B9117965 LRX

Carroll Shelby Prototype - Tiger #2

Now who could blame a person for wanting the fame associated with creating a new and exciting sports car.  When it comes to the Sunbeam Tiger, the list of claimants includes a glorious collection of folks, most of whom were only loosely connected to the central players.  Folklore being what it is, I think sidestepping the urge to bludgeon the tale of origin will save us all for another day.  The salient facts rightfully credit Ian Garrad as the main motivator and that should serve as finger pointing enough for this day and age.  What would be productive, if you could do it, would be to focus on the process of creating what is now known as the Shelby prototype.  The problem with that dream, is those that were in the best position to observe the deed, can't remember much about it.  Unlike Shelby's Mustang and Cobra projects, there are no "in progress" Tiger pictures, drawings, or written reports of any kind.  It would be naive to expect Shelby to be a fount of knowledge concerning the details of construction.  The same could be said for Dave Friedman, the official photographer, who somehow managed to confuse a Series IV bodied, Lew Spencer race car (the only Venice Sunbeam tenant captured by his lens) with a Series II bodied, finned prototype.  But, when you're asking George Boskoff  (the man who built the damn thing) whether the car was wire wheeled or not, you'd hope for something more enlightening than, "I don't recall".  It's also not unreasonable to assume informational photos might have been a part of Ian Garrad's personal wish list, although the Miles car was so lightly documented it's hard to make the argument for more than a finished portrait, or two.


Ian Alan Garrad, son of Rootes Competition Manager, Norman Garrad, and father of the Sunbeam Tiger.  Original art by my mom, Ruth J. Miller.


This one photocopy of a picture published in the April, 1964 issue of  CALIFORNIA SPORTS CAR magazine is the only known record of the Shelby prototype the way it appeared when first completed.  I haven't found anyone from the inner circle that remembers the wire wheels and none of them has ever referenced a pair of headrests.  Is it possible the story of too much torque for a set of wires should be credited to this car rather than the Miles assemblage?

However, no such images have yet surfaced and knowing more than a few individuals have riffled Ian's archives, it is unlikely they ever will.  That leaves us with one tantalizing snapshot from an unknown photographer. Looking for all the world as though it was taken through a chain link fence, the picture was used to supplement a press announcement that heralded the launch of Sunbeam Tiger production.  The verbiage credits Tony Curtis as the first Hollywood "c-leb" to experience the new V8 powered Tiger, placing him at the front of a long line of luminaries used to promote Ian's dream machine.  As noted next door (and on page ten of "Bits & Pieces") this photo raises several historic questions.  I have no idea if they will ever be fully addressed, but it won't be for the lack of trying.  Some of my best blood hounds are on the scent and if their past performance is any benchmark, we should all be encouraged.  The biggest disappointment is not being able to tap any of the normal archival sources.  After all, when the hands-on folks suffer brain fade, sleuthing is definitely not what it's cracked up to be. 

Just after their reintroduction to public life, both American prototypes performed nearly identical disappearing acts.  Neither left more than a hint to their existence and in the case of the "white car", the embargo continued  until a San Diego area, used car lot's classified, in 1976.  What little history we have comes via hindsight from the then current owner.  It consisted of reports for first, "a young plumber" (who supposedly, expressed interest in the Miles car at its coming out, but ended up on the short end of the stick to some doctor) second, the plumber's "wife" (who was lent the car as a daily driver) third, the wife's "brother" (also a borrower in need of transportation) and fourth, "an errant tree" (reported to have somehow darted at the right front fender leaving it acutely pummeled ).  These circumstances (a damaged front end and no interest in undertaking repairs) are listed as the justification for selling the car to the used car dealer, which led to the most recent documented title holder, Bill Carroll.  


At the beginning of Bill Carroll's stewardship, Tiger enthusiasts had a number of opportunities to view the seldom seen Shelby Sunbeam.  Displays such as this outing in Oregon were all the rage while the spotlight was bright.


 With the blush of fresh ownership fading, the car was relegated to infrequent use.  This particular excursion was undertaken to regale a special visitor from England.  A neglected battery was conquered with the well-known bump-start procedure, adding considerable physicality to the "Sunday drive".  The foolishness was captured by Martin Wildgoose and serves to remind him of a cherished opportunity to experience the Shelby prototype.    
  I suppose that works out to only three, legal owners from new, but with no verification of the names in the middle, we are left to imagine life as a "plumber's helper".  In contrast, Mr. Carroll does supply copious detail about reducing the, "as acquired, recapped tires," to little more than see-through prophylactics.  As one who has witnessed his legendary driving style, I can attest to its fundamental component of wheel spinning.  He also reported the state of affairs covering a poorly repaired and maintained front suspension, power plant and exhaust system.  Regardless, B9117965 LRX managed to survive exposure to the plebian life far better than its Miles' crafted sibling.  Save a few utilitarian changes, the car is pretty much the way Boskoff and Remington finished it.
One doubts the mishmash of colorful plug wires and tie-wrapped red heater hose as part of the original package, but who could challenge such an endearing air cleaner, or those early Girling hydraulic elements?  Presumably, the four barrel and cast valve covers joined the mix when Ian authorized up-rating to a Shelby supplied hipo.  That was (reportedly) done after the "blueprint" returned from its Lord Rootes review and couldn't have been many miles in front of being wholesaled, then re-sold through Escondido's Hungerford British Motor Cars.  While I suspect it wasn't planned, waning enthusiasm and subsequent sporadic use, served to help mummify these notable remains.  
The air cleaner used here is the identical piece employed by Ian Garrad on his never released "Super Tiger".  

This rare "hood closed" portrait is believed to be as close to the "as-delivered" appearance as anyone with a marque background can recall.  Aside from a little red pin striping, one can imagine Lord Rootes having just stepped from view.
Much of the extended incarceration occurred right in Mr. Carroll's home garage.  Surrendering to some serious unchecked erosion, the foundation of his parking structure could no longer properly support its essential elements.   Among other things, eye wittiness' report a set of totally fowled, barn-type doors, a large number of household goods embracing the prototype like a glove and definitely no ready access.  While the exact timeline is uncertain, there is no denying the San Marcos cocoon remained undisturbed and inaccessible for many, many months.  Once unearthed, the celebration was discovering no severe damage.  By whatever set of circumstances, life for the Garrad "grail" was definitely occupying charmed circles.  The extricated hostage and several companion, home-stored relics were moved to a downtown lockup, with the luxury of enough room to have open space around each treasure.
  Tucked away in a comfortable Quonset, it remained virtually out of sight until a San Diego appearance in 1990, at a Rick Cole Auction.  Failing to find a new proprietor at that event, B9117965 LRX was returned to relative obscurity and didn't surface again until a public outing at Tigers United XXII in Eureka, California, 1997.  During that gathering, attendees were exposed to all three of the "factory" sponsored prototypes and the observation that the Shelby machine had survived as a little-changed artifact of the Tiger's beginnings.  One necessary correction to accepted history involves dispelling the notion that an MGA, or for that matter MGB, steering rack was a part of this original package.  The actual piece comes from an MG Midget.  Now, I wonder who amongst the "hanger arounds" at the time might have had the most experience with MG bits --- Doane Spencer?   
 
 We're told that most of the "doll up" items were added to the package at the very last minute.  With Boskoff off in a huff due to accelerated completion pressures, Phil Remington
is said to have orchestrated the final "first-drive" onslaught. 

I suspect the red accents got expanded to the wheels as a part of preparing for a 1990 auction.  The prototype was presented under a serious reserve, but only bid to $35,000 before our owner became furious with the auctioneers and pulled his entry via a high-revving departure.
 In large part, the laissez-faire upkeep approach of its caretaker can be credited with sustaining the basic, as-built, "audition" personality.  The number of miles added to the odometer under Bill Carroll's stewardship can't have been more than a few hundred.  With such limited use, one could expect the normal rip and replace rigmarole was blissfully bypassed.  Sadly, my most recent, in-person observations (10/03) found a slowly decaying relic.  After a lifetime of California, Mr. Carroll uprooted his San Marcos hoard and headed to fresh pastures in New Mexico.  Stuffing years of domestic furnishings around and on top of the Boskoff creation during the move, did little to insure a damage free journey.  A fresh set of external bumps and bruises were just a few of the obvious clues to a diminishing level of interest.  In truth, the car has been quietly on and off the market for a number of years.  However, until this last weekend (Sunday the 20th of August, 2006) it had failed to fetch a fresh custodian.  At the end of the seven-day auction, with less than twenty bids tendered, an eBay buyer gobbled up the weakly marketed Shelby prototype with a final submission well under  expectations.  Even with the 6% commission, the amount was a bit trivial,  considering what others had recently forked over for examples of the regular production, but no matter.  I now have the ownership details and the news is good.   The Tiger blueprint is back in California, with a very enthusiastic Sunbeam disciple.  Pampering is already underway and the locals will have a first peek during an all British gathering in Palo Alto, 9/10/06.  It hardly seems possible over forty years have passed since this vestige made another debut on the streets of Marina Del Rey .  Here's to the dreamers, here's to the marque  and here's to the ultimate Sunbeam Tiger sire.

 



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