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Sunbeam Tiger

Published: 8th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Sunbeam Tiger
Lister built special GT bodied Tigers for ’64 Le Mans Lister built special GT bodied Tigers for ’64 Le Mans

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Fancy owning a motorsport legend for road and track use? Paul Davies looks at true classics that made their name on stages and circuits, and still provide fine drives today

It was Rootes Motors’ Cobra. Just as he had taken the perfectly formed but not particularly powerful AC Ace and turned it into a rocket by slotting in a Ford V8, the Texan racer Carroll Shelby performed the same magic on the sylvan but sleepy Sunbeam Alpine. Four point-two litres (that’s 260 cubic inches) of US muscle into a twoseater originally based on the Hillman Husky floorpan was a sure-fire recipe for success that outsold the Cobra six to one. Also, like the Cobra, the Tiger (made at Jensen Motors) was not advanced thinking. The V8 - which became 4.7 litres (289 cubic inches) with the Series 2 version - just crammed in the engine bay, and all that power and torque went down the line to a humble live axle suspended on leaf springs. Axle tramp off the line was a common sight with Tigers. Managed by Norman Garrad, then Marcus Chambers, the company was well into motor sport in the sixties, achieving success with the Sunbeam Talbot 90, then the Rapier and the Hillman Imp, driven by top-line pilots such as Paddy Hopkirk, Peter Harper, and Rosemary Smith. The four-pot Alpine tried its best to followon, and notched up some useful rally class wins and a couple of decent Le Mans finishes in ‘61 and ’62, but was no match for the TRs and Healeys of the day. It needed more grunt. But the advent of oodles of V8 power didn’t improve the situation all that much; the nimble Mini Cooper was appearing on the scene and making big-engined cars look silly, and the Porsche 911 was on a running streak. Tigers grabbed class wins on several international rallies, but special Lister-bodied GT versions suffered engine failures at the ’64 Le Mans. More success came in club racing in the USA, but that’s possibly because the guys over there knew a lot more about that V8 engine. The Tiger lasted barely four years before the Chrysler take-over of Rootes made it politically incorrect to continue using the Ford engine. But, the upsurge in historic motor sport over the past decade has seen the big engine Sunbeam find a new lease of life. It’s been a winner in Intermarque racing with Paul Clayson, fits in nicely into the new Masters race series, and with former tin-top racer Patrick Watts at the wheel won the 2006 British Historic Rally Championship outright. Surprisingly, for a relatively low production car with pedigree, you can still buy a good one without spending a fortune, vital parts are readily available, and it’s a fine drive on road or track. Perhaps the Tiger’s time has come at last – they’re out there now if you can hunt them down.

Sunbeam Tiger Summary


Series 1/1A (1964-66): 6550; Series 2 (1966-67): 536


Engine: US Ford, cast iron V8, with pushrods and single downdraught carburettor.
Power: Series 1/1A (4.2 litre): 164bhp; Series 2 (4.7 litre): 200bhp.
Gearbox: Ford four-speed, manual shift.
Drive: Rear wheels.
Suspension: Front independent with wishbones and coil springs. Rear rigid axle with leaf springs.
Brakes: Disc front, drum rear.

Claim to fame

Rally class wins on Geneva (1964); Monte Carlo and Scottish (’65), Lister bodied coupes at ’64 Le Mans did not finish. Highly successful in SCCA category racing in the USA. Wins in historic rallying, including 2006 British Championship (Watts) and Classic Marathon (Wignall).

Famous names

Ken Miles, Keith Ballisat, Peter Harper, ‘Tiny’ Lewis, Peter Riley, Rosemary Smith, Paul Kynaston, Malcolm Pickering, Paul Clayson, Patrick Watts, Jayne Wignall, Bernard Unett.

Where to buy

Tiger Owners Club web site, classifieds ads in Classic Cars for Sale.

What to look for

Unit construction body suffers rust like any ‘60s car. High torque of big V8 can hammer clutches as well as rear axle, dampers and springs. Beware homebuilt Tigers from Alpine base.

What to pay

Restoration projects have been seen at £3500, but good examples fetch £12-15,000, concours cars £20k-plus.


Sunbeam Tiger Owners Club:

Maintenance, tuning and sport

A good class car in the Intermarque race series and winner of the 2006 British Historic Rally Championship. A nice, lazy, machine for long distance rallies. Spares available from several sources. Some tuning parts available, but who needs it with that lusty, trusty V8!

Competitive Rating: 8

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