Try to think of an affordable two-seater roadster from the 1960s and youâ€™ll invariably end up with images of an octagon-badged drop-top in your mind. But look beyond the obvious and thereâ€™s an even more affordable mass-market convertible that for some reason has always been overlooked â€“ Sunbeamâ€™s Alpine.
With lines that are discreet yet stylish, plus heaps of affordability and easy maintenance on its side, the Alpine offers a superb alternative to the more predictable British sportsters available.
All Alpine derivatives are worth a look, but itâ€™s the later models everyone wants, as the car was developed significantly throughout production. There were five key variations offered on the Alpine theme, yet thereâ€™s little difference in values between them even though the later ones are more sought after.
You can expect to buy a shed that has an MoT but needs work for ÂŁ2000. A usable car that needs nothing but is cosmetically tatty will set you back ÂŁ4000, while a really nice example can be up to ÂŁ7000. Something thatâ€™s close to concours will command an asking price of ÂŁ10,000.
Take one Sunbeam Alpine Series IV, a car styled as innocuously as an MGB, then shoehorn a snarling 260cu-in (4.2-litre) V8 into its nose. Change the steering box for a rack to improve precision, add a tougher Salisbury axle along with a Panhard rod to the rear suspension to help keep the thing on the tarmac â€“ and, voila; a cut-price Cobra alternative.
The Tiger came about after Ian Garrad, Rootesâ€™ US West Coast manager, saw a sportscar race in which Shelby Cobras trounced its rivals. He reckoned there was a market for a hot Alpine, so he approached Carroll Shelby to discuss feasibility. Within a month Shelby had readied a prototype and, thanks to the relatively small amount of re-engineering involved, the real thing was developed in just nine months. It was sold in the US in 1964 â€“ the car wouldnâ€™t reach Britain until the next year. The Tiger was developed for export only (and specifically the American market), as the contracted builder Jensen didnâ€™t have the capacity to meet early demand.
Although the Tiger proved an immediate success, the writing was already on the wall. Chrysler had taken a controlling stake in Rootes Group and it didnâ€™t want a rival makerâ€™s engine under the bonnet. A MkII version was marketed briefly in 1967, again for export only; just 10 right-hand drive cars were officially built. This second derivative featured a 289cu-in (4727cc) engine pushing out 200bhp; top speed rose to 125mph but the plug was pulled in June 1967 with just 6551 MkIs and 534 MkIIs being built.
Ever since then, demandâ€™s exceeded supply. In the past few years prices have spiralled and there is no such thing as a cheap Tiger any more. Unrestored examples can still be found for around ÂŁ10,000, but good show-condition MkIs are now ÂŁ17,000-ÂŁ20,000, with reimported MkIIs converted to RHD starting at ÂŁ25,000.
Although the US market is buoyant, cars are frequently brought back into the UK. Meanwhile, in the US speculators are pushing up prices for the ultra-rare MkII, and the modelâ€™s been tagged the Shelby Sunbeam Tiger. While a Tiger will never be worth as much as an equivalent Cobra, prices are moving in only one direction. So donâ€™t sit there waiting for values to drop!