Hold That Tiger: 1966 Sunbeam Tiger

In discussing with a professor why the British had such a hard time waging war in North America during the 1700s, he remarked that they didn’t understand the distances.  Everything in England and Europe was fairly close together in the eyes of the British generals, and they never grasped the vastness of America.  That theory makes sense for that time period, and I think it kind of ties in with why the British never really understood the American market. Their cars were fine for English roads, but they were sometimes under-powered when it came time to travel down American highways. It took guys like Carrol Shelby to help the Brits find a suitable heart for their sports cars, like the one in this 1966 Sunbeam Tiger for sale here on eBay in Dunstable, Massachusetts.

The short story is that the Rootes Group wanted a more powerful engine for their Sunbeam Alpine sports car.  They first approached Ferrari about redesigning their four cylinder engine, but the deal fell through.  With a suggestion from Formula One designer and driver Jack Brabham, they began looking into the prospect of shoehorning a Ford 260 cubic inch V8 into the Alpine’s engine bay. They simultaneously approached both Carrol Shelby and Ken Miles to build mock ups of this concept.  The executives at Rootes felt the Shelby version was a bit more refined, so he ended up with some sort of deal.  Ken Miles was out of the picture.  Shelby wanted a shot at producing the cars here in America, but he ended up with royalties on each car instead.  The production contract went to Jensen Motors, who had just lost their manufacturing deal for the Volvo P1800 and were eager for the work. Ultimately, 7,128 were produced.

This particular Tiger has an interesting history.  It was owned by a man named Frank Dryden, who was a member of the Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association and quite the mechanic. Dryden ended up finding and fitting a Ford BOSS 302 engine into this particular car, earning a write up in the book “Tiger: Making of a Sports Car.”  In the write up, the author mentions Dryden’s struggles to keep the car cool. This may explain the unusual hood. The impression given from the book was that Dryden was a pretty clever guy, and he got a lot of the cooling problems sorted out.  One must remember that there probably is no way to keep these cars cool 100% of the time.  A Ford V8 crammed into a tiny engine compartment is a recipe for an occasional boil over, and most people seem to forget how common overheating was in cars during this time period.  Factor in the fun of modern traffic, and you will likely see your own copy of Old Faithful on occasion!

Inside, its like going back in time to the early seventies.  I am no expert on Tigers, but I am suspicious that the upholstery may not be factory correct.  I may be wrong about this, and I hope a reader can set the record straight.  The steering wheel is ensnared in one of those old, wretched steering wheel covers that you would get at your neighborhood drug store.  I haven’t seen one of thse in a while, and I really had hoped I never would again.  All the instruments are there, and they look to be in fair condition.  The shifter does worry me.  I believe it to be correct for the car, as it has the T-handle for putting the transmission into reverse.  What worries me is the surface rust.  This makes me think the car may have been stored in a humid environment for some time.  Not a deal breaker, but a sign that the car needs to be looked over carefully.  Especially the floor.

Under the hood sits the spice for the rice.  Already a good performer, Mr. Dryden upped the game when adding this BOSS 302 engine.  I am not quite sure how one of these engines slides in, but there seems to be little in the way of extra room in there.  When the cars were being built, it was said that a worker would have to take a sledge hammer to the freshly painted firewall to make the engine fit in this tiny compartment.  When Chrysler bought the Rootes group, they wanted to put a Chrysler V8 in the cars.  Unfortunately, the distributor on Chrysler small blocks of the time was at the rear of the block, preventing the switch. Chrysler ended up telling Rootes to stop production when they ran out of Ford V-8s, thus ending the run of these unique cars.

It does appear that someone has tried to remedy one of the common faults of Sunbeam Tigers.  Even with disc brakes on the front, Tigers were known for being rather under braked.  Someone has decided to take the bull by the horns here, and has added a set of Wilwood calipers and discs to the front.  Hopefuly, the front suspension was rebuilt at the time, as the added weight made this a problem area for these cars.

When you look at this particular car as a whole, it provides a good glimpse into what an English-American hybrid would look like after a few years of tinkering by an American enthusiast. American hot rodders seem to never be satisfied with leaving things stock.  Mr. Dryden put his mark on this car, and it shows. It would be a shame for someone to perfectly restore this car back to stock.  From the aftermarket wheels, to the modified hood, and, of course, the BOSS 302 engine, this car tells of a time when people worked on cars as a hobby and sports car racing was a big thing in this country.  Sunbeam Tigers have risen in value, and adding a good one to your collection would probably be a safe investment. Why not add one to your stable like this one? This is a car you can enjoy without feeling guilty about running over a mud puddle.

As for the whole notion that the British didn’t understand the American market, what would have happened if the British had established design centers in America? If their designers and engineers had to work in America, I would imagine that cars like the Tiger would have become the norm rather than the exception in regards to sports cars.  Maybe British sports cars with powerful American engines would still be with us…

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. Dolphin Member

    Very interesting and extensive writeup Jeff. I enjoyed reading it.
    A few random observations…

    It’s good that the seller has a photo of the VIN tag because the VIN isn’t in the Ebay Item specifics.

    Not too much description but with some good photos, but of the topside only. With that rust on the shift lever (good eye Jeff) you would need to see the underside to be sure it isn’t hiding rust. The car is about 30 miles inland in MA so should not have been affected much by salt air, but better check the underside.

    Good that it has a real BOSS 302 engine, which should liven the car up. When I drove a bone stock Tiger with the 260 engine with 2-barrel carb it was pretty underwhelming, even by the sports car standards of way back when. That said, I would be careful with all that power in this unsophisticated chassis. Someone who wasn’t careful/skilled could get into trouble. The Wilwood brakes are definitely good.

    Funny that the car is in a very nice garage/collection but is missing the headlight trim rings, has that awful vinyl steering wheel wrap, trunk ajar, all photos taken statically inside, rusty shift lever, junky trunk, undetailed engine bay and interior, etc. Lose the promo pics of the Wilwood brakes, get the car outside and on a lift, and put more useful pics in the listing.

    It looks like the car has attracted some good bidding, to $37K / 41 bids so far, with the reserve not met. It will be interesting to see how the car does. The SCM Guide has the 260 Tigers at a median auction price paid of about $75K. I wonder whether the BOSS engine and book feature will add or detract from what an excellent original early Tiger would bring at auction, which is that $75K number. If it were mine I would get it as nice as possible and put it with one of the major auction houses at one of the major auction events like Scottsdale, with emphasis on the BOSS engine and history of the car. With a reserve on this auction the seller might still get to do that.

  2. rich

    I’m more interested in the Mustangs parked next to it!!

    • DrinkinGasoline

      The fact that there are Mustangs surrounding it should say something.

  3. DrinkinGasoline

    Nice article Jeff. It’s no surprise that this Tiger has reached 37+K. Alpine’s can be found relatively easy but the Tiger, not so much. Personally, I wouldn’t be concerned about sheet metal or iron for that matter.. A journeyman fabricator would have no issue with replicating the exact replacements.
    If you’re “in” at 37 plus, whats a few more K ?
    This one will be up on the block in short order.

  4. RicK

    At least one of the cars surrounding it is a Cougar, not a Mustang. Eliminator clone?

  5. Mike Williams

    The Boss engine should add ten grand to the final price. It says no reserve and then Reserve not met ?

    • DrinkinGasoline

      10K for a Boss Engine (it’s not a motor, it’s an engine). I think not. A motor is electric vs. an engine being a combustion powered device.

      • Cary Dice

        Then why is it called Motorsports instead of enginesports? 🤔

      • leiniedude leiniedude Member

        Motorhead comes to mind also, not the band though.

  6. Sunbeamdon

    Boss motor, more likely than not, detracts from the value of a three footer; probably is a modest value add for a ten footer/driver. The interior is standard for many #58 – Midnight Blue exteriors. Headlight buckets scare me with the red paint – not originals. No shots of the cruciform scare me. The bonnet looks to be LAT. Cramming a Boss 302 in a Tiger is heroic, but, by experience, creates a monster to get off the line with no low-end torque added to the Mk I Tiger close ratio transmission.

  7. Pat A

    In the movie “American Pimp” the Bishop Don Juan has one of those steering wheel wraps that seems to be the exact shade of green as the paint on his Caddy. Looks like maybe he had Earl Scheib color match the paint to the steering wheel cover.

  8. DrinkinGasoline

    All semantics aside..Engines are combustion. Motors are electrical.

  9. Dan

    Ok, here is one in defense of those steering wheel covers. They did and do a great job of hiding cracks, making those skinny steering thick enough to grip AND they helped keep your hands from burning on hard plastic.
    There…I have admitted it, I use those covers and I am not ashamed!

    • Dolphin Member

      I used one too, on a 240Z that I owned years ago. This fake wood steering wheel rims were so skinny and slippery that someone with big hands could have trouble getting a tight grip. I got a high quality leather wrap that looked good and worked well but I took it off when I put the car up for sale.

    • Mountainwoodie

      LOL ! me too I got your six! Skinny steering wheels of the sixties were a pain in the azz. Without these wraps my hands slid all over the place. Now on a two tone clear Pontiac wheel I wouldn’t use it but on the generic skinny steering wheel…………you betcha!

  10. Mountainwoodie

    Forgot to add I drove a ’66 Tiger as a parts gofer at a local garage as a teen….I didnt find it underpowered, of course I was a skinny 17 year old……and numerous times inadvertently laid rubber at traffic lights trying to tame the monster.

  11. Randy

    Neat stuff in that garage. Besides the 1969 Mercury Cougar Eliminator next to the Sunbeam, there’s a ’70 Eliminator in blue, along with all the Mustangs.

  12. Peter

    Jeff Bennett,

    Never read one of your write-ups before, but I agree with Dolphin, i.e., “very interesting and extensive….” And “Good On You!” for undertaking a longer write-up. Too often (on some web-forums–not B.F.) people complain if someone dares to write more than a paragraph or two. IMO, if it’s a worthy topic, and capable writer, I say “Write all you want–those that don’t want to read it don’t have to!” /rant over. ;-)

    And good catch on the rusty shifter–I’m becoming “allergic to rust,” having battled it for most of my adult life–and I missed that detail. Definitely makes me suspect either a leaky top, or damp storage (or both), at some point in it’s history. DEFINITELY would need to see this on a lift–preferably while having someone with Tiger expertise doing an extensive PPI.

    I’m not familiar with Tigers, other than what I read, so can somebody please tell me there IS room for an air filter, under that hood? (I’m AMAZED–and not in a good way–at all the custom bikes and car-builds I see, with open velocity stacks. I simply can’t understand rebuilding/blueprinting an engine (not this Tiger, but generally) and then letting it inhale bumblebees and DUST.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    To Dan,

    I agree with this, and equally guilty–but thanks to you, no longer ashamed–LOL:

    “Ok, here is one in defense of those steering wheel covers. They did and do a great job of hiding cracks, making those skinny steering thick enough to grip AND they helped keep your hands from burning on hard plastic.
    There…I have admitted it, I use those covers and I am not ashamed!”

  13. Sunbeamdon

    Peter: there may not be room for a standard Tiger air filter (large oval shape) the 4 barrel on top of high-rise manifold could impact clearance; however, the LAT hood scoop may well eliminate that problem. Original filter set-ups are going for north of $600.00!

  14. philthyphil

    LAT hood scoop may well eliminate that problem…no problem
    ….hammer on firewall…myth

  15. junkman Member

    still for sale 9\23\17

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