A Sunbeam Rapier popped up on Twitter recently and it got me thinking about automotive exotica.
Today, exotica is an over used word and set for the expensive machines from Ferrari, Lamborghini and the like. Cars that the everyday man, woman, beast, boy or girl can only dream about or buy on a PCP deal.
In the early 1980s, there was a 70’s blue Sunbeam Rapier fastback parked down the road from the family home. Long, flowing and sleek with pillar-less doors and glass that vanished into the body, cut at the back with a thick black pillar and finished with a fixed window. Long because, at the time and still unusual today, it was built on the 98” estate chassis of the Hillman Hunter. It had 4 lights on the front and shiny wheel embellishers. That was always guaranteed to give the image of sporty styling.
Parked alongside our 1979 Datsun Sunny saloon, it looked so exotic. Like a million dollars of exotica with a hint of American muscle thrown into the mix. By the time I started to notice the Rapiers, they were obsolete from the car showrooms. The Sunbeam brand having been renamed Chrysler in 76 and the whole company becoming part of Peugeot in 1979.
That didn’t matter though because what we had here to a 5-year-old was eye candy. And a wanton lust for this sex machine even though I didn’t know what any of those words meant back then. I was desperate for my father to buy the family something exciting. In 1982, he bought a Nissan Sunny 1.3 DX. Nissan sold a coupe version of the Sunny. He could have bought that. I was devastated. The car in the showroom was the 1.5 GL model. It had door bins in the door handles. I had plans for what to put in mine. The DX didn’t have them! I lived a poor life as a child.
And so the posters on my bedroom wall changed with each passing fancy. Sadly there were no Sunbeam Rapier posters available so I had to make do with a Ferrari Testarossa and then the Coca-Cola Beetle. Affordable exotica was being overtaken with 80’s excesses and greed. Soon, boys up and down the country were actually wanting cars that actually went fast as well as looking fast.
It seemed Ford’s Capri was struggling at this time too. Its sleek practical 3 door shape being outsold by just about every hatchback with a spoiler on the back. Exotic lines, once the darling of the man who looked set to go places fast, no longer cut it with the affordable price tag in 1986. Affordable exotica appeared to be old fashioned. A bit naff and hairy chested. Suddenly exotica HAD to be expensive and HAD to be fast.
And there is nothing wrong with that as such. It’s just that with these changes of desire, there also comes an ability to be able to handle them. Something, many it would seem are so desperately lacking. You can’t open social media these days without someone filming a jerk in a hyper car having lost control 300 yards up the street. You never got that with the driver of a Sunbeam Rapier Fastback back in the day. It would have taken them 12.8 seconds to get to 60 and the top speed was only 103mph anyway.
To me, it’s always about style and never about going fast. In today’s clogged up roads, there are very few times in the daylight hours that you will actually find what was once termed “the open road” and be able to exercise your chosen 4 wheeled steed. Arriving is always favourable anyway so getting to your destination is a bonus.
And through the years, these affordable cars with exotic looks have slowly vanished from our daily grind on the rush hour commute. Take a look around you and the car in front will be an SUV. In front of that another SUV sub compact lifted car and in front of that another one.
What has happened is there are no affordable poster cars for today’s youth to dream about. There is nothing really exciting this side of a big BMW price tag. And even they are now making SUV’s with a misjudged use of the word ‘Coupe’ in them. It would seem sleek isn’t sexy anymore.
Today, we live out our fantasies on Twitter, Instagram and snap-chat. Some as influencers in vehicles that clearly are not their own while bragging about what coat they wore while a few have actually invested in them. And then there is that investment. Pictures flooding social media, garages packed with expensive cars. Cars that do very little except gather dust.
It is all getting a bit samey these days. And here we go back to my original question. Despite being told that the young aren’t really into cars anymore, are there any affordable exotic cars that the young dream of owning? What are they actually going to be able to aspire too? At £271,146, a Lamborghini Aventador isn’t going to be achievable for many and I’m quite sure it isn’t going to be a Sports Utility Vehicle they want either.
Look at it another way, a modest 2 bedroom house where I live is valued at £350,000 and it doesn’t even come with a garage. You’ll not want to park your car with a similar price tag on the street now, will you?
Many thanks to Andy from Twitter @addict_car for the Sumbeam Rapier pictures