Morgan Alternative: 1980 Tiger Convertible

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Kit cars seem to be coming out of the woodwork these days.  While there is undoubtedly a limited market for such vehicles, the variety of different types and makers has been entertaining, to say the least.  Take this one for example.  If the average kit car looks too boring or fake to you, then take a look at this 1980 Tiger kit car by Thoroughbred Cars.  This red beauty with styling that hints of the famous Morgan sports car is for sale on craigslist in El Sereno, California for just $6,999.  Is this very presentable VW-powered kit car just stylish enough for you to consider for purchase?  Thanks to Pat L. for this fire engine red tip!

The biggest problem we have writing up a story for kit cars is that there is relatively little information out there about the manufacturers.  If you write up a vehicle from the big three, or nearly all of the foreign manufacturers there is no shortage of source information.  The history of kit cars is still being written by enthusiasts who keep the torch alive.  These histories are well-intentioned, but there are still a lot of holes in these stories.

Take for example Thoroughbred Cars, the maker of this red rocket ship.  Based in Redmond, Washington, the company produced these cars for several years from what can be gathered.  The headquarters later moved to Mount Dora, Florida but production remained in Washington State.  By 1993 the company ceased to exist.  Cruising the web, I have seen examples powered by Volkswagen Beetle engines like this one, 215 cubic inch Buick V-8s, Toyota inline-four cylinders, and even one with a 289 Ford V-8 under the hood.  All of them were manual transmission cars.

There is painfully little information available concerning this particular Tiger.  The ad simply states that it is powered by a 1.5-liter Volkswagen air-cooled engine.  Amazingly, the ad has a photo of the printout showing the car passed California emissions.  Perhaps a reader from California can explain how the emissions process works in California for vehicles like this.  Evidently, kit cars of this vintage still have to be certified.

Overall, the car is in excellent condition.  The sad part is that it still has that kit car look about it.  When kit cars were more commonly seen on the street, the ones having a VW engine were kind of frowned upon.  This was especially true for the VW-powered MGTD replicas.  Bonus negative points were given when they had cheap wire wheel hubcaps.  The designers of this one, while inspired by what looks to be Allards, Jaguars, and Morgans, didn’t do themselves any favors by molding the rear fenders to fit a set of VW Beetle taillights.  The bimini-style boat top and the flat fiberglass sash don’t do it any favors either.

Still, one can’t help but think how fun one of these lightweight marvels would be with a built 289 and a four-speed.  This one is exceptionally nice for what it is, and it would be good to see it go to someone who would care for it and display it at shows.  It would just be hard to hear that air-cooled VW and know the original owner could have opted for a V-8. Have you ever built and/or owned a kit car?  What was the experience like?  Please share your story in the comments.

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  1. Francisco

    How did they mount a 289 engine in the rear? Where would you put the radiator?

    Like 2
    • Quidditas

      In front using a ladder chassis on most likely Ford Mustang or Cortina suspension.

      Like 0
    • Darol

      The very first one built in 1969 had a 289 V8 in the front.

      Like 0
    • Darol

      I know a lot about this car. It was designed by my uncle, Len Witton. The first two were front engine. I own the #2 car (front engine 4cylinder) built in 1972 (in need of work to get running again). #3 (1976) was the first VW car and I drove it a lot. It only weighed about 1450 lbs so was quite spritely. Originally called Witton, Tiger became the name when my uncle went in partnership with Gil Longnecker of Thoroghbred Cars. The partnership split up with Gil losing badly in a lawsuit and eventually vamoosing to Florida. We have managed to get a couple of cars back in the family as projects. My brother has one with a 289 V8 and it’s quite quick.

      Like 2
  2. bobhess bobhessMember

    The VW taillights sort of counter all the other good features on the car. Also, the rear engine cover gives it an unfinished appearance. Maybe a beading around the base of the “wheel cover” would help.

    Like 4
  3. bobk

    As I recall, to build one with what I would consider to be an engine that would typically be a front engine layout, i.e, the Buick 215 or the Ford small block, you could purchase a custom ladder frame. I know that these were also availble as a turnkey cars. To the engine choices that were considered from Thoroughbred Cars, I have also seen one that was powered by a pair of Kawasaki ZX9R engines. Whoof..

    Like 2
    • Darol

      They all had ladder frames.

      Like 0
  4. Phil

    I hate the wheels.

    Like 1
  5. TheOldRanger

    I like the looks of it, wouldn’t want the VW engine though. This is a car to just enjoy driving about… I would like to drive this around the Village, with all our hills, curves, trees, lakes, etc…

    Like 3
  6. Lee

    Not bad for a kit car. But, if you want a car like that, I’d invest in a Morgan.

    Like 5
    • Lee

      Or a Lotus 7.

      Like 1
  7. Auric

    I have to give this thing a thumbs down. How can one enjoy cruising around in what is supposed to be a nice sports car with the VW Bug engine belching out tts characteristic sound? The VW Bug rear tail lamps are also a total contradiction of the concept of a cool sports car. I also don’t think that I have ever seen a cheaper-looking plastic dash than this one! It cries out “kit car” to the four winds! I don’t think I even want to mention those seats!

    With a more performance-oriented engine, some decent-looking tail lamps, chrome wire wheels, a custom nicer dash and nice chrome bumpers front and back, this kit car could amount to something. The problem with all this is that it would be cheaper–and a better investment–just to buy a decent Morgan!

    Like 4
  8. Gerard Frederick

    The vast majority of the comments are written from a fundamentall anti-Beetle viewpoint. Nobody bothers to mention the reliability factor and the fact that the Beetle engine was the basis for thev Porsche. Also criticism of styling, dashboards, etc is strictly based on personal preferences. I don´t see anything this drastically bad about this creation. Pop in and enjoy the ride.

    Like 6
    • Darol

      The design of the VW based car was to use as much VW stiff as possible to keep the price down. The difference between this car and many other VW based kits was this used a ladder frame rather than a modified VW floor pan which made it much more rigid. Also one didn’t need to source a Bug with a good floor pan (many had rust issues).

      Like 0
  9. Francisco

    Fancy dune buggy.

    Like 2
  10. GIRTH

    What are you gonna buy for 7 grand these days that runs and drives? Doesn’t appear to need paint or interior. No it’s not for me but imagine a Subaru engine in it. Some seats that aren’t from a park bench . Nobody cares if you cut it up. It’s quirky enough to be interesting

    Like 7
  11. Willard Aeh

    I am a retired Corrections Officer , I retired in 2011 and the next year bought a Kit car ….its a 1952 MG/TD with a fiberglass body and a VW Beetle chassis and drivetrain ….it even had the wire hubcaps on it when I bought it ….Why would I buy such a thing you might ask ???? well it was what I could afford ,it was very well made and in very good shape when I bought it and I have made lots of improvements inc. removing the wire hubcaps and putting rims with beauty rings and MG baby moon hubcaps much like what came on an original MG on it …..Great fun to drive , very dependable . easy to find parts and I can work on it myself ….Great fun at car shows very popular as long as you not a purest …..I always have a sticker on it that explains that it’s a Kit car because most people cannot tell the difference ….I never could understand why these cars are so unpopular ??? I wish someone would explain it to me I woulds send you all a picture but I cannot figure out how to do it , and besides i’m pretty sure you all know what they look like anyway , esp. you purests who seem to hate KIt Cars !!!

    Like 5
    • Gerard Frederick

      Good for you! I hope you´ll enjoy your MG for many more uears to come. I knew a lady once who owned one made in Brazil, I think it was a ¨Laser¨, great fun car. Like you, I don´t understand the dislike of the purists, most of whom never owned anything more exciting then a run of the mill muscle car.

      Like 3
  12. Tom

    I was fortunate enough to build a few kit cars back in the 70’s. Believe it or not, they were quite the chick magnet in their day. I actually traded my T-Bucket VW kit for a 67 Mustang with a 390 and goodies galore. My first driving experience was in a VW Dune Buggy in the meadows behind Castle Craggs near Dunsmuir, CA. I believe I was 15 at the time. Great memories. This “Morgan-ish” kit car looks to have good bones and will give someone an opportunity to “enjoy the kit car craze”.

    Like 3
    • Gregg

      Hi Tom! I just had to comment because, I lived in Dunsmuir for about 10 years, about 10 years ago!… I still miss it, but car projects were somewhat challenging to accomplish up there…. It makes me think of the movie ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou’ in reference to trying to find a car part… “This town is a geographic anomaly… Two weeks from anywhere!” Good ol’ Dunsmuir though… It’s a cool place!

      Like 0
  13. Andy G

    I sat Wow cool fun! Love the fender lines and even like the tail lights. I think they fit the car quite nicely. Not a fan of the seats … but who knows maybe they are ok. To me a I see good cheap fun. What else can $7k buy

    Like 0
    • Darol

      Those seats are not how the car was originally designed.

      Like 0
  14. CeeOne

    We were on vacation and my wife had found a “Morgan” and just wanted me to take a look. The “Morgan” turned out to be a fiberglass copy of an MG on a VW chassis. No thanks. Ended up getting her this:

    Like 0
    • Daniel Pena

      My name is Daniel Pena. Just purchased a 1979 Tiger with a 4 cylinder. VIN 1279050.
      Would like to get more info on it. I’m about to begin resorting it.
      Would you happen to know where I can get specs on the parts or just parts in general.
      Call or text me anytime 956-563-0578

      Like 0
  15. Quidditas

    Known as a Lynx in South Africa. Did not feature as a VW based kit car but rather had a ladder chassis with Ford Cortina front and rear suspension with the Ford Pinto 4 cylinder engine or the Ford Essex V6 engine.

    Very narrow and not very practical with a bone jarring ride.

    Like 1
  16. Quidditas
  17. Darol

    If you wish to translate some German:

    Like 1
  18. Lee

    Is it me, or does the head-on view look like the body is twisted? (Can’t believe these comments are still going with this post.)

    Like 0
  19. David G Simmons

    Could one be mounted to s10 Chevy frame? Some one has one for sale In Onalaska WA. It would be cool to see one with a Lt1 or ls1 engine.

    Like 1

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