When you hear of the brand names Sunbeam and Singer, you may think of appliances or sewing machines, but they are also long established automotive names owned by the Roots Group of Great Britain.
The Sunbeam Tiger was used in the 1960s TV comedy "Get Smart." Maxwell Smart drove it every week to CONTROL headquarters for his dangerous work assignment.
The Sunbeam Tiger was built by The Rootes Group, but powered by a Ford V-8 engine. In 1963, Chrysler Corporation bought the Rootes Group resulting in the strange combination of a Ford-powered English car being sold by Chrysler dealers.
According to owner Dan Davis of Livermore, the Sunbeam Tiger is sometimes called "the poor man's Cobra," and here's why:
In the 1950s, The Rootes Group wanted to build a sports car and came out with the Sunbeam Alpine. A good-looking car, but powered with a four-cylinder engine that produced only 78 HP. According to the website SecondChangeGarage.com, an agreement was made with Carroll Shelby who had successfully used Ford V8 engines in lightweight cars. The Rootes Group wanted Shelby to do the same with the Sunbeam Alpine.
Shelby measured the engine compartment of the Alpine and sketched it out on a garage floor. He rolled over a Ford 260 c.i. V-8 engine to the outline and saw there was 3/8 of an inch clearance on each side. The result is the Sunbeam Tiger, a lighting-fast sports car that could go from zero to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds.
Davis paid $1,450 for this car in 1976 and is the second owner.
"It was in fairly good condition," he said. "It was owned by a teacher at Stanford." This is one of three Tigers Davis has owned, but he said, "I kept this car because of the Mediterranean blue color, a fairly uncommon factory color for the Tiger."
From 1976 to 1991 Davis was doing pretty well in auto-cross competition. Auto-crossing is timed racing around cones, usually in large parking lots. "The motor started going out about 1988 due largely to having to use unleaded gas."
By 1991 Davis' Sunbeam was more of a pussycat than a Tiger and was no longer competitive.
Then there is something about working and raising a family that has a tendency to slow down the restoration of classic cars. Davis had his 2,560-pound Sunbeam Tiger up on blocks from 1991 to 2008. In 2009, when he was able to retire and the kids were gone, the restoration began in earnest.
Before repainting, and instead of sandblasting the vehicle, "The painter sent it to Sacramento where they blasted it with crushed walnut shells instead of sand. Sand gets hot and can warp the panels," Davis said. "Now they use dry ice because there is no residue."
The black leather interior was redone, and the car looks like it did when it came off the showroom floor of Southgate Motors in Palo Alto in 1967. The list price at that time was $3,600, or about $25,000 in today's dollars.
Davis spent several years on the restoration project, including time spent refurbishing the elegant mahogany dashboard and steering wheel. The suspension has been beefed up, as was a new Ford 289 c.i. V-8 engine from 164 HP to 373 HP. The owner says he has invested about $30,000 in his Sunbeam Tiger and has it insured at the estimated current market value of $120,000.
While this is a true show car, it is also a driver. Davis usually drives his Sunbeam Tiger several times a week and guesses he drives it up to 5,000 miles annually. Since the restoration, Davis has entered the car in four shows and walked away with three top awards.
The Sunbeam Tiger was not a particularly big seller. Some say it was because Chrysler didn't want to sell Ford engines and a Chrysler engine wouldn't fit. Davis said production from 1964 to 1967 was about 7,500 and estimates there are about 2,000-2,500 still in existence.
My ride to the Wente Winery for photographs was more than pleasurable. First, it is a very comfortable roadster (which also has a removable hard top) and holds the road like glue. There are no squeaks or rattles with this 46-year-old car. The windscreen (British, you know) blocks the wind well, and it has roll-up windows. Standard equipment includes a four-speed manual transmission, heater and defroster as well as a radio. Davis has upgraded the radio from the original AM-only.
The Sunbeam Tiger is sort of an innocent looking roadster. But don't bet the farm that you can beat it from the stop light. This car can go from 0 to 100 mph in a heartbeat, but I have to take the 5th Amendment regarding verification.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com