John 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 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.
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.
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.
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.