The following is part of an article I wrote for Sports Car Market, a magazine that reports on automobile auction activities around the country. Their publisher/editor, Keith Martin, attended and reported on the RM Classic Car Auction held at the Monterey Double Tree Hotel in October of 1998. An "Alpine Conversion" represented as a MK II Tiger (B382100523) was sold during the event for $31,030.00 including the7 percent "buyers premium", tax and license. When Sports Car Market was made aware of the misrepresentation, they ask if I would contribute something on the subject of identifying the genuine article. While much of what is used to separate fact from fiction must remain unpublicized, these simple examples might make life a little easier for a few potential buyers.

Counterfeit Cats
An Alpine In Tiger's Clothing
by Norman C. Miller

Much as the creation of a counterfeit Shelby GT 350 relies on access to a run-of-the-mill Ford Mustang 2+2, creating a believable Sunbeam Tiger likeness requires a sister vehicle in the form of a Sunbeam Alpine. The Sunbeam Tiger ('64-67) and equivalent year models of the Alpine ('59-67) are nearly identical cars, except that the former is equipped with a Ford V8, the latter with a four-cylinder engine. As you might expect, the Carroll Shelby-inspired Tiger is worth far more than its Alpine cousin. This large difference in price has encouraged people to transplant Tiger elements from otherwise unsalvageable (rusty or severely damaged) V8 derelicts into Alpine bodies and pass them off as genuine Tigers.

Aiding the deception, Tigers and Alpines share a very fragile system of factory identification. The cars had only one set of VIN markings. The serial number appears on a chassis tag in the engine compartment, mounted with only two pop rivets. With a drill and very little effort, an Alpine's genealogy can be changed in short order. One possible giveaway to this deception is that the factory used special period English rivets to mount the tags. When examining a car today, if you see fresh rivets or an uneven application, you have reason to question the involvement of someone other than the factory.

Another red-flag zone is a metal section of the parcel shell, behind the passenger seat (right side of car). All Alpines and Tigers (except the MK II) have an access door in this area, under the upholstery. In the Alpine, lifting the trapdoor exposes a metal box housing the battery. On the Tiger, the dual exhaust system left no room for a battery in that spot, so it was repositioned to the trunk. Since there was also no room for Ford's engine-driven fuel pump, an electric pump was affixed to a bracket and made accessible through the redundant Alpine access door. The salient point is that no box was ever installed in the Tiger body. An Alpine body, passing as a Tiger, would likely show evidence of battery box removal.

When the Tiger Mark II was introduced in 1967 (only 536 built), the fuel pump was repositioned from its trapdoor location to the inside of the trunk. So, on the Tiger Mark II body, the parcel shelf was no longer die-stamped with an opening. This characteristic makes it very easy to identify a look-alike Alpine that someone is trying to pass off as a Tiger Mark II. If you see an opening or evidence of a filled-in hole, the body is not Tiger, but Alpine.

In California, rust-free Sunbeam Alpines can be purchased all day long for less than $1,000. As the Tiger appreciates in value, growing numbers of restoration outfits have embraced the wholesale body exchange process as a quick and cost-effective way to refresh a Tiger cadaver. It's a sad fact that many good-looking East Coast and European cars bearing Tiger scripts are in fact "Alpine conversions."

If you're looking to invest in a Sunbeam Tiger and want to make certain you get your monies worth, do some homework. At the very least, insist on getting all of the letters and numbers from the VIN tag. There should also be a second tag mounted to the engine compartment cowl that carries the car's JAL (body) number. Get that information as well. Note the seller's full name, not Joe, or Bob, but Jim Johnson. Then, armed with that minimal data, contact "The International Registry Of Sunbeam Tigers" (that's me) at:

166 Manor Drive
San Carlos, CA 94070
650-591-0134 (voice)
650-465-0480 (cell)

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