Eric English
December 1, 2005

It would take considerably more than a magazine article to chronicle the history of the Sunbeam Tiger, but Brett Simpson's Tiger Mk I gives us chance to relate at least part of this interesting tale. You see, brett's Sunbeam is the first true Tiger body built, a distinction that led to a bone-stock appearance we don't normally associate with this fun-loving Anglo-American hybrid. Looks can be deceiving however, and like all Tigers, this one packs a punch that belies its conservative English appearance.

Explaining this Tiger's claim to fame gets a bit complicated, particularly for those who aren't well versed in Tiger-speak, but we'll do our best to relate the story. The VIN number of B9470047 might lead you to think it was the 47th unit of production, which it may or may not have been, but the real keys here are the 0001 JAL number and the numero uno ROTA designation. The JAL number was the identifier affixed by British Pressed Steel, the subsidiary who manufactured Tiger and Alpine bodies for Sunbeam's parent company, Rootes. Alpine bodies received a SAL serial number (denoting Sunbeam Alpine), while Tigers got the JAL (Jensen Alpine) serial number since they were destined for assembly at subcontractor Jensen Motors Ltd. The ROTA number is generally thought to be the factory order number, so it's clear that 0047 was the first factory order and the first Tiger body produced. Was it also the first production Tiger to be fully assembled some 41 years ago? Considering the complicated nature of assembly line work, probably not, yet the car's significance remains.

Brett realized the early production nature of this car the first time he spied it on the streets of Tukwila, Washington, in 1979. He wouldn't hold the pink slip for years to come, but being a newly christened Tiger owner, Brett chased down the rather tired-looking Mk I he encountered one afternoon. A friendly conversation with then-owner Ken Miller followed, along with a brief once over. Brett's curiosity was aroused by comparative oddities to his own car, and when he noted the early 0047 VIN number, it stuck in his head for years to come.

During the ensuing decade and a half, Brett's interest in all things Tiger grew, with several of the breed passing through his hands. After reviewing Tiger guru Norman Miller's book, The Book of Norman, he came to realize the 0047's significance as the first Tiger body from Pressed Steel, and embarked on a hunt to determine if Ken Miller might still hold the keys. After some serious sleuthing, Ken was found to still own the car, and a deal was struck some six months later. Evaluation and disassembly of the historic machine revealed a rather rough starting point, but at least the original 260-inch V-8 drivetrain was fully intact. Subsequent restoration revealed items seen only on the earliest production numbers, such as provisions for right-hand-drive throttle linkage and a rather crude clearancing in the bumpstop area of the frame.

While most of the mechanicals were rebuilt to original specs, Brett is a performance junkie at heart, and shelved the factory 260 in favor of a '64 289 with 302 internals. Earle Baird meticulously assembled the now 305-inch engine, with more hidden upgrades coming in the form of an Edelbrock hydraulic cam, Hi-Po 289 distributor with Pertronix electronics, a windage tray, and a balanced reciprocating mass. To this, he added the Los Angeles Tiger (LAT) dealer optional Super Induction Kit-consisting of an Edelbrock F4B intake and Holley 465-cfm four-barrel. Despite such performance-oriented revisions, the underhood view is circa 1964 perfection, and exactly as we'd imagine many a Tiger being sold throughout the mid-'60s.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery