Carroll Shelby had so many strings to his metaphorical bow that it would have been better for strumming tunes on than firing arrows. A winning driver, he also ran successful racecar teams, turned the meek Mustang into a track weapon, and even somehow made the Dodge Omni vaguely desirable. But if there’s one car that Shel will always be associated with more than others it’s the mashup up of a dainty British sports car and a Detroit V8.
We’re obviously talking about the AC/Shelby Cobra, but the snake wasn’t Carroll’s only animal-themed Anglo-American convertible project. Because soon after the Cobra had made its debut, British car giant Rootes hired Shelby to wave his magic wand over its stylish but slow Sunbeam Alpine.
A rival to cars like the MGA and its MGB successor, the Alpine was launched in 1959, and by the early 1960s was equipped with a 1.6-liter inline four pushing out around 80 hp (81 PS). Zero to 60 mph (96 km/h) took a mind-numbing 15 seconds, but just imagine what it could do with a Ford V8 slipped – shoehorned, as it turned out – between the front wheels.
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The truth is that even the Tiger, as the V8-ized Alpine was christened, while much faster than the Alpine, couldn’t hold a candle to the Cobra in terms of performance. It was much heavier and the V8s Rootes bought from Ford were much milder than the ones fitted to the Cobras.
Almost all Tigers came with the 4.2-liter (260 cu-in) V8 that breathed through a little two-barrel carb and was rated at 164 hp (166 PS). That was enough to drop the 60 mph time to 9.5 seconds according to one period test, though the rare Mk2, with its 200 hp (203 PS) 4.7-liter 289 V8, cut two seconds from that time.
For modern buyers who almost certainly aren’t going to be thrashing the daylights out of a 60-year-old car every time they get in, that’s probably not as much of a problem as it was for 1960s racers who struggled to win silverware on the track. And if it is, the Ford DNA means there are plenty of tuning upgrades available. This 1965 Tiger, currently up for grabs on Collecting Cars, has received many, including the bigger 289 motor.
Though Rootes commissioned Shelby to build the prototype Tiger, Carroll had to settle on a royalty deal on the finished product because the production job went to UK-based Jensen of Interceptor fame. But the Tiger definitely has Shelby’s fingerprints on it, and the best thing is they cost a fraction as much as an original Cobra.
Sunbeam sold more than 7,000 Tigers between 1964 and 1967, most of them in the U.S., and Hagerty says a good condition Mk1 should be worth between $45,000-55,000, versus almost $900k for a ‘real’ Cobra.