13 March 2016

Resurrected 1967 Sunbeam Tiger makes its debut at Amelia Island Concours

It’s a long drive from Ohio to Amelia Island, Fla. – 800 miles, give or take. For Hagerty’s 1967 Sunbeam Tiger, it might as well have been a million.

Eighteen months ago, the Tiger was wasting away on blocks, left outside for three decades to defend itself against the elements, and it was losing. On Sunday, the completely restored, Carnival Red roadster was unveiled to applause at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Few could have been more proud than Tony Pietrangelo, Tom Weston and Randy Clouse, who led a group of more than 150 Hagerty employees in resurrecting the British sports car.

“People see it and say, ‘That’s a beautiful car,’ but they have no idea just how much went into it,” said Pietrangelo, Hagerty Fleet Senior Manager. “But we sure do.”

The Sunbeam is the fourth Hagerty employee restoration project, and without a doubt the most daunting. Company CEO McKeel Hagerty started the program as a way for Hagerty team members in Traverse City, Mich., to get their hands dirty and better relate to clients who tackle a restoration project. After employees completed three iconic American cars in four years – a Ford Model A, Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang – Hagerty went looking for a British roadster. Not just any roadster, mind you. A rare Sunbeam Tiger.

The safari began with a trip to see several cars in the Detroit area, but Pietrangelo said none of the candidates was quite right. “We really wanted a ’67 Mark II because that was the only one with a 289 engine. It turns out the guy’s brother had one in Ohio.” So they drove a bit farther south. Bingo.

The 22nd of 533 built that year, the Tiger was exactly what they were looking for. Not only was it a numbers-matching car, it presented a major challenge.

“Let’s just say it was rough,” Pietrangelo said with a smile. How rough? Take the car’s wood-covered steering wheel, for example. “It was all together when we loaded the car onto the trailer, but when we unloaded it in Traverse City it was in about 60 pieces on the floor.”

Since a replacement steering wheel for a ’67 Sunbeam Tiger didn’t exist, it had to be repaired. Noted woody restorer Mike Nichols put the puzzle pieces together and refurbished it – varnishing and sanding it 15 times along the way – while Weston rebuilt the center hub. It was one of many parts that had to be rebuilt or fabricated, and Weston did a lot of it.

“The trunk floor pan and the floor boards were shot,” said Weston, Hagerty Fleet Restoration Specialist. So he took flat sheet steel, stretched it, made a die and formed it to factory specs. Exhibiting attention to detail, he also replicated the factory welds – same number of welds in the same spots the factory put them. “The biggest challenge was trying to save as much of the original material as possible. We went to great lengths to use everything that was originally there, right down to screws, nuts and bolts.”

Weston was also in charge of refurbishing the seats, which included replacing the foam, repainting the trim and fixing the floor slides so the seats could be adjusted forward and backward.

The dashboard wood had to be replaced, and every gauge needed attention. All work now, as do the original switches. All of the exterior brightwork had to be rechromed. And the carpet was completely shot; fortunately an exact match was found.

Clouse, the Fleet Mechanic, worked on the engine and whatever else was required on any given day, as did Hagerty employees from every department – no matter their experience level.

“When I found out I’d be working on the restoration project, I was excited for the chance to check out the shop, but not too sure I would be able to do anything of importance,” said Data Entry Processor Courtny Howes. “My previous summer jobs working in a truck shop made me handy with a tire pressure gauge and grease gun, but that’s about it.

“I was surprised and delighted when Tom started handing me tools and parts right away, and I happily hammered away on a hub cap while he instructed me on the finer points of shaping metal by hand. The grinder was especially fun; lots of sparks were flying while I tried to smooth seams on the body paneling.

“I was constantly impressed upon how much hands-on work these classic cars require,” she said. “I now know why there is such a strong bond between cars and their owners. The chance to get away from my desk and normal routine was nice, but I got something better: the chance to learn and truly connect with a vital part of the classic car life.”

Work on the Tiger began in October 2014, and despite the road blocks that inevitably crop up in every restoration, the goal never changed: Amelia Island 2016. “We never felt any deadline pressure,” Pietrangelo said. “We knew what we had to do and when it had to be done.”

Pietrangelo said he consulted knowledgeable Sunbeam restorers and researchers every step of the way, even traveling to meet with some. “You have to remember that we aren’t Sunbeam experts. We didn’t know them very well when we started.”

“But we do now,” Weston said.

When the resurrected Tiger was unveiled at Amelia Island, Pietrangelo said he couldn’t help but think about “all of the people whose time and expertise were so valuable to this project. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

He also couldn’t help but stand and marvel at the finished project.

“It’s hard to believe it’s the same car,” Pietrangelo said. “It’s been an amazing ride.”

18 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Courtny TC March 15, 2016 at 15:26
    Great read! I like hearing about the project from start to finish. Can't wait to see what's next.
  • 2
    paddy MN March 16, 2016 at 17:37
    great team project! now comes the tough part...who gets the keys on a daily basis. or does the tiger remain in the cage?
  • 3
    Ross Hulse Oregon March 16, 2016 at 17:45
    My 1966 Mark1a is insured by Hagerty. Now I can appreciate your understanding in insuring my car. I did this type of restoration myself, it took seven years. I have shown it 3 times and it won its class 3 times and overall once.
  • 4
    matt canada March 16, 2016 at 17:53
    so why did they put it in a cage - didn't want anyone to get close to it ? Kind of stupid if you ask me....
  • 5
    Ray lawrence Truckee, Cal March 16, 2016 at 17:59
    Great work folk that's a beauty. I have a 65 260 which I get again this spring. The snow is melting fast so it wont be long now. And yes you have to do the work to know and appreciate what it takes to get them up and running. Good job!
  • 6
    David RB March 16, 2016 at 18:34
    The car looks beautiful. Great job by all the folks who worked on it. What I don't understand, though, is that the article indicates that great efforts were made to restore the car and keep it original, including nuts and bolts and screws. But why does the car have aftermarket wheels? The option LAT wheels would have been more appropriate if something other than the steel wheels and hub caps were desired.
  • 7
    Biill Basye Tryon, NC March 16, 2016 at 18:45
    I am an original owner of a Tiger II and need a rocker panel chrome strip and racing stripes. Any help?
  • 8
    markmcbx Lake Havasu City, AZ March 16, 2016 at 19:09
    The real test would have been to drive it the 800 miles to its destination rather than show it as a trailer queen. Cars are meant to be driven.
  • 9
    Bruce C CO March 16, 2016 at 21:21
    Congratulations. Well done! Look forward to more pictures and a video.
  • 10
    Steve Adil Columbia CT March 17, 2016 at 07:59
    This is a great company. I participated in a Hagerty Driving Event (my Cuda appeared on Chasing Classic Cars who filmed it) and got to know some of them. My experience over the years had been great already but it was a clincher meeting the Hagerty team. Wish I had more cars to insure!
  • 11
    Nick Tumwater Washington March 17, 2016 at 23:30
    It's things like this that makes me glad I use Hagerty. Nice going guys. Thanks.
  • 12
    Rich. V Kamloops BC March 17, 2016 at 12:11
    and what better way to get the 'next generation' invovled. Great idea - thanks
  • 13
    Phil Stevens Essex,MA March 20, 2016 at 14:30
    I,d like to see pictures of the car when they started.
  • 14
    Barry Whitley NC March 26, 2016 at 09:49
    This was a project that really needed video documentation. I hope you have a video feature coming up on this beautiful restoration.
  • 15
    Wayne Laverdure Kingston East March 30, 2016 at 18:51
    Did this car come with a hardtop,If so can you send me a picture of an original hardtop.I have a couple and was wondering what one would be worth I also have a windshield with glass.Thanks for your time
  • 16
    Bill Bulpitt Atlanta, GA September 26, 2016 at 11:40
    I was Chairman of the Tigers East/Alpines East show here in Atlanta this year. After some cajoling, I was thrilled that Hagerty chose to bring the car to our United. It was certainly one of the highlights to the gathering and won some of the top awards. Congrats to Tony and his crew for a job well done...
  • 17
    Ted W Smith Traverse City, Michigan October 12, 2016 at 18:41
    I'm working on a beautiful little '66 Carnival red Alpine and should have it running in a week or so. I'm willing to trade you even-up for your Tiger.....just thought I'd throw that out there to see if you're interested. :-)
  • 18
    Dwight Bowden Anchorage, Alaska November 3, 2016 at 13:20
    Nice to read about that restoration. I own a 1965 Series 1 Tiger, purchased April 1965, picked it up in London. Drove to factory to have side mirrors & seat belts installed. Drove around England, crossed on fairy to France, drove to Monaco and shipped it back to Alaska. Raced it, including winning Ice racing championship in 1966. Restored it in 1980 now enjoy driving in various parades, etc.

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