Sunday 21st March 1926
Henry Segrave driving a 4 litre Sunbeam Ladybird established a new world land speed record of 152.33 mph (240.31 km/h) in Southport, England.
The Sunbeam Tiger was a racing car of the 1920s, built by Sunbeam of Wolverhampton. It was the last car to be competitive both as a land speed record holder, and as a circuit-racing car. Built for Major Henry Segrave to attempt the World Land Speed Record, held by Malcolm Campbell in Bluebird at 150.76 mph. The chassis and bodywork of the Sunbeam were conventional for racing cars of their time.
The car’s novelty lay with its engine. Sunbeam’s 1925 Grand Prix engine had been a successful 2 litre straight-6 twin-overhead-cam. This car was to use a pair of the same block and head arrangements, mated to a single 75° vee crankcase to produce a 3,976 cc V12. Supercharging brought the power up to 306 hp (228 kW).
Henry Segrave was so keen to test the new car and engine that he took it to Brooklands in September 1925, still unpainted. A half-mile speed of 145 mph (233 km/h) was recorded. Minor works, including the bright red paint still notable today, were done over the winter.
Spring 1926 saw Segrave on the wide, flat beach at Southport. With little fuss and few spectators, he and the bright-red car now named ‘Ladybird’ set a new land speed record at 152.33 mph (245.15 km/h). This was also the smallest-engined car ever to hold the Land Speed Record.
After the land speed record, the car returned to Grand Prix racing at Brooklands, Boulogne and San Sebastian. The ‘Tiger’ was taken back to the Works where twin superchargers were fitted and it began its long racing career. In July of 1926, Seagrave drove the car in the Spanish Grand Prix, unfortunately retiring while in 2nd place. In 1928, Kaye Don raced ‘Tiger’ and, over three seasons, broke twenty-four records, breaking the Brooklands’ lap record on three occasions.
In 1932, Malcolm Campbell bought ‘Tiger’ and sister car ‘Tigress’ and continued to campaign the car at Brooklands and Shelsley Walsh and Brighton Speed Trials.
At the time of the land speed record attempt, the car was fitted with a narrow inlet cowling over the radiator, similar to that of the Sunbeam 350HP. For racing, a flat open radiator grille was used. The narrow cowling has re-appeared in preservation.
One sister car to Tiger was built and named Tigress.
It survives today, fitted with a Napier Lion engine and racing in British Vintage events as the “Sunbeam-Napier”.
The Sunbeam Tiger is preserved today in Utah, restored to the streamlined radiator cowling fitted for record-breaking. As of 2006, the engine is reportedly being rebuilt after suffering foreign object damage whilst vintage racing, hence the static display in LSR trim.
In 1990, the now 65 year old Tiger re-created its record attempt, and succeeded in beating it at 159 mph (256 km/h).
In 1964 and 1972 the “Tiger” name was revived within the marque, first for a V8 version of the Sunbeam Alpine, the Sunbeam Tiger. Later it appeared on the more mundane Hillman Avenger Tiger, which resembled a tiger by being orange with black stripes, if little else.