Shelby’s Little Firecracker – Sunbeam Tiger

Sunbeam Tiger
Photo: Sunbeam Tiger Owners Club

British roadster with a purebred American power plant supervised by Carroll Shelby himself. The Sunbeam Tiger is widely known as poor man’s Shelby Cobra. This tiny sports car could barely fit a muscular V8, making it an odd and exciting package.

The story of the Sunbeam Tiger has started in early 1960s, when executives of Rootes group, the company that ran Sunbeam, have decided to give their Sunbeam Alpine roadster more firepower. The original 4 cylinder pushrod engine, producing around 80 bhp, had to make way for something beefier. Allegedly, the manager of West Coast sales for Sunbeam at the time, Ian Garrad, used a wooden ruler to approximately measure the space available in Alpine’s engine bay. He then sent a colleague of his to several car dealerships with the measurements in order to find an engine that would fit. Ford’s 4.3-liter V8 was chosen for the task and Carroll Shelby was commissioned $10,000 to ensure both the engine and its 4-speed transmission fit in the car. Shelby was a go-to person for such procedure, as he had already proven himself capable when developing the infamous Shelby Cobra.

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Doubling the number of cylinders was not an easy task. The engine fit so snuggly, Sunbeam’s employees had, supposedly, to use a sledgehammer to bend each engine slightly to make it fit. As a result, there was so little room in the engine compartment, making routine service overly complicated. To address this issue, an access hole was made in the driver’s foot-well in order to aid the engine service. The problems did not stop there – Sunbeam Tigers were prone to overheating, as the original cooling vents were often not capable of supplying enough air to keep the bigger engine cool.

Sunbeam Tiger

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