The first car to bear the stand-alone Sunbeam name for more than 30 years was the old-fashioned Sunbeam Alpine roadster introduced by the Rootes Group in 1953 to cash in on the postwar British appetite for open-top motoring, but it didn’t last long. The Alpine really came into its own after a complete revamp saw its launch as a new sports car in 1959. This had clean modem lines and would zip through the Swinging Sixties.
However, it was primarily intended for the important US export market, and a canny American sales executive suggested beefing the basic 1.6 litre Series II Alpine to create something closer to high-powered muscle cars like the Shelby Cobra, then becoming popular in the States. This initiative saw Carroll Shelby himself create a prototype that contained the Cobra’s 4.3 litre Ford Windsor Ws engine. A second example was created by Shelby associate Ken Miles and Rootes was persuaded that the idea could fly.
Further testing by Jensen Motors confirmed that the engineering sums added up, and the Sunbeam Tiger (built by Jensen at West Bromwich) made its growling appearance in 1964. It didn’t look so very different from the gentler Alpine, but of course performance was in a different league.
Sadly, the Tiger adventure would not last long. Chrysler took over the Rootes Group in 1967, was not prepared to sell a car that had a Ford engine but couldn’t provide a suitable Chrysler alternative. After just four years — and some 7,000 cars — production came to an end. Only some 500 of these were the second series MK II cars with larger engine, which are consequently the most desirable. But anyone lucky enough to catch any Tiger by the tail will appreciate how special this fast feline was.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1964 (until 1967)
4,261 cc or 5,306 cc V8
With 4.3 I engine – top speed of 116 mph (187 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 9.5 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The name ‘Tiger’ was chosen for the beefed-up Alpine because it harked back to a great V12 Sunbeam racing car of the 1920s – driven by Sir Henry Seagrave, the Sunbeam Tiger was the first to exceed 150 mph (240 km/h), becoming a proud holder of the World Land Speed Record.