July 1, 2006

Garrad, along with John Panks, director of Rootes Group America, looked to Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles for help engineering the Alpine into a fresh V-8 persona. This happened in 1963. Extensive engineering efforts followed in both Los Angeles and in England. In England, Rootes code-named the V-8 Alpine effort "Thunderbolt," and went to work with Jenson, which had built a number of Chrysler-powered sports cars. By the time the car was ready for mass production, it was renamed "Tiger." Although it's easy to assume the Tiger was direct competition for the Cobra, it was anything but. The Tiger was priced at $2,295, a smoking deal for anyone looking for a two-seat V-8 sports car. Cobras were priced around $6,000, and had more advanced engineering.

Although it is widely assumed Sunbeam Tigers were all assembled in the United States, exactly the opposite was true. They were mass-produced at the Rootes factory in England and shipped to locations all over the world. Sunbeam ordered 3,000 260ci small-block Fords and began producing those first Mk1 Tigers in 1964. The Tiger success story grew into the Mk1A for 1965, with 289 power beneath the bonnet. The LAT (Los Angeles Tiger) package made these nimble little Brits even more appealing with a Shelby-inspired tuning kit that included a hot mechanical cam, a dual-point distributor, an Edelbrock F4B manifold, and more, yielding 245 hp at six grand on the tach. This is likely why some folks assume these cars were assembled in Los Angeles.

As Tigers roared out of Britain across the Atlantic, they left their mark on American motorsports in so many ways. Enthusiasts road raced and drag raced them. Buyers eager to drop the top loved them. With all this interest came a better Tiger, the Mk2, with the larger 289 V-8. Tiger production ended in 1967 when Chrysler acquired The Rootes Group. Because Chrysler couldn't come up with a suitable V-8 for the Tiger, it decided to terminate production entirely. Alpine production ended a year later with falling sales.

This history primer is important because it leads us to Lynn and Shaunna Wall of Park City, Utah, who have a solid appreciation for the Rootes heritage. Lynn found this '67 Mk1A in a garage in California, the apparent victim of a fire. It was hauled to Utah by Lynn's father, where it sat for three years. When Lynn hauled it out of storage, he went for broke, stripping the car completely down to the shell. The car was chemically dipped and stripped to make the metal pure, which gave Lynn a clean slate on which to apply his talents. The '67 is a textbook example of what a concours-restored Tiger should be.

Lynn applied some of his own personal touches, which made the car better, more fun to drive, and certainly a pleasure to see. That's not a Sunbeam color, but instead '92 Jeep Cherokee Colorado Red. Underneath are some nice chassis mods that make the car a thrill to drive.

It's easy to assume Lynn hauls this pristine example in an enclosed car trailer and dons the cooler and lawn chair. But his passionate affair with his Tiger is so much more than that. For one thing, it is never trailered. It is driven everywhere and detailed to perfection. What's more, Lynn autocrosses the car just about anytime the cones are set up. We watched him master the course in Utah, plowing into some unassuming cones at the course's end. He flew it into Reverse, cracked the throttle, and-red-faced-finished the course. He came back several times that afternoon, finishing the course a little better each time.

When Lynn set out to restore his Tiger Mk1A, his goal was a first-class restoration he wouldn't be afraid to drive. Follow him through an average Saturday afternoon in the summertime and you will find him at the wheel, scanning those Lucas instruments, grabbing the shifter, and cruising the gears. And that's what Rootes built these cars for to begin with 45 years ago.