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Sunbeam Tiger: buying guide and review (1964-1967)

Sunbeam Tiger: buying guide and review (1964-1967) Classic and Performance Car
Sunbeam Tiger Sunbeam Tiger Sunbeam Tiger Sunbeam Tiger
Q-cars are nothing new. While they’re more popular than ever in the 21st century, the trend started several decades ago – and the Sunbeam Tiger is proof. Take one Sunbeam Alpine Series IV, a car styled as innocuously as a convertible MGB, then shoehorn a 4.2-litre V8 into the nose of it. Change the steering box for a rack to improve precision, add a tougher Salisbury rear axle along with a Panhard rod to the rear suspension to help keep the thing on the tarmac – and voilà, a cut-price Cobra alternative.
The Tiger came about after Ian Garrad, Rootes’ US West Coast manager, watched a sports car race that saw Shelby Cobras trounce the opposition. He reckoned there was a market for a hot Alpine, so he approached Carroll Shelby to see how feasible such a car would be to build. Within a month Shelby had a prototype ready and, thanks to the relatively small amount of re-engineering involved in the metamorphosis from Alpine to Tiger, the production car was developed in just nine months. 
The first examples were sold in the US during 1964 but the car wouldn’t reach Britain until the following year. From the outset the Tiger was developed for export only (and specifically the American market), as Jensen, which was contracted to build the cars, didn’t have the capacity to meet early demand.
Which one to buy?
As the Tiger was designed with the US market specifically in mind, UK cars are rare. Finding a US car is generally easier, and cheaper. A MkII version was marketed briefly in 1967, again for export only; just ten right-hand-drive cars were officially built. This second derivative featured a 289cu in (4727cc) engine pushing out 200bhp; top speed rose to 125mph, and is significantly more valuable than the Mk1. The plug was pulled in June 1967, when just 6551 MkIs and 534 MkIIs had been built.
Performance and specs
Engine 4265cc V8
Power 164bhp @ 4400rpm
Torque 258lb ft @ 2200rpm
Top Speed 118mph
0-60mph 7.8secs
Fuel Consumption approx 18mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Wheelbase 2184mm
Length 3962mm
Width 1537mm
Height 1308mm
Weight 1163kg
Common problems
• Ford supplied its small-block V8 in its lowest state of tune for the Tiger, so there’s little to worry about unless it’s been badly neglected.

• The engine was prone to overheating with its original cooling system, but cars fitted with the original radiator are few and far between as they’ve generally been uprated by now.

• The original Ford Autolite carburettor wasn’t up to the job of feeding such a big powerplant, which is why most owners have replaced it with a Carter or Holley on an alloy manifold.

• All it takes to keep the V8 trouble-free is an oil change every 3000 miles. 

• If the car doesn’t run cleanly on all eight, remember that the spark plugs at the back of the engine are awkward to get to and are sometimes left in long after they should have been replaced. One of these has to be changed from within the car, via an access panel in the bulkhead.

• The Tiger’s four-speed gearbox is more or less bomb-proof – although the rest of the transmission doesn’t last forever. 
If the car has been driven hard, the universal joints in the propshaft will be ready for replacement.

• The Tiger’s suspension struggles to contain the car under full power. If the car has been driven really hard the Panhard rod could have been torn from its mountings

• The Tiger looks great on wire wheels, but the original 13x41/2J design was too fragile to cope with the torque levels – which is why alloy wheels are popular.

• A lack of factory-applied rust protection takes its toll, although the monocoque is strong and most cars have now been subject to a full restoration.

• Key areas to check are the sills. These are essential to the car’s strength, so make sure all three layers of the sill are present. Without taking the car to pieces that’s not possible so, if work has been done, ask for photographic evidence.

• Next check for rust on all the body panels, around the headlamps, along the base of the windscreen and at the back of the engine bay as well as under the master cylinders. 

• The bottom edges of the doors are rot-prone, and the doors drop through worn hinges. The front edge and the underside are the most common rot spots

• Floorpans can corrode badly, so lift the carpets in the front footwells to see what state the sheet metal is in. The area around the accelerator pedal is especially rot-prone, and try rocking the seats – they may be mounted on crumbling metal

• The electrics are straightforward, but age and heat takes its toll on connections and some of the components.

• The original interior and dashboard trim isn’t especially durable but good-quality repro items are available, and they’re not expensive. Most seats will have been re-trimmed by now.
Model history
1959: Sunbeam Alpine goes on sale, with a 1494cc version of the Rapier engine, four-speed manual gearbox and Laycock overdrive
March 1963: Carroll Shelby is contracted to build V8-engined Alpine, codenamed Thunderbolt
December 1963: Restyled Alpine (Series IV) is launched, with smaller fins
April 1964: Tiger MkI makes debut in New York
June 1964: Tiger production starts at Jensen Motors, in left-hand-drive form only
March 1965: Tiger goes on sale in the UK, with right-hand drive
January 1967: Tiger MkII, officially for US and export market only, has 4727cc V8, wider gear ratios, egg-crate grille and trim revisions
June 1967: Final Tiger is produced
January 1968: Final Alpine is made
Key clubs and websites
• thesunbeamsparescompany.co.uk - Sunbeam Spares Company, great for parts
• www.sunbeamsupreme.co.uk - Sunbeam Classic Spares
• www.sunbeam-alpine.co.uk - Alpine West Midlands, Solihull.
• www.sunbeamtiger.co.uk - Sunbeam Tiger Owners Club
• www.tigersunited.com - Tigers United club, including links to clubs worldwide
Summary and prices
The Tiger has never been more sought after than it is now. While it has a well-deserved reputation for being a real handful, it also makes a surprisingly civilised tourer. 
In the past few years prices have spiralled and there is no such thing as a cheap Sunbeam Tiger any more. Un-restored examples can still be found for around £10,000 but show-condition MkIs are now £22,000-37,000. Although the US market is buoyant, cars are frequently brought back into the UK.
Meanwhile, in the USA prices for the ultra-rare MkII are being pushed up by speculators, and the initial association with Carroll Shelby has led to the car being 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, with cars regularly sold for between $100,000-$200,000. 
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Last updated: 11th Oct 2015
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Sunbeam Tiger
145000 149500 GBP
  • 1965 Sunbeam Tiger Roadster

    $149,500(£0) $149,500(£0)

    From the day it first appeared at the 1964 New York Auto Show, Subeam’s fabulous Tiger has maintained a loyal and passionate following from a group of dedicated enthusiasts. Commonly attributed as a Carroll Shelby project, the initial idea of shoehorning a V8 into the capable but underpowered Alpine actually came via none other than Jack Brabham. The champion Formula 1 driver and constructor had a close relationship with Rootes Group, running a successful tuning operation that specialized in Sunbeam automobiles, so he had firsthand experience with the Alpine’s potential – and limitations. Brabham made his suggestion to Rootes Competitions Manager Norman Garrad, who then relayed the idea to his son Ian, who happened to be acting as West Coast Sales Manager for Rootes American. Ian set about finding a suitable engine that would fit in the tiny Alpine’s bay. Using precision techniques (sending his service manager to various dealers armed with a wooden yardstick), it was determined Ford’s compact new 260 cubic inch V8 would be perfect for their project. Ian Garrad then contacted the nearby workshops run by his neighbor Carroll Shelby for a quote to construct the first prototype. As an interesting side note, Shelby was paid $10,000 and allowed eight weeks to build the first prototype, but Garrad was terribly impatient to learn if the project would even be feasible, so he gave a second Alpine along with $800, a Ford V8 and 2 speed automatic transmission to Ken Miles. In about a week, Miles had a running and driving car! The final car would of course be much more refined and feature things like rack and pinion steering, uprated suspension, and disc brakes. Shelby had hoped to secure the contract to produce the car, but Rootes Group decided to give the job to Jensen in West Bromwich, England, though Shelby’s efforts in developing the car were rewarded in the form of a royalty on every single one built. The Sunbeam Tiger would prove to be one of the happiest of the Anglo-American hybrids. Ford’s 260 V8 gave plenty of “go” but was light enough to allow for balanced handling. The Tiger would gain cult status, spawning a vigorous club scene and countless passionate enthusiasts who would go on to preserve, maintain, modify and race their “baby Cobras” the world over. As often comes with American V8 engines, the urge to modify and race these cars was strong, and as a result many cars have been heavily reworked, raced, crashed and hastily repaired, so to find an absolutely correct example restored to factory-correct specification is a very rare occasion, indeed. On offer is such an example: A truly outstanding 1965 Sunbeam Tiger MkI that has been fabulously restored to its original, very rare and very attractive colors of Balmoral Gray over a blue interior set off with a contrasting factory hard top. This car has its all-important STOA Certificate of Authenticity, having been inspected and validated in 2011. Its known history dates back to the mid-1970s in California, where receipts and records show the car was well maintained and driven regularly. Included photos from the late 70s show it in red over black livery, wearing aftermarket wheels that were somewhat dubious but de rigueur for the time. Those photos also show the car in very good condition and in the company of numerous other Tigers, revealing it was owned and enjoyed by a true enthusiast who cherished his Sunbeams. It passed to another California owner before being discovered in 2006 by Neal Wichard of La Jolla California. The car was remarkably original, still wearing its factory hard top and in very sound, but slightly tired condition. In 2007, Mr. Wichard commissioned Cobra and Tiger restoration experts Doug Pratt and Tom Shelby (Carroll’s nephew) of Only Yesterday Classic Autos to perform an exacting, nut-and-bolt restoration to factory correct standards. This is one of just 27 Tigers originally finished in Balmoral Gray and its looks simply resplendent, particularly with the contrasting blue hard top in place. Fit, finish and paint quality are exquisite, with outstanding bodywork and panel gaps. Chrome and bright trim quality equals that of the paint and body, and the car now rides on a set of period appropriate Minilite alloy wheels. The interior was fully restored to original specs as well, with correct grain vinyl material in medium blue, piped in navy blue. The cockpit fittings are thoroughly correct and excellently presented, with high quality and correct materials used throughout. The correct original steering wheel and shift lever remain in place, as is a wonderful, period-correct Radiomobile 1070 radio. Beneath the factory hard tonneau cover resides a navy blue soft top in hard-wearing Haartz canvas. No detail has been overlooked and the boot has been fully restored to correct standards, while under the floor resides the correct original jack, handle, and tool kit. As one would expect from such a high level restoration, the Ford 260 V8 is fully detailed to factory correct standards. It seems there’s always a temptation to modify an American V8, but thankfully this car has been left in factory correct specification. The undercarriage is similarly exquisite; fully detailed with correct Koni shock absorbers, and outstanding quality finishes. The expert restoration translates into a car that not only looks the part, but one that runs and drives beautifully. All of the effort on the part of the past owner and the restorers has resulted in numerous awards and accolades. The car earned two Best in Show awards at Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association concours in 2011,  a Best in Show at the SAAC meet in Santa Monica the same year, as well as having been exhibited on the lawn at the prestigious Quail Motorsports Gathering in 2010. This Tiger remains exquisite, and is easily counted among the finest Sunbeam Tigers extant, ready to join any collection of important high-performance cars.

    For sale
    $149,500(£0) $149,500(£0)
    Hyman Ltd
    314-524-6000 View contact number
  • Sunbeam Tiger Mk2 ex-Metropolitan Police Force (1967).

    €145,000(£0) €145,000(£0)

    There were only 536 Mk2 Sunbeam Tigers built in total, and officially there were no right hand drive home market cars available. However, 12 RHD examples were made : 2 press cars, 4 dealer demonstrator cars, and 6 Metropolitan Police Cars. The Mk2 was rather different from the 1st series of Tigers. Most importantly, it had the 289ci V8 engine as used in the AC Cobra, Ford GT40 and Mustang. The suspension and steering were improved, and it had an egg crate style grill. The example we are offering is one of these 6 ex-Metropolitan Police Cars. Delivered new on 08.06.1967 to the Police Force at Wembley, London, wearing the NYL558E registration. The Tiger was used as high speed pursuit car on the northern roads of Greater London. After two years and 64.488 miles, NYL was decommissioned on 17.10.1969 and sold at auction. The car had 4 owners since, and a complete rebuild in 1986. It is still in fantastic condition and incredibly well documented. Even the original Rootes owners handbook and Roadcraft Police Drivers Manual are still with the car. MOT's are going back as far as 1979, and many period pictures and a photographic record of the rebuild are also in the documentation file. The c

    • Year: 1969
    • Mileage: 130 mi
    For sale
    €145,000(£0) €145,000(£0)
  • 1967 Sunbeam Tiger Roadster


    (SOLD) Here is a great opportunity to own an impressive, numbers matching classic sports car. This Sunbeam Tiger is a real, true classic with muscle. This handsomely restored Tiger is fitted with the 260 V8 and four speed transmission. It has undergone a recent restoration by Classic Showcase of Oceanside, CA with all systems gone through, and a full vehicle detail inside and out, as well as the undercarriage. During the restoration all new suspensions components were installed, the brite work was redone as needed, the top bows were restored for the new fitted soft top, the instruments were gone through; new rubber was installed; a new stainless steel exhaust system was installed; the car was wet sanded and buffed after it received new paint to a brilliant finish, new carpets were fitted and installed in the car, and all new upholstered panels were installed in the trunk. It comes complete with the Tiger tool roll, owner’s manual, and Rootes Heritage Certificate of Authenticity. This is a fabulous example to show or drive!

    • Year: 1967
    • Mileage: 52229 mi
    For sale