Name: 1966 Sunbeam Tiger
Year(s) Produced: 1964-1967
Number Built: 7,083
Class: Sports car
Body Type: 2-door roadster
Engine: 289 cui, OHV 32-valve V-8 (4.7 L)
Power: 200hp @ 4400rpm
0-60mph: 7.5 seconds
Top Speed: 122 mph
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Length/width/height: 156 in./ 60.5 in./ 51.5 in.
Wheelbase: 86 in.
Base Price: US$3,425 (NADA)
Highest Price: US$68,300 (NADA)
The Sunbeam Tiger may not be your typical choice as a collectible car, and owning one feels like you have to always give a convincing explanation on the merits of having one. Yes, it is a British sports car but once people understand that it has a user-friendly American V-8, then somehow, some will nod in subtle agreement. Tell them further that the great Caroll Shelby helped in the design and engineering of its Cobra-style packaging, and that its current auction prices may reach us as high as $70,000 to $100,000, then the crowd begins to be really quiet.
As the Golden Era of muscle car performance dawned in the 1960s, the Rootes Group’s Sunbeam marque was eager to revamp their ‘wimpy’ Alpine sports car, wanting to give it a more intimidating roar as that of the Jaguar. So when news reached West Bromwich, England of a certain Shelby Cobra that has been trouncing the opposition over in the US, then West Coast Sales Manager of Rootes American Motors Inc., Ian Garrand took to heart the advice of Formula 1 champion Jack Brabham of considering the idea of fitting a Ford V-8 engine inside an Alpine. Garrand reckoned there was a market for a hot-rodded Alpine, so he approached Carroll Shelby to see how feasible such a car would be to build.
The 260-cubic-inch Ford V-8 looked promising in an Alpine and 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) by Jensen Motors in Britain, which was contracted to build the cars.
The V-8 fitted 1965 Sunbeam Tiger was a sensation when it first appeared in the 1964 New York Auto Show. The Tiger’s time in the spotlight didn’t last long though when the distressed Rootes Group eventually succumbed to Chrsyler’s take over in 1967. In its entire production period, an estimated 7,083 builds were produced with the Tiger Mk I accounting for the majority of the run (some 3,800 cars) which featured a 260-cubic-inch (4.3-liter) version of the small-block Ford V-8 and can be distinguished by round-corner doors and lead-filled body seams. It was then succeeded by the Mk IA with 2,700 cars built around the model. It shared the same 260-cubic-inch V-8 as that of the Mk I, but can be differentiated from its older sibling by it square-corner doors and unfilled body seams. The Mark II soon followed with only 500 produced made available only in the US. It has a larger 289 cu in (4.7 L) Ford engine and wide-ratio transmission that significantly improved the marque’s performance allowing it a 0-60 run of 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 122 mph.
Though the Sunbeam Tiger was well known on the streets as a ‘Baby Cobra’, it wasn’t really meant to be a compliment. After production ended, the Tiger met with relative contempt owing its mainstream identity from its cameo role in “Get Smart,” a TV sitcom about spies that was broadcast between 1965 to 1970. It was met with so much disdain during that time that there are occasions when owners will hurry up to close a garage sale or simply abandoning it besides a dumpster.
True, the Tiger may have lost its roar during its prime but it’s all behind it now. With the value of the Tiger rising steadily in auctions and with its undying British charm powered with a heart of a reliable V-8, no wonder people are nodding in approval. So what do you think about this Tiger? Share us your thoughts in the comments section below.