Prices are rising for these saloons, so now is the perfect time to take a look
The Ryton-built Sunbeam Talbot 90 range was launched in 1948 and evolved into the MkIII version by 1956 when production ended. Changes included enlarged air intakes on each side of the front grille, and three ‘porthole’ vents at the rear of the front wings. Independent front suspension was also added as was a larger, more powerful engine that was based on a Humber unit – both of which vastly improved the handling and driveability of the 90. The Talbot name was dropped for this version too.
Sunbeam 90 MkIII
Power (bhp@rpm) 80bhp@4400rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 121lb ft@2400rpm
Top speed 93mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Rust is something of a problem with the 90. It can strike in all the expected places including the front wings, particularly around the headlamps, front cooling vents, and at the rear where they meet the doors. Pay close attention to the sills, bottoms of the doors, the inner and outer skin of the rear wheel arches, and the lower edge of the boot lid. Other trouble spots include the spare wheel well, and the point where the rear wing and boot floor meet – the felt pads applied to the inside of the panels soak up moisture.
The Humber-based unit is well-proven and durable with regular maintenance, and came with a cylinder head and alloy con-rods that were unique to the 90. Oil leaks from the sump and rear main crankshaft seal can be an annoyance but are easily cured, while a healthy cooling system is vital for longevity. Silting-up of the engine block and radiator can cause hot running so watch for signs of overheating on the test drive. Replacing the radiator with an uprated unit from the Alpine is a popular and worthwhile modification.
The 90 was fitted with a four-speed manual ‘box and column shift as standard, with overdrive an optional extra (worth having for the improved cruising ability). Apart from worn synchromesh and shift linkages there is little to worry about here, though it’s worth mentioning that a conversion to a floor-mounted shift was a popular modification. A dealership in Leicester offered these in period, the fitting of a Hillman Hunter gearbox being a more recent solution – expect to pay somewhere over £2000 for this to be done. It’s not unheard of for cracks to appear in the rear axle carrier around the differential, which is bad news as parts are hard to obtain, so don’t ignore any problems here. Other issues to watch for include play in the steering box, worn front wishbone mounts and kingpins, leaking dampers; and sagging rear leaf springs. The drum brakes are more than up to the task of slowing the heavy Sunbeam as long as they have been set-up properly, so the attention of a specialist is often all that’s needed to improve braking performance.
Check leather seats, carpets, and door trims carefully and adjust the asking price accordingly if they are particularly tatty. Old wiring can present a risk on any classic of this age, more so if previous owners have been tempted to uprate lighting. One area worth checking closely is the sliding sunroof that was fitted as standard to the 90 range. Make sure there are no signs of water leaks.
If you’re after a spacious, comfortable classic then the Sunbeam 90 makes a lot of sense. Solid build quality and good driving manners make it very usable on a daily basis as well as ideal for long-distance touring. So all told a good all-rounder which is what many of us want from our classic car. The 90 is decent value at the moment too, and although prices are slowly beginning to rise for the best examples, a well-cared for car shouldn’t break the bank to run.