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Forget V8 MGBs, Sunbeam’s Tiger was king of the affordable big-engined sports car jungle – if only for a while. Now they make brilliant cut-price AC Cobras
Although it was always a softer more civilised alternative to the MGB, Rootes knew it had to do something to muscle-up the Alpine. Racer and engineer extraordinaire Jack Brabham, who devised tuning kits for the car, was called in to assist with the project and he decided that a meaty V8 was the only answer. Brabham played around with the delightful Daimler 2.5 V8 while Rootes enlisted the help of legendary racer Carroll Shelby in 1963 to come up with something akin to his Cobras. He dropped in a hulking 4.2-litre Ford V8 with 141bhp, added rack and pinion steering to the front and a tough Salisbury axle controlled by a Panhard rod at the rear to create the Tiger.
The whole project took just nine months and the car hit US showrooms in 1964. Immensely strong sales meant that the contracted builder Jensen could barely cope with demand. By the time the Tiger hit UK showrooms in 1965 it was already living on borrowed time, as American rival Chrysler bought a large chunk of the ailing UK manufacturer and it could never live with the blue oval stealing some of the glory. A MkII Tiger surfaced in 1967 with an even meatier 4.7-litre Ford lump, good for 200bhp. It was for export only and just 10 right-hand-drive models were made. In June of that year, the Tiger was shot after 6551 MkIs and only 534 MkIIs were made, although Rootes’ engineering department tried to shoehorn a Chrysler engine in to the car to please the bosses.
With its discreet badging (it even said Alpine 260) the Tiger was – and still is – one of the bestQ cars ever. Even in 141bhp tune, the Ford V8 gave the Sunbeam shattering pace for its time. It would scorch to 60mph in 9.5 seconds and maxed out at just shy of 120mph. But the most impressive trait was the sheer fl exibility of the car thanks to almost 260lb ft of torque In it’s May 1965 road test, Motor deemed the handling “outstanding” and almost criticised the rack and pinion steering set up to be too sensitive compared to the Alpine’s.
Sheer rarity and desirability has made the rare-spotted Tiger a valued possession. Costing £1446 when new – roughly the same price of a Lotus Elan at the time but £200 dearer than a Big Healey – expect to pay £10,000 for a ropey version and perhaps as much as £40k for a concours example. Naturally the Mk2 is the most coveted.
What To Look For
- A lot of the important buying checks are common to both the Alpine and Tiger. The latter rusts as badly, the difference being that because the car is worth four times as much as the humble Alpine, expect to see them in much better condition.
- One special check has to be made to the rear axle where all that V8 power can pull it from its mountings. Check axle location, and especially the Panhard Rod and look for patchwork repairs.
- The lightly-taxed Ford engines should be okay, although they were prone to overheating due to the tight installation. See that the car runs cool. An uprated radiator from the likes of Radtec is a wise fi tment.
- Spark plugs could be a swine to remove; there’s a special bulkhead plate accessed from inside the car for the rear ones, while main dealers also had the benefi t of special tools.
- Has another engine been fi tted? As there’s so much commonality with other Ford V8s, don’t be surprised to see a larger lump under the lid. Also the stock Ford twin choke carburettor was restrictive. Holleys and Carter alternatives are popular fi tments.
- The gearbox isn’t as slick as the Alpines’ and linkages can wear, costing over £200 to replace. If the clutch is shot, then expect small change from £650 to replace it. MkII Tigers used wider gear ratios.
- Trim parts are common to later Alpines and there’s good supply. Support is good all round via The Sunbeam Tiger Owners Club (www. sunbeamtiger.co.uk).
Let’s keep this short and sweet. The Tiger is a brilliant sports classic and it will only appreciate in desirability and value because it took the humble Alpine to dizzier heights.
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