Big Motor, Little Car: 1965 Sunbeam Tiger

The Sunbeam Tiger is one of the most iconic recipes for dropping a big, powerful V8 in a small, lightweight roadster and seeing what sort of fun ensues. While it’s certainly a formula that has been imitated for eons, the originals are still usually the best. This 1965 Sunbeam Tiger is a case-in-point, a sharp roadster body with iconic styling and limited production numbers to go along with impressive heritage that includes the likes of Carroll Shelby. This example is a very nice driver-quality example, apparently found forgotten in the garage of an upscale house since the 1980s. Find it here on eBay with an opening bid of $25,000 with no action yet.

Now, this car is a conundrum of sorts, as it remains largely original aside from one major component. The seller notes it had to get a proper reconditioning, as the Tiger had evidently sat in a suburban garage for quite some time with no love and attention. Unfortunately, one of the updates made consisted of “upgrading” to a 302 V8, which I assume came from a later FoMoCo product. Aside from that, the seller rattles off numerous fixes or improvements, from bodywork to carpets to carburetor work and new clutch cylinders. The seller doesn’t elaborate as to what bodywork consisted of, but given it still has some minor rust issues to sort out, I’m assuming it had developed some corrosion issues from years of sitting.

Now, no details are offered as to why a 302 got swapped in, but the seller does spell out that numerous parts from the original engine remain with the car. These include the original heads, manifolds, carburetor, ignition, and other miscellaneous engine parts. Usually, when these bits are retained, there was a reason why the original block had to come out, and someone has attempted to keep as many of the matching components with the car. The 302 conversion is a popular swap among owners of the Sunbeam Alpine, the British roadster that looks quite similar to the Tiger with one major difference: the Alpine came with an anemic four-cylinder and was definitely down on power from the factory.

The sale of this Tiger will also include a parts car with no drivetrain, but it does have a Dana rear end. The seller notes the soft top is rough on the running car, but that the sale will include a new tonneau cover and steel hardtop with a “…new glass kit.” Overall, a lot of good spares will accompany the sale of the red Tiger, but the parts car also has plenty left to give if the next owner is inclined to having two Tigers on their property. The tricky thing is the originality factor: Tigers bring big money when they are completely original, with their numbers matching engine still under the hood. Where this car falls on the value chart is a mystery to me, as they are rare as hell but the later 302 kills some of the excitement for me. What do you think it should sell for?

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  1. Ken Wittick

    “big V8” ?

    • joe

      “big V8”? Consider how small a Tiger is, with 5 liters of engine. You could quickly lose your license. These cars are quite quick on fast curvy roads. I owned a stock “65 with the 260, and I had a blast with it.

  2. 68custom

    i have always been told that the bigger small blocks are hard on these chassis but it sounds like a recipe for fun to me!

  3. TimM

    The horse power to weight ratio is good for a Sunday drive on a windy road!!

  4. sir_mike

    For what other Tigers have sold for this seems a bargain.Has a lot of extra parts listed.Drivers door looks like it droops.NJ car how much hidden rust??

  5. FH

    having had one, looks pretty shabby. red repainted from (original white under hood) incorrect steering wheel (original was fragile, now rare), the track (wheel width) looks too narrow, and is wider on the Tiger – all not to mention the incorrect 302, (which is probably the best thing about this car). Suspect this might be a converted Alpine (hence the narrow track)

  6. FH

    having had one, looks pretty shabby. red repainted from (original white under hood) incorrect steering wheel (original was fragile, now rare), the track (wheel width) looks too narrow, and is wider on the Tiger – all not to mention the incorrect 302, (which is probably the best thing about this car). Suspect this might be a converted Alpine (hence the narrow track)

    • Morgan Winter

      The chassis number (if authentic) indicates that it’s a Tiger Mark I.

  7. bobhess bobhess Member

    Either way, I’ve never had a problem with a car that has more power than it needs.

  8. Matt G

    I always think of the opening credits to “Get Smart” when I see one of these, especially a red one…

    • TimM

      Here’s some trivia for you!!! How many doors did Maxwell Smart walk through on the beginning of the show???

      • DON

        7 ? I remember the show, but never counted the doors !

  9. 914shifter Member

    Wow!! that was an absolute bargain/steal at $25k. The Tiger parts car alone is probably worth about half that amount -give or take a few grand. I have owned several Alpines, and they are so easy to work on. Someone will be happy with their purchase.

  10. The One Member

    I don’t know fer shur but paint hides a lot, 25K? really?? I have one that is worth 100K+
    New Jersey…heh..

  11. steve

    Alpine had enough power. Tiger has too much. It tries to kill you every time you get in it. 10 minutes of driving and your right foot catches on fire from the exhaust heat. It is the automotive version of a jet ski. Race around a bit and show off… but then what??
    302 vs the 260. Both are BASICALLY the same engine (purist? Down boy!!) with the advantage of the later engine being the ability to run on unleaded fuel and MAYBE even having a roller cam so you can run it on modern oil. Most people when looking under the hood are going to simply stare and go “Awesome!!”. Which small block it is matters little to Joe Public.
    Sold the Alpine, have no desire for a Tiger. Fun car for someone.

    • Joe

      Steve. If a Tiger scares you, buy a bicycle.

  12. The One Member

    We Have had Our Tiger for 22 years, and we love it! The 260 was nice, but finally gave up the ghost. It was not he original engine. The cost to rebuild was out outrageous as all parts had to be made. Stupid stuff like, $100.00 / piston etc. We opted for the full roller 1987 302 re-manufactured Long block 1 Million mile, 5 year warranty, $1700.00. They, whoever “they” are make a heat shield padding that works great!! Yes it really moves out. Had the front suspension bopped, helped a lot. My wife and I have had our share of really fast cars over the last 40+ years so, no winy hiny wimps here. We dig going fast and taking chances. Heck just last week we took on some Japanese car and smoked him, we let off the gas at 110 mph.True story, last week I went through the X-ray at the airport, they detected metal in my groin, twice! I had to be patted down! I’m not kidding,so I told the security guy, ” Must be my big brass balls!!”

  13. Steve

    Car is not right ,How bout a parts swap from the rust bucket to the Alpine.Just saying.

  14. chrlsful

    yup, 260 is a windsor, started as a 221 tho, lasted thru ’96 w/the 351. But w a y different motors. Grand – sons and fathers, no ‘small block/big block’ like chebby but families (windsor, clev, Y block, ThriftPower, etc). Being a system, change 1 thing effects all others, a wider track is only logical…

    A simple, basic item, but again, way outta my price range now~

  15. FH

    incorrect. the 221/260/289 Ford V8 from early 1`960s -70s is considered a ‘small block’.

    About as common knowledge 60s Ford-savvy info as it gets.

    • Ed P

      Compared to the 4 cyl Alpine, the small block Fords are big engines for Tiger’s.

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