Evaluating a Tiger

By Tom Hall

The question of how much a Tiger is worth gets asked often enough that we think a general discussion is in order. The most basic answer is obviously that the car is worth what someone is willing to pay, but that response is overly simplistic and not of much practical value in promoting a sale.

There are several variables that contribute to "value" or "worth", many of which are common to all or the majority of "collector cars", and some that are unique and specific to the Tiger marque. All vehicles that were either produced in limited quantities, have a "performance" association, or have reached the age where due to attrition there are very few of them left, will fall into the collector car category. Those that fit into more than one category are generally more "valuable".

The Tiger was a limited production (approx. 7,000) automobile that additionally falls into the performance category. The marque has also reached the age whereby it has suffered a substantial loss due to attrition and therefore fewer examples are available in good condition. Current records can be used to extrapolate a total population which would peak at approximately 2500 cars world wide that are still identifiable.

The problem of identifiability is one of the situations affecting the evaluation of a particular Tiger. This is because of the availability of a very similar car built by the same manufacturer, the Sunbeam Alpine. The two cars share many of the same basic components in their unibody construction. Because the Alpines were a lower priced vehicle, and were produced in much higher quantities, they have been historically used as parts donors for the repair of damaged Tigers. In fact, the practice of transferring the Tiger specific components from a badly damaged or rusty Tiger to a "rust free" Alpine chassis, and miss-identifying the chassis as an original Tiger has been a profitable entrepreneurial business in the recent past. The same kind of effect can be observed in the Mustang marque with the uniqueness and value of original Shelby Mustang, and the production of counterfeits created from non-original Ford Mustang shells.

The Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association has operated a program to authenticate and issue certificates to Tiger chassis that are identifiable as original (produced on the Jensen Assembly line). The Tiger Authentication Committee (TAC) has certified a number of the remaining chassis, varying in condition from 100 point concours to parts car chassis. It is important to understand that the authentication process simply identifies a chassis as original and does not otherwise make that particular chassis more valuable. We have authenticated several Tigers that were totally rusted out, structurally damaged, or otherwise in very poor condition. They were original, but they might not be desirable or valuable. A Tiger that has been authenticated can be identified by the serialized triangular shaped, tamper resistant hallmark sticker applied to the inside of the cowl structure next to the windshield wiper motor. A list of the Tiger VIN's authenticated to date is available.

The second area of concern in evaluating a Tiger is the general condition of the car and it's components. There are several businesses across the US and in England that provide many of the parts necessary for the repair of the Tiger. The stock of OEM parts has basically been depleted but the current parts vendors have recreated most of the required tooling for parts necessary to maintain the Tiger in premium condition. While the availability of repair parts certainly adds to the desirability and value of the marque in general, the condition of a particular car has a major impact on its value. For example, a very rusty chassis or one severely damaged by accident will require major expenditures to stop the rust and/or restore the accuracy and beauty of the body. Similarly, a worn out motor will require rebuilding or replacement. In some cases, the chassis may be worth the additional expenditure and in others, it may by like throwing money away.

The originality and completeness of a Tiger are important factors. Originality is an important factor to many owners and some actually feel that modifications or alterations to the "stock" configuration are a sin. Other owners or potential owners are more willing to apply their own tastes to the original factory configuration and enjoy personalizing the vehicle. In any case, there are several OEM components that have become particularly valuable because they are rare and sought after. In this category you will find items like the air cleaner, radiator shroud, and several trim items that have never been successfully reproduced. Tigers that have all or most of these components are generally more valuable than similar condition examples that have been modified by eliminating or replacing the rare components.

The following list contains some guidelines as to the general sales range of Tigers in recent history.

1. Alpine Conversions - Although they are not "Tigers", they can be very nice cars. Frequently referred to as "Algers", they range from quick hack jobs to finished concours prepared examples. Generally a conversion sells for less than a genuine Tiger, although it's actual condition has a major impact on value. Hack jobs typically range in the $1,000 to $3,000 realm with nice examples up to $10,000 (the highest known price for a suspected conversion is currently $31,000 from a buyer at a "high dollar" antique car show that had no idea that the car was a conversion).

2. Un-restored Tigers with a majority of OEM components - This is your basic starting point if you want to build a nice Tiger. These cars still show up on a periodic basis. They are sought after but generally have not reached a strong value. Typical sales run from about $6,000 to $10,000. Expect the good examples to get into the low teens soon.

3. Average Street Tigers - Most of the population falls into this category. Appearance and general condition are the major factors. It always costs more to recondition, repair and/or replace, than it does to buy the completed package. The best advice is to spend more upfront to buy the best example you can fit into your budget. It will be the least expensive method overall, unless you desire to accomplish the work personally. Average street Tigers typically sell in the range of $12,000 to $22,000.

4. Concours Prepared Tigers - These Tigers generally have had a substantial amount of work done to them to bring them to a "show" condition. Many have been dipped, stripped, and professionally restored. Starting with a standard UN-restored Tiger and having a professional restore the car will typically set you back $35,000 to $50,000 and even though this is not expected to be a recoverable cost, a buyer must expect to pay a premium for this level of effort. Sales of Tigers in "show " condition are not as common because their owners generally enjoy them themselves! This is how they justify the costs involved. Expect a minimum of $25,000 for a Tiger in this condition.

5. Rare and Limited Production examples - The most common of the rare Tigers are the MkII models of which only 537 were produced. The premium for this model generally runs in the range of 20% although a wide variation is common. Tiger MkII's are sought after and are less frequently personalized. Other Tigers in this category are the Tigers first used by the British Police, the Jensen Prototypes, and the first and last cars produced. Several of these special cars are already in the STOA TAC Database, including the first and last production Tigers.

6. Tigers of historic value are essentially in a class of their own. The historical value attached to a particular Tiger is generally unique to that car. It may be a prototype, or a factory built competition car, or it may have been a car previously used by a person significant to the marque or otherwise famous. It is imperative to establish the historical documentation in order to obtain a special value. It is not practical to estimate values for historic Tigers because they are so unique and sought after. Those that do change owners generally do so at over $50,000.

STOA does not currently offer individual evaluation services, but generally offers it's authentication services at major marque events to interested members and owners. The club has several long time owners familiar with these parameters that would be happy to discuss the relative value of a particular Tiger. It is important to know the VIN and JAL numbers, as well as the condition of the unibody, drive train and other components in order to establish relative worth. Personal examination is important, as photographic documentation is of limited value. Subtle indicators often make the difference between a sound chassis, a major rust bucket problem, or a previously damaged unibody requiring major investment.

It is important to know how you intend to use you Tiger to make the right buy/sell decisions. A car to be used for concours and/or autocross will have much more stringent requirements than an infrequently used touring car. This always applies to collector automobiles: Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware).

-Tom Hall, Charter Member


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