How To Pick Out A Great Sunbeam Tiger
Sports Car Market’s August 2013 issue featured this Collecting Thoughts article on vetting Sunbeam Tigers. After publication, Tiger values continued their upward trajectory and have nearly doubled in average price since then.
Sunbeam Tigers seem to be undergoing a renaissance of sorts in the marketplace.
Perhaps it’s partly due to Carroll Shelby’s death, but these cars are also incredibly useable, stylish and powerful. It also doesn’t hurt the equation that only about 3,000 to 3,300 of the Anglo-British machines are likely to still exist.
With the best-of-the-best Tigers now selling in the $70k range and higher, it is increasingly important for collectors and first-time buyers to seek out authentic Tigers. This is the best way to know whether the car in question was inspired by the Shelby Cobra, spearheaded by Ian Garrad and built by Lord Rootes.
If you’re unfamiliar with the breed, the Rootes Group started building Sunbeam Tigers in 1964, with production lasting through 1967. The car was partially developed and engineered at Shelby American, where a spunky Ford 260-ci V8 (a 289 in the Mark II cars) was shoehorned into the British-born Sunbeam Alpine sports car (sound familiar?).
The resulting car was a compact, open two-seater with a chassis that could handle the powerful American V8. The development of the car is broken down into three segments: the Mark I, Mark IA and Mark II. Each car has its own unique aspects, with the Mark I often considered as the most “pure” Tiger and the Mark II as the most desirable, due to the low production of 536 cars.
Is it a real one?
The Tiger Authentication Committee is a service of the Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association. In short, committee members certify whether the body shell is, in fact, a Tiger body as it was originally manufactured by the Rootes Group. The procedure helps to identify and authenticate genuine Tigers from those that may have been altered from Sunbeam Alpines (these cars are known as “Algers” among Sunbeam enthusiasts).
The group does not consider itself the Tiger police, and it doesn’t inspect a car and declare it as a fake, replica or counterfeit. The sole purpose of the inspection is to provide a service to the Tiger community.
Cars that are modified, missing their original ID plates, or those repaired using Alpine body parts don’t get iced out of the authentication process. According to the group’s website, many modified and repaired cars with Alpine body parts have been TAC-certified.
The primary goal is to determine whether the car has an authentic, original Tiger unibody as when it was produced on the Jensen assembly line. The TAC inspection service was started in the early 1990s with three inspectors in Northern California, and it has now grown to offer TAC services on the East Coast of the United States.
The process requires three inspectors—at least one must be a senior inspector—to review the car. All three Inspectors will sign off on an authentic car, issue a Certificate of Authenticity and affix a TAC sticker under the dash on the passenger’s side. Tigers that pass the inspection are considered “TACed” and the car’s VIN is entered into a database that is maintained by the Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association.
“We use three inspectors so we can collaborate on the inspection and make sure we all agree that certain aspects of the car look or appear original to the build. This is very beneficial when you’re examining a Tiger in mid-restoration or one that has been sitting in a field for the last 30 years,” Senior Inspector Paul Sheahan said.
Have Sunbeam, will travel
About 900 Tigers have been TAC-certified, with more on the way as the cars become more sought-after in the marketplace. The group consists entirely of volunteers—Tiger enthusiasts and collectors who eat and breathe Tigers every day—and can talk about them like their first-born child.
The main roadblock for many Tiger owners is the difficulty of having your car inspected in some of the more remote areas of the country, as the service requires three inspectors to descend on your car.
This isn’t impossible however, and the group tries to accommodate most requests—even if that means traveling to the site or setting up a TAC event in a nearby location.The first step is to simply contact the Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association and speak with an inspector to help you with your request. The group is extremely helpful, more than happy to offer you assistance in any way they can, and is perhaps one the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic groups I’ve ever had the pleasure to be involved with.
Weeding out the fakes
With the market apparently heating up, the Tigers are on the prowl, and all three iterations are sparking more interest among collectors and die-hard enthusiasts. As such, it has become more important to wade into the world of Sunbeam Tigers with more caution and due diligence.
Collectors may remember what happened with big-block 1965–67 Corvettes. As the cars became more and more valuable, more and more deceptive cars began to flow into the market. Unfortunately, this is a despicable segment of the hobby that remains active today.
For those of you who already own a Tiger, it may be beneficial for your car to go under the microscope and have it looked over. It will provide you with some peace of mind—and allow you to sell your car more prudently when—or if—that time comes.
There are three models of the Tiger, all basically the same, but Tiger experts divide them this way:
Tiger Mk I — The first versions of the model, built 1964–65. All have 260-ci V8 engines. The body style is known as the Series IV. Many consider the early Mk Is as the purest example of the breed.
Tiger Mk IA — Second version of the model, built 1965–67. These cars still rumble with 260-ci V8s, but the body panels are slightly different (Series V body panels). A Tiger Mk IA sold at Mecum Kissimmee for $68,900.
Tiger Mk II (aka Tiger II) — The last production model, built only in 1967. These are rare Tigers, as only 536 were built. Mk II cars have 289-ci V8 engines, updated body panels, grille and added body stripes.
Tiger I values (#2 examples) range from about $50k to $70k based on the condition. Tiger Mk IIs bring about $10k-$20k more than Tiger I cars.
Norman Miller, the guru of all things Tiger, told me that private sales of Mk IIs have exceeded $100k for proper cars. Alpines are $10,000 cars if they are super-nice.
Algers, the “converted” Alpines, can sell for $20k–$25k for super-nice examples, but very few are converted and disclosed, which means that deception is the goal. These sellers will try and hook a buyer into a fraudulent car. With the values rising so quickly, expect to see some stellar fakes coming into the market.