single shot /// sunbeam tiger

April 20, 2020 /// issue no. 111

“It was a little roadster with a Ford V8.” I was in the back of a Toyota Corolla from Las Vegas Motor Speedway back to the Strip. “I had lots of fun in it.” My quinquagenarian Lyft driver was recalling his vehicle history, pining for yesteryear.

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If you’ve seen Ford v Ferrari, you will know the characters behind the creation of the Sunbeam Tiger. The Sunbeam Alpine was the British Rootes Group’s 2-door roadster, which they wisely deemed to not have quite enough power. While waiting a couple of months for Carroll Shelby to produce a prototype, they commissioned fellow countryman Ken Miles to stuff a small-block Ford V8 in the Alpine . Miles did so with an automatic transmission just to prove the concept. Shelby finished his prototype some weeks later with a 4-speed manual, also struggling to get the motor to fit. In production, sledgehammers were taken to the Alpine firewall to get the Tiger motor to slide in.

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So let’s level set. a 4.3L Ford V8 from the 60s is not exactly a fire-breathing monster. The “base” model offered 164hp and a 0-60 time of about 8 seconds. Some dealers offering a hopped up model to the tune of 245hp, but the driving dynamics of the stock running gear weren’t exactly designed for it. Nonetheless, critics loved the Tiger in base form. British magazine Motor Sport claimed “no combination of an American V8 and a British chassis could be happier.” Jay Leno agrees.

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Even though the Sunbeam Tiger follows the same formula of Ford V8 and British roadster, it has never gained the notoriety of the Shelby Cobra. It was eventually built by a British coachbuilder rather than a true product of Shelby American. The car was also built more as a cruiser than a racecar. The Cobra featured better suspension geometry and aggressive looks. The Tiger featured comfy seats and the luxury of side windows. While a few Tigers ran at LeMans they didn’t get the development investment that the Cobras did and every car flamed out. Shelby eventually gave Sunbeam their money back because of the poor showing.

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There is a bright side to this. A vintage V8 roadster is still a winning formula and you’ll probably be able to afford a real Sunbeam Tiger for the price of a Cobra replica.

Coffee time,
Steven


daily automotive addiction.