Monday, July 13, 2009

Sunbeam Tiger

After a year with the Triumph Vitesse, I was ready for a change, so in 1969 I bought a beautiful, as-new, 1965 Sunbeam Tiger 260.

A couple of years earlier, Carol Shelby had transformed the AC Ace into the instantly-desirable & still-iconic Cobra, by swapping the little 4-cylinder engine for a 4.2 litre V8.
Dozens of little companies all over the word are building Cobra replicas even today.

Sunbeam were persuaded to try something similar on their pretty little 1.6 litre Sunbeam Alpine Tourer.
They ended up installing the same Ford 4.2 V8 engine and had the skill & surprising good taste to leave everything else visibly unchanged.
So instead of looking like some hacked-about racer, the Tiger looked just like any other Alpine, except for a thin chrome strip each side.
But had altogether different performance.

In no way a sports car, the Tiger was a very pleasant, fully civilised, 2-seater convertible, well built & finished, with decent windows, hood, removable hard-top, carpets, walnut dashboard, heater, radio, boot etc.
The performance was effortless in any gear & the typical V8 noise was well silenced, so performance could be used without ostentation.
One of the best Q-cars ever.

A long way from perfect though.
The big engine made it very nose-heavy, with serious understeer.
I improved mine a lot with bigger front tyres, and fitted the normal-sized rear tyres on wider Lotus Cortina wheels to reduce lateral sway.
Hard acceleration from rest often produced very bad axle tramp.
That is the one thing I think they should really have fixed before selling it.

Then there was the gearbox.
Pleasant to use, in a ponderous sort of way, and with a nice "T-handle" to lift for reverse, it had a very much too high first gear.
Presumably to protect the rear axle & suspension from too much torque?
The unfortunate result was that, even with the big, lazy, flexible engine, it was impossible to inch along in slow traffic without slipping the heavy clutch all the time.

Famously, the engine was such a tight fit that the rear spark plugs had to be removed from inside the car via a rubber plug in the foot well area, but that was not a problem.

In spite of these significant design errors, the Tiger was a real pleasure to drive, to look at, to listen to & just to be with.
Full of "Feel-Good Factor".
I don't recall anything needing unscheduled attention.
I kept it 2 years, which was a long time in those days, and was very sorry to sell it.

Petrol was cheap enough that I didn't even check the consumption & nobody had yet heard of ecology or global warming.
Happy Days!

Googling for good links on Tigers, I was surprised not to find a single video of a smart, quiet, original-looking car.
They all seemed to have been chopped around with power bulges & air scoops, and to make loud rough noises, which is exactly the opposite of what gave the original car its particular understated charm.
Even the show cars below are often fitted with "sporty" bits which detract greatly in my opinion.

Parting thot: "If you have to measure an advantage, you don't have it." - ??

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