The Powerful 1965 Sunbeam Tiger MK-I Sports Car

The 1965 Sunbeam Tiger MK-I is a classic and it's rare. Only 7,083 were built from 1964 to 1967. The Sunbeam Tiger I came with a 260 cubic inch Ford V-8 and a four speed manual transmission. The Sunbeam Tiger produced by the Rootes Group, a UK automaker founded in 1913 by Sir William Rootes, was small and powerful and was probably one of the better sports car values during the 1960's. The 1964 Sunbeam Tiger had a base price of about $3,500.

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1965 Sunbeam Tiger MK-1

An interesting side note was that the Rootes Group also built several other automobiles including the Talbot, Hillman, Humber, and Singer.

The Carroll Shelby Touch

The case with Sunbeam was that they had a popular sports car in the Alpine which was introduced in 1959  but it wasn't a powerful sports car. The company was well aware of the work of Carroll Shelby with the small AC Cobra and the Ford V-8. Shelby's 1962 Cobra was really the inspiration for the Sunbeam Tiger which itself was essentially a powerful Sunbeam Alpine. Shelby developed a sports car in America that some at the Rootes Group wanted as well.

There were two prototypes constructed using Sunbeam Alpine shells. One was built by Carroll Shelby and the other by Ken Miles. Shelby's car, after a drive by Rootes Group executives around Los Angeles, was shipped to England.  Lord Rootes after taking a test drive himself made the almost instant decision to proceed with production which was a bit out of character for him. Shelby's prototype unlike that of Miles used a four speed manual transmission.

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Rear view of the Tiger MK-1

Carroll Shelby's hand in designing the Sunbeam Tiger is not nearly as well known as is his work with the AC Cobra and the Ford Mustang.

The biggest challenge of how to fit a large and powerful engine into a small British car body. The Sunbeam Tiger ended up being a sports car with twice the power of a Sunbeam Alpine with only about twenty-percent more weight. That's a huge distinction between the two somewhat similar yet far different Sunbeam models.

It was reported that Carroll Shelby desired to produce the U.S. version of the Tiger himself but his close ties with Ford kept all production in Britain.

The Sunbeam Tiger II

The Sunbeam Tiger II came out in 1967 and it held a larger Ford 289 cubic inch V-8 delivering 20  horsepower. The Sunbeam Tiger II also had some design changes which included unique headlight trim, an egg-crate grille, and lower body striping.

The company was having difficulty about the time that the Tiger II came out and the smaller Rootes Group was ultimately purchased by Chrysler. The Tiger II was the last Sunbeam Tiger model built since Chrysler was not going to promote an automobile with a Ford engine and the Chrysler engine was just too big for the Tiger body.

1965 Sunbeam Tiger II Specifications

As mentioned above, the Sunbeam Tiger I was produced with a 260 cubic inch Ford V-8 engine. That engine delivered 164 horsepower. The more powerful Sunbeam Tiger II which was introduced in 1967 had the Ford 289 cubic inch V-8 putting out 200 horsepower. The Tiger MK-1 was rated with a top speed of 118 MPH.

Transmissions on all Sunbeam Tiger's was a four speed manual.

Brakes were front wheel disc and rear wheel drum.

The Sunbeam Tiger MK-1 dimensions included a wheelbase of 86.0 inches, a length of 156.0 inches, a width of 60.5 inches and a height of 51.5 inches. Curb weight was about 2,565 lbs.

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A good book available regarding the automobiles produced by the Rootes Group is...Cars of the Rootes Group/ Hillman, Humber, Singer, Sunbeam, Sunbeam Talbot (Marques & Models) by author Graham Robson.

The Sunbeam Tiger Collector Car

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Another view of the 65 Sunbeam Tiger

As mentioned above, the Sunbeam Tiger, both the MK-1 and MK-2, did not have the publicity that the AC Cobra and Ford Mustang had in regards to their Carroll Shelby connection. Carroll Shelby was the master of fitting a powerful V-8 engine into a small British car body.

Because of this a case can be made that the Sunbeam Tiger might be one of the best 1960's sports car collector values.

As of this writing, asking prices for original restored Sunbeam Tigers in mint condition start in the high $20,000 range into the museum quality $70,000 plus area. High priced models should have a certificate of authenticity from the Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association. Prices vary greatly due to originality and overall condition. The later Mark II Tigers that were made near the end of production are even rarer. One restored original model was advertised for $150,000.

1965 sunbeam tiger interior photo

View of the interior and dashboard on the 65 Sunbeam Tiger

A few of the Sunbeam associations and clubs include the one mentioned above, the Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association which dates back to 1969, the California Association of Sunbeam Tiger Owners, the Pacific Tiger Club from Washington State and the Sunbeam Tiger Owners Club in the U.K. Associations and clubs such as these usually offer forums and technical tips for Tiger owners.


(Article and photos copyright 2014 AutoMuseumOnline)

1964 Sunbeam Tiger 260 Cubic Inch V-8

The automobile featured in this article is the 1964 Sunbeam Tiger Series I. The Series I models were built with a Ford 260 cubic inch V-8 engine.

sunbeam tiger

1964 Sunbeam Tiger

The Sunbeam Tiger was built from 1964 through 1967. The Series II Tiger model was built during the last model year and came equipped with a Ford 289 cubic inch V-8. Both the Series I and Series II were high performance versions of the popular Sunbeam Alpine.

The Sunbeam Marquee

The marquee Sunbeam goes back a long ways. Not unlike many of the very early automakers, the Sunbeam name was associated with bicycles before venturing into automotive production. As time went on the British company was involved with more than bicycles and cars. They produced motorcycles and and during World War One, aircraft engines trucks and ambulances.

1964 sunbeam tiger

Front view of the Sunbeam Tiger

Changes of Ownership

The original company goes back to 1877 with a bicycle factory. The first automobile with the Sunbeam name appeared in 1901. In 1905 the Sunbeam Motorcar Company Ltd was established as a separate entity from the other businesses of John Marston. Marston continued on with the bicycles and motorcycles.

After the war in 1919 Sunbeam merged with Talbot-Darracq to form Sunbeam-Talbot which was generally referred to as STD Motors. This arrangement lasted until the middle of the Great Depression in 1935 when the company went into receivership. STD was then purchased by the Rootes Group.

By the early 1960's the company was in financial trouble again and after some failed mergers the Chrysler Corporation in 1964 purchased thirty percent of the company. This made sense for Chrysler since they were attempting to enter the European market. As it turned out the merger with Chrysler eroded the Sunbeam brand and the last Sunbeam models were produced between 1967 and 1976.

Many said that Chrysler tried to make the Sunbeam a Chrysler car and the Sunbeam brand took a hit. Another factor was that Chrysler was said to have a problem with a Ford V-8 sitting in one of their cars. The problem was that no Chrysler V-8 would fit the tight confines of the Alpine’s engine compartment. This marked the last days of the Sunbeam Tiger.

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Sunbeam Tiger with Ford 260 Cubic inch V-8

The Involvement of Carroll Shelby

The man who put a Ford V-8 into an AC Cobra was also to have a hand in what Sunbeam produced with their Tiger model.

Carroll Shelby powered up the AC Cobra by fitting a Ford V-8 onto the AC chassis which he imported to the U.S. Sunbeam appeared to be quite curious about what Shelby was doing since the AC and the Sunbeam Alpine were similar cars.

The Shelby Cobra of 1962 was the inspiration for the Sunbeam Tiger. While the Sunbeam Alpine was doing well in America, the company desired a car with more power to appeal to the younger American market. After test drives of two prototypes put together by Shelby, the Rootes Group hired Carroll Shelby, the originator of the Shelby Cobra, to design their Sunbeam Tiger based on the Alpine. Shelby took out the Alpine's four cylinder engine and put in a small block Ford V-8. Production of this new model began for the 1964 model year.

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1964 Sunbeam Tiger Series I Specifications

As mentioned above the Sunbeam Tiger Series I was built with a Ford 260 cubic inch V-8 engine producing 164 horsepower. It was a high performance version of the Sunbeam Alpine and could do Zero to 60 in 7.8 seconds. Top speed was claimed to be 117 MPH.

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Rear view of the Sunbeam Tiger

Transmission per Carroll Shelby was a four speed manual.

Front suspension included independent coil springs with rear suspension consisting of a live axle and semi-eliptic leaf springs.

Brakes on the Sunbeam Tiger were front wheel disc and rear wheel drum.

Dimensions for the Sunbeam Tiger include a wheelbase of 84.0 inches, an overall length of 156.0 inches, a width of 60.5 inches and a height of 51.5 inches. The car's curb weight was 2,564 lbs.

Only 7,085 Sunbeam Tiger Series I vehicles were produced.

A Sought After Collector Car

When Sunbeam Tiger production ended in 1967 there were only 7,085 built. This in a large way made this V-8 classic British sports car a popular collector car today. It's also the car seen on the old television show "Get Smart".

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Another rear view of the Sunbeam Tiger

Asking prices for the Sunbeam Tiger as of this writing might begin in the $35,000 range and head significantly up from there. Originality is a key determinant since some of these sports cars have had engine modifications. A fully restored original Tiger model with no rust will have a higher asking price.

Original unmodified cars are getting rarer and rarer every year. It's actually easier to modify an automobile than to keep it in it's original condition and as a result more collectors it seems put more value on originality.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 AutoMuseumOnline)