The Car

HISTORICAL GLIMPSES - PAGE THREE

Stories of a last minute scramble to prepare for the Tiger's debut seem to be confirmed by Rootes Group publicity pictures. Once in America, what must have been perceived as a rather mundane set of stock steel wheels, Series IV style beauty rims and hub caps were quickly replaced with sexy, American Racing Silverstone 8-Spokers. If this and many other photos are to be believed, the purported panic addition of mid-line trim failed to be completed (left front quarter) before the photographers had their way. In other pictures, a very obvious set of screw-on chrome tailpipe extensions have been added to dress up the dual exhaust run. While some might think that the "see-thru" hood was a unique touch, Rootes had used that gimmick many times before.


Above: Rootes launches the Sunbeam Tiger - New York Motor Show - 1964.


1963 Harrington display showing the same hood used on the Tiger in New York.

The U.S. bonnet appears to be the same hood used to hype the "C" type Harrington in 1963 (left). If you've got something good, why not keep using it to advantage?

The unit found on the Sunbeam "260" displayed at the Turin Motor Show - October, 1964, however, nearly doubled the visible area. If you look closely, you should note the missing heater control valve elements on that car (right).


The Turin 1964 "stand" car (right) sporting the wide screen version.


Below: All three of the, John Paradise, "Super Ford Collector Series" illustrations focusing on the Sunbeam Tiger. Sadly I was unable to decipher the name of the illustrator, but a recent auction on ebay led to the artist's name, Tom Hamilton, so let's hear it for the Internet. John used his fifth offering to detail the early story of the Tiger's development. After the introduction of the 289 model, #34 chronicled the changes found on the MK II. #53 traced the saga of the Lister Coupe. Most of the verbiage that accompanied these fliers looks to have been penned by the prolific, period Tiger enthusiast, Alex Gabbard. Regardless of origin, the facts are fairly accurate, excepting an occasional departure into pure make-believe. Following the first layout, each succeeding exhibit tended to repeat what had been printed before. For those who can't get enough of ancient history, I supply the evidence below and in the form of some very large zipped JPEG scans of the original pages:
"
Super Ford #5" - "Super Ford #34" - "Super Ford #53".
I need to thank two special friends from making these fabulous pieces available, Rande Bellman, #34 and Tim Jordan, #53.


SUPER FORD
Collector Series #5

"In 1962, Ian Garrad, West Coast manager for Rootes Motors Inc. of England, was looking for ways to increase sales in the U.S. for the Sunbeam Alpine. The Alpine was introduced in 1959 and sales were much less than impressive. As the major sponsors of a West Coast factory racing team effort, Ian quickly became aware that horsepower was the major commodity the little Sunbeam lacked. V-8 power was the answer! Careful measurements and weight comparisons brought the 260 cubic inch Ford into the picture.
Convincing Lord Rootes (owner of Rootes Motors Inc.) that a competitor's engine would solve both the horsepower and lagging sales problems was next to impossible without a prototype car. After a conference with Brian Rootes (Lord Rootes' son), a ten thousand dollar fund was made available without the knowledge of Lord Rootes.
Ian immediately went to work and commissioned Ken Miles to perform the first transplant. Five days and $800 later, he had done it. The power was impressive, but the car had no engine set-back, giving it extremely poor handling. The next move was to Carroll Shelby's shop for engineering refinement and changes, to allow mass production of the new Sunbeam V-8. Shelby's men worked on the project three months and the end product was exactly what Ian had hoped for. Moving the engine back required that alterations be made to the firewall and to the transmission tunnel. After making steering changes, relocating the oil filter and other minor changes, the new 260 looked slightly cramped, but right at home.
In July, 1963, Ian Garrad shipped his Sunbeam V-8 car to England. After a horsepower display that the Rootes Motors "wheels" weren't accustomed to, Lord Rootes consented to the production of the super car.
On April 3, 1964, the production Sunbeam Tiger made its American debut with a sticker price of $3,499. The 260 cubic inch Sunbeam Tigers (dubbed MK I and MK IA) were manufactured in 1964, 1965 and 1966, with a grand total production of 6,495.
One thing you should remember when you pull up next to one of the V-8 Sunbeams: They don't call them "Tigers" for nothing."


SUPER FORD
Collector Series #34

"The Sunbeam Tigers have only recently begun to stand out as the true collector cars that they really are. Powered by a 260 cu. in Ford V-8, the first Tigers provided an excellent combination of horsepower, handling, and economy, and with a sticker price of $3,499.00, they were a true bargain in 1964. Later in 1964, Chrysler Corporation acquired control of Rootes Motors (builders of the Sunbeam Alpine and Tiger cars), but the Chrysler 273 cu. in. V-8 small block was too big and bulky to fit in the Alpine body, so the 260 cu. in. Ford V-8 was retained for production of the Tigers. In late 1966, Ford informed the Rootes Division that the 260 had been dropped from the engine lineup and that the 289 cu. in. V-8 would be taking its place.
Rootes Motors took this opportunity to make moderate styling changes and drive train improvements so as to debut the 1967 Tiger as the Sunbeam Tiger II. The actual Tiger II package included: the 289 cu. in. Ford V-8 coupled to a Ford HEH-B wide-ratio top loader transmission; physical relocation of the rear Panhard rod (to improve handling); the grille was changed from the Talbot emblem and the horizontal bar, to an egg crate style grille; the hooded headlight rims were revised in favor of a plainer flat style; the stainless steel side trim was deleted, but the Tiger script was retained; below the Tiger script on the sides, the "Sunbeam V-8" emblem was also retained. On the hood, a "Sunbeam" script was placed on the lower front right hand side. On the trunk, the "Tiger" script was placed on the left and the "Sunbeam V-8" crest was placed on the right. Other addition on the Tiger II included a black and white side stripe, and chrome wheel well and rocker panel moldings. At a base price of $3, 797.00, these 2575 lb. sports cars were an incredible bargain.
Bargains or not, the Sunbeam Tigers and Tiger II's had little influence on the Rootes Group's poor financial condition which had taken a tremendous beating in 1960, and caused the sale of a large percentage of stock to the Chrysler Corporation in 1964. Even though the Rootes dealers were making money on the Tigers, the other Rootes Division cars were losing money. Because drastic revisions of the Tiger would have to be made to be made to meet the 1968 safety regulations, and since Chrysler never did like marketing a car powered by a competitor's engine and transmission, Tiger production came to a halt in June of 1967 showing only 572 Sunbeam Tiger II's built. The incredible set of circumstances that were responsible for the Sunbeam Tiger prototype to be built and become accepted and developed for production cars in 1964, and to finally graduate to the Tiger II stage of refinement by 1967, are rivaled only by the equally incredible financial circumstances that began in 1960 and finally resulted in the demise of the Tiger II's in the same year they were introduced. So ends the Tiger "tail" and with it, one of the truly well-balanced marriages between and American built V-8 and a European sports car."


SUPER FORD
Collector Series #53

"In 1962, Ian Garrad, West Coast manager for Rootes Motors Inc. of England, was looking for ways to increase sales in the U.S. for the Sunbeam Alpine. The Alpine was introduced in 1959 and sales were much less than impressive. As the major sponsors of a West Coast factory racing team effort, Ian quickly became aware that horsepower was the major commodity the little Sunbeam lacked. V-8 power was the answer! Careful measurements and weight comparisons brought the 260 cubic inch Ford into the picture.
Convincing Lord Rootes (owner of Rootes Motors Inc.) that a competitor's engine would solve both the horsepower and lagging sales problems was next to impossible without a prototype car. After a conference with Brian Rootes (Lord Rootes' son), a ten thousand dollar fund was made available without the knowledge of Lord Rootes.
Ian immediately went to work and commissioned Ken Miles to perform the first transplant. Upon completion, the V-8 powered Sunbeam was sent to Carroll Shelby's shop for engineering refinement and changes. In July, 1963, Ian Garrad shipped his Sunbeam V-8 car to England. After a horsepower display that the Rootes Motors "wheels" weren't accustomed to, Lord Rootes consented to the production of the super car. On April 3, 1964, the production Sunbeam Tiger made its American debut, but the enthusiasm that had been created by the new car caused such a stir inside the Rootes Motors headquarters, that a number of company executives began looking towards competition with a serious attitude.
The most prestigious race in the world was the 24 hours of Le Mans and that's where they set their goal. To win class at Le Mans would certainly put the new Sunbeam Tiger in a favorable sales bracket and win the much needed prestige for Rootes Motors Inc. Peter Wilson of Rootes commissioned Brian Lister to construct three special bodies; one as a prototype and two that would be run at Le Mans. Working together with Ron Wisdom, Rootes body stylist, a scale model was constructed for wind tunnel testing to determine minimum drag, lift, pitching, aerodynamic stability, engine-water-and oil cooling, engine compartment ventilation, and interior ventilation. Graph plotting calculations showed that with a Carroll Shelby modified 260 cu. in. Ford engine, the new Le Mans Tiger could be capable of speeds in the 170 mph range.
All pieces began coming together for final assembly under the careful supervision of Lord Rootes himself. The Le Mans Tigers were to maintain as much of the original shape and components as possible while still being competitive. Even the frame was kept to basic original specs as opposed to the alloy tubing suggested by Brian Lister.
Standard features for the Le Mans Tiger engines were as follows: Carroll Shelby modified 275 horsepower 260 cu. in. V-8 with 2-4V carburetion, solid lifter cam kit and, dual point distributor with high performance wires, Cobra clutch and an aluminum alloy transmission with close ratio gearing. The V-8's power was transferred to a Salisbury limited slip differential and the braking came thru heavy duty Girling disc brakes with independent master cylinders for each aluminum caliper.
On April 15, 1964, the first testing of the prototype Le Mans Tiger began at Mallory Park with less than impressive results. Keith Ballisat, one of the works drivers was the first to test the prototype. After several laps, Ballisat returned to the pits complaining of severe wheel hop and loss of control of the rearend after hitting small bumps. Spring rates were changed, an anti-roll bar was fitted and the car was shipped to Le Mans for testing April 18-19. Handling problems persisted and down the long Mulsanne straight, the oil pressure dropped to a critical level and the radiator boiled.
April 29th was the next scheduled outing prior to which a new set of shocks was installed along with a large radiator. On the track, the car performed with little improvement as the pit crew swapped shocks again and made suspension adjustments. Finally, after a three inch lowering of the panhard rod, the car began to handle better. With the testing completed to reasonable satisfaction by Ballisat, attention turned towards the two race cars being prepared for Le Mans.
On Monday, July 15th, the two untested Le Mans Tigers were flown to Le Mans. Practice days went poorly as the #8 car lost an engine and the #9 car suffered from a lack of power in high gear. The general consensus was that there had been too little time to locate and cure all the problems, but since a great deal of money had been spent to build up and prepare the cars, the project would continue.
Claude Debois and Keith Ballisat were chosen to drive car #8 and Jimmy Blumer and Peter Proctor were to drive car #9. As the race began, it was obvious that the Tigers were outmatched. Car #8 lasted three hours and retired with piston failure, although it had achieved a top speed of 161.6 mph on the Mulsanne straight. Car #9 had better luck, it lasted nine hours before retiring with a broken crankshaft. #9 had achieved a top speed of 162.2 mph on the Mulsanne straight.
The Le Mans Tigers were retired after the race and with them went Garrad's dreams of following in the treadmarks of Carroll Shelby's Cobras. Tiger production continued through 1967, with one model change and the addition of a 289 cu. in. V-8. Competitive successes came in sprints in the form of occasional rally and endurance class wins, but the famous Le Mans Tigers remained dormant, a forgotten part of Sunbeam Tiger history."


LINKS--YOU'LL--LIKE

1996 Historical Glimpses Archive

1997 Historical Glimpses Archive

1998 Historical Glimpses Archive

1999 Historical Glimpses Archive

2000/2001/2002 Historical Glimpses Archive

Current  Historical Glimpse


Rootes One Home