One of the rites of passage for every young guy from a bygone era was his first car.

Sure, there are other firsts that may get more press than a car for a teenager, but there is little doubt a first car was a huge event in a young guy’s life.


A first car is a huge step toward freedom and independence for a young car guy, with a dollop of maturity thrown in for good measure. The most important part of the process is to get a suitable first car-and it’s usually one with an expired best-before date in order to lower the price for a budget-minded teenager with a very modest income.

I was a high school kid with a limited budget and delusions of grandeur when I sought the perfect vehicle, one that could get me to high school and elevate my social stature when I pulled into the parking lot every day.

Unfortunately, my ideal car was an impossibly tall order, so my exhaustive search required an in-depth hunt to find the coolest set of wheels on a meager part time job high school student budget. My older brother did his level best to unearth potential first cars that could boost my cool factor while not breaking my smallish bank.   

My brother leaned toward sporty foreign cars at the time, so we looked at a bug-eyed Sprite that was available at a price well beyond my very modest investment funds. However, I was not blown away by the Bug Eye, so that choice was a non-starter with me.

The search for my first set of wheels continued and eventually a newspaper ad took us outside of town for a look at a 1962 Sunbeam Alpine. I mention the rural location of the car because the car was parked near a couple of slaughtered sheep that were dressed and hanging shortly before they were going to be converted into mutton chops.

The dead sheep caught me off-guard until I reasoned the Sunbeam owner was simply a farmer and not a Satanist, so I took a long look at the car.

For the record, I was a huge fan of Sunbeam Alpines because Maxwell Smart drove a muscular version of the car, namely the Sunbeam Tiger, essentially a beefier V-8 powered Sunbeam Alpine.

The Sunbeam Alpine was a car of my teen-aged dreams. It was a two-seater convertible with tail fins and might even have elevated my awkward teenager status in the high school pecking order.

Even better, the car fell within my modest budget of roughly 500 bucks-plus it ran. Unfortunately, I noticed the Sunbeam had plenty of blue smoke emanating from the exhaust when it was running, so I retreated from an instant purchase. 

I liked everything about the car-except a potential major engine overhaul or failure, with the latter a more likely scenario in my teen-aged world of poor post-purchase decisions.

My brother reminded me that every car in my price range would likely require divine intervention to avoid mechanical failure and this rust-free Sunbeam Alpine was my best bet, but still I decided to pass on the very cool British import.

Instead, I chose another first car–and it lasted a grand total of roughly three months before I blew up the engine. To this day, I still regret the 1962 Sunbeam Alpine was not the reason for catastrophic engine failure with my first car.

At least I would have been cool for about three months in high school.

Jim Sutherland

BY: Jim Sutherland

Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section.