Sunbeam Tiger British Sports Car with American Power

1965 Sunbeam Tiger Mark I
1965 Sunbeam Tiger Mark I. Photo by Mark Gittelman

We are big fans of British sports cars from the 60s and 70s. Whether it's an E-type Jaguar, the MG model TD from the folks at the Morris Garage or even the pint-sized Triumph Spitfire, these cars are just fun to drive.

What would happen if you took one of these petite performers and dropped in an old-fashioned muscle car V-8 under the bonnet? The answer is you would have a Tiger on your hands.

A Sunbeam Tiger to be exact. Join me as we talk about an automobile built in small numbers, yet enjoys a large fan base. This combination is probably why the Sunbeam Tiger is currently rising in value while others remain steady. Find out what it costs to get your hands on one and what they're worth in premium condition.

Tiger Cars built by Sunbeam

Tony and Michelle Hammer wrote an interesting article covering the Sunbeam car company through its early years. The first car from this company to wear the Tiger nameplate was a purpose built race car assembled in 1925. The one seat racer packed a V12 supercharged engine producing over 300 HP.

In 1926 the Tiger shattered a land speed record at just over 152 mph. The car still exists today. It's on static display in a Park City, Utah-based car Museum. During a 1990 vintage racing event the 65-year-old car produced a top speed of nearly 160 mph. This broke its original record from 1926 by nearly 8 mph. The California Association of Sunbeam Tiger Owners met at the home of the first racing Tiger in 2004 to celebrate its legacy.

Is it a Sunbeam Tiger or an Alpine

I remember the first time I saw this car. It was a beautiful example in red, driven by Maxwell Smart agent 86 in the hit television series Get Smart. It looked like an MG, but moved like a muscle car. Some say Don Adams drove an Alpine in the scenes featuring the car. Others said, it was a Ford V-8 powered Tiger. Well it turns out they are both right.

They used both the Alpine and the Tiger in the filming of the Get Smart episodes. The bulk of the moving scenes featured the Tiger. However some of the close-up scenes featuring the gadgets built into the car utilized the Alpine model. This leads us to what is the difference between a Tiger and an Alpine.

The main difference between the two models is the Alpine is powered by a four-cylinder engine, whereas the Tiger features either a Ford 260 cubic inch or the larger 289 V-8. However, there are other major differences between the two cars. Most of these fall into the categories of strength and cooling.

The Alpine required a modified frame and increased cooling capacity to survive the installation of the V-8. In addition, Tigers have a larger transmission tunnel to accommodate the Ford T-170 Top Loader four-speed manual transmission. They also built in recessed areas in the firewall to make room for the V-8 and all its belt driven accessories.

The Tiger I and the Tiger II

The partnership between the Ford Motor Company and Sunbeam, owned by Rootes Motors, flourished from 1964 through 1967. Together they would build just shy of 7,100 total units. From 1964 through 1967 they used the 260 V-8.

However, toward the end of the partnership in 1967 they began to install the 289 V-8. These cars were dubbed the Tiger II and sold exclusively in the United States. It's believed that only 633 Tiger II automobiles were released into the wild.

The Value in a Sunbeam Tiger

With only around 7,000 total units built these cars are considered rare and collectible. As people begin to appreciate the automobile, the unlikely partnership and the involvement of Carroll Shelby in the project, values have steadily increased. Even during recent pullbacks in the collector car market the Sunbeam has remained steady.

Just 10 years ago you could pick up a rough example, in the $15,000 price range. Now an original numbers matching example in need of a complete restoration are going for $20,000 - $25,000. Maybe this is because a fully restored Sunbeam Tiger can pull in well over $100,000 in an auction environment filled with motivated buyers. The ultra rare Sunbeam 1967 Tiger Mark II with the original engine and transmission can start with an opening bid of over $200,000.