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.”