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1966 SUNBEAM Tiger Mk 1 A

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1966 SUNBEAM Tiger Mk 1 A


‘What – that’s got a V8 engine?’ I was at a classic car meet with a mate and he was pointing at what he thought was a Sunbeam Alpine. He was initially quite pleased with himself for ‘recognising’ it – most casual enthusiasts can identify MGBs and Triumphs of various types, but the pretty Alpine is a much rarer beast. But rarer still it the Sunbeam Tiger.

It’s almost unthinkable today. Can you imagine any manufacturer taking a car designed for a 1500cc four cylinder engine, fitting it with 4.3-litre V8 and offering it for general sale? Unlikely? Impossible, more like. But that’s exactly what the Rootes Group did in 1964. But let’s rewind a bit to the Alpine.

It was created for the American sports car market and designed to be a direct competitor to the MGB and Triumph Spitfire. As such, it did a pretty good job. It was at least as pretty as either of them, had similar performance and had the added attraction of not being either – one for the sports car driver who liked to be a little different. But some people wanted more.

One of them was Ian Garrad, West Coast manager for the Rootes Group in the USA. Unbeknown to Rootes maganement, he commissioned legendary American driver and car builder, Carroll Shelby, to build a more powerful Alpine. Shelby quoted him $10,000 and said it’d take him eight weeks.

He already had a successful formulae for the job, as he’d recently performed a similar task for AC, turning their pretty Ace into the fire-breathing Cobra by the simple expedient of fitting a small block Ford 289ci V8.

For the Alpine, Shelby decided on a smaller capacity Ford 260ci (4.3-litre) V8. Despite its large capacity the Ford V8 is a very compact engine – all the same, squeezing it into a space designed for a 1500cc four-pot was quite a challenge.

On top of this, a little creativity was required to fund the project, and instead of speaking to the chairman, Lord Rootes, Ian instead approached his son Brian Rootes, head of sales. Finances were tight at the time but when asked whether he’d give the project the go-ahead, Brian said: ‘All right, at that price when can we start? But for God’s sake keep it quiet from Dad. I’ll work the $10,000 out some way, possibly from the advertising account.”

Although Shelby started making the first prototype in April 1963, Ian Garrad also commissioned Ken Miles, to build another prototype immediately. With a budget of $800, a Ford V8 engine, two-speed automatic transmission, and a Series II Sunbeam Alpine, Miles produced a working prototype in a week and proved the concept would work.

It was a tough ask fitting that V8 into the engine compartment but both Shelby and Miles were successful. Shelby said ‘I think that if the figure of speech about the shoehorn ever applied to anything, it surely did to the tight squeak in getting that 260 Ford mill into the Sunbeam engine compartment. There was a place for everything and a space for everything, but positively not an inch to spare.’

Lord Rootes had a policy of personally approving all projects before they were launched, so he was less than impressed when he discovered work had gone into the Tiger without his knowledge. Nevertheless, moving beyond this, he agreed to have the Shelby prototype shipped from America in July 1963 for him and his team to assess.

And Rootes was so impressed after his first test drive in the Tiger that he directly contacted Henry Ford II and immediately ordered 3000 Ford V8 engines – at the time the biggest single order ever received by Ford from a car manufacturer. On top of this Lord Rootes decided to launch the car himself at the 1964 New York Motor Show, only 8 months after he test-drove the prototype.

Outwardly the Tiger looked very little different from the Alpine Series IV (which remained in production), but under the bonnet there was no mistaking the Tiger’s Ford V8 engine. The car was marketed as producing twice the power of the Alpine and reaching 0-60 mph in just 9 seconds.

So the Sunbeam Tiger started production in June 1964 less than a year after the prototype was completed. The Rootes factory situated in Ryton, Gateshead wasn’t big enough to manufacture it, so production was handed over to Jensen Motors, a contract that couldn’t have come at a better time for the West Midlands specialist manufacturer, as it had just lost the contract to build Volvo P1800s. The bodyshells were supplied already painted by Pressed Steel in Oxfordshire, and Ford of America supplied the engines and gearboxes.

Fitting the Ford V8 into the diminutive Sunbeam required some lateral thinking – and a lot of brute force. Workers would use a sledgehammer to bash in part of the already painted bulkhead so that the engine could slide in snuggly. Jensen was able to build up to 300 Tigers a month, all of which initially went to North America.

Production of the Mark I Tiger ran from June 1964 until December 1966, during which time approximately 3800 cars were built. The Mk1 featured a 260 cubic inch (4.3-litre) version of the Ford V8 small block. It can be differentiated from the Mark 1A by the round-cornered doors and lead-filled body seams.

The Mark IA accounted for the following 2700 cars. These units also had the Ford V8 260 cubic inch V8 small block engine (164HP), but they were fitted with square-cornered doors and unfilled body seams.

Only approximately 500 Mark IIs were made between December 1966 and June 1967. These cars were highly sought after and had a 289 cubic inch (4.7-litre) Ford V8 (200HP). They can be distinguished from the Mk I by the egg-crate grille.

But the 1960s was a tough decade for the Rootes Group, and it was feeling the strain financially. At the same time, US company Chrysler was looking to expand into the European market.

And in 1967 Chrysler acquired the controlling interest in Rootes after investing £20 million. This takeover ultimately led to the end of the Tiger. The car didn’t fit their business portfolio given that it was powered by a rival manufacturer’s engine. There was talk of redesigning the Tiger to accept a Chrysler V8, but it never happened and production was wound up in 1967, after remaining stocks of Ford V8 engines ran out. Just over 7000 were built in all.

The Vehicle

This is one of 2700 Tiger Mk1As built almost all of which went to America. This left-hand drive car spent the first 35 or so years of its life soaking up the sunshine in Dallas, Texas.

In the early 2000s its owner had it fully restored.  He used the car for shows until 2013, when sadly his health declined and he was unable to drive the Tiger. But neither was he ready to part with it, so it remained garaged, with a kindly (and lucky) neighbour taking it out regularly for him to keep everything functional.

On the Outside

This Tiger’s striking blue metallic paintwork, along with the customary Cobra Stripes, look lovely, the paint having a deep lustre and smooth finish. The chrome parts are equally shiny, including the alloy wheels (like the Datsun 240Z, a Tiger on its original steel wheels is a rare beast).

Steel survives very well in climates such as Texas, rubber parts less so, and the seals around the sidelight/indicator unit, for example, are perished and would benefit from replacement, although this is hardly a major fault – we’ll take sound steel over perished rubber any day of the week.

The vinyl hood has seen better days and has a couple of small tears near the rear screen, and is generally scruffy. However, who buys a Tiger to drive it with the hood up?

The bonnet has non standard bonnet ducts built into it – no doubt to aid cooling in the Dallas heat. With such a large engine in such a small engine bay this can only be a good thing. The bonnet also has non standard bonnet pins keeping it shut.

The engine itself starts easily and makes a fabulous rumble – close your eyes and you imagine a Ford Mustang just fired up, yet your eyes present you with a petite British sports car. The engine bay could do with a little detailing, but everything is present and correct.

On the Inside

The seats and dashboard are in very nice condition, and there are only a few minor areas that aren’t quite as nice – the steering wheel boss has a split in it which we’d want to fix simply because it’s sat right in front of you whenever you drive the car, but again, this is a minor issue.

We’re not sure whether the radio/cassette player still works but we’re almost certain that if it did you’d struggle to hear it above that glorious V8 soundtrack.

There’s a battery isolator switch in the boot – an excellent addition to any car that’s likely to spend long periods waiting for the weather to be nice enough to venture outside.


There are some small welded repairs on one of the car’s chassis legs but fundamentally everything looks sound under here. 

History Highlights

lan P Wester from Dallas, Texas is listed as the Tiger’s prior keeper but as previously stated due to ill heath he is now no longer able to drive the car.  Hence why the car has been imported into the UK by our vendor.

What We Think

There will be some recommissioning work necessary to get this Tiger road ready, but they’re all relatively simple, straightforward jobs. The important things are that it starts, runs very well, drives and stops. So there are all the makings of a bit of tinkering fun through the winter, before the new owner gets ready to rumble when the spring comes around.

The car will be supplied with full UK registration and delivered free anywhere in the UK mainland. This is a rare beast, so don’t miss this opportunity.

Our estimate for this car is £27,000 - £35,000.

Viewing is always encouraged and as stated this car is located at THE MARKET headquarters near Abingdon; we are open Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm and to arrange an appointment please use the ‘Contact Seller’ button at the top of the listing. Feel free to ask any questions or make observations in the comments section below, or try our ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.

If needed, please remember we have a network of suppliers we work with regularly including: Classic & Sportscar Finance for purchase-financing, Footman James for classic car insurance, Classic Concierge for storing your car plus we have a list of contacts who can help with transport and shipping.  

BORING, but IMPORTANT: Please note that whilst we at The Market always aim to offer the most descriptive and transparent auction listings available, we cannot claim they are perfect analyses of any of the vehicles for sale. We offer far greater opportunity for bidders to view, or arrange inspections for each vehicle thoroughly prior to bidding than traditional auctions, and we never stop encouraging bidders to take advantage of this. We do take a good look at the vehicles delivered to our premises for sale, but this only results in our unbiased personal observations, not those of a qualified inspector or other professional, or the result of a long test drive.

Also, localised paint repairs are common with collectable and classic cars and if they have been professionally carried out then they may be impossible to detect, even if we see the car in person. So, unless we state otherwise, please assume that any vehicle could have had remedial bodywork at some point in its life.

Additionally, please note that most of the videos on our site have been recorded using simple cameras which often result in 'average' sound quality; in particular, engines and exhausts notes can sound a little different to how they are in reality.

Please note that this is sold as seen and that, as is normal for used goods bought at auction, return policy does not apply. See our FAQs for more info, and feel free to inspect any vehicle as much as you wish.

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  • Location: The Market HQ, Abingdon, United Kingdom
  • Odometer Reading: 67875
  • Chassis Number: B9473280
  • Engine: 4261
  • Gearbox: Manual
  • Steering position: LHD
  • Colour: Blue
  • Interior: Black
  • Estimated Price: £27,000 - £35,000

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