Sunbeam Tiger Mk. I

One of the collector cars that has increased in value significantly in recent years is the Sunbeam Tiger.  The Sunbeam Tiger was the idea of Ian Garrad, who was the West Coast Manager for the Rootes Group.  Garrad saw the successful of the Ford Cobra and he thought that Rootes might be able to have similar success by putting an American V8 engine into their existing two-seat sports car, the Sunbeam Alpine.

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Sunbeam Tiger Mk. I

In order to put this idea into action, Garrad then approached Carroll Shelby to build such a car.  Shelby managed to put the small block Ford V8 engine, then at 260 cubic inches, into the Sunbeam Alpine, thus birthing the Sunbeam Tiger.

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The Minilite Wheels Are An After-Market Addition

After Shelby built the Sunbeam Tiger prototype and did the basic engineering, the Rootes group entered into a contract with the Jensen company whereby Jensen would build the Sunbeam Tiger.  Jensen was a right-sized company that could build significant quantities of cars, but fell short of the needing a huge production line orders to be profitable.

Sunbeam Tiger Ad

1965 Advertisement In Canada Track & Traffic

The advertisement, shown above, for the Sunbeam Tiger seems like it would have been very effective.

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The Back Fins Were A Result Of A Late Fifties American Influence On The Original Sunbeam Alpine Design

The March 1965 issue of Canada Track & Traffic had a road test of the Sunbeam Tiger Mk. I.  Of course at that time it wasn’t known as the Mk.1 because no one knew that there would be a Mk. II.  The data below comes from that road test article.

Sunbeam Tiger 65 Road Test

March 1965 Sunbeam Tiger Road Test from Canada Track & Traffic

The Sunbeam Tiger is essentially a Sunbeam Alpine with a Ford V8 engine.  I was curious about the weight differential between the two cars, therefore I looked at Richard Langworth’s book “Tiger, Alpine, Rapier” to see that a 1964 Sunbeam Alpine Mk III reportedly weighed 2,155 pounds, while the road test above notes that the Tiger weighed 2,660 pounds.  It is interesting that Langworth’s book noted the “unladen” weight of the Tiger was 2,525 pounds.  depending upon the numbers used it seems that a Sunbeam Tiger weighed 400 or 500 ponds more than an Alpine.  I am surprised by the large weight differential.

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The Sunbeam Tiger Mk I Was Powered By A 260 Cubic Inch Ford V8

The Sunbeam Tiger Mk. I engine produced 164 horsepower in a rather low state of tune with only a two-barrel carburetor with a 8.8:1 compression ratio.  This was the engine that is most commonly thought of as the engine in the Falcon Sprint.  It is evident that this Tiger engine had considerable horsepower potential.

Sunbeam Tiger 65 Monte

This Sunbeam Tiger With The Crew Of Peter Harper & Ian Hall Finished 4th Overall, First In Class In The 1965 Monte Carlo Rally

The Sunbeam Tiger had some modest rally success.  Sunbeam Tigers won their class in five major rallies – the 1964 Geneva Rally, the 1965 Monte carlo Rally, the 1965 Scottish Rally, the 1966 Tulip Rally, and the 1966 Acropolis Rally.  Many said that the Sunbeam Tiger was too nose heavy for rallies.  Given the increased weight over the Sunbeam Alpine, mostly at the front end due to the engine, this nose-heavy handling comment might have some validity.

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The Wood Grained Dash Looks Great, But Some Early Tigers Had A Black Vinyl Dash

The Sunbeam Tiger Mk.1 and a later derivative, the Sunbeam Tiger Mk. 1a was manufactured from June 27, 1964 to December 9, 1966.  During this time a total of 6,495 cars were built.  The Sunbeam Tiger was not as successful as the Rootes Group had hoped.  One reason often given is that the Sunbeam Tiger was not sufficiently different visually from the Sunbeam Alpine.  However the Sunbeam Tiger Mk. 1 was successful enough to begat the Sunbeam Tiger Mk. II in late 1966.  More on the Sunbeam Tiger Mk. II in the upcoming weeks.

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