Jim Smart
July 18, 2007
Photos By: Jeff Ford

Sunbeam promoted the new Tiger as the fastest car in the world priced under $3,700. It was a way to go fast and handle well for a lot less than a Cobra or Corvette. Tigers United tells us The Roots Group dates back to 1859 when a young British man, Alderman John Marston, just 23, founded what would later be known as Sunbeam. In the beginning, Marston's effort was more about tin-plating than manufacturing. He was a dedicated cyclist, which made it logical for him to break into the manufacture of bicycles. He called his operation the Sunbeamland Cycle Factory, founded in 1877.

As you might imagine, Sunbeam bicycles were upscale pieces-expensive and high quality. Marston started building automobiles in 1899, but not as mass production pieces. He built cars for the fortunate few who could afford them. Maxwell Maberly-Smith designed those first Sunbeam automobiles, according to Tigers United. Ironically, Sunbeam misspelled Maberly-Smith's name when it named the Sunbeam-Mabley automobile.

As with most automobile coachbuilders at the time, there were a lot of changes in the years to follow. By 1911, Sunbeam was producing approximately 630 units a year. By 1925, Sunbeam was an active participant at Le Mans. In decades to follow, Sunbeam would build airships and airplanes as well as automobiles.

Sunbeam Tigers aren't well understood because they don't possess the same following and pedigree as their Cobra counterparts. But don't underestimate these Ford-powered British sports cars. They possess the power of a Cobra and handle like they're on rails. Their history and performance is every bit as unique as the legendary two-seaters Carroll Shelby built an ocean and a continent away. In fact, there's a whole lot of Shelby DNA in these finned Sunbeams because it was Shelby who prototyped the first one.

Sunbeam introduced the four-cylinder, two-seat Alpine in 1959. The Alpine was a fun-to-drive, open-air roadster with a 1.5L OHV four-cylinder engine. It offered outstanding handling and stability. What the Alpine lacked was power-much like the Cobra-derived AC Ace. It needed V-8 power. The Roots Group, parent company of Sunbeam at the time, had a progressive thinker in Ian Garrad, West Coast manager in Los Angeles. Garrad couldn't help but notice all the attention Carroll Shelby's Cobra was getting. He arranged a meeting with Shelby, who ultimately built the first Tiger prototype. Once Roots engineers spent time with the Tiger in England, the car was an easy sell to management. The decision was made to build the Tiger.

What made the Tiger a different animal than its British counterparts was V-8 power-making it competitive with the Corvette, Cobra, and {{{Jaguar}}}, and leaving other four-cylinder British sports cars in the dust. What's more, the darned thing was affordable at well under $3,500 suggested retail. It was a smoking deal for anyone who wanted an affordable answer to the 289 Cobra, which MSRP'd $5,995-almost twice the price.

If Sunbeam engineers had driven George Meinhardt's '65 Tiger, they might easily have been overwhelmed by the experience. George grabbed his Tiger by the tail and shook it into the screaming Orange Flame Pearl Coat restomod before you. This is a textbook example of what restomod should be in any classic Ford-tasteful, with a clear direction of what the car is supposed to do. This is road-race restomod-sharp, good looking, and ready for street, strip, or show.

George has been able to trace this car's bloodline back to our good friend, Joyce Yates, of Nashville, Indiana. Joyce has been an integral part of Indiana SAAC for more years than we can remember. Her late husband, Steve, pioneered the Indiana SAAC Spring Fling-a solid institution for more than two decades. Joyce bought this car in 1982 from Mark Davis of Houston. Prior to Davis, not much is known about this car's past. When George bought this car from Joyce, it had been stored for a long time and didn't run. It had obviously been raced hard, yet survived the drive. Clad in its original British Racing Green, it was ready for a full-scale restoration. George did this car justice with exceptional craftsmanship.

That's PPG's Orange Flame Pearl Coat basecoat/clearcoat, which demonstrates incredible depth right down to the steel. You've got to hand it to Ron Schoch of Bright, Indiana, who worked the body and laid down this tangerine finish. We're hot for those Mille Miglia 15x7-inch wheels wrapped in Kumho radials; they're a nice fit and look terrific. What's more, they hold the road with excellent adhesion for the kind of driving George does. When Ron built this car, he opted for Wilwood four-piston disc brakes for exceptional braking along with civilized street manners.

You might be thinking there's a custom 9-inch Ford underneath, but you'd be mistaken. George's Tiger has a Dana 44 with 3.31 cogs-just right for the British chassis and Tremec World Class T5 five-speed transmission.

George didn't cut corners beneath the forward-opening bonnet. That's Ford's 289ci small-block V-8 between the fenders of yet another British two-seater turned American musclecar. It's important to understand this is an early Tiger-No. 180-built in June 1964. Original equipment included Ford's 260ci small-block with a five-bolt bellhousing, which was replaced the first time the car was restored. When George brought this car home, the 289 barely ran after sitting for 19 years. He turned his 289 over to Jerry Pflum of Cincinnati for a complete rebuild, sticking with tried and proven modifications, as well as upgrades that made more power and improved reliability.

The Tiger Mk1 was originally powered by a Ford 260-2V V-8. George Meinhardt went with some of the Los Angeles Tigers package-an F4B high-rise, Cobra-style valve covers, and the rest of it to pump up the power and charisma.

Because we're nostalgic old cronies at Mustang & Fords, we like the old Edelbrock F4B high-rise, dual-plane intake manifold topped with a Demon carburetor. In the old days, it wouldn't have been a Demon but a 600- to 650-cfm Holley 1850-mainstream in 1964. Because George wanted solid reliability, he went with an MSD billet distributor and 7AL box to light the mix. In the valley is a custom-grind, flat-tappet hydraulic Comp Cams bumpstick-which delivers a compromise of driveability and all-out performance. That means rough idle with blazing performance at high rpm. Translated: Ford power that's great fun to drive. George added L.A.T. (Los Angeles Tigers) options such as Cobra-style valve covers, an oil pan, headers, and traction bars. An alternator charging system has also made a difference in reliability.

Rich rosewood and saddle leather can be found door-to-door. Grab the LeCarra steering wheel and five-speed shifter, then get after it. This is a car born for Los Angeles freeways and desert byways, where the Tiger was born to begin with. But never sell George's Cincinnati home short-it sports its own brand of weather cycles and challenging roadways. And come spring, there's no better place to go cruising and apex-cutting.

What also keeps George smiling is his good friend, Ron. Their enduring friendship dates back to high school long ago. Ironically, Ron was studying autobody at Diamond Oaks Trade School in Cincinnati at the time. A string of vehicles would follow, including Volkswagen Beetles, Ford conversion vans, Chevy Blazers, and more. This Tiger happened because Ron was tired of Volkswagens and wanted to build something different. That's when George showed up with a Tiger. George sums it up best, "Ron is a great friend and craftsman, and the Tiger is simply a result of both."

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The Details

'65 Sunbeam Tiger Mk1
Owner: George Meinhardt,
Cincinnati, OH

Engine

  • Balanced and blueprinted Ford 289ci V-8
  • Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum heads
  • Edelbrock F4B high-rise manifold
  • Barry Grant 650-cfm Speed Demon
  • MSD billet distributor with 7AL ignition box
  • Taylor ignition wires
  • Comp Cams flat-tappet hydraulic, 0.517/0.541 lift, 288/296 duration
  • Comp Cam roller rockers, 1.7 ratio,
  • 10.5:1 compression
  • Speed-Pro forged flat-top pistons
  • Stewart high-flow water pump
  • Griffin radiator
  • SPAL dual 10-inch electric fans

    Transmission

  • Tremec World Class T5
  • Centerforce Dual-Friction clutch
  • Centerforce flywheel

    Rearend

  • Dana 44
  • 3.31 gears

    Exhaust

  • C.A.T. ceramic-coated headers
  • Custom dual exhaust

    Suspension

  • Front: Conventional coil spring with shock absorber, rack-and-pinion steering
  • Rear: Leaf spring with lever-arm shock absorbers

    Brakes

  • Front: Wilwood four-piston disc
  • Rear: Wilwood four-piston disc

    Wheels

  • Front: Mille Miglia {{{Spider}}} Plus, 15x7-inch
  • Rear: Mille Miglia Spider Plus, 15x7-inch

    Tires

  • Front: Kumho Ecsta 711, P205/50HR15
  • Rear: Kumho Ecsta 711, P215/50HR15

    Interior

  • Saddle leather interior by Frank Vanlandingham, rosewood trim, LeCarra steering wheel

    Exterior

  • PPG basecoat/clearcoat in Orange Flame Pearl

    Sunbeam Tiger Production Facts
    ModelNo. ProducedDates Produced
    Le Mans33/64
    Mk13,7634/65 to 8/65
    Prototypes27/5/65
    Prototypes28/65
    South African Tigers73'64-'67
    Mk1A2,7068/7/65 to 2/9/66
    MkII Prototypes212/19/66
    MkII53412/66 to 6/27/67
    TOTAL7,085
    Information courtesy of Tigers United at www.tigersunited.com
    NOTE: Sunbeam was acquired by Chrysler Corporation in 1967, which is when Alpine and Tiger production ended.