When Sunbeam Tiger

growled to

purrfection

Sunbeam Tiger

BACK in the 1960s the Sunbeam Alpine roadster was a beautiful sports car if a little underpowered for a burgeoning market demanding more and more performance - then along came the Tiger.

The Sunbeam Tiger was nothing short of astonishing, featuring a massive Ford V8 engine shoehorned into the Alpine's slim fashion model lines.

The car was designed in part by American performance expert Carroll Shelby, famous for the AC Cobra V8, but the car immediately hit problems because there was no production capacity at the parent company Rootes Group's own factory.

Shelby had hoped to produce the car at his US facility, but in the end the contract went to Jensen at West Bromwich in the Midlands and Shelby was to be paid a royalty on every car sold.

In a lot of ways the idea made sense because Jensen had capacity after Volvo had transferred production of its P1800 sports coupe to Sweden and bosses at the Rootes Goup were, I understand, reluctant to see their baby disappearing across the Atlantic.

The 120mph Mark I Tiger appeared in 1964 with a 4.3-litre Ford V8 rumbling under the bonnet. This lasted until 1967 when the Mark II was unleashed with a Ford 4.7-litre.

The whole quest for more power for the Alpine was fascinating because originally Rootes sought negotiations with Ferrari for a redesign of the standard four-cylinder engine. This could have resulted in a mind-blowing performance car but talks broke down.

A powerful voice behind the Super-Alpine idea was racing driver Jack Brabham who saw that the conception of a V8 would work on this unsuspecting and almost genteel little car.

I am not quite sure that British driveways were ready for it because it was a handful to drive. I got behind the wheel of an early version and realised that this was not a ‘piece of cake' like the MGB.

Because the chassis was not hyped up enough to handle such power it could very easily break away on cornering and wheelspin was very much a part of everyday life.

Production ended in 1967 soon after the Rootes Group was taken over by the Chrysler company Chrysler did not have a suitable engine and would not work alongside Ford so this particular Tiger became extinct years before its time.

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