A Brief on Early Tiger Race History,
Maybe not so breif!
An Article by Bob Palmer
For those interested in this part of the Tiger's history, here's a brief (well, maybe not so brief) summary of Friedman's book, Chapter 2, "The Sunbeam Tiger". Friedman was the official Shelby American photographer from 1962 to 1967. He was also our banquet speaker at the 1998 Tigers United in Big Bear (my plaque says TU XIII, but it was really TU XXIII). During Dave's talk he raised more than a few eyebrows with his adamant assertion that Shelby American was only involved with one Tiger, the #45 race car, and not any "prototype". In Chapter 2 Friedman writes: "Garrad wanted Shelby to build two prototypes, one for the street and one for the track, but the time frame was too narrow for Shelby to handle the construction of both cars. Although Ken Miles worked for Shelby American at the time, he had a small workshop of his own where he did some outside work. Miles was given the task of building the first Sunbeam Tiger street car and Shelby built the first race car. After much modification, the first race car made its debut at the SCCA divisional race run at Tucson in early April 1964. The driver was the very capable Lew Spencer, who had years of experience racing production sports cars. His performance at Tucson proved that the Tiger had possibilities but that a lot of work was needed to make the car a winner. The biggest problem with the Tiger was that it tended to swap ends without warning at the most inopportune times. This, of course, did little for the driver's confidence in the car. The problem - never cured by the Shelby crew - was likely caused by too much horsepower installed in a too-short chassis."
Mike Taylor in his book writes: "In March 1963 a Mk II Alpine was delivered to the Miles workshop and work began." At the same time, Ian Garrad had independently commissioned Shelby American to build a prototype for $10,000, which he said would be ready in "about eight weeks' time". It was the eight week schedule that prompted Ian to have Ken build a second prototype. Apparently, during these same eight weeks, Mr. Friedman was out of the Shelby American shop. Also, it's a long time from May 1963 to April 1964, which coincides with both the Tucson SCCA race and the start of production of the Jensen Tigers. Thus, Friedman must be presumed wrong on this point and the #45 race car was really the second Tiger developed by Shelby American. According to Mike Taylor, "In March, 1964, the prototype vehicle AF3 was flown over from Coventry to Shelby's workshop in California where a tuned 260 cu in (4.2 litre) engine was installed." And, "Later, in the Pacific Coast Divisional Championships at Willow Springs, Lew Spencer made history by being the first man to win a race in a Sunbeam Tiger, finishing 12 seconds in front of his nearest rival who was driving an E-type Jaguar.
In September of the same year, Lew drove the Tiger in the 200 mile National Sports Car Race at Elkhart Lake, where he finished second overall and first in class. Lew Spencer recalls, 'Apart from the cooling problems, the Tiger was always a little frightening to drive on a race track because of its short wheelbase.'" (Hey, Lew! Driven any Porches lately?) According to Friedman, at the SCCA B Production race at Laguna Seca in May 1964, Lew Spencer lost control of #45 on the high speed approach to turn 2 and came to rest on the dirt hill below the spectator area. Friedman says this was just one in a series of off-track shunts that convinced Lew to give up on the Tiger. The #45 car was later sold to Sports Car Forum's Don Sesslar in Ohio and rebodied as #74. It is interesting that the picture of Lew and the shunted #45 car shows no serious damage to the right front wheel and sheet metal, whereas the picture in Norm's book shows extensive damage in this area, so this obviously wasn't the last race for #45. If Lew last raced #45 at Elkhart in September 1964, that doesn't leave much time for the wreck that Norm's picture documents (at Kent, Washington race?) or the sale and rebodied by SCF and its first race, according to Friedman, in September. Again, it appears that Friedman must have his facts wrong. Friedman says that Ken Miles first drove the #74 nee #45 Tiger at the Badger 300 at Road America in September of 1964, where he won the B Production class and finished second overall to Dan Gerber's Cobra (not bad for "too much horsepower installed in a too-short chassis"). In any case, after the generally disappointing showing for the 1964 season, Ian decided to turn the Tiger race effort over to Doane Spencer at Hollywood Sport Cars and the rest, as they say, is history. BTW, Doane's 260 with a two-barrel carburetor put out 349 bhp!