Matt Jacques ©2015, courtesy of RM Auctions
This car is equipped with a 164-hp, 260-ci, OHV V8 engine with a 4-barrel carburetor, 4-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension with coil springs, live axle rear suspension with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and front-disc and rear-drum hydraulic brakes. British coachbuilders Thomas Harrington Ltd. built only a handful of beautifully crafted fastback Le Mans coupe bodies for Sunbeam Alpine chassis during the early 1960s. Exactly one of those bodies was built for the Sunbeam Tiger, the potent Ford V8-powered “pocket rocket” developed with the assistance of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles. This is that car, which is known to Sunbeam enthusiasts as simply “Harry.” Harry was reportedly a factory developmental prototype that had been built based on future safety concerns about open-top models and with potential competition use in mind. Unfortunately, the end of Tiger production put an end to those lofty aspirations, and the Tiger Le Mans coupe remained a one-off. In 1982, the car was found in England. Ian Garrad, the son of onetime Sunbeam West Coast Competition Director Norman Garrad, confirmed the authenticity of this original running-and-driving Harrington coupe. It was brought to California, shown in its original condition for seven years, and then fully restored over a two-year period, with much of the mechanical work being performed by Hollywood Sports Cars’ legendary Doane Spencer, who had built the original Tiger prototype decades earlier. The restoration won Second in Class at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1990. This Tiger has been the winner of numerous other concours prizes in the years since, and it remains much as it was originally, with only a few modern modifications. These modifications, made at the suggestion of Doane Spencer, included upgrading the high-volume/high-pressure oil pump, modifying the heads for unleaded fuel, converting the original distributor to electronic switching, and adding a larger radiator with a five-blade fan and a 350-CFM Holley carburetor. This one-of-a-kind car is the most unique and special of all Tigers, and it represents the “holy grail” to enthusiasts of these potent cats.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1965 Sunbeam Tiger Mk I Coupe
Years Produced:1964–67
Number Produced:6,498 (plus 536 Mk II cars). Our subject car is the only coupe made
Original List Price:$3,425
SCM Valuation:$45,000–$90,000
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:$30
Chassis Number Location:On firewall
Engine Number Location:Where the starter bolts onto the block
Club Info:Sunbeam Tiger Owners Club
Alternatives:Austin-Healeys with V8 engines, AC Cobra Mk VI, 1962–65 Shelby Cobra
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 137, sold at RM Auctions’ Arizona sale for $187,000, including buyer’s premium, on January 15, 2015.

When I was first contacted by SCM Executive Editor Chester Allen about this car, it was a simple email: “Hey, Dale, are you available for a profile for a 1965 Sunbeam Tiger?” Naturally, being a Tiger guy — I own a spiffy 1966 Mk 1A — I quickly replied to the affirmative.

So, off I went, pointing my browser to RM Auctions and locating Lot 137. Hmmm, that’s odd, someone has fashioned a hard top to a Sunbeam Tiger. Those hooligans! Blasphemy! All fun aside, I quickly ascertained that this is the rather well-known — at least among Tiger aficionados — one and only Harrington Tiger. Yes, one of one — and an automobile with an exceptional history.

From motorcars to sports cars

If you are not familiar with the history of the Harrington coachwork, here’s a quick primer on the subject:

Thomas Harrington Ltd. was a fine coachbuilding firm in Brighton, England. Their main line of business was affixing their coachwork to chassis from other manufacturers, notably for Commer and Bedford as well as Rolls-Royce and Talbot.

Their coachwork was very expensive, but it was also highly respected for quality and craftsmanship. As such, that level of quality requires the proper amount of time to complete each car. Sales were respectable, but rival coachbuilders could produce more bodies at a lower cost, and eventually Harrington began exploring other opportunities to stay viable.

By the early 1960s, Harrington had developed a following for their ability to create and mold fiberglass to very fine standards. The Harrington and Rootes families already had a great relationship — so much so that Harrington operated a Rootes car dealership as a separate entity. This relationship ultimately led to Rootes asking Harrington to build the first Alpine coupe in 1961 — aka the Harrington Alpine.

From 1961 to 1964, approximately 384 Alpine-series sports cars got Harrington bodies. These would break down to four series of the stylish car — and the Le Mans edition sold from 1961 to 1963. One, and only one, of those Harrington Le Mans coupes would find its way onto a genuine Sunbeam Tiger chassis. That Tiger (aka Harry) displays chassis number B9472164 with a Jenson build date of January 7, 1965.

Harry’s fantastic history

Chassis number B9472164 comes replete with some notable history — as Doane Spencer handled its mechanical restoration. Spencer was a legendary mechanic and very well known for his longstanding relationship with driver Jim Adams. Between the two of them, they successfully raced a notorious Tiger in SCCA B Production — and continued on to the 1965 American Road Race of Champions in Daytona, FL. To own a Tiger of any sort, and having Doane Spencer wrench on it, will put it on a higher plane than others. Add in that our subject car is the only Harrington coupe built on a Tiger chassis, and special stacks on top of special.

A unique, beautiful car

The Harrington Le Mans coupe displays great lines. It is perhaps similar in nature to an AC Aceca Bristol without the large mouth up front — and a bit more formal in its overall stance, with a less rakish windshield and perhaps more angular rear end.

The cockpit is exceptional, with a beautiful wood dash and logical gauge layout topped off with an attractive wood-trimmed steering wheel. Other portions of the car could have been finished with a more refined look, and the wheels, although stock to the configuration, look a tad too modern for the balance of the car. Still, it’s all GT — and a car very suitable for touring in dubious weather.

A very good investment

“Harry” sold previously as Lot 139 at RM Auctions’ Monterey Sports and Classics sale on August 19, 2005. There, “Harry” sold for $82,500, including buyer’s premium, and was described to be in nearly the same condition as it displays today.

While I don’t know whether the car changed hands between RM’s 2005 Monterey sale and 2015 Arizona sales, what we can define is the appreciation of this asset, with over $100,000 being added to the final tally. That’s just slightly over a 9% return based on the initial outlay of $82,500. Of course, this does not include the cost of insurance, maintenance and other miscellaneous costs, but we can still celebrate a 9% return in the 1% world we currently live in. Especially a tangible asset you can enjoy and actually use.

Tigers on a tear

While we won’t be able to pull up any super-specific comps for a one-of-one Tiger, what we can do is take a look at the Tiger market in general. Lately, plenty of Tigers have been up for grabs — and for good reason. The money has been exceptional.

As an example, Mecum’s recent Kissimmee, FL, sale included four Tigers, with three of them changing hands, the highest of which, Lot F224, sold for $101,520 with the buyer’s premium included. In September of 2014 at Auctions America’s Auburn Fall sale, three more changed ownership, with a Tiger Mk II selling for $143,000. The top public sale appears to be a 1967 Mk II that sold for $231,000 at RM Auctions’ 2014 Monterey sale.

To state that many Tigers now have their claws firmly entrenched in the Shelby Mustang value range would be an accurate statement.

For most Tiger owners, those sales are not an anomaly — a one-time incident between two well-heeled, red-mist-saturated buyers. It’s something most Tiger enthusiasts have seen coming for more than a few years now — myself included. Tigers are questionably stylish cars. They are finicky at times, but they carry undeniable DNA linking them to Carroll Shelby.

By most standards, these cars have turned the corner. They’ve gone from $35k sports cars, which have routinely been modified and thrashed about, to spunky performance cars with a shirttail relationship to the hierarchy of the Shelby Cobra.

This all brings us around to our subject car. With the Sunbeam Tiger market now routinely finding in excess of $100,000 for great examples (that does not include your jacked-up, modified, side-exhaust Tiger with a homemade wooden dash), we can safely state that the market has set a new valuation tier, with the rare Mk II models usually finding the best results at auction.

The pre-sale estimate for this 1965 Sunbeam Tiger Mk I coupe by Harrington was established at $200,000 to $250,000. While that may seem to be a lofty goal, the recent sales of other Tigers — and certainly not only a one-of-one example — have seen numbers approaching that range, especially considering the aforementioned $231,000 Tiger that RM Auctions sold during Monterey 2014.

That said, there is no doubt that the new owner made a very smart decision to purchase the car. Harry’s next caretaker wrote the check for far less than the low estimate. Well bought. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)

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