B9499999 - 7734 KV

Jensen Project 870 - AF-1

The European beginnings of the Sunbeam Tiger can be traced to one rather astonishing Series III Alpine.  Most would offer (and be correct in the exercise) that the vehicle in question was the Jensen-built "Project 870".  What they might not so readily comprehend is the same car was quickly reincarnated as the Le Mans "mule".  That rebirth created a serious muddle at the beginning chronicle of Tiger production.  At first blush, it seems a minor nuisance.  The nicknames, "Project 870" and "AF-1", ended up referring to the same machine and if it had stopped there, one could manage the "mix-'n-match" without too much trouble.  But, as if to assure additional confusion, Rootes elected to re-christen their Le Mans coupe effort with a completely new chassis family.  They then added a final eccentricity, by assigning the identifiers in reverse order.  The "mule" was re-stamped chassis number B9499999, given English registration 7734 KV and in its new clothing, made to surrender all evidence of its original Series III identity. 


The Williams & Pritchard clad Le Mans "mule" being sorted, April 1964.


British Racing Blue & a stripe or two.

   What is possibly even more astonishing is the path by which this information has come to light.  At its simplest, Brain Lister produces a "test" vehicle for the Rootes Group's 1964 Le Mans challenge.  As with most factory development vehicles, after serving its design function, it was brokered to the private sector and a life of dubious distinction.  "Club" racing they called it, or maybe it was "Sprinting".  Regardless, aside from allowing a photo now and then, I'm hard pressed to attach much importance to any of the performances, or events that provided exposure for what slowly became one ugly duckling.  It seems that each caretaker (I use the term with major reservations) just had to leave a personal brand.  Before they were finished, the task of ignoring "tart trappings" was difficult to say the least.

Imagine strolling the streets of London and stumbling upon a crimson "KV" coupe!  I'm confident it could have just as easily been "mellow yellow", or any of several stunning shades, but the final insult was nothing short of over the top.  No self respecting "people eater" would be complete without an utterly modern pair of antiglare rearview mirrors, or a matching set of high-speed nightlights.  Capping off such a collection would normally be a considerable accomplishment, but reworked sliding, aluminum framed side windows - what can I say?


British Racing Red & nothing more should be said.


British Racing Purple with spots & mirrors.
While it's always darkest before the storm, clear skies are just as certain to follow.  From here on the story begins to be much more rewarding.  Smooth sailing, however, is far from descriptive of the next chapters, even with a 1973 transplant to the U. S.  After a brief acquaintance tryst, the new owner, Dick Barker, admits that for the next several years of his active military duty, he did not have time to undertake the extensive work necessary to bring the car back to pristine condition, so 7734KV followed him around the country on an open trailer.
During this extended period he busied himself  delving into the history and technical aspects of the Tiger Le Mans coupes to ensure that the originality of B9499999 could be identified and preserved.  Following his retirement from the Navy, he settled in San Diego and began serious restoration of the car.  This included separating the aluminum work from the rusty steel portion, acid-dipping each section, and reassembling the entire body.  At the same time, mechanical components were being thoroughly reconditioned or replaced, including a fresh engine complete with the original Cobra 2-4V manifold and Carter AFBs. 
British Racing Steel & a little bit of lead.

British Racing Alloy & a hose full of air. 
 With the recently painted Coupe sitting in his garage waiting reassembly, all was well with the world.  Dick had no idea his restoration efforts were about to be catapulted to square one.  One day while admiring the quality of the paintwork, a small spot just above the rear quarter window caught his eye.  Soon there were more signs of bad news and almost before he could take a breath the remedy was patently clear - back down to bare metal.  Accepting the agony of a redo was no easy matter, but the results of the second ground up were to prove, among other things, absolutely magnificent.  Unlike the work performed previously, the artisans involved with the "restart" restoration were Sunbeam enthusiasts and as such, familiar with the legacy represented by the artifact they were striving to uphold.  They were also responsible for taking the project to a much more sophisticated level of final finish.  The simple step of test fitting pieces to insure they could be installed once the body and paintwork was completed had not been carried out during the earlier episode.  In fact, Dick was convinced in hindsight, not even the engine would have been mountable in the first rework. 
During the "do over", such possibilities were simply not left to chance .  By the time they were ready for the final reassemble, the car (as individual pieces) had already been together and apart twice.  The guilty parties would certainly not want me to belabor the point, but the efforts of Steven Alcala and Rick Fitzgerald (Alcala Restorations), Dan Walters, Loren Smith (mostly known as Smitty), Bob Palmer, and undoubtedly scores of others can rightly qualify for liberally applied pats on the back.  As a part of this rather dizzying accomplishment, attendance at a first-ever reunion of the Lister Le Mans coupes served as the crowning event in the resurrection of this twenty year old cadaver.
American ingenuity & lots of TLC. 

Back to "BRG"  with lights and battery. 
It was during the ramp up for the 1997 gathering of coupes that the major clues pointing to multiple personalities first surfaced.  A collection of Rootes "Experimental Department" reports, salvaged from dumpsters before they could be destroyed, were at long last exposed to concentrated scrutiny.  One of the first documents to get the juices flowing was actual confirmation of a "Project 870".  Use of such "in-house" codes often adds confusion to the simplest of tasks and even with the previous press given this subject, it's reassuring to have official verification. 
The main points of interest include two sections of the cover page.  Aside from the clear "870" reference next to "Model Project No." (upper right hand corner) the "MODEL" - VEHICLE" - "MILEAGE" line adds the details, "Alpine V-8" and "No. 1 Prototype".  The report goes on to chronicle various cooling system evaluations, but sorrowfully, none were very encouraging.  Still, to even have these documents is reason to celebrate, but "hold your horses".  The next set of papers brings new meaning to the phrase "stop the presses".  They were titled
"Wind Tunnel Testing Of The V-8 Alpine
Le Mans  Practice Car
"

A place to put your butt & check the needles red. 

A go box full of "Carters" & chic to knock you dead. 

Aside from a fascinating display of carefully prepared airflow graphs, the information printed in the upper right hand corner of this front page is far and away one of the most tantalizing pieces of contemporary data to find a voice in many years.  While it might be a bit hard to see in these images, the "Model Project No." line boldly says "870" and unless you're sleeping, there is no way to avoid the obvious Le Mans "mule" connection.
  
What we have here then, is one unknown "Series III" Alpine, "Project 870", "AF-1", "7734 KV", the Le Mans "Mule" and chassis "B9499999".  What we also have is the 2002, SAAC-27 Concours Division II Competition "Gold Award" recipient, which garnered 444.5 out of a possible perfect 450 points.  Mr. Barker's restoration effort has truly captured the essence of this Rootes relic and set a benchmark just short of impeccable.  What's more, I'm not the only one to say so. 
[By way of an update, the thirty-year Barker stewardship has recently (8/23/03) given way to a  new custodian.  As a previous owner of one of its sister machines, New Mexico's Christopher Gruys should be right at home with the archetype Le Mans coupe].

Sleek and clean, British Racing Green. 


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