Inspired by Carroll Shelby’s success in shoehorning a Ford V8 into the AC Ace to create the Cobra, Rootes asked Shelby to perform the same trick with its Sunbeam Alpine sports car. Ford’s 260 cubic-inch (4.2-liter) unit was chosen, similar to that used in the Cobra and more than capable of powering a car that began life with a 1.6-liter four. Assembled by Jensen Motors and introduced in 1964, the Tiger featured a stronger gearbox and rear axle plus rack-and-pinion steering. Vastly superior to its Alpine progenitor in performance terms, the Tiger stormed to 60 mph in around 7 seconds and peaked at 117 mph.

Imported into Switzerland from the US 12 years ago, this left-hand drive Tiger Mark I has belonged to a Swiss enthusiast for the past nine years and has benefited from “constant restoration” during this time. The amount of work
carried out is evident from the car’s condition, stated as “excellent” in all departments. Recent refurbishment has included a carburetor rebuild, a new clutch and gearbox (two years ago), plus new tires and tonneau cover. Finished in blue with black upholstery and equipped with a Nardi steering wheel and Minilite alloy wheels, this potent and desirable Anglo-American sports car comes with its Swiss Permis de Circulation and roadworthiness certificate.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1966 Sunbeam Tiger Mk I
Years Produced:1965-67
Number Produced:6,495 Mk Is (also 534 Mk IIs)
Original List Price:$3,659
SCM Valuation:$13,500-$16,500
Tune Up Cost:$500
Distributor Caps:$25
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on plate in engine compartment riveted to right-hand foot well
Engine Number Location:On peel-away sticker on valve cover— generally missing or replica. Ford casting number on block under starter indicates when block was cast.
Club Info:Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association (STOA) 701-C Fortune Dr., San Jose, CA 95131
Alternatives:Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III, Triumph TR6, Chevy Camaro SS Conv.

This car was offered by Bonhams & Brooks in Geneva on March 5, 2001. It sold for $14,674, including buyer’s premium.

There is a distinct Jekyll and Hyde personality to the Sunbeam Tiger. The Alpine, a cute little four-banger convertible, came to America’s attention as Elizabeth Taylor’s car in Butterfield Eight, definitely making it a chick car. The Tiger is almost indistinguishable from the Alpine on the exterior, yet its Ford V8 invokes the image, not of Taylor’s high heels, but rather Carroll Shelby’s cowboy boots.

The Tiger came about because Norman Garrad, Competition Group Manager for the Rootes Group that produced the Sunbeams, was convinced that the well-balanced Alpine had more potential than was being realized with its less-than-two-liter engine. The first plan was to procure four-cylinder Ferrari engines that could be fitted with Weber carbs (a “Sunbeam Stallion?”), but the “powered by Ferrari” deal fell apart.

Using some residual advertising funds, Ian Garrad, son of the Sunbeam Talbot US West Coast Sales Manager, had Ken Miles slip a Ford 260 with automatic transmission into an Alpine. The car proved the potential of the idea. An additional $10,000 was sufficient to have Carroll Shelby and Shelby American do a more finished job, using the Ford 260 with a four-speed transmission. The car was tucked in a packing crate and flown to England for formal approval of the Rootes board in July 1964. In October, 4,000 Ford engines and transmissions began arriving at Jensen Motors, which had been contracted to assemble the cars since Rootes didn’t have the room. In one fell swoop, Sunbeam had a roadster that could compete with Cobras instead of Fiats, and was $3,000 less than the AC.

The car received a number of improvements in 1966, including better gear ratios, an alternator and a relocated Panhard rod, accompanied by some trim changes. Many enthusiasts now refer to these transition cars as Mk IAs. In the last year of production, the same Ford 289 being used in the base Cobra replaced the 260. These last cars could have been world-beaters, but unfortunately Rootes had just been bought out of bankruptcy by Chrysler. For a brief time, Chrysler was in the position of providing warranty service on the Ford engines in the Tigers, and it was no surprise when the Tiger was taken out of production.

Given its reported excellent condition and Swiss certificate of roadworthiness (one of the toughest in the world), the price made by this example was fair, though the much rarer Mk II would have gotten a higher price. The report of “constant restoration” is typical of Tigers all over the world; these owners never seem to stop modifying their cars. There are two downsides to buying a Tiger. So many wound up on the muscle-car side of the parking lot that it’s nearly impossible to find an unbutchered original car. Due to this, a careful mechanical and structural examination is imperative. Also, with Ford engines and parts so abundant—a good thing for the restorer—fake Tigers are not uncommon. However, the different cowl bracing and transmission tunnel needed to accommodate the Ford engine and transmission, as well as subtler differences a Tiger expert can spot, give most fakes away. The Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association also has an authentication program to assist in spotting fakey-doos.

The Sunbeam Tiger exists right on the liminal point between the British sports car and the American muscle car. It can proudly show off its walnut dashboard on the lawns of a British field meet, or its V8 valve covers at Mel’s Diner cruise night. Perhaps the only reason it isn’t the icon of either of these car cultures is that it appeared and disappeared so quickly, yet another victim of the benighted British auto industry of the ’60s.—Gary Anderson

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