The Sunbeam company was founded in Wolverhampton UK in 1888. It began by producing bicycles and progressed through motorcycles, aero-engines and finally to cars. In the 1920s they became heavily involved with racing. The most notable example was the 1927 Tiger which set the land-speed record at 152 mph at Southport sands, driven by the legendary Henry Segrave.
As with so many manufacturers, the Great Depression of the 1930s crippled the company and brought about it`s closure in 1935. Sunbeam was then absorbed into the Rootes Group and continued. Lord Rootes`s group eventually comprised Humber, Hillman, Singer and Sunbeam. The Rootes Group was bought out by Chrysler in 1967. Rootes` cars, particularly Sunbeam, Humber and Singer, were notable for high-quality interiors, lots of leather and wood veneer. The Hillman range was more `economy` oriented.
The birth of the Sunbeam Tiger;
Rootes already had the successful Alpine roadster in production when, in 1963, it was adjudged to be under-powered. No sufficiently powerful motor was available so the company approached Carroll Shelby to develop and build a prototype based on the Alpine Series III. He christened the prototype `Thunderbolt`. As expected, Shelby produced a winner and assumed that he would make the car. Rootes, however, had different ideas and commissioned Jensen to build the car at West Bromwich UK. They renamed the car `Tiger` and undertook to pay Shelby a royalty on every car sold. The Tiger was launched at the 1964 Motor Show at Earl`s Court, London.
Production continued until 1967 when Chrysler took over the group. Unhappy with the Sunbeam Tiger using a Ford power-train in a Chrysler product, they experimented with their own engines but failed to find an alternative. The Tiger was subsequently cancelled after a production run of 7083 cars. In 1967, prior to the Chrysler take-over, Rootes initiated the Tiger Series II with a 4.7 litre engine. Most of these few cars were exported to the US but a handful were sold in the UK. Your author was lucky enough to exchange his Tiger I for a Tiger II at that time!
The body and chassis;
The Alpine III provided an excellent basis for a V8 conversion with it`s very rigid `X frame`
box-section steel chassis. It was well-sprung with coil and wishbone at the front and a live-axle with semi-eliptical springs at the rear. The front coils of the Tiger were up-rated to support the heavier motor.
A Panhard rod was added to the rear to ensure axle location under torque-stress. Without the Panhard rod the car would have suffered badly from `torque wind-up`. This modification necessitated moving the spare wheel to the boot (trunk) and even though the battery had also been re-located to the boot (from under the rear cockpit floor) there was still a very reasonable boot-capacity.
The Tiger’s braking was perfectly adequate with Girling discs on the front and drums on the rear with servo-assistance as standard. Due to the restricted under-bonnet space a rack and pinion system replaced the original Alpine re-circulating-ball fitment. Bolt-on steel wheels were standard (13×4.5 inch) though alloy wheels were a popular option.
A handsome `works` hard-top was an optional extra. The bonnet was forward-hinged but the engine bay was so cramped for space that access to anything was very restricted. The only differences to the Sunbeam Alpine exterior were a chrome strip along the waist, front to back and the badges…`Tiger` and a `260`badge replacing `Alpine’.
Many writers list the displacement of the 260 ci Windsor motor as 4.3 litres but at the time of production it was advertised as 4.2 litres. Despite it`s all cast-iron construction it was only 200kgs heavier than the Alpine`s 4 inline. A Ford Autolite twin-choke carburettor was standard fitment. The engine was fitted with an alternator and oil-cooler. The compression ratio was increased to 9.3 to 1. Most Tigers have been modified and up-dated by now, so a `standard spec` car might be hard to find. The 4-speed gearbox came from the Ford Mustang.
The Sunbeam Tiger 1 was beautiful inside and out, like a baby Aston-Martin. From a standing start it was like a shot from a gun. The time of 8.6 seconds 0-60 mph was quicker than most cars on the road and a top-speed of 117 mph was fast enough to be very interesting. The braking was superb with safe and predictable handling. Fast cornering needed to be a little sideways but all you really had to do was aim it and pull the trigger. I bought one in 1966 and thought I would keep it forever. I took great pleasure in frightening E type drivers. They all made the same mistake, they thought it was an Alpine! I must admit that as a teenager I was a very naughty boy!
Then something wonderful happened. A close friend of mine worked for Rootes Group and was offered a 4.7 Tiger II. He didn`t want it or rather his wife didn`t so he offered the car to me. The difference in bhp and torque was alarming! 500 cc doesn`t sound like a big improvement but going from 164 bhp and 258ft/lbs torque to 200bhp and 282 ft/lbs torque speaks for itself…very loudly! I lived in fear of losing my driving license all the time I owned it.
Unfortunately youth is fickle and I succumbed to temptation and bought a Jaguar MKII 3.8 Special Equipment saloon. I had no idea how rare the 4.7 was and was inundated with offers when I advertised it. I should have kept it!
Sunbeam Tiger 1964-1967
|Body Type||2 seater roadster/coupe|
|Drive Type||Rear wheel drive|
|Cargo Volume||Very usefull|
|Engine||4.2 V8 Ford OHV (Series I) 1964-1967|
|Displacement||4261 cc||260 cui|
|Power||122 Kw||164 bhp||4400 RPM|
|Torque||350 Nm||258 ft. lb||2200 RPM|
|Top Speed||189 km/h||117 mph|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph||8.6 s|
|Fuel consumption||l/100 km||Imperial mpg|
|Gearbox||4 speed manual|
|Weight||1163 kg||2564 lb|
|Engine||4.7 V8 Ford OHV (Series II) 1967|
|Displacement||4727 cc||288.5 cui|
|Power||149 Kw||200 bhp||4400 RPM|
|Torque||382 Nm||282 ft. lb||2400 RPM|
|Top Speed||196 km/h||122 mph|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph||7.5 s|
|Fuel consumption||l/100 km||Imperial mpg|
|Gearbox||4 speed manual|
|Weight||1168 kg||2575 lb|
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I was born in Hereford UK in 1948 and brought up in Gloucester UK. I played Rugby football internationally as a schoolboy. At the age of 17, a new and wet driving license in my paw, I entered motor racing. I was supported and financed by my parents and so my journey began.
In 1965 I bought a 1293cc Mini-Cooper `S` and campaigned it for a season. Having quickly made some good friends in the racing fraternity, several interesting opportunities came my way. I joined a sports-car team and raced in the Le Mans 24 hours in 1968 and 1969 in a Lola T70. Mechanical failure defeated both efforts. During that period I owned and raced a `D type` Jaguar and an AC Cobra. In those days cars like that were available and not too expensive, now they reside in museums and private collections. I had a chain of interesting cars through my youth including Jaguars, Minis, Mustangs and Lotus-Cortinas.
As a young driver I had my share of accidents too. Often the car would only be worth scrap-metal value by the time I got it home! I worked for an Aston-Martin/Jaguar dealership for a while, which enhanced my experience and gave me the opportunity to sample some very exotic machines, Ferrari, Facel-Vega, Iso and Maserati to recall a few of them.
At the end of 1969 I moved to South Africa to work on my uncle`s farm but the S.A. government had other ideas and drafted me into the army. After five years had passed I was thanked and released from the service. While I was there I bought a beige Cadillac Eldorado, previously the property of Marilyn Monroe. While I was away on a patrol my girlfriend had it re-sprayed pink! I was unimpressed by both the joke and the bill for the work!
When I returned to UK in 1974 I left it behind. On my return I found that the once-mighty British motor industry was in decline and was headed for oblivion. Motor racing was now very expensive so I turned to commercial transport. Driving large trucks gave me freedom and a chance to see some of the world. I don`t remember ever making a career choice but for the next thirty years a truck was my home. For about ten years in that period I owned two trucks of my own.
I also owned a famous MGB-GT, known as `Lucky`. If you`d like to read `The Story of Lucky` there is an article in Inopian`s archive. I finally retired, due to ill-health, in 2008. Since I had varied knowledge and many experiences on our subject I decided to share the stories of the cars I enjoyed (and hated) with the new generation.
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