- One of only 203 built, and fewer than 30 known survivors
- Sold new to Switzerland and imported into Britain in 2014
- Runs and drives, but bodywork requires total restoration
- Appears to be about 95 per cent complete
You may not immediately think of the Rootes Group’s products of the early 1960s as being terribly exciting. They were undoubtedly very handsome (chrome and fins always look wonderful) and genuinely well-made (the engines seem to go on and on) but they were, at the end of the day, ordinary family cars which once adorned a driveway in every street.
There was at least one exception, though. Sunbeam made Rootes’s most exciting products, the two-seater Alpine, its V8 sister the Tiger, and the pillarless Rapier sports saloon, but for just a few years it put its name to something genuinely exotic: the Venezia. Rootes’s Italian subsidiary and Carrozzeria Touring were both based in Milan, and a chance conversation led to Touring making some improvements to the design of the Alpine. Further talks led to an idea for a sports saloon conceived especially for the Italian market, and Touring’s styling team set to work.
The coachbuilder which is today best known for such designs as the Maserati 3500 GT, Aston Martin DB4 and DB5 and Lamborghini 350 GT soon had a handsome coupé model mocked up for Rootes’s approval. It being granted, a prototype was built on a Hillman Super Minx chassis, with a Sunbeam Rapier grille, twin headlights and the distinctive peaked indicator housings modified into air intakes. At the rear, the fins were of elegant, modest dimensions. The engine was the same 1.6-litre block used in other Rootes models, finished to the same specification as the range-topping Humber Sceptre.
Officially launched in Venice in September 1963, and paraded on a pontoon beneath the Bridge of Sighs, it was received warmly but concerns were aired about the price, which was more than that of a 2.4-litre Jaguar Mk II. Sadly, these concerns were quite valid, and various unfortunate events conspired against it. Despite ultimately being sold across Europe, it failed to make money and only 203 were built by 1965.
Originally, only seven Venezias made it to England and this one was sold new to Switzerland. Now one of fewer than 30 known survivors, it was imported in this derelict condition by a Rootes enthusiast in 2014. Having just spent time with a specialist Rootes restorer, it is now running and driveable, but obviously much work still needs to be done, especially to the body. It may look formidable, but if you’re a capable restorer, it will be a fantasic project to get stuck into over the winter, and the end result will be worth the trouble.
The History and Paperwork
- Chassis made by Rootes in December 1964 and despatched to Rootes Motors Overseas Ltd. of Piccadilly for export to Touring of Milan
- Originally finished in Azzuro Venezia with grey upholstery
- First registered in Switzerland in 1965
- By 1970, it was in the possession of Karl Hug, a silversmith, of Suhr, northern Switzerland
- Discovered and imported by a Rootes enthusiast with another Venezia in 2014, it was sold after he decided that it was too rare and important a car to break for spares
- Recently, the Venezia was purchased by a specialist Rootes restorer who has worked on the mechanical systems and got it to the point where it runs and drives
- Paperwork includes an old Swiss registration document, several Swiss export papers from 2014, and a newly-acquired Heritage Certificate from the Rootes Archive Centre Trust
- Rootes archive centre heritage certificate
- Currently UK registered with modern v5
- Comes with copies of old swiss logbook and import papers
- Special dashboard unique to the Venezia
- Upholstery generally in good condition
- Will require carpets, among various other new parts
As this car is being sold for complete restoration, one can hardly expect the interior to be in an award-winning state, but you may find it better than you expect. The dash, which is a unique piece not shared with any other Rootes cars, appears mostly complete, with all its instruments in place although, of course, we cannot guarantee that they work.
We presume that the car has seen fairly little use – the odometer reading of 4280km could conceivably be genuine – which may explain why the seats are generally in very good condition, and should present very well after a good clean. Unfortunately, there are two prominent holes in the driver’s seat and on the rear seat backrest where, perhaps, a mouse has had a go at them, but we are hopeful that it will be possible to effect localised repairs without the need to recover the seats in their entirety.
The headlining is in good condition but will need reattaching around the edges. The carpets appear to be absent, but perhaps that is not too great a hardship considering the floorpan is in need of extensive restoration itself.
The boot still has its original mat, although sadly it has deteriorated beyond repair. Don’t throw it away too quickly, though, as it will be invaluable in supplying a pattern from which to make a new one.
- Would look splendid in its original Azzuro Venezia, a metallic light blue
- All trim and badges appear to be present
- Extensive bodywork restoration will be necessary
We can imagine just how lovely the sparkling metallic Azzuro Venezia would have looked on this car when new, but that’s the best we can do because, sadly, it isn’t quite so shiny any more. It appears to have been repainted in a somewhat underwhelming drab grey, and even that has become discoloured over time after years of exposure to sunlight, dust and grime, but odd patches of the original Azzuro are visible in places, such as above the nearside headlights.
Of course, a full repaint will be in order, and while the brightwork could probably be made presentable with just a good clean, realistically all the chrome will want replating because, with a car like the Venezia, it makes no sense to settle for a finish which is anything less than perfect.
We would point out that the bonnet does close, but it is a little more difficult to open, hence the photographs were taken with the bonnet slightly ajar.
The wheels may be serviceable but are visibly pitted with rust. Two hubcaps are provided in the boot, although we do not know where the other two are. Fortunately, as it shares its underpinnings with the Hillman Super Minx, Singer Vogue, Sunbeam Alpine and Humber Sceptre, good second-hand wheels and hubcaps shouldn’t be too difficult to source.
Sadly, the restoration will have to be more than just cosmetic. Some of the exposed aluminium panels are showing evidence of oxidisation, while the steel floorpan and arches have corroded very severely. There can be no skirting around the fact that the floors and arches have some very large holes in them, and their restoration will require the work, if not of a professional, then certainly of an experienced and skilled restorer.
- Original 1.6-litre engine to Humber Sceptre specification with alloy head, producing 80bhp
- Runs and drives thanks to recent attention from a Rootes specialist
- Engine and gearbox fully stripped and rebuilt with new parts
- Claimed top speed when new of 105mph
Thankfully, the mechanical side of this project looks to be much easier than the bodywork, partly because the vendor, a specialist Rootes restorer, has already got it driving, and partly because it shares all its mechanical parts with other Rootes models, so spares will not be too difficult to source.
After stripping the engine, having it rebored, new bearings and other new parts, it's guaranteed for a year by the seller.
We have seen the car run and drive and can confirm that the major mechanical systems all function well, at least up to a point. The brakes, gearbox and steering do all work, but as the car has not been subjected to an MoT we cannot guarantee that they meet a satisfactory standard for the car to be considered roadworthy. We would strongly encourage bidders to do their own checks and satisfy themselves as to its condition before driving it in earnest.
With only around 30 survivors, the Sunbeam Venezia is one of the rarest of all Rootes cars and, with each body hand-made by Carrozzeria Touring in Italy, probably also the most exotic. Restored ones naturally command high prices, but here’s a fine opportunity to pick one up for a more affordable sum, provided you don’t mind putting the work in to restore it to its prime.
It’s an unfortunate reality that parts of the bodywork have deteriorated badly and will require extensive restoration, but it’s balanced out by the fact that much of the engine work has already been done for you by a specialist. Autumn is approaching and the nights are drawing in, so a restoration project is just what you need to maintain your car fix through the winter, until the events season starts again. If you don’t buy this, you’ll probably not get another opportunity to own a Venezia, so what are you waiting for?
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