years each between ’82 and about ’92 The first one had a broken reverse gear – I had to always park facing uphill, the second one was very high mileage but I sold it before the back window fell out due to rust.
    After a while you got used to the heavy steering and clunky gearbox. It was a cheap, roomy economical car, smooth cruising on the motorway, carried heaps of stuff and actually looked quite smart in its era.

    Reply
    • April 25, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      “I had to always park facing uphill” and “the back window fell out due to rust”.

      Memories are made of this!

      Reply
  6. May 5, 2014
    Dave Riley

    In 1990 we inherited a 1982 Talbot Alpine that had belonged to my Grandad. No one else in the family wanted it.
    The car had quite low mileage, so I used it for work for many Years.
    After 175,000 miles, we had to scrap it as the garage refused to weld it any more.

    I was so upset after it went, my wife went to a motor auction and bought me another Alpine, this time a snazzy Rapier model with vinyl roof and alloy wheels which sadly only lasted a Year before it succumbed to terminal rust.

    Strangely, I find myself looking for another rattly heap of junk, but I guess they have all gone !

    Cheers,

    Dave R.

    Reply
    • May 7, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      How dare the garage refuse to weld it!

      Amazed by the mileage – 175k is incredible.

      Good luck searching for the ‘rattly heap of junk’! 😉

      Reply
  7. May 20, 2014
    Richard

    Ahh…a blast from the past! One of my favourite cars this – a 1442 Alpine. It handled extremely well and the eager little engine with it’s twin choke weber carb gave it excellent performance. I remember reversing too quickly and breaking the gearbox layshaft in 2! I also remember replacing the rear hatch due to rust. But it’s final undoing was due to it only having four gears and the final drive ratio allowed it to overrev in top all too easily. I remember tucking in behind a little fiat diesel at 100mph and accelerating with it until, at 104 the engine blew and that was that. I never got to try the larger engined 1600 which had a five speed box and power steering. Good times, though, with this great little car.
    R.I.P.

    Reply
  8. August 31, 2014
    gordon

    Hi I had a 1983 Talbot Alpine 1600 Automatic One of The best car I’ve had I had it from 1991 to 2004 When I bout it I under sealed it but sadly The doors rotted and had to scrap it

    Reply
  9. October 5, 2014
    Simon Blake

    I have had 6 alpines in total, I too am looking for another one. i foolishly sold my last 1600 SX last year, It was very economical, drove well and handled superbly, far better than any Jap car of the time or later. In NZ we never much had troubles with rust with them particularly the later talbots are only just starting to bubble now. Still there are not many 80s cars left here let alone 70s ones. Great car, highly underated.

    Reply
  10. November 29, 2014
    John Levermore

    Had a Ryton orange one from new in 1978. Kept it until 1995 as 2nd car.MOT every 6 months to get welding done. Scrapped at 130K. Replaced gearbox from scrapyard as reverse went, but apart from radiator repairs and door locks that was all it needed. My daughters learned to drive on it, so kept it for them. Replaced with a Maestro, BIG mistake.
    As now retired would like to be re-united with one.

    Reply
  11. December 6, 2014
    nigel woodfield

    I currently know of Twelve for sale in various condition from vary tidy to parts only in New Zealand

    Reply
  12. September 3, 2015
    Mark Stephens

    My parents had three Alpines (after three Minx/Hunters) all bought from a garage in Devon (where my dad came from), even though we lived in Leeds. I thought the first one we had (“copper beech”) was the bee’s knees. I learned to drive in one. Of course I had never driven anything else, so had nothing to compare it to. But in retrospect the steering was heavy and the gears clunky. I did enjoy driving it though, and seem to remember enjoying accelerating in 3rd. It was our first car with cloth seats (as opposed to plastic), but was otherwise basic – the first one did not even have a radio. My dad gave his last one to my sister, and through diligent and fast action on the rust spots kept it on the road for some years – indeed my sister was able to sell it on. As I recall the engine was made by Simca, but they were assembled at the old Rootes plant.
    I am struck by how often my dad changed cars in the 70s and early 80s. He had a wholly utilitarian approach to cars, so I guess this must have been in anticipation of rust, which was common across all makes. Was Chrysler really much worse than the others? (worse even that Datsun?) I recall rush wheel arches were pretty common.
    When Peugeot bought out Chrysler and Alpines became Talbots there was a TV ad for the three principal models (Sunbeam and Horizon being the others) with an assertive declaration “Now we’re motoring!” Not for much longer, though.

    Reply
    • September 10, 2015
      David Milloy

      The Alpine was a heady blend of British styling (courtesy of Roy Axe) and Simca mechanicals. The three engines offered: 1294cc, 1442cc and 1592cc were simply different flavours of the venerable Simca ‘Poissy’ ohv unit.

      Early Alpines were built at Poissy, but a additional production lines soon came on stream at Ryton. The gearchange had a long throw and wasn’t exactly a model of precision even before the bushes in the linkage started to deteriorate!

      Little attention was paid to rust protection in the 70s by most manufacturers. Mazda, however, seems to have been one of the few to take it seriously: https://spct2000.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/1973-mazda-hatchback-1300-dl-ad.jpg

      Reply
  13. September 29, 2015
    David Parkinson

    I had many Alpines in the mid to late 80’s, the cheapest of which was £40, taxed and tested. If you look at the early Renault Espace models, the front ends were the same as the Alpine, they used some of the left over parts, as far as I know the Espace did evolve from the Alpine, but in fibreglass which solved the problem with rust.

    Reply
    • October 3, 2015
      David Milloy

      An interesting idea, David, but the roots of the Espace aren’t linked to the Alpine.

      The original Espace protototypes were the work of Matra Automobile. The running prototype, the P18, wasn’t based on any existing model, although it did use Talbot running gear including the 2.2 litre engine from the Talbot Tagora/Matra Murena. Peugeot-Citroen, who owned a stake in Matra Automobile, wasn’t interested in the P18, so Matra took it to Renault.

      Renault saw the potential in the idea and came up with a few revisions of their own. Matra and Peugeot-Citroen then parted ways and the P18, re-engineered to use Renault running gear, became the Espace. No Talbot-specific parts were used in the production Espace.

      Reply
  14. November 5, 2015
    kevin bushell

    my first car was a late alpine minx sadly long dead now.upgraded to sx spec as the one in your picture.the noisey engine in 1600cc produced 89bhp which for the weight made it quite quick with its twin choke weber.

    Reply
  15. February 12, 2016
    Derek

    I owned one of these cars back in 1981 and frankly it was terrible. I was moving to Bristol from Edinburgh with my job and bought an Alpine as my company Vauxhall Astra was being returned. I recall the very long gear lever that poked out of the floor and selecting anything with it was very much a hit or miss affair. The whole car seemed to made out of old tin cans and heaven only knows how it would have withstood an accident as there were no safety features at all. Well I say none .. the rubber bumpers might have been useful had they been securely fastened to the car but they had a habit of detaching themselves for no apparent reason. I broke down a few times with it but it did get me about for a year or so before I traded it for something better.

    Reply
  16. February 20, 2016
    Mike

    My dad bought one of these in 1983, it was a 1979 1300GL, already had some rust but we patched it up and apart from a terrible 3rd to 2nd gear downshift and leaky tailgate it was very reliable for quite a few more years. In 1987 when I needed my first car the only thing we saw in my budget that was in good enough shape to buy was another 1979 Alpine, this one a green 1300 LS. That ran a lot better than my dad’s one, had no rust at all, but a few months later it was written off in a big 50mph sideways impact after swerving onto the grass verge to avoid somebody’s even bigger accident that was taking place right in front of me and got into an unrecoverable skid into the front of another car. The passenger side pillars and floor were caved in by about a foot and the body was twisted so the whole front of the car was pointing to the left by 30 degrees, but I got out of it with only a couple of bruises and cuts from shattered glass, and you still could get a gear, start the engine and move it under its own steam. There was very little remaining of the front end of the Peugeot 305 that I hit. In my experience it was good enough in an accident, in an age when most cars were built like tin cans. When my dad upgraded to a 1985 Talbot Solara (much more refined and no rust) I inherited the remaining Alpine and ran it for another 2-3 years, by which time it was 10 years old, had only needed the inner sills welding and we sold it on privately for about 150 pounds. In my time it got driven hard and fast and despite the body roll it had loads of grip and always felt stable. I replaced it with a brand new 1989 Fiesta 1.4 Ghia and to be honest that was a far worse handling car than the Alpine, with really bad understeer and body roll, although it was more rapid. I have fond memories of the Alpine, obviously rust and old rattly under-powered engines where the main issues, but it was otherwise a competent and under-rated car.

    Reply
  17. March 28, 2016
    andy

    I had one of these and found it very reliable. I remember being sat at tragic lights and someone at the side of me revving up their escort, I would have loved to have seen their face when I left them standing.

    Reply
  18. April 24, 2016
    Ben

    I had an ’84 Alpine Rapier as my first car in 91. It was a fantastic car. Bags of space, comfortable, and being the twin, twin-choke Webber carb’ed 1600 5 speed it went like stink! Blew away many friends in their XR3i’s, Nova’s and Cavaliers. Ran it for 5 years and in that time all I replaced was a seat belt – and that was only because the dog chewed it!!! Think they were the first mass produced cars (back in ’75) that had electronic ignition as standard. Very under-rated car.

    Reply
  19. April 25, 2016
    Mike

    Your First Car is like your First Love, isn’t it?

    I had a metallic silver one , reg JRJ 972V. Bought it in 1985 with inheritance Money from David Herd Motors for £600. Absolutely loved that car and used to put the backseats down so one could have rumpy-pumpy with the g/f…Happy Days.. 🙂

    Reply
  20. November 3, 2016
    aNTHONY wARBURTON

    I ran a ChrySLer MAIN dEALERSHIP, ENDURING THE tALBOT MAKEOVER, FOR TWO YEARS BEFORE i NEGOTIATED A bmw FRANCHISE TO OPERATE BESIDE OUR vw/aUDI BUSINESS, WHICH I STARTED, FROM SCRATCH. tO SAY THAT TRYING TO MAKE MONEY OUT OF aLPINES, OR ANYTHING ELSE IN THE RANGE, WAS CHALLENGING HAS TO BE THE UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE CENTURY. tHE sIMCA BASED STUFF, SUCH AS THE aLPINE, WERE ALL A MECHANICAL DOG’S BREAKFAST WITH NO ENGINEERING OR BUILD QUALITY. nO HORN WAS REQUIRED, THE ENGINE PROVIDING ALL THE WARNING PEDESTRIANS MIGHT NEED. tHE DESIRABILITY OF THE PRODUCT AS A USED CAR WAS AND REMAINS KEY TO tHE VALUE OF ANY FRANCHISE AND aLPINE/sOLARA/hORIZON HAD NONE. iMPOSSIBLY HEAVY STEERING, A GEAR CHANGE THAT MADE THE MAXI LOOK GOOD AND DISINTEGRATING SEATS OFFERING, IN ANY CASE, MINIMAL LEGROOM MEANT THAT THERE WERE FEW BUYERS ONCE rOOTES’ REMAINING LOYALISTS HAD DROPPED THEIR px ONTO THE USED MARKET. aN aCCEPTABLY ATTRACTIVE BODY DESIGN BUT THAT WAS ABOUT IT.

    Reply
  21. December 28, 2016
    Billy Wadsworth

    I have a Talbot alpine minx for sale if ANYONEs INTERESTED needs some work. No clutch but does run located nr Portsmouth uk

    Reply

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