I came close to making an offer on a Sunbeam Tiger last week.
For the past couple of years, I have been forced to look away from manual-shift cars and toward automatics.
As the number of sports car fanatics looking for two-pedal classic cars is somewhere between zero and one – that one being me – my inbox has become like honey to a bee for those selling slushbox classics.
I’ve enjoyed this educational journey. I’ve learned that 95% of the time, you are just cruising in your old car and the gearbox doesn’t really make a difference. Even the dreaded Borg Warner 35 three-speed does a credible job of helping get you from point a to b.
Okay, let’s tell the truth: The BW 35 is a power-sapping, archaic pile that strips most of the joy out of driving a small-displacement car. But I have learned to adapt to my realities.
I have bought two classic cars that came from the factory with automatics. The first was a 1965 Volvo 122S. Once properly kitted out with a full IPD suspension, it was fun to drive. Having a 1800cc tractor engine strapped to a slushbox means that you have to be crafty all the time to keep up with traffic on backroads. That’s a challenge I enjoy.
The second was our 1971 V12 Jag E-type with a Model 12 Borg-Warner three-speed auto. As the Jag has 272 horsepower to the Volvo’s 86, the car hustles right along despite the automatic.
The key here is that both these cars were designed by the factory to be equipped with automatics, with all of the necessary changes ranging from rear axle ratios to drive-shaft tunnel sizes.
But I couldn’t help but be interested when a Craigslist post from my good friend and Gooding specialist Hans Wurl showed up.
It was for a 1967 Sunbeam Tiger 1A, converted to a Ford C-4 automatic and with “easily removable” hand controls.
I’ve owned a variety of Sunbeams and even a couple of Tigers, so this was not a voyage into the unknown.
“I could own a Tiger!” I thought. “My very own baby Cobra!”
The car looked handsome, although painted what seems to me to be an incorrect shade of red. According to the ad, it had been “repowered” by a 289. (More cubic inches – how lucky could I be?) It also had Carroll Shelby’s signature under the hood. Now that’s rare. 🙂
The car had not been running in several years. It was reported as never hit or rusted. It came with a factory hardtop.
Asking price was $51,000 firm.
I asked Colin Comer his thoughts. He replied that if I bought it, we could no longer be friends. Or maybe he said, “Run. Run away.” I forget.
Hagerty raconteur Brad Phillips drove his Tiger on the SCM 1000 last year. I asked him if I bought this car if we could be the Bad Boy Tiger Twins. He said he would consider my request as soon as he got his car running again.
I started to think logically despite the red mist I was enveloped by.
On the plus side, I don’t own a classic open car. Tigers are fun and fast. They are reliable enough.
Okay, those were the plusses.
On the other side, I have decided I will not buy any more project cars. Unless, of course, Greg Long comes up with a fun DS-21 Pallas with a “Citromatic” (sounds like a kitchen juicer, doesn’t it?) gearbox.
I am hoping my days of delivering non-running cars to shops and just giving them my credit card are over. Nothing good ever comes of that.
So $51k was too much. The best Tiger in the world right now is probably a $150k car, and this car wasn’t running, had been fitted with an automatic and was the wrong color.
Restoring the car to the right gearbox and color and finding a 260 engine were fool’s errands I wanted to leave to someone else. Besides, I can’t drive a stick, remember? That’s how this whole thing started.
Mentally, I put a number of $30k on the car. SCM Tour Director Neil D’Autremont said, “Hey let’s go buy it!” Clearly, he’s no help in situations like this.
Suppose I offered $30K and the seller took it!
First, Colin and I probably still couldn’t be friends. David Gooding would probably ask Hans why he didn’t try to sell me something from their inventory (like the M3 auto from their last auction I ended up being the underbidder on). Neil would have to go back to getting our 928 fettled instead of messing around with a color-changed, wrong-engined, converted to auto, Tiger.
But here’s what really made the no-buy decision. For $30k, I could buy a wonderful used Boxster S PDK and not have to do a thing to it given the 5k miles a year I would be putting on it.
Hmmm. $30k for a mongrel Tiger or for the same amount, a Boxster.
Luckily, it doesn’t cost anything to have stupid ideas about buying the wrong car. So for the moment I am saved.
However, I still have regrets about the MGC-GT automatic in Hemmings that got away two months ago…