The Alpine was already a fine sports car, but it was always crying out for a little more power. The Tiger blessed it with rather more speed – 60mph now coming up in less than 10 seconds compared to 14 for the quickest Alpine. Of course, it’s not just about the power – that lazy Ford V8 provides the perfect, burbling sound-track.
The steering is sweeter than an Alpine too, thanks to the rack-and-pinion steering, though behind the wheel, you’re always aware of the standard brakes. It’s easy to see why some go for upgrades, especially if you like pushing on. As a tourer, the Tiger works very nicely. It’ll potter along majestically at motorway speeds and if the wind gets too much, the soft-top is one of the best out there. One thing’s for sure, you stop querying the vast value difference over Alpines once that engine starts pulling.
Sunbeam Tiger MkI
Top speed 118mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Corrosion can strike around the windscreen frame, so gently check it isn’t prone to movement. Check the roof for condition – it’s a really snug soft-top which should be a tight fit, with no air or water leaks. A handful of Tigers were built to GT spec which, like the equivalent Alpine, means you only got a hardtop with no soft-top fitted.
Identity is everything and we really must recommend that you contact the Sunbeam Tiger Owners’ Club for expert advice. ID plates are one thing, but the club holds the original Jensen ledgers, which show numbers for engines and gearboxes. Top money is only paid for highly original, genuine Tigers. The market is rightly very wary of cars where the ID is suspicious – quite a few Alpines have been converted. You don’t want to pay ‘genuine’ money for a car that isn’t the real thing.
On a Mk1, check that the correct 260 cubic inch V8 is installed. Some are tempted to drop in the larger 289 unit of the MkII, for which there are many more tuning parts available. It was a powerplant fitted to a great many cars. Does the engine number match the V5? The unit itself is very robust, with few foibles if cared for. It does generate a lot of heat though, so keep an eye on the temperature gauge. Make sure the Ford four-speed gearbox changes nicely. Some fit five-speed units. The inner wings were modified by Jensen to allow fitment of the V8 and a steering rack is fitted as there was no room for the box of the Alpine. That rack is unique to the Tiger, so make sure it is free of play.
The rear axle has some serious power to contend with. It’s a Salisbury unit, so it should be up to the job. The downside is that they can be ferociously expensive to overhaul. They tend to howl very noticeably when they’re getting tired, so tune out that V8 for a moment. A Panhard rod helps with rear axle location, so check its mountings for rot. Tired rear springs will leave the back end sagging, so have a glance at the ride height.
The exhaust system is simple enough that while original parts are no longer available, there’s not usually a problem getting a system made up to suit. Make sure it isn’t striking the underside.
Incredibly, the brakes are stock Alpine, so don’t be surprised if modifications to boost stopping power have occurred. Some are now fitting Peugeot 406 calipers. While in this area, check for corrosion around the suspension mounting points, and the front wings. A complete wing will set you back £585. Panels are getting hard to find, even though most of it is stock Alpine. Watch for rot sneaking from the wheelarch into the sill. Underneath, there’s an X-frame welded to the body to create a monocoque. Rot in the frame or surroundings can be very tricky to eradicate.
Finding trim is difficult, whether that’s inside or out.
Check the interior carefully for water ingress and condition. Behind the front seats, check the floor thoroughly as the rear suspension mounts are located here.
Sadly, the market seems to be cottoning on to the Tiger, and values have been rising. That’s not surprising when you see what AC Cobras are starting to make – the Cobra started with the same engine as the Tiger. So, they’re not cheap but they really do deliver.