Tiger 101

An Article by Tom Witt
February, 2003

Preface: Tom Witt, known for his writings entitled "Witt's End", brings us his first TigersUnited.com article on the extensive challenges and unique resolutions in restoring his Tiger (B9470101). This is a thoughtful piece for those considering or undertaking such a task.


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"Tiger 101" The title at first glance might appear to be a primer on the Sunbeam Tiger, like Business 101 is to the corporate world. It might also imply one hundred and one things that can be done to modify a Tiger. However, neither is the case. Tiger 101 refers to Tiger #B9470101 the subject of this story.

Perhaps the greater relevance to the 101 designation is the fact that I have lived within a few miles (in my bachelor days a few feet) of California's highway 101 for more than 25 consecutive years. Someday on the first of October (10-1) I will take 101 (the Tiger) on 101 (the highway) for 101 miles at 1:01pm. But, before that can happen you need to read about ..................

How it all got started:

I was 7 years old when the Tiger was introduced. My first recollection about the car was a "has the Mustang engine..., like a Cobra..., but cheaper" comment made between two of my older brothers. In retrospect I find it interesting that their comment was even made as neither were ever car guys, but like most teens they probably knew the "talk" of the day. For whatever reason I have always been an "underdog" and "do it different" kind of guy. Thus, the concept of the Tiger with it's transplanted V-8 engine was very appealing to my 7 year old mind.

Through my teen years I progressed from racing slot cars (at the end of it's "hay day" - real racing - and not the baby-sitter service it started as) to an outside interest in drag racing (I still didn't have my license yet) and then into the sedan Trans Am where a whole group of my friends owned extensively modified street Datsun 510's. I though was on the periphery and had a lowly 510 of the 4 door, station wagon variety. My car's great claim to fame was the adapter I built to connect a SU carburetor to the stock downdraft intake manifold (picture that!).

I remember a guy in high school that had an Alpine and though at that time I liked most of the look of the car the tail fins seemed way too dated for the boxy popular design of the mid seventy's. Regardless, The Sunbeam Tiger/Alpine would still have made my top 25 cars list at any point in my life.

My life passed through the "get a job, get married, get a house" phase of my 20's and the car became more of a functional necessary than a pursuit of hobby. Still I managed to own such items as a 1972 Datsun 240 Z, 1966 Volvo PV-544S and a 1961 Ranchero with the rare Dagenham 4 speed. My 30's brought the "build your own house, have children" phase (and, oh yea, the somewhat limiting arrhythmic heart condition). As it has been all of my life any hobbies were out of necessity always low on the time/financial priority list, yet as the new millennium approached I had amassed a collection cars ranging from free to $650. These included a 1961 Corvair station wagon (free), 1963 Rambler American with the rare one year only hardtop ($300), 1965 Plymouth Belevedere ($650) and the previously mentioned 1966 Volvo PV-544S ($400).

As I entered my 40's it became obvious that I would not have the time, finances or drive to tackle all these "projects." I therefore reasoned with myself (and later my wife) that it would be wise to sell "most" (a clever word on my part) of my cars and buy one "significant" car (a word with broad interpretation given my limited finances).

Finding that "significant" car

It is interesting how many elements can intertwine in one's life. In 1997 my family and I were on vacation and traveling through Eureka, Ca. We had gone to dinner at the Samoan Cookhouse. Mid-way through eating I saw a large group of people clothed in Sunbeam apparel gather in the banquet room. Later I took my son to the men's room and there I inquired with a badge carrying Tiger owner as to what was up. He filled me in on Tiger's United and invited me to come by the hotel and see the cars the next afternoon after the slalom. The next day my eyes gleamed the sight of a parking lot full of Tiger's while my wife waited patiently on a parking bumper with our two young children. The desire to own a Tiger really shot up that day, but I do remember that desire being quelled somewhat as I pondered turning a wrench most anywhere under the hood. Though I was amazed at all the cars and could grasp some of what was going on it would be a number of years later that I would understand the importance of this event and relish that by chance I would stumble upon it.

The same appeal the Tiger had when I was seven years old remained as I pondered the "significant" car in early 2000. The Tiger was both a sports car and a V-8 hot rod. It was rare, but not too rare. It was a composite of everything I desired in a car. It would also fit in my shrinking garage space. The question remained would it fit in my shrinking budget? As I stated above most of my hobby cars fit the under $650 category. My arrhythmia limited me to a part time teaching position and that limited me to a part time income. My investigations said add another zero on to that $650 I typically spent and you were still probably buying a Tiger with more rust than steel.

I had discussed the search for the "significant" car with a guy at work and mentioned the Tiger was at the top of my list. A short while later he told me about a $5,900 Tiger he saw while surfing the Internet. My passive, month long inquiry into Tiger's hadn't found anything more financially acceptable than a suspected Alger (I was at least wise to them) for about that same price located near Las Vegas. Therefore, with some degree of hesitation I contacted the owner and found out that the car was stored at Smitty's in San Diego. I decided that "it couldn't hurt to look" and so I took the three hour driver down from Thousand Oaks, dropped the wife and kids off at Old Town and had a look-see. Smitty's isn't in the greatest section of town, but his greeting was pleasant and as my eyes adjust to the dim light I became aware that I was in "Rootes Heaven." This place is festooned with parts! "My" black Tiger was 3 or 4 cars deep in the building and Smitty slid over an 4 foot florescent light so I could have a better look.

More: for a flavor of Smitty’s see this link to Norm Miller's Web Page and visit there.

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