Sunbeam Tiger MK1A

John PankJohn Panks was a great friend of my father’s Desmond Cooke , while he was Managing Director of Automotive Products based in Leamington Spa . He lived with his wife and daughter Pru in a small oxfordshire village called Shenington . He was a member of the BRDC and got the MC during the war in Italy. He always had the latest Ferrari and new Enzo Ferrari personally so much so it was his association with Ferrari that nearly got the contract to fit Ferrari engines in the Sunbeam Alpine before the tie up with Ford . His association and friendship was so close with Enzo that his personal Ferrari’s cars were actually shipped to Meranello for servicing . One car in particular I remember very well was a fly yellow Ferrari 275 GTB a long nose four cam car , high performance cars where pretty rare in country British roads in the 1960’s so a yellow Ferrari , was like a spaceship arriving from Mars and drawing the same attention wherever it went . (Picture above John Pank’s 1969 while MD of Automotive Products),which leads me on to a little history of this remarkable man and his association with the Sunbeam Tiger and Carrol Shelby and Ken Miles . Having had a distinguished war record, winning the MC in Italy in 1943 when leaving the army he went into the motor industry becoming the Marketing director of Routes group America and then later Managing director of Automotive Products Group in Leamington Spa Warwickshire , where he moved with his family in the late 1960’s . He was formerly group sales and marketing director of Routes Group USA . Ex racing driver, concentrating on Arnolt Bristol’s in the 1950’s. Having raced at Sebring several times with good class results, in the US, Panks while a Director of Routes Group USA, a member of the BRDC ,new the importance of motor sport in the sales of sports cars in the US market place the logo winning on Saturday and selling on Monday where keys words for John Panks , Pank’s was the key man at Routes in seeing the opportunity of a high performance sports car and subsequently encouraging the development of the Sunbeam Tiger ..

The development story goes as follows ,Ian Garrad, US West Coast sales manager for Rootes Group was chatting with Jack Brabham after Brabham, Bruce McLaren and Ken Miles had just driven Alpines at the Riverside ‘Times Grand Prix’ at which the 260 Cobra had debuted. Brabham suggested the idea of similarly putting a V8 into an Alpine. Garrad put this to Rootes and the search for a V8 commenced. Rootes looked to use the GM aluminium V8 engine but Rover beat them to the punch and took the engine for their P5. Garrad then arranged for a meeting with John Panks, Director of Rootes Group America, and the Cobra genius Carroll Shelby to see if it was practical to develop the Alpine along the same lines as the Cobra. Shelby was positive about the idea and put forward the small block Ford as the most promising engine. Garrad also spoke with road racing legend Ken Miles to seek his interpretation of a racing Alpine. Both men were asked to produce ideas for a prototype in March 1963 but they both took a different route. Miles stayed closer to the Alpine’s mechanical components including the recirculating-ball steering not surprisingly as he was only given $800 to come up with a prototype. Shelby was far more adventurous and an excited Ian Garrad contacted Lord Rootes son, Brian Rootes, who was then head of sales for the Rootes Group to obtain authorisation and secure funding. Brian Rootes was keen but had his own issues to contend with, his reply was :- “Well all right, at that price when can we start? But for God’s sake keep it quiet from Dad [Lord Rootes] until you hear from me. I’ll work the $10,000 (£3,571) out some way, possibly from the advertising account.”
Shelby was retained as engineering consultant and given the $10,000 for development work and in July he had a prototype ready for evaluation, Garrad and Panks (Rootes Motors North American director) took it for a spin and were immediately convinced it was a winner. They wrote to Brian Rootes to report the progress :- “we have a tremendously exciting sports car which handles extremely well and has a performance equivalent to an XX-K Jaguar… it is quite apparent that we have a most successful experiment that can now be developed into a production car.” The car was then delivered to Ryton for Sunbeam engineers and Lord William Rootes to evaluate. Rootes was somewhat upset that so much work had been done without his knowledge and demanded to drive the car himself. He was more than impressed with the cars performance (despite having neglected to take the handbrake off), and personally approached Henry Ford II to negotiate a deal for the Ford V8 motor. With project ‘Sunbeam Thunderbolt’ progressing at a great pace, Shelby was hoping to get the production contract to build the cars. He had certainly put in enough effort to suggest he was entitled to think that way. The new car was set to be unveiled at the 1964 New York Motor Show in April of that year when the subject of the ‘Thunderbolt’ name came up. Not falling off the tongue that easily but conveying the image of a rapid machine Thunderbolt was fine but missing something. When the idea of honouring the 1926 achievement of Seagrave was put forward “Tiger” became the new name for Sunbeam’s new sports car. Offered for sale at less than $2300 the New York Auto Show the Sunbeam Tiger drew significant praise. It had taken just nine months to conceive, develop and produce this attractive and well handling car.

Design

Phil Remington oversaw the prototype development at Shelby’s workshops. The exterior panels of the Alpine remained much the same but the chassis and internal frames needed modifications. The Alpines firewall was pushed back to make room for the 4.2ltr, Ford small-block engine. This was the same engine Ford was then using in it’s economy model Falcon and was tuned for the road. The low compression ratio of 8.8:1 and two-barrel carburettor put out 164hp. Shelby wanted more so the team increased to capacity to 4.7ltrs, fitted a new intake manifold and installed a four-barrel carburettor. The new dual exhausts were rooted through the chassis rails. A modified transmission tunnel housed a manual T-10 transmission, with overdrive, which fed power to the rear wheels. The engine was still a very tight fit in the engine bay and the cooling system was redesigned and the firewall further modified to find space for the much better rack-and-pinion steering unit to be installed. With the engine being crammed into the small engine bay one of the drawbacks of the Tiger would be excessive heat in the cabin of the hard top versions, something the racing drivers didn’t complain about given all the positives they had at hand. One of these was the great weight distribution which remained much the same of as the Alpine’s, at 51.7/48.3 front/rear.
The chassis frame was straightened to compensate for the bigger engine and the suspension modified to suit. At the rear end a Salisbury diff’ and axle accepted the power and passed it onto the rear wheels. This brought up one of the limiting factors of the Tiger development as size of the wheels and tires had to remain road going sizes.
The bigger engine did add weight to the car as did the additional strengthening needed to the internal panels and chassis making which made the Tiger about 20% heavier than the Alpine. But the power output of the V8 engine was twice that of the Alpine so the performance was much improved. Even the standard production Tiger could go from 0-60mph in only 7.8sec’s.

Production/Construction

With Lord Rootes on board and his deal with Ford for 3,000 V8 engines in place (the largest single order Ford had ever received for engines) development from prototype to production car was passed not to Shelby, but to Jensen Motors in West Bromwich, England. To ease Shelby’s discontent he was tempted into accepting a percentage royalty on each car Rootes sold. Rootes didn’t actually have the capacity to add Tiger production to the existing Alpine production so the Sunbeam Tigers were built by Jensen. Jensen was able to take on the contract for two reasons. Jensen’s chief engineer Kevin Beattie and his assistant Mike Jones had previously worked for Rootes which made them acceptable partners and Jenson had had their contract for assembling the Volvo P1800 had recently been cancelled. The first 14 Jensen-built prototypes became available from the end of 1963. Full production was started in June 1964, just a little over a year after Shelby had completed the first prototype. Soon 300 Tigers a month were being made from pressed steel panels, supplied by Pressed Steel in Oxfordshire, and V8’s direct from Ford USA. Production Tigers could easily do 0-60mph in 8.5sec’s, and reach as much as 124mph, thanks to a phenomenal power-to-weight ratio. It might not seem much in today’s world of production supercars but both these figures eclipse the Alpines performance figures If you wanted more performance then both Rootes and Shelby offered aftermarket performance products that could give as much as 245hp. If it was a sporty refined road car you wanted than an optional automatic gearbox could be fitted for an additional $500. In total 7,085 Tigers were built across two series between 1964 until 1967.

Legacy

The Tiger was a great success in motorsports in both rallying and on the circuit. Heavily modified Lister bodied coupe Tigers were run at Le Mans in 1964 although they didn’t finish they did run as fast as 160mph on the straight. Rootes were keen on getting the Tiger onto the circuit but many were equally keen to use it in rallies and they were extensively used and garnered success. A GT Class win, actually a 1-2-3 victory, in the 1964 Geneva Rally was followed by class wins in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally and International Scottish Rally. In the Belgian International Police Rally of 1965 a Tiger took an overall win.
The verbiage recognizes a first place class finish and is personalized by John Panks, the then U S Manager for Rootes based out of New York City.
Published photograph of Ken Miles, receiving the checkered flag after his “B Production” class win at Elkhart Lake – September, 1964. The picture comes to us by way of Ken Miles’ son, Peter. It is, as you can tell, a bit yellowed and faded, but marvelous nonetheless. Peter’s whereabouts is just one discovery on the trail of the “Mystery Fifty Car”. Hopes for unearthing a large collection of Miles memorabilia were not rewarded, but this find is, I think you will agree, certainly worth its weight in trinkets. The Tiger in the snapshot turns out to be the Shelby prepared #45 car. I’ve learned from Shelby insiders that after Laguna Seca, Ian Garrad authorized repairs to the badly damaged car and then transferred the project to the Rootes dealership, Sports Car Forum of Ohio. Their driver, Don Sesslar, had distinguished himself by capturing the 1964, F Production Championship in an Alpine, so why not let him have a go with a Tiger. Don was slated to drive the reworked and renumbered #45 car for the first time at Road America, in the Badger 200 (Sesslar raced under #74). Nursing some very tender ribs, Don, tried to cope during practice, but pain kept him out of the car on race day. There’s no account of it, but somehow, Ken Miles ended up as the substitute pilot and promptly took the “passed-on” Shelby machine to a 1st in B Production and 2nd overall, behind the Cobra of Dan Gerber.
If results are the measure of anything, Ken Miles was one of the few able to deal successfully with the much-ballyhooed limitations of the Tiger.
Riverside – October, 1964. Miles leads another well known Tiger driver (Lew Spencer) through one of the turns during the LA Times Grand Prix.
The reassigned Shelby race car surrendered its final usefulness after a Sesslar accident at Nassau’s Oakes Course, during the 11th annual “Bahamas Speed Weeks” event. Back in Ohio, the shell was completely stripped, with most of the Shelby developed pieces going into a fresh machine for the 1965 season. The disposition of the castoff chassis is still a bit of a riddle. Don is very clear about how little was left. Even the front skin had been removed and he remembers the remnant leaning against the side of the dealership building for sometime, before not seeing it anymore. It is generally believed that the remains of the Shelby machine were sent to the crusher, but when I suggested as much to Claude Gains, half owner of the old Sports Car Forum, he was certain they would not have junked the leftover, but rather sold it to somebody. Finding a photo of the second generation #74 Sesslar Tiger proved even more difficult than locating pictures of his Alpine. The Tiger used, B9470605 LRXFE, came right from the showroom floor and continued the white/black stripe color scheme used on both of the Ohio cars.


Mystery Fifty” – exhibit one. According to SCCA Archivist Peter Hylton, “The report from the LA times Grand Prix…indicates that Ken Miles drove a Tiger entered by Rootes Motors. He started near the rear of the grid and worked his way up to 8th before the engine blew” – who pray tell was Rootes Motors? Mr. Hylton goes on, “Dan Carmichael, apparently drove the same Tiger (although as number 69) in B Production at the first annual American Road Race of Champions at Riverside in November. This event was later to become the SCCA National Championship Runoffs to determine the annual SCCA Champions, although in 1964 it did not yet serve that purpose. Carmichael finished 4th in the class, but no mention is made of who supplied the car.” The assumption that Shelby’s operation must have had something to do with the car is possibly one of the first conjectures to fall. Carmichael’s recollections include an admission by his furnished mechanic that there had been a parting of the ways (Dan assumed he meant with the “factory”) so, the engine wasn’t much to speak of – just a street cam.

 

Mystery Fifty” – exhibit two & three. Same race, different places on the course. Carmichael confirms what Friedman (the photographer who took the pictures) contended – the Tiger was painted red.
My best guess is that Larry Reed was behind the sponsorship of this car, even though Ted Sutton (of Shelby fame and the man who is credited with building the #45 car) claims the plexi windshield and front brake air pickups are straight from Shelby stores. In fact, the small wind deflector extension added to the top of the windshield my have been made by Sutton himself, but none of the ex-employees has any recollection of ever seeing a second racecar, especially one that was painted red. Even Lew Spencer, who was in the same race, cannot recall the Tiger.

John Panks last quoted statements 1978

Whilst not wishing to decry the achievements of Cosworth and Hewland, highlighted in your article (Motor Sport edition 1978) on the Indianapolis 500 in your July issue, I would not like the efforts of our Racing Division to go unnoticed. In the last six years they have been successful in equipping the winning car at Indianapolis with our Lockheed brakes and Borg & Beck clutch. Indeed, in 1977 the first three cars were so equipped.
I endorse your comments concerning the Chancellor of the Exchequer and trust he will take notice of British companies’ achievements in’ motorsport around the world. All too often these days the British motor industry’s achievements arc criticised. Rarely do we read of their successes.

This article is written for memory of JOHN T. PANKS MC, pioneer of the Sunbeam Tiger at Rootes Group and Chief Executive Automotive Products Ltd.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *