Window Shopper: Get Smarter, Skip the Cobra

What’s the cheapest way to get into a Shelby? You could probably find a used and abused Dodge Omni GLH-S for $800—yes, in the ’80s, Shelby applied his magic to the small Chrysler—but let’s pretend you don’t want to drive a problem-child econobox with a plastic interior and a propensity to torque-steer itself into trees. Now what?

If you’ve been reading us awhile, you’ve already seen the answer in these pages: the Sunbeam Tiger. In short, it’s the V8-powered version of the Sunbeam Alpine.

Ian Garrad, West Coast Sales Manager of Rootes American Motors Inc., worked with Carroll Shelby to replace the Alpine’s four-cylinder engine with a small-block Ford V8.

What makes this car attainable is a somewhat obscure connection to Shelby. Unlike the Cobra, the Tiger’s link to Shelby isn’t as well known. That’s a bonus for owners and potential buyers, though, because this car is in many ways superior to a Cobra.

Its major advantages over that other V8-powered Brit roadster are comfort and usability. In a Tiger, you get weather protection, roll-up windows, a leather interior and a wood dashboard. It’s also an exceptionally high-quality car—something you won’t get just by adding a motor to a plebeian European roadster.

The Tiger has all the simplicity you’d expect from such a car: an engine, a driveline and a ton of torque. Its lack of complexity makes it a relatively easy car to live with, and if you ever have engine problems, Ford V8s aren’t exactly hard to find.

Another reason prices stayed low for quite some time is that, like so many Fiat and Pantera owners, Sunbeam owners modified and customized the cars to their own—often questionable—tastes. Many fell into disuse and disappeared into piles of iron oxide.

Collectors are starting to take notice, and prices are reflecting that. Tiger values have increased some 20 percent in the last year. The rarest of the breed is the Mk II car, with just 536 copies made, compared to nearly 6500 of the Mk I cars.
Story By Alan Cesar

These last of the run featured a bigger, 289-cubic-inch V8 instead of a 260, and the Mk I’s optional rear traction bars became standard. The Ford engines were something of a marketing problem, though: Chrysler bought a portion of the Rootes Group right as the Tiger went on sale. Understandably, it upset Chrysler dealers to sell a car with a “Powered by Ford” badge. On Mk II cars, it’s replaced with a “Sunbeam V8” badge.

It’s not difficult to find yourself wanting a Tiger. It has classic, understated looks. It’s undeniably British. The engine makes great sounds and produces ample torque. It’ll drive sedately if you like, but it’s also easy and fun to hang the tail out around corners. And, of course, getting more power is as easy as falling off a log. If Carroll Shelby has a place in your garage, you’d be remiss to miss his Sunbeam Tiger.

Shopping and Ownership

Mk I Sunbeam Tigers entered the U.S. in the spring of 1964. Production of Mk II cars began in December of 1966 and continued through June of ’67. Expect a nice-driving Mk I car to fetch about $30,000, with at least a $5000 premium for an Mk II car. Top-condition cars sell for $60,000 to $80,000, but check with the Classic Tiger or Rootes One registry to verify that it’s the real thing. Fakes do exist. The value of an imitation tops out at $15,000.

If you have long legs, look for an Mk II car. The steering wheel was raised on these cars to address complaints of knee contact in the earlier examples. From the outside, Mk II cars are easy to identify: Look for an eggcrate grille instead of a single bar, and the Sunbeam V8 badge.

Expect difficulty accessing anything in the engine bay; it’s a tight squeeze for any kind of work. A port inside the car allows you to reach the rearmost spark plugs.

The exhaust manifolds come very close to the footwells. Consider installing extra heat shielding to prevent your feet from cooking.

Cooling the engine is a formidable task in any Tiger, so an upgraded radiator is a must. Find a better, five-blade cooling fan from an air-conditioned Ford Maverick from the early 1970s to replace the Tiger’s inadequate four-blade fan.

Its body was built to a very high standard and will rust to a very high standard. The design has many curves that are difficult to replicate. Replacement panels are available, but the body is welded on and has many layers in some places. This makes restoring a rusty example very costly. Interior materials are also high quality, which means replacing them isn’t cheap.

The wiring, like most British cars from the era, can be problematic as it ages, but it’s not expensive to fix. Replacing the harness is just a few hundred dollars. Considering the cost of body and interior work, the easiest car to restore is one that has a blown engine or needs the wiring redone.

Weak rear spring shackles tend to crack. Look for a weld-on upgrade from Mod Tiger Engineering. MTE also has a Panhard bar relocation kit to reduce bind in its travel.

It’s no surprise that the brakes behind its 13-inch wheels are inadequate for the speeds the Tiger can reach. Wilwood offers a big brake kit with four-piston calipers, but bigger wheels are required. Keep in mind the additional cost as you mull the $1300 price of the upgrade.

Parts and Service

Action Speed and Custom
(386) 252-2632 actionspeedandcustom.com

British American Transfer Incorporated
(941) 355-0005 batinc.net

Classic Sunbeam Auto Parts
(800) 24-SUNBEAM
classicsunbeam.com

Mod Tiger Engineering
tigerengineering.com

Rootes Group Depot
(408) 727-6170
Santa Clara, Calif.

Resources

California Association of Sunbeam Tiger Owners
catmbr.org

Classic Tiger
classictiger.com

Rootes One
rootes1.com

Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association
stoa-tigerclub.com

“Sunbeam Alpine and Tiger: The Complete Story,” by Graham Robson

“Tiger: The Making of a Sports Car,” by Mike Taylor

Tigers East/Alpines East
teae.org

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Comments
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jerrygardner1967
jerrygardner1967 None
1/29/13 2:41 p.m.

Hey really what an awsome car. I , onceupatime owned a 1967 tiger. I drove it 20 miles to and from work everyday and autocrossed it on weekends. won many trophys with it the Dallas, Tx, area. wish I had it back, but times and seasons change.

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