San Diego, CA
B9499999 "#7" (AF-1)
Race Car #7
Registration No: 7734KV
Dick Barker was, for a long time, the caretaker and brain trust for the
Le Mans test mule Tiger. He acquired the car after it had already seen numerous owners
and less than exemplary maintenance. The car followed him through numerous relocations, but after settling in San Diego he set to work on the restoration of
7734KV. That the restoration would be done twice, and that the car known as the Le Mans "test
mule" would turn out to also be the first so-designated Alpine-Ford (AF-1) factory Tiger prototype, was unknown at that point...
The magnificently restored Tiger has gathered many awards since its completion,
and in 2003 moved into Christopher Gruys' collection. Sadly, Dick Barker passed away in April 2010, but his commitment to the resurrection of this Tiger prototype and to the unearthing of early Tiger production history will not be forgotten.
Dick Barker was well known in Tigerdom, not only for his loving restoration of the prototype Sunbeam Tiger Le Mans, but for his detailed knowledge of the marque, and it's history. The car was built as the "test mule" for the factory Le Mans effort, and was used as a test bed for the two prototypes that competed in the 1964 Le Mans 24 hour race.
These cars were fitted with high performance 260 CID Ford engines by Carroll Shelby, whose own Le Mans entries had the 289 (wonder why?). Unlike the factory entries, this car was not stripped to the bone, but had full upholstery. The race cars were only partially fitted, but near factory weight by Rootes management decision. Cars #9 and #8 left the race at 3 and 9 hours from the start, respectively. The "mule' was not raced, but did participate in evaluating modifications.
All three cars were together at the 1997 Tigers United club gathering in Eureka, California. This car was featured in a 6 page article in the April/May, 2000, edition of Sports Car International. The picture on this page was edited from the many beautiful shots of this car, by David Newhardt.
Dick recalls some early Tiger experience:
"I bought my 66 Tiger new from a Dodge (authorized Sunbeam) dealer in San
Diego in early 1967, so I had only owned the car about a year when I drove it
across the US to Newport in the summer of 1968. I was stationed there for
one year while attending the Naval War College, and Ray Motors became my
escape from academia and insanity during the year that followed."
"First off, it was amazing to find this funky, little Rootes dealer buried in
the heart of old downtown Newport. Mind you, I said a Rootes--not a
Sunbeam--dealer. Oh sure, Ray included Sunbeam in his lineup, but he was a
Rootes dealer first and foremost. Which was not surprising if you considered
the automotive clientele of Newport. Around town there were lots of Humbers,
a smattering of sporty Gazelle and Rapier convertibles, and a whole bunch of
Minx sedans. Even a few of the local merchants had Husky delivery vans. And
of course there were a few--very few--Alpines. And NO Tigers. In those
days, George, the OLD man, was still in charge of the business, and I can
confirm that he had absolutely NO use whatsoever for a Tiger in any form. He
might condescend to repair a Tiger every now and then (if you were willing to
wait until he got around to it), but that depended largely on what needed
repair. Rootes accessories (but not LAT) were readily available at the parts
counter, and I loaded up my Tiger with a Rootes/Motorola radio, clock,
ammeter, cigar lighter, a lift-to-flash turn signal, and sun visors. I even
installed an Alpine choke cable in the appropriate hole (you needed a choke
in Newport in the winter!)"
"My Tiger was delivered with a hardtop and several LAT options (LAT 1, 5, 20,
70, 73, & 74), plus I quickly louvered the hood in an attempt to beat the
heating problem (it didn't help much). So I was pretty proud of it when I
drove it into Ray's garage for the first time. But you guessed it, I was
totally ignored! Finally, after I got someone's attention, I was politely
told "We normally don't service those cars here." Still, I kept going back,
buying more parts and striking up conversations with the employees whenever I
could ("Yes, that's a special chauffeur driven Humber. It belongs to Mrs.
Astor, who only uses it during her stays here in the summer. We keep in
storage for her the rest of the year.") Eventually I think I was sort of
accepted at Ray's, and one time they actually did some warranty work on my
brake booster or something. During the cold of winter, Old George even gave
me free use some shop space in a building across the street, where I pulled
the heads and did a valve job on our family car at the time, a lovely little
1955 Chevy Nomad (boy, do I ever wish I still had that car now!). Of course,
by 1969 both the Tiger and Alpine as we know them were history, so none of
the remaining dealers offered much in the way of parts or support for these
relics. Except for Ray's, which remained true to their "Rootes," and had a
rather large stash of not-so-common parts and goodies. Hanging out there,
just rubbing elbows and swapping stories with these old world Rootes devotees
was a great and unforgettable experience. And while my "bastard" Tiger was
held in disdain, it probably has never had better care and pampering. Those
were the days!"
"And just think. All those free brochures and catalogs I collected are worth
a fortune today on eBay!"