Total Production: 7,067 1964 - 1967 Lord William Rootes of Ramsbury created the British based Sunbeam/Rootes Coventry Company after extensive experience gained from the Singer Company. He had been actively involved in automobile racing and development for a number of years. In 1926 a Sunbeam powered by a 12-cylinder engine and driven by Sir Henry Seagrave had set the land speed record at 152.3 mph.
The Sunbeam Tiger is probably most famous for its starring roll in the TV series 'Get Smart', created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. The main character, Maxwell Smart, drove the vehicle to Control each week where he was given his assignment. Agent 86, er Maxwell Smart, received attention where ever he went, thanks in part to the stylish vehicle that accompanied him.
The Sunbeam Tiger continued the long tradition of putting a large American engine in a small European car. Others, such as the Nash-Healey and Facel Vega had done this before. The most celebrated success of this unique combination would have to be the Shelby Cobra where, under the direction of Carroll Shelby, a Ford V8 was planted in an AC Ace.
In 1959 the two-seater Sunbeam Alpine was introduced by the Rootes Group. Under the hood was a 1494 cc four-cylinder engine mated to a transmission featuring overdrive. The small engine was barely enough to compliment the stylish and sporty body. Ian Garrad, an individual involved in the US Sunbeam/Rootes Group, realized that the power of the AC Ace could be transplanted into the Sunbeam Alpine. Most of the engines he tried to install were too larger for the Alpines engine bay. He struggled to find an appropriate engine that was also backed by manufacturer support. He found it in the Ford Falcon 260 cubic-inch 8-cylinder engine.
Garrad approached the road racing legend Ken Miles and infamous Caroll Shelby for help with this project. Both agreed and began work separately in their own shops. Shortly thereafter in May of 1963, the two prototypes were ready.
The prototype developed by Ken Miles retained the recirculation-ball steering and many of the Alpine's mechanical components. Shelby's approach was different, moving the engine farther back in the engine back to capitalize on better weight distribution. The firewall and transmission tunnel was modified to accommodate the large engine. A rack-and-pinion steering unit replaced the recirculation-ball unit and the prior transmission was removed in favor of a four-speed manual gearbox.
After vigorous testing and multiple road-trips, the vehicle was sent to Lord Rootes for his approval. After further testing, the project was code-named 'Thunderbolt' and further testing and development were performed on the vehicle. The chassis and suspension were straightened to compensate for the large V8 engine. This strengthening added to the overall weight of the vehicle, but with a total curb weight of just 2560 pounds, the horsepower-to-weight ratio was still phenomenal. With 164 horsepower under the hood, the vehicle was able to go from zero-to-sixty in just 7.8 seconds. If that was not enough, Shelby and Rootes offered aftermarket products that improved the engine's performance resulting in 245 horsepower. The four-speed manual was standard but an optional automatic was available for an extra $500.
In honor of the land speed record accomplishment by Seagrave, the vehicle was named Sunbeam Tiger. It was debuted at the New York Auto Show where it was offered for less than $2300.
The vehicle was a success but troubles in Europe led Rootes to the Chrysler group for financial support. The Rootes Companies employees were striking, production was slow, and so was the cash flow. Chrysler stepped-in, acquiring over 83% of the company. The production of the Tiger continued through 1967 but Chrysler was not enthusiastic about offering a Ford-powered vehicle. The Mark II version appeared which offered a larger engine, the result of enlarging the bore and stroke resulting in a 289 cubic-inch capacity. Shortly after the Mark II introduction, the production of the Tiger ceased.
During its production lifespan, 7067 examples of the Sunbeam Tiger were created. By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2006