The Sunbeam Tiger

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Brief impressions

When I first heard about the Sunbeam Tiger project, the idea of putting a Ford V8 engine into a Sunbeam Alpine made me shudder a bit, for though the Alpine is a sound enough car it can hardly be considered a classic high speed vehicle and I visualised this rather genteel 2-seater roadster suddenly finding itself possessed of 300 b.h.p. like a Shelby-Cobra. The next acquaintance with the idea was the sight of the rather rotty-looking Le Mans cars, with alloy wheels, eared hub caps, stark trim, rowdy exhaust systems and holes and bulges all over the bodywork. Consequently, when the Editor said I could borrow a Sunbeam Tiger for a day I automatically visualised a car that was going to be a hit of a riot, with a thundering great V8 engine and so much power that it would be an embarrassment on the open road. Imagine my surprise when I went to collect it and found a very normal-looking Sunbeam Alpine hard-top, normal-looking except for larger section tyres and the name Tiger on the side. At first I was disappointed because I thought I was going to get a Rootes version of a Shelby-Cobra, but I soon re-adjusted my ideas and realised that whereas the Shelby-Cobras are great fun, they are not exactly practical, but this Tiger was not only practical and usable but surprisingly pleasant. The 4.2-litre Ford V8 engine is absolutely standard and is fitted into the Alpine bonnet space so neatly that you would think it was specially made for it and there are no air scoops, power bulges or what-have-you, so that the result is the best sort of Q-car. Even the V8 exhaust noise is very subdued and you can glide about the place looking like an innocuous Alpine at first glance, and when an M.G.B. or TR4 appears in the mirror you just waft away in top gear, leaving them looking very surprised. With 258 lb. ft. torque at 2,200 r.p.m. the wafting away is very impressive and there is no noise or fuss.

The mention of o.h.v. Ford V8 immediately conjures up four double-choke Webers, massive exhaust pipes, 7,000 r.p.m. and 300-350 b.h.p., but Ford also make a very cooking o.h.v. V8 that gives 164 b.h.p. at 4,400 r.p.m. without the slightest sound, and this is the unit in the Tiger. A Borg-Warner 4-speed manual gearbox is coupled to the V8 engine and a short rigid central lever controls it in a lumpy sort of fashion, as gearboxes go, but the torque of the engine makes the use of the gearbox almost unnecessary. For maximum acceleration it paid to forget 3rd gear and after winding it up in 2nd a quick “round the corner” change into top brought you onto the peak of the torque curve and the car then really got along pretty well. The stability was much better than I imagined and although the ride was choppy and the suspension uninspired it was quite usable as a fast roadster and gave confidence to hold it flat-out. Rootes blurb-sheets claim 125 m.p.h. but the one I borrowed would not even show that on its speedo. However, it did hold 4,400 r.p.m. along the Stevenage by-pass, which is peak power engine speed, and a calculated 105 m.p.h. on the 2,88 to 1 rear axle, but it felt as if it would have gone on all day at that speed. Bearing in mind that it weighed 23-1/2 cwt. (2,632 lb.) in running trim, with radio, heater, hard-top and all mod. con. it is unlikely that 164 b.h.p. would push it along any better. The torque output is another matter altogether, and 258 lb. ft. make it a very quick car about the place, the typical Rootes handling and steering being alrignt for road use, in and out of the traffic on the open road.

To find out if it did accelerate I took it along to the B.D.R.A. practice day on a beam-timed 1/4-mile standing-start and it did a best of 16.34 sec. in the dry and consistently beat 17 sec., which was not bad for a fully-equipped roadster. On a damp track it was impossible to do a fierce take-off as the cart-sprung rear axle stamped up and down like a jack-rabbit. Figures are not the best thing for the Tiger, its behaviour and manner of going being far more impressive, the engine being unbelievably quiet and smooth and the torque making the car extremely flexible and restful to drive. There is rather a lot of wind noise around the windscreen pillars, which is accentuated in the hard-top version, and this, coupled with the jolting and pounding from the suspension, makes you feel you are really charging along, and when you think you must be doing 80 or 90 m.p.h. in the dark you put the panel light on to find you are doing 65-70 m.p.h.! This must make it an essentially safe car in inexperienced hands and with an all-in price of £1,445 10s. and 5d, of which £250 10s. 5d. goes to the Government, it will certainly be found in many inexperienced hands. At such a low price it must surely sell like “hot cakes,” or should it be “hot rods”! Now that it is available on the British market it seems unlikely that Rootes will sell any more Alpines, for this Anglo-American-bastard 2-seater is such good value for money, giving an effortless 100 m.p.h. anywhere and it maximum speed that is also its cruising speed, while the engine should last for ever. D. S. J.

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