Sunbeam Tiger, the detail that changed everything

When Sunbeam wanted to turn his Alpine into a sports car, he turned to a tuner who had already worked miracles on other cars that seemed like lost causes: Carroll Shelby.

In 1959, the British brand Sunbeam launched the second version of the Alpine, a small 2-seater convertible with elegant lines. Using mechanical components from other models of the Rootes car group, of which it was an integral part, it had a 1.5 litre 4-cylinder engine developing only 58kW, its light weight nevertheless allowed it to reach a top speed of 155 km/h.

While it proved to be a good car for everyday use, it lacked the power to compete with the many sporty roadsters on the market at the time. So, Sunbeam decided to turn to another company to transform the car. At first, contacts were made with Ferrari, but the negotiations did not go very far.

Finally, during a promotional event during where an Alpine was driven by Stirling Moss and Jack Brabham, the Rootes race department manager, Norman Garrad, mentioned the work of the Texan tuner Carroll Shelby on the AC Ace which became the Cobra. Discussions were then held.

A V8 or nothing

An American engine had to be found that would fit into the frail Alpine! In the end, the Ford Windsor 4.3 litre block, combined with a manual gearbox, was selected. The result was so efficient that the Rootes group ordered a batch of 3,000 V8s from Ford to equip the car, which was named Tiger.

Surprisingly, the car was not modified very much: it just received stronger suspensions and a new steering box. Even the brakes remain as they were! Despite the big capacity motor, the Sunbeam only developed 109kW, yet it could still reach 190 km/h and accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 9 seconds, a very good time for the period. In 1967, the company followed Ford's technical evolution and offered the Tiger with the famous 289 engine (4.7 litres) of the Mustang.

Logically renamed Tiger MKII, the car was only available on the American market and its performance was slightly improved. The problem was that in the meantime, Chrysler acquired a 30% stake in the Rootes group in 1964 and three years later, the American manufacturer became the owner. This created a conflict of interest, as the Tiger's engine was a Ford engine.

A car was converted with a Chrylser engine, but it required too many modifications, which did not pay off. The model was inevitably killed off, and the remaining stock of Sunbeams equipped with Ford V8s were sold. Only 7,128 cars were produced between 1964 and 1967.

One in a million

Rare and desirable today thanks to its quirky character, the Sunbeam Tiger had a long period during which it was a bit shunned before becoming a much sought-after collector's item. With only 633 units produced, the more powerful MKII is the most sought after.

However, one has to be careful with the MKI which was equipped with a 289 engine, the transformation was quite popular, except with purists! As the mechanicals are of Ford origin, the parts are quite easy to find in the USA. Unfortunately, it is not so easy for the Sunbeam parts, which are not all reproduced. As a result of the renewed interest in this model, the price of the Tiger has increased a lot: well restored and original cars trade from R1.1 million, and even more for the MKII.

 

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