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…

13 comments

  1. FWIW,…..’67 Tigers did come with 289’s, but this one looks like an earlier, 26-powered car. No egg-crate grill and side trim says this isn’t a ’67 version.

  2. Keith. Time for you to see a psycho analyst; grief comes in that color of red.
    The Porsche Boxster, with the now falling prices , is the best sports car money can buy, dollar for dollar . You were saved by
    the other buyer …!

  3. Always a joy to read your thoughts on various automobiles. I am a long time subscriber and still have the 1964 330 America I bought from you back in 2002? Completely restored and painted in original white color. Very fast for a 2+2. Mike.

  4. You know you need this Keith: https://portland.craigslist.org/mlt/cto/d/portland-1978-alfetta-alfa-romeo-sports/7250669439.html

    I have really enjoyed reading all about your auto dilemmas and the stories have helped to solidify thoughts I have long had about them, especially as I have just put my auto 635 back on the road after a several year hiatus and have been enjoying it greatly. Part of that enjoyment has been that it is an auto, unlike my other BMW’s. Think of all the fun cars I could and should of bought/tried but never did because “it’s not stick”. Is it better to never have a M3 because the right car with a stick isn’t easy to find locally? But auto’s are? I now think not, as an auto M3 is 100x better than no M3. Shame it took me so long to come to terms with this as there could have been lots of miles and memories in a variety of cars I’ve always wanted but didn’t because “it’s not a stick”.

    Merry Xmass and happy new year, now go get the Alfa fright pig(It’s an auto!) to quell your desires to hunt for something new and focus on enjoying your current stable. Especially drive the damn 928!

  5. Keith, your regret at having missed an auto MGCGT is as nothing compared to the regret you’d endure had you acquired it. I speak from experience; the best one of those things is a muddy, numb, ill-balanced driving experience. You’re on the right track, and IMO you passed on that tiger for all the right reasons too. It’s mostly about the hunt anyway, ain’t it? Merry Christmas to you all.

  6. Keith, i’m glad you woke up! Never have been a Tiger Fan after driving one ( still a Sunbeam) i used to be the parts manager at the local MG dealer 1970-72…We all cringed when a MGC came in..(under powered, front heavy, big steering wheel trying to compensate for heavy steering, parts were a problem even then!) time does not change these issues…the Boxster S with the PDK will be a joy to own and the ‘ drive it now’ and` ‘ dealer servicing’ huge + …Chuck

  7. Vintage cars, logically, are a fool’s errand to be sure. I much prefer the voyeuristic approach as I scan BaT daily; however after putting a deposit on a Speedster replica (Hey the components are new, architecture consistent with the original, reliable BUT still under powered, noisy, bumpy and tail heavy) a BMW Z1 crossed my path. Old enough to be vintage perhaps BUT with an E30 drive train, no AC, Airbags, Cruise, OBC to clutter up the experience. Its quirky retracting doors and mildly amusing styling coupled with a rock solid drive train make this the antithesis of the Tiger you wisely steered away from. While I prefer three pedals my 02 BMW E46 wagon winter car has two. Banging around town through ice and snow is just fine with the automatic. Boxster is the way to go. PDK is incredible.

  8. Keith, you own a 928 – how about driving it a while before planning any future purchases ! You might just be surprised.

  9. I have never figured out why people love these cars and all the time and money the spend repairing and maintaining them. Stop buying these old scrap iron euro cars as the right answer to owning a good reliable sports car comes from Japan and is spelled MIATA! Just buy and drive it like you stole it and have fun. No heavy rear end, corners like it is on rails and goes where you point it. Low to no maintenance costs and if you need and automatic (I cringe) and it is not enough power put on a turbo. I rest my case. My 02 Miata 6 speed is more fun to drive than my 2013 Corvette automatic.

  10. Good decision to forgo the Tiger. In your post you mention a Boxster S PDK for around $30K…presumably this his would be a 987.2 Boxster S, and I agree it would be fantastic addition to your collection. My wife and I happen the have an ’09 in Aqua Blue metallic that we acquired a year and a half ago, and we just love it.

    With 310 HP it is genuinely quick, and the PDK always keeps that snappy direct injected 3.4L flat six in it’s optimal power band. Or you can rip lightning fast manual shifts for yourself when the mood strikes.

    Handling and steering feel are as you’d expect: sublime, though the ride can be a tad harsh over rougher roads, It is every day usable, dead reliable so far, and easy to live with as a daily. I look for excuses to run errands with it and relish weekend top-down runs through the local countryside The only drawback I’ve noticed so far is that, while getting in it is easy enough, getting out can take a little more effort, especially with the top up.

    All I can say is, go for it…if you can find one, as they are surprisingly scarce. The 987.2 came out right as the ’09 Great Recession hit, so not many were sold to begin with.

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