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 show quality standards. It seems there’s always a temptation to modify an American V8, but thankfully this car has been left in factory correct specification with the exception of an upgraded larger oil filter, although an original one comes with the car. 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.
Oct 11, 2015