Auto Biography | U.K. Sensibility, U.S. Strength

By Elsworth, Peter Ct | Providence Journal (Providence, RI), June 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Auto Biography | U.K. Sensibility, U.S. Strength


Elsworth, Peter Ct, Providence Journal (Providence, RI)


SCITUATE - Warner Dauphinee's red 1964 Sunbeam Tiger convertible is a prime example of what used to be called a hybrid back in the 1960s - a mix of European styling with American power.

He said he wanted to get a sports car and had been looking at MGBs. But his brother-in-law Dean Cook, who has a garage, advised him to get an American car. So he compromised by getting a European car with an American engine.

"The engine sounds American," he said as he started up the demure- looking roadster to produce a deep, throaty roar.

Rootes Group of Britain introduced the Sunbeam Alpine in 1956 and produced about 70,000 through 1968. From the beginning the car was aimed at the U.S. market.

But in 1964, Dauphinee said race car driver and designer Carroll Shelby of AC Cobra fame helped convert it into a so-called hybrid by replacing the four cylinder engine with a Ford 260 cubic inch V8, and the Alpine Tiger was born.

"At last!" reads a contemporary advertisement that Dauphinee has in his collection. "Powerful performance and placid personality in one car - the Sunbeam Tiger, now available to discerning drivers who appreciate ease of driving with fantastic acceleration."

The car boasted 164 horsepower, zero to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds and a top speed of 120 mph, according to the ad.

"My Tiger is my steady," Jo Collins, Playboy's 1965 Playmate of the Year, was quoted in another ad as she perched on a pink version dressed in a skimpy pink outfit.

However, production only continued until 1967 when Chrysler bought out Rootes and did not have an engine to replace the Ford 260, Dauphinee said.

He said he bought his Tiger in 1987, "before it was an antique." In 1989, he registered it as an antique and had it restored over the course of the following year.

"It took me quite a while," he said. "There was no Internet back then." He said he found advice and parts through CAT and "a lot of phone calls."

Parts he could not find he had manufactured.

He also changed the color from black to red, noting he also has a restored 1965 Mustang GT 350 tribute car, also in red.

Dauphinee said his first car was a red and white 1956 Chevy Bel Air convertible when he was in college, followed by a red 1964 Plymouth Barracuda when he got out.

"If it's going to be a sports car convertible, it's got to be red," he said.

Dauphinee's Tiger is numbered 1,111 out of the 5,000 that he said were imported into the United States. "It's almost pretty well stock," he said, noting that many were modified to race.

He said he added larger radials, which made it run and handle better. "It's a lot of fun to drive. …

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