From Rootes Review
Vol. 5, #5, May 1980
by Jim Anderson
There’s going to be a celebration at our house. Nothing big, just a few friends to note a landmark. The reliable friend in the garage is turning 99,999, to be born again as the odometer slips back to 00000 and we start out with a clean slate. “Green Tiger,” as she is known on the local CB channels, has reached a point where we can both look back and reflect a little.
We met, at 8,500, in San Rafael, CA, used car lot and despite the warning from the salesman ( “you can get into a lot of trouble with that car”) I was won over by smooth gear shift and the way, she moved out when my right foot went down. For $3,000 she was mine, although it was not something I could really afford, because my wife was having our third child that same month and the expenses were considerable. September, 1966,
Although I paid more initially for the Tiger than the son, the boy has required considerably more upkeep and fuel, Nevertheless, both have been good investments, I was working at a San Francisco television station at the time, and the Tiger did some fast moving between Sacramento and San Francisco covering the elections, the Vietnam riots and the revolution that was taking place on California campuses.
At first the Tiger showed some bad, twitchy habits on the rolling hills north of San Francisco. That was quickly traced to the original bias tires and she reformed when she was fitted with a set of Pirellis. With those, there was almost a sense of floating at anything over 80 miles per hour (apparently the centrifugal force stretching the radial cords).
I drove to work at 5 o’clock every morning and let me tell you that it is an unforgettable experience floating down the deserted freeway through the morning fog toward the Golden Gate bridge, the sun just hitting the white buildings of San Francisco and a new kid named Dylan on the radio competing with the rap of the V8 exhaust.
Around then, somebody tried to steal the Tiger when she was parked in the Haight-Ashbury. We had gone to see a new local band named the Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore. The long reach from the slash in the top to the door handle foiled the thief. My wife sewed up the top and we took the insurance money and put it toward a hardtop.
The Tiger was reaching 30,000 and we were both growing up a little, so it was time to put childish things behind and move to Washington. The other family car was sold , and for almost a year the Tiger was the only transportation for the family of five. Two medium size kids in the back and one wife holding the smallest in her lap. We looked a bit like a circus act when we unloaded.
At about 50,000- I recall it was during the 1973 Middle East war- a suspicious clunk was heard when I turned hard left. The rack and pinion had gone dry and was broken. I discovered the interesting fact that the steering gear is the only part (other than the trim) on a Tiger that is neither Alpine or Ford.
I scoured the East coast through the junk yard telex. Nothing. Peter Palmer, the ingenious Australian, tried to rebuild the broken rack by fabricating a new tooth and heat-treating it. It quickly broke, and he did it again, this time for free. Again, zero, and it was then that I recalled the note that had been put on the Tiger by some admiring clerk from California at the Pentagon. He introduced me to S,T,O,A, of California which- as it happened- had rented a San Francisco gear works one weekend and had manufactured about 150 sets of the rack and pinion.
I could even have had a quick-ratio, but I chose the stock and sent the entire steering assembly to California, where it was to be put together. Unfortunately, this coincided with the breakdown of negotiations between United Parcel Service and its employees. The strike was called just as my completed steering assembly was sent back to Washington. It disappeared, and I contemplated, for an unhappy six weeks the prospect of junking a car that was perfect in every respect except that it lacked the mechanism that moved the front wheels from side to side.
Miraculously, the box with the steering assembly was found and I was back on wheels (by now fitted with Michelins, which may not “float” but do last longer than the 10,000 miles that the Pirellis went).
For ten years, through the end of the Vietnam demonstrations, through Watergate, through three election campaigns, the Tiger was driven, back and forth to work. In the State Department garage, she became kind of a pet of the parking attendants and sometimes when I returned in the evening, the hood was a bit warm, as if somebody had been exercising her a bit in the cavernous basement garage.
In 1976, along with me, she developed certain signs of aging. With her, it was the usual form of skin cancer, along the lower edge of the door. Back to Peter Palmer’s, where new body panels went in, along with a second clutch at about 85,000.
It was also time for a paint job and the result was a breakdown of communication. I asked for British Racing Green, and got it, but it was meant for a Triumph, or maybe an early MG. Much too bright to be authentic, but the Sunbeam BRG had begun to darken with age and it was not as visible as it should be in a city where people who drive cars are preoccupied with affairs of state and their children’s orthodontist appointments.
With the new color, the Tiger looked a bit tarted-up, but people began to take notice (especially after I got the STOA roll bar installed for the peace of mind of the family). Or maybe it was my new tweed driving hat? Whatever.
The effect of the car- without me- was of a handsome woman of a certain age with class but no flash and the kind of lines that act as an aphrodisiac to some young men. That’s apparently what happened when I went to a news conference in downtown Washington and left the car with a parking attendant in an underground commercial garage.
It was a glorious spring day, the top was down and the new Holley carb was set just right. For the first 100 yards of his ride, it must have been pure joy. The last ten feet must have been pure terror. He lost her on the second turn of the down ramp. He was uninjured, but the right front end was wiped out. The rack and pinion was unharmed, so she could be saved. The parking garage, which was self insured, first offered me a derisory scrap price and then an appraiser went to look at the car. He agreed that it was a classic and said the company would pay to have it restored to its precrash condition. With the rental car that was provided during the repair, the bill was almost exactly $3,000, which had been the original sale price in 1966.
She was close to intact, and with some retouch work on the front end parts by Bob Rhodes, the Tiger not only went back to commuting, but she ran her first competition at about 97,000. Inspired, perhaps by the Tiger, my wife and I also began to run. She (the Tiger, not my wife) did the autocross at York, Pa. last year and then dragged at the Show and Go meet in Maryland in 1979. We did not win FTD in either event. We did not even come close. But who would have thought, back there in California in 1966, that both of us would still be running strong 14 years and more than 90,000 miles later?