Those who follow DriveLife may remember that tucked away in my garage, I have a 1965 Sunbeam Tiger. Those who don’t know what a Sunbeam Tiger is, won’t know it came out of the factory with a 260 V8 Mustang motor, gearbox and diff. They are pretty rare (just over 7,000 were made), and I treasure mine.

In saying that, I love driving it. I drive it on club runs, runs for a coffee somewhere – almost any excuse on a sunny day will see the top down and going somewhere.

I’ve owned the car for 5 years now, and it’s one of the most original ones in the country – many have had the original 260 removed, and a 289 or 302 in its place.

So while mine is almost totally original, it’s now 52 years old and while it had the body restored in 1991, the rest of the car does show some normal wear and tear. I’ve had the seats and carpets done, and other bit and pieces restored.

But one thing that I see every time I drive it is the wooden dashboard. The lacquer is cracked in lots of places, and it lets the rest of the car down.

Since it’s now winter, it’s the perfect time to remove that dash and replace it with a new one from the US. Luckily they sold more Tigers in the USA than anywhere else, so parts – even whole new RHD dashboards – are not a problem.

While I have the dash out, there’s some other things that have needed fixing for a while now; the rev counter has a mind of its own (it’s British after all) and often needs a tap or two on the glass to get it going.

The Smiths clock has gone the way of British electrics as well, and has never worked. Well, it is right twice a day I guess.

A while ago I got the speedo repaired, and at the same time they cleaned the face and the glass. Of course now, all the other gauges just look dirty, so the plan is to get them cleaned as well.

The centre console’s vinyl really looks over 50 years old; saggy and in desperate need of some TLC.

Lastly, with that V8 motor up against the firewall, summertime sees your toes frying. You would not believe the heat generated by that engine, but understandable since it’s a big, cast iron V8 in an engine bay that was designed for a 4-cylinder car.

So my plan is to:

  • Replace the dash
  • Get the rev counter repaired
  • Get the gauges cleaned
  • Get the centre console restored
  • Install some sound deadening/heat resisting mat
  • Tidy up the wiring!

Time to cut my hands up – Saturday

Pulling a British car apart is never fun, and pulling out the dashboard is right down the bottom end of that non-fun scale. Through the Sunbeam Tiger Facebook page, I got lots of good advice; Take lots of photos, label everything, pull the wiring loom out with the dash, remove the seats and console, and most importantly, keep lots of sticking plasters handy. One suggestion was to increase my swearing vocabulary in advance, but I’ve got that covered already.

I had a weekend all planned out, two days to remove the dash; surely that would do it. The plan was to keep the car outside for more natural light, but of course the weather did not agree – it was forecast to rain heavily both days.

So, the garage it would be. Removing the seats was a 10-minute job, and the centre console another 5 minutes. I felt like this wouldn’t be too bad!

And so it begins. No turning back now

The radio came out (5 minutes) and then I started dismantling the steering wheel; that was much trickier, and took a good 30 minutes.

I love my power bar

Underneath the dash with my phone, taking loads of photos so I could see where everything would go back later. I like the idea of removing the wiring loom with the dash though – then I can wire up the new dash out of the car, and simply slip it all back in. How hard can it be?

You can see the original colouring of the dash where its been covered by the lower pad

Still, I took lots of photos anyway, just in case. There are heaps of brackets and other stuff, and I have fallen victim on previous occasions to thoughts like “I’ll remember where that goes”– photos are free and easy, and can be a lifesaver.

I removed the bottom dashboard padding, and started to work on the loom. The inside bit looked not too bad, so I thought I’d start under the bonnet and disconnect everything there – after lots more photos of course.

Can I just say the Tiger is a very small convertible, and that 4.3-litre V8 takes up nearly all the engine bay – there’s little room to do anything with your hands or fingers under there. Still, on I went – photo, disconnect wires; photo, disconnect wires.

All was going so well under the bonnet. I had grand dreams of being done in a day. Ha! I got to the ground wire that goes right beneath the temperature sensor wire. I could barely get to the bolt, and it would not budge. At all. I started removing spark plug leads to get more room. No progress. Then I removed one of the hose clamps, and antifreeze leaked everywhere. How does that stuff seem to spread so far? I tightened the clamp again, and tried other things – more tools, more socket sets, more anything to make it work. By now, 1.5 hours were gone, on this one, small 11/32 bolt that would not move.

Getting desperate, I decided to drain the radiator and remove the hose clamps, and take out the short piece of hose and steel that houses the temperature sensor. That done, I wiggled the hoses like nothing else, and they would not come off the inlet manifold. It took me another 45 minutes to remove the whole (but small) unit. Yes! Now it would be easy – just take the bolt out, and get on with it. But the bolt would still not move, and was starting to round. Desperate times,

I broke off the clamp and would put a new one on later. All up, this was well over 2 hours gone on the one bolt, along with various cuts and scrapes.

That one bolt!

Tomorrow I need to finish with the rest of the wires under the bonnet, and remove the heater clamps and cables under the dash, and anything else that needs to be removed. Surely tomorrow would be easier than today!

Sunday

Of course today, the sun comes out. So much for the weather forecast of torrential rain for two days. Still, it’s too late to get the car outside now, with everything hanging off everywhere.

I decided to finish doing the under bonnet wires first, and this was only an hour’s work. But then I discovered that the loom of course feeds the left hand side of the car as well, so that was more time groping around, scraping my fingers trying to get all the wires disconnected. It’s going to be fun trying to plug them all in again with little room…

Next I moved under the dash and had a go at removing the two heater cables. One came out easy – great! – but the other wouldn’t budge. A bit of WD40 on the bolt saw it come out much easier. Then I discovered another problem – the loom wouldn’t come forward due to a steering column mount that was blocking it. I tried dropping the steering column a bit more, but there was no way the loom would go past it, so I decided to remove the mount. Luckily the bolts were actually accessible but a long socket extension, so that was that.

I finally realised this was it – the dashboard was ready to come out! Two minutes later, I have the dash out.

Less than a litre of blood lost to get to this point

I’ve now removed the clock and tomorrow will send that off to New Jersey in the USA for repair and they will also add some electronics to the clock to make it much more reliable – it will actually work. This is all within the existing clock body, so you’d never know.

Over the next few weekends I’ll remove the other gauges to get them cleaned, and get the centre console refurbished to look like new.

While the console is being done, I’ll grab photos and ditto getting the gauges cleaned.

Mind you, I think I’m being pretty keen here – my new dashboard hasn’t arrived yet, and all I can hope is that it does, and it will be in one piece. Sending a piece of wood from Connecticut to New Zealand seems like a recipe for disaster.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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