The History of the Sunbeam Tiger

Their durability proven, Alpines began to become also-rans in races because the MG and Triumph camps had engines which were making more power. Knowing they needed more power, the engineers at Rootes began looking in-house for a solution. Unfortunately, not a single powerplant was found which would give the increase in horsepower without a large increase in weight. Designing a new motor was out of the question, as Rootes financial situation was growing desperate due to labor disputes.

Ian Garrad was Rootes West Coast Manager. Well aware of the excitement the Cobra was generating, Garrad arranged for a meeting between himself, Carroll Shelby and John Panks (Director of Rootes Group America), to see if the Alpine could be transformed along the lines of Shelby's Cobra. Shelby agreed the Sunbeam transplant would be possible, and said that the small block Ford was the engine of choice.

Shelby agreed to do the engineering for $10,000, with a potential commission per car should it reach production. Fabrication was overseen by Phil Remington of Shelby's shop. The 260 c.i. Ford small-block was dropped into place, requiring a slight relief of the firewall. The installed transmission was a T-10, sending power back to a Salisbury rearend. The steering was upgraded to rack and pinion, and a revised cooling system was installed. Dual exhausts were fabricated and routed through the frame rails.

Once done, the first rides in the car convinced Garrad he had a winner. Shipped to England, the car was presented to factory engineers. The initial response was lukewarm at best, at least until the first drive. Once the prototype turned a wheel under power, everything changed! The Chairman of Rootes Group, Lord Rootes himself drove the prototype on its presentation to the company executives. Even though he had driven the prototype with the handbrake on, Lord Rootes was greatly impressed.

An agreement with Ford Motors was reached to supply 260 cu in V8 motors, with the first order for a lot of 3,000 units. Rootes then started their own development of the prototype into a certified, mass produced sports car.

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The History of the Sunbeam Tiger from Cobras Magazine, Summer 1995
by Von Levandowski

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