The Car

HISTORICAL GLIMPSES - JUNE 2003


The Tiger contingent awaiting the start of the 1964 Le Mans 24 Hours.
I'm certain it was someone famous who first alleged that history has a way of repeating itself.  For Sunbeam Tiger enthusiasts, the reenactment of 1964, via the 2002 Le Mans Classic, was a discordant reminder of a less than applauded past.  I suspect the marked lack of "after event" coverage, especially by the "should have been responsible parties", can be traced directly to not seeing the magic of a story a little deeper than the uninspiring events of September 19th-23rd, 2002.
For those in need of a history refresher, I remind you neither of the Le Mans Tigers were fully sorted before their 1964 "24 Hours" assault.  As if to foretell its future, the No. 8 car (ADU 179B) "lunched" one of the four Shelby prepared engines during practice.  With less than a lap and a half of track time, the Dubois/Ballisat mount was retired to the garages for an engine swap due to spun bearings.  Things were not much better with the fresh power plant.  On race day, an embarrassingly short three hours of competition was curtailed by what was graciously called "piston failure".  The No. 9 machine displayed its own set of anomalies.  During warm-ups, Procter reported not being able to exceed 5 grand in high gear, plus fluctuations in oil pressure.  162.2 on Mulsanne suggests rpm issues must have been rectified, but unresolved oil control problems resulted in crankshaft failure after only nine hours of racing. 
An all too fleeting moment of splendor.  The Blummer/Procter entry appears to be hitting on all eight and pulling hard.

Under new management, the "Lister" coupe (B9499998) had a very impressive1965 racing season.
 As eluded to earlier, the really interesting chapter of this story comes from the chronicle after July of 1964.  The most obvious hereafter revolved around an ever busy Rootes staffer, Bernard Unett.  With the "Mule" and ADU 179B stashed far from the public eye, Marcus Chambers released ADU 180B to become the basis for an Unett crafted race car.  Bernard admits to rearranging the rear suspension to incorporate full, parallel locating links, adjusting the bodywork for extra breathing and cooling, fitting some rather beefy rubber, plus gutting (his term) the cockpit to its barest essentials.
During the first half of the 1965 season, Bernard found himself pitted against competitors he had little trouble besting, leading to some rather glowing press coverage.  Continuing to develop the coupe, Unett fitted a 4.7 - liter 289, topped with the ultimate Cobra Weber package and took on the '65 "Autosport Championship Final".  But for a broken fan belt during heat one and a heartbreaking axle failure in heat two, ADU 180B would have had certain victory.  When all was said and done, the coupe had competed in well over twenty races, eleven of which resulted in outright wins.  There were nine second place finishes, and an amazing record of never failing to place.
 

Unett and his "ADU" chariot giving the horses their lead.  

Two, mystery gents (likely John May on the left and Pete Culch steering) - One forgotten Le Mans Tiger and possibly one X-works rally Tiger in the backgroud (ADU 312B?).  To be up front, Ted Walker of "Ferret Fotographics" was the source of this slightly scary, but fortunate picture.   
 At the beginning of the 1966 season, the future of the No. 9 Le Mans machine turned decidedly problematic.  After a series of machinations, Geoffrey Rootes entered into an agreement with Alan Fraser that led to fielding what became known as the "Monster" Tiger.  That car (the follow-on to the "Group 3" machine) was purpose built for the '66 "Autosport Championship" and ended up using most of the parts from Unett's Le Mans racer.  The stripped coupe was left to languish for several years, but somehow turned up within "focal length" of an amateur motor racing photographer, Ted Walker.  I admit to not knowing the exact ancillary contents of the image on the left, but the main item (rolling on some borrowed Jaguar suspension bits) is what was sold on to a new cast of characters, Ken Dalziel and John May. 
Dalziel, a stockbroker on the London Stock Exchange and committed XK Jaguar devotee, orchestrated what might  loosely be called a "restoration" of ADU 180B.  Joining forces with driver John May, they unveiled the three-year rebuild in March of 1978, with plans to compete in a number of Group 2 HSCC events.  After the race (cut short by the ever popular broken fan belt), evaluation was favorable on overall performance and handling.  Dalziel made special mention of the front suspension and steering, followed by "...the brakes were good and there was plenty of power there!  It is unfortunate it was pulled up after eight laps...".  While I don't have complete details on the sources for all of the components, you can be sure Jaguar was a major contributor.     
John May during the Jaguar Drivers Club Group 2 HSCC Championship at Silverstone - 1978.

Prepared by a fellow from Stone, near Sylesbury (Brian Miles), the engine was described as a fully balanced, race-modified, 4.2 liter 260, breathing through four, 48 IDA Weber carburetors. 
The engine in this revival was said to have been a 260 capable of 320 bhp.  Horsepower claims like these need to be placed in the timeframe of the '70's and European formulas that have long ago been discarded.  But, what is obvious is the full-on attempt to replicate the power plant used by Bernard Unett and Alan Fraser for the "Monster" Tiger.  Regardless of appearance, the hopes for a successful racing season went up in engine smoke.  Discretion being the better part of depleting the wallet for a second time,  Mr. Dalziel elected to sell the project in its "as is" condition.  If truth be known, Ken had his eye on both of the former Fraser Team Tigers and would need the funds to underwrite their acquisition. 
 Before learning the Lister machine was on the market, a racing enthusiast in California was well into plans of returning an SCCA Tiger to vintage, legal competition form.  The task was daunting and destined to be very expensive, so when the opportunity to purchase one slightly used Le Mans coupe with a demolished engine arrived, it was a no-brainer.  Once past the initial scurry of importing his new toy, Chris Gruys set about arranging for a replacement power plant.  As it happened, a duplicate to the engine that had been built for the SCCA racer was available from the same builder, Wally Cartwright.  Wally was the man behind the engines prepared for and used by Ian Garrad, while the Doane Spencer car was under Vincent Motors sponsorship.  His name is also found in the credits for the Larry Reed Sports Car (Chittenden) drag car.  Particulars for the Cartwright 260 included, a pair of 289 heads, Chevy valves, some sort of "mild" cam and eventually, a dual quad manifold with a pair of 550 cfm Holley's.  TRACO Engineering reported dyno numbers at 315 horsepower with a single two barrel and there were suggestions of 350 in its final, multiple carb configuration.
Fresh from the Los Angeles docks  - Christmas Season, 1979.  What a lovely package to have in one's garage.

Not quite a "small lettered" Cobra intake and Carter AFBs, but the Edlebrock dual quad/Holley configuration served in a pinch.
When ready for its first U. S. outing, a Willow Springs test session in April, 1980, the shakedown runs proved the car could perform, but uncovered several shortcomings.  While not the end of the world, a pinched intake manifold gasket allowed an embarrassing, smoke producing oil bath at the back of the engine and did nothing to make the day seem victorious.  Even the Cartwright engine could not use all the gas that was being delivered by the over-rich Holleys, but a shift lever that would not move into, or out of gears except by chance, proved the real challenge.  In spite of a two week breather before Riverside, race day confirmed that linkage adjustment had not corrected the shifting problems.  It also became clear that neither carburetor had a functioning secondary system and it was obvious more appropriate rubber was in order.  Although not very competitive, it ran and did finish the event.  A return to Willow (during  a Cobra Club gathering) allowed sorting the carburetion and at long last a substantial increase in power output.  Replacing the gearbox linkage and upping to a set of eight-inch rims would be the final changes in preparation for a trip to the Monterrey Vintage Races.
The Laguna Seca experience confirmed two major precepts; the car was capable of running with the pack, but at the same time not really the proper candidate for short track competition.  Somewhere in the mix, the dream of reuniting the scattered coupe elements became more than a fantasy.  Once again Ken Dalziel entered the picture.  His plans of doing something with the Fraser cars had gone to seed.  He was looking to find them a new home and wondered whether Chris had any interest.  When the dust had settled, the original Le Mans suspension had been re-transplanted to its point of origin and there were two additional Rootes racers in the Gruys stable.  The final episode in this particular "coupe chapter" involved an eye-catching return to a more traditional hue.  Relieved of excess markings, ADU 180B definitely echoed the potential of its original design.  Chris then took the refreshed package to auction and a new owner, Ron Bennett.
Simple, Smart, Sleek and Sexy

Noted Rootes rallyest, Rosemary Smith guest drives the Silverman car at Elkhart Lake's Road America during the second International Sunbeam owners gathering (1994).  She was reported to have bested the lap times of Silverman's regular driver by a full 6 seconds.
Bennett held the car just long enough to stumble on a link up with New Yorker, Sid Silverman.  Silverman was persuaded the coupe belonged in his budding collection of Lister connected racing machines and it was soon wearing brands appropriate to a new owner's interests.  Sporting new duds, it became a well-traveled reminder of hoped for Sunbeam prowess. The Silverman stewardship was punctuated with a willingness to underwrite exposing Tiger fans to this surviving remnant of factory ambition.  It became a featured car at several owner association gatherings, competed regularly at vintage contests on both coasts and was even seen demonstrating the thrill of speed to white-knuckled passengers on one occasion.  This "Life of Riley" continued almost without incident until the RM Auction at the Monterey Historic's, August of 2001.  To be fair I'm glossing over several rather rude "bend-'em-ups" along the way, but cosmetic surgery managed to keep things tucked and tidy right through the gavel falling in favor of one Darrell Mountjoy.    
Imagine, if you can.  You're the winning bidder and new owner of an important piece of Rootes history.  Your support group is made up of two long-time California friends, who are certainly as excited about the acquisition as you are.  There you are at the weekend accommodations and right in front of you sits ADU 180B.  What happened next is less than clear, but when reported by Mr. Mountjoy, it went like this, "...We’ve got obligations at the track but Joe & Keith are pushing for a small excursion.  Who turned on the electrical main?  I hand the keys to Joe & he & Keith go off around the block.  I stay back at the house and listen to the sweet roar of the motor.  Then it stops.  Damn, it must have run out of gas.  I had noted it was almost empty when we unloaded it from the trailer.  No such luck.  Joe and Keith had switched drivers for the return trip.  Two turns away from home something happened.  Keith lost control of the car and went off road into some heavy brush.  Thank heavens they’re okay, although stunned, and the car missed a nearby oak tree...".  Can you imagine?
A face only a mother could love,  but a bit more than a brush with some "heavy brush" - wouldn't you say.

Just some of the surgical equipment needed for a proper "nose job".  Alcala Restorations in El Segundo, CA, has now had all three of the Lister Tigers inside its confines at one time or another and, none have been worse for the experience.
The way I see it, if there are any Sunbeam gods, they were surely demonstrating their "omnipotence" during this particular affair.  After years of being based away from the West Coast and the acknowledged center of the universe for all things Tiger, the badly damaged Lister coupe was now within earshot of the only restoration artisans on the planet to have worked on both of its sisters.  Insurance and nagging claims issues clouded the start of reconstruction efforts, leaving the project in a holding pattern until after the first of the year.  Some legwork had been done before the official green light, but delayed time lines would hound this project to its final days.  Several months were consumed with sourcing repair panels, peeling off damaged skin, referencing historical photos and making some very important decisions concerning the scope of work to be undertaken.  When the focus turned to preparing the car for a return to Europe and the Le Mans Classic, sorting out the mechanical side of things also required  scheduled workarounds.
The final push separated all of the drive train pieces from the chassis, giving the body and paint exercise free rein to make its concluding assault.  Much of the most important work involved reinstating original Sunbeam pieces that had been replaced with contemporary racing items.  Something as simple as returning to proper clutch and brake pedals required considerable reworking of the firewall.  Happily, each of these operations moved the  coupe closer to its original configuration and closer to the hearts of Sunbeam traditionalists.  An engine refresh had been consigned to Superior Automotive in Anaheim, but they would end up missing a "no fudge" deadline needed to insure mandatory testing before air freighting to Europe.  Settling on a substitute power plant, getting it installed and wrapping up the reassembly in time for minimal evaluation took exactly the toll one would expect.
The second of these Lister creations to have been "re-greened" by the spray gun of Rick Fitzgerald - Alcala Restorations.

 Strutting its stuff in final preparation for a trip to the past.
Against all odds, ADU 180B was together and being pushed around Willow Springs at lap times sufficient to suggest modest competitiveness.  Most of the compromises seemed acceptable for the time being and could be further addressed at a later date.  More importantly (from some points of view), the rebirth unveiled the serious effort invested in reversing a long life of unfortunate modifications.  The time, energy and resources committed to getting this project ready for a reunion in France will never be fully chronicled.  However, the evidence of that dedication was indeed displayed to an appreciative European audience and hopefully will soon be in front of similar fans here in the United States.
 

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


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