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Daimler SP250 vs Sunbeam Tiger vs MG RV8

Why there’s a treasure trove of enjoyment to be had from this trio of V8-powered roadsters Published: 20th Nov 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

Chris Draycott probably knows more about Tigers than anybody and says there’s been a lot of nonsense published of late in the press over what constitutes a genuine Tiger shell. Chris says there’s actually no such thing as only a basic Alpine was employed; certain panels were left off and, on IIs, the rear seat panel came from a Husky. Tiger alterations were carried out by Jensen, including taking a welding torch to the floor! Indeed, the official workshop manual contained details of specific modifications for anyone requiring a replacement shell when contemporary. Draycott adds that so long as the car has the correct markings and parts then it’s a Tiger, whether it’s reshelled or not!

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There’s something about a lusty V8 that makes a good classic even better and while the Americans literally made this market their own well before WW2, British manufacturers have been in the slow lane on the uptake. Daimler fi rst tried with its SP250 before Sunbeam slotted a Ford V8 into its Alpine to create the Tiger; ironically, Rootes, encouraged by double F1 champ Jack Brabham and his tuning company, fi rst tried the Daimler unit but ran into numerous installation problems.

The MGB always cried out for a V8 once tuner Ken Costello proved that the Rover V8 could fi t nicely in the engine PIECES OF EI8HT bay, proving the doubters at Abingdon wrong; MG followed suit some four years later with its BGT V8 but reckoned the roadster shell wasn’t strong enough. Fast forward 20 years and MG relaunched the V8 as a roadster and this modern take on the MGB provides an alternative to the Daimler and Sunbeam and at much less cost. But does it provide the same satisfaction as a classic?

Which one to buy

1st RV8 | 2nd SP250 | 3rd Tiger

Newest fi rst. The RV8 was stop gap (until the MGF picked up the baton) limited run special of 1982 cars from Rover’s Special Projects division based upon a MGB Heritage shell although it’s claimed only fi ve per cent of the RV8 was carried over from the old BGT V8; 20 per cent of the car used modifi ed and re-tooled components, with the remaining 75 per cent of bits all new.

There was only trim level but Japanese cars of which a staggering 1583 cars went to Japan, although many have now returned to Blighty, to join the 307 sold here. The evergreen V8 was now 3.9-litres and, tuned by TVR, spelt almost 200bhp. A fi ve-speed gearbox replaced overdrive and although the live rear axle, with a limited slip diff, stayed, the suspension design was revamped and the track was widened.

Rootes had explored the possibility of giving its Alpine higher performance and considered its own Humber Hawk’s 2.3-litre straight six fi rst before considering, an exotic twin-cam 1.6-litre Alfa Romeo unit, the iconic V8 from the Daimler SP250 and even a Ferrarisourced 1.9-litre V6!

All of these came to nothing until Carroll Shelby (of Cobra fame) stepped in suggesting a small block Ford V8. Some changes were required to the steering, bulkhead, transmission and rear axle. The steering rack came from an MGA, a four-speed manual T10 Borg- Warner gearbox was fi tted with Jag axle, and retained the single-pipe exhaust along with the Alpine’s disc wheels.

The Tiger went on sale in the UK, with right-hand drivers in 1965. Other than the steering wheel being on the opposite side, the UK-market Tiger is identical to the models sold across the Atlantic although despite immediate success the writing was on the wall about its future due to US Chrysler’s take-over of The Rootes Group as the US company certainly didn’t want a rival’s engine under the bonnet although Tiger II still sported a Ford (289 cu in 4727cc) engine now pushing out 200bhp. Top speed rose to a healthy 125mph but the plug was pulled in June 1967 with just 6467 MkIs and only 533 MkIIs being built – less than a dozen RHD models.

The SP250 was half-baked bid to give the dignifi ed but dowdy Daimler badge a lift. It already had a cracking 140bhp 2.5-litre V8 engine developed, it now needed a sports car to suit, a fi breglass body sitting upon a cloned Triumph TR3 chassis with a lot of its running gear. The SP250 (or Dart until Chrysler put a stop to it-ed) lasted only three and a bit years until new parent company Jaguar killed the car off for fear of hurting E-type sales.

There were three ‘specs’ of the car, essentially because it was so poorly done from the outset; stronger-chassied B and C cars are much preferred.

Prices? RV8s are the bargains with most around £20,000. Former Glory (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) is probably the UK’s leading MGB retailer and currently has two RV8s in his showroom where as last year Nigel Guild “couldn’t get enough of them”. His cars are priced at £22,500 and £24,000 but says a 420mile example is on sale for double (thecarwarehouse. He values Japan expats around £5000 less but UK cars in red or blue slightly above normal rates with green cars being most common hue.

Ever since the Tiger met its untimely cull, demand has exceeded supply. Prices have spiralled and there is no such thing as a cheap car. Chris Draycott (01332 850856, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)), has been involved in Tigers for well over 30 years and says: “Even a complete basket case sells for £25,000; I’ve seen bodyshells with trees growing through them sell for over £10,000” he told us.

However, there are still usable cars that can be picked up for little more than £40,000, although for something really nice you can expect to pay closer to £70,000. The ceiling is constantly rising for something in showroom condition and if you’re lucky enough to find a superb right-hand drive MkII you’d probably have to pay £100,000 to secure it … and even then when any Tiger is sold it’s usually through word of mouth.

With the Daimler, condition counts the most although B and C Spec cars best; many earlier cars are already converted to latter spec chassis modifications anyway. Automatics suit the car so don’t dismiss lightly if you find one. Less than 3000 were made and 1200 were left-hand drive; easy to convert to UK tastes but don’t be hasty as LHD classics can command much better premiums.

Decent Darts cost at least £25,000 and bulls-eyes top the 50 grand mark. It’s a trend that will only continue so buy now if you want one. We place the MG top purely because it’s the most accessible and the best value right now.

What’s best to drive

1st Tiger | 2nd SP250 | 3rd RV8

The DNA of all three cars here harks back to the 1960s but the MG RV8 was actually sold in the nineteen nineties and while it retains some of the feel of the 60s original it is much more modern than the other two as well as by far the quickest, thanks to the 190bhp Buick-derived V8. Two of the cars are larger engined versions of other cars and one, the Daimler was only ever offered with one engine, a gem of a 2.5.

Unfortunately, the Daimler was developed on the cheap which affected the way the early cars drove. Once Jaguar took over, considerable modifications were made and the B Specification introduced which improved the car immensely, particularly in terms of stiffness. Oh, and the doors no longer flew open! Loosely based on the TR3 which wasn’t a bad car to drive, the SP250 has disc brakes on all wheels which made a huge difference and were vital in view of the goo performance.

For the true classic enthusiast the Daimler is ideal because to get the best out of that wonderful 140 bhp, oversquare, aluminium-headed V8, other features have to be mastered. The clutch is heavy and the Daimler gearbox is such that it is a good job the V8 is so flexible and will pull from 15-20mph in top gear without fuss. So it is best to get into top as soon as possible and use all that lovely flexibility and torque. Even by today’s standards the Daimler is no slouch with, according to Motorsport’s May ‘61 driving impressions, 125mph maximum speed and 0-60mph in 9 seconds meaning those discs will come into their own.

Steering is by old hat cam and peg but is better than most boxes and rack and pinion conversions are available which are worth the cost.

As an American take on a gentile British sports car, the Tiger is a true ‘Q’ car as the only difference from the Alpine was wider wheels and a chrome strip along the side. People tend to think that 4.2-litre V8 means lots of noise and smoking tyres but the one fitted here is a basic stock motor with a fairly moderate 164bhp although that is a 64 per cent uplift on the Alpine. The 0-60mph figure of nine seconds and 117 mph maximum speed doesn’t tell the whole story though as the V8 is all about mid-range grunt which is prodigious. There was a Mk II with a 4.7-litre V8 but only a couple of handfuls were sold here; to the police and to one or two influential customers as special factory orders. Performance improved to 60 in 7.5 seconds. Finding a right hand drive one is the problem.

Thanks to direct, responsive rack and pinion steering, cross country journeys can be very satisfying providing the Tiger is driven with respect with the good old slow in–fast out technique. The disc front, drum rear brake set up is perhaps marginal but upgrades are freely available and worth doing.

The unassisted MG RV8’s steering feels heavy at first but soon lightens up once on the move and is very responsive with the feel you would expect from a rack and pinion set up. Mind you, this is no latter day Healey 3000, more a sorted MGC with more grunt.

Like the MGC, the RV8 is a slow in – fast out sort of car, the difference being it’s a lot faster out. At the traffic lights grand prix the RV8 is far more civilised with none of the tramp experienced by the B and C thanks to anti-tramp bars and a Quaiffe differential. As many RV8 owners will tell you, a set of quality dampers in place of the stock Konis transforms the handling no end.

The RV8 is an even better cruiser than the C munching the miles with alacrity and thanks to the extra padding of the ruched leather seats means effortless long journeys. It is quite good on the twisty stuff and the ride is particularly adept absorbing typical British road surfaces or lack of them with ease.

Brakes are perhaps marginal for a 135mph car as it makes do with drums at the rear but everything can be upgraded.

If you are buying a classic as a regular daily driver it would have to be the RV8 but for purely classic appeal then the Tiger has it all as a driving car yet are also pussycats when touring and far nicer than any Big Healey.

Owning and running

1st RV8 | 2nd SP250 | 3rd Tiger

Because of its ’newness’ with the car barely 25 years old – plus it’s an MG – the RV8 is the easiest of the trio to own and run. Because the Heritage bodyshell is ‘electrophoretically’ dipped when new, they don’t rot like anything as badly as old MGBs and so should be in good shape, save for the windscreen surround. Spares are not a problem (Clive Wheatley is your man) and that Rover V8 is long-lasting plus is also found in Land Rovers, Morgans and TVRs. If you want sleep easy ownership then it’s a done deal although bear in mind that, despite their relative youthfulness, sadly far too many are in a sorry state of neglect.

Spare parts doyen David Manners (DMG) is a big SP250 fan and because of this he has almost single-handedly kept the car alive by making and supplying parts. Couple this with an excellent Owners’ Club and the Daimler is easier to own than you expect from such an exclusive classic.

Although the US Tiger market is buoyant, cars are still being brought back into the UK, where they’re generally being converted to right-hand drive. Considering a Tiger’s value relative to an Alpine you don’t tend to get fake Tigers because everything is easily traced; the owners’ club can help here, as the engine, bodyshell, gearbox and back axle all have serial numbers.

Where people get it wrong is by rebuilding a Tiger around an Alpine bodyshell. Done correctly this is no problem, but the right parts must be used and this is where some restorations can be poor. With cars as old as these it’s inevitable that many will have a chequered history with some major replacement parts, which is why a good Tiger will always sell quickly says Alpine and Tiger expert Chris Draycott.

While getting the correct steering racks is now hard, it’s possible to fit an MGA or Midget rack. With new dashboards available, fresh looms and various other Tiger-specific parts, conversions can still be done relatively easily and cost-effectively.

Predictably, right-hand drive cars carry a premium – and even more so if it’s a genuine UK car.

Because parts for the 4.2-litre unit are getting hard to find, some owners fit a 4.7-litre (289cu in) or even 5.0-litre (302cu in) unit; they’re a straight swap as they’re all from the same small-block family and components for these bigger powerplants are much easier to track down and for sensible money.

And The Winner Is...

1st TIGER | 2nd RV8 | 3rd SP250

The RV8 offers the best of both worlds. On the one hand, it’s still the sports car that we know and (mostly) love while on the other, it’s been made modern where it matters yet without diluting the car’s character. The perfect pastiche? Yes, and by far the most sensible buy not least because they are about the third of the price of a superb SP250 or terrific Tiger. For all that though, we yearn for a Sunbeam, perhaps the ultimate classic Q Car? There’s nothing wrong, it should be stressed, with the Daimler, if that’s your type of thing and are much easier to look after than the Tiger plus has a certain style that defied fashion.


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