Tiger Feet

Sep 18, 2008 update to the Sunbeam Tiger project car

We looked and we studied, and then finally we decided on a set of Superlite wheels, sized 15x6 inches up front and 15x7 inches in the rear.

During our restoration we found a set of LAT 9 “pie cutter” factory Tiger wheels. During the car’s production, there were two factory alloy wheels to replace the stock 4.5-inch steel wheels and hubcaps. The aforementioned “pie cutter” mags were by far rarer, but they were also only one-half inch wider than stock at 5 inches.

The more common LAT 70 (5.5 inches wide) wheels were generally considered to fit better and were most likely lighter than the heavy LAT 9s. LAT stands for Los Angeles Tiger and was the name of the official dealer-installed and factory aftermarket series of Tiger hop-up parts. These two wheel designs were among that series.

We apparently got a good deal on the LAT 9 wheels on eBay, where we paid $1200 for a set of good, used and nearly unblemished wheels. The cool Tiger emblem center caps were actually cast right into the wheel, which makes mounting and balancing a bit of a challenge. Many of these wheels have had the center caps cut out and then re-glued to make balancing easier. While this modification theoretically hurts the wheel’s value and originality, it also makes them more usable. Two of our wheels—presumably the front—had been modified in this fashion.

In the end, while we like the cool early look of these “pie cutter” mags, we decided that with the kind of engine we had and our intended use, we might want to get a little more rubber on the road. At the same time, we wanted to avoid wheel rub problems and not ruin the classic, nearly stock looks of our Tiger.

We looked and we studied, and then finally we decided on a set of Superlite wheels, sized 15x6 inches up front and 15x7 inches in the rear.

While Tigers originally came with 13-inch wheels, we thought this Plus 2 fitment would open up our tire choices immensely. In fact, it did, as we managed to fit a new set of Dunlop Direzza Z1 tires sized 195/55R15 inches under our nearly stock wheel wells.

The Tiger originally had a very restrictive wheel lip of nearly one inch thick—all part of that built-like-a-tank aspect of the Tiger. As our wheel wells were already damaged, we re-did the entire wheel lip in a 5/8-inch thickness. It still appears totally stock, but it now allows for a bit more tire in the back.

The back is not the real problem area on a Tiger, though. The track is actually wider on the front of the Tiger, and the tires tend to rub badly against the front valance, mostly in sharp turns. Most savvy owners know that you can trim the front valance panel to clear tires, and only a Tiger superexpert will notice it. Look at any row of Tigers at a show, and you will see that most of them have had the front valance cut in the wheel well area to solve this problem.

We chose wheels with a 24mm offset up front and a 25mm offset in the rear. Although other looks are available, we opted for the traditional silver finish. While the front fitment was acceptable, we took it a step further when we asked wheel expert John Purner at Complete Custom Wheel to knock another two millimeters off the back space of the front wheels. He milled the back of the front wheel centers, allowing the wheels to fit even farther into the front fenders. This made for a perfect fit with no clearance issues.

Out on the road, these tires are super comfortable and transform the whole ride and handling of our Tiger. If there is one modification you can do to make a car feel modern, it is to mount new tires and wheels of good quality and a larger diameter. This wheel and tire combination really transformed our car’s looks and driving feel. We are very happy that all our research and effort paid off this well.


Comments

Oct 16, 2008 1:23 p.m.
ptonizzo:
How much trimming did you have to do to the front valence? I'm curious what the BEFORE/AFTER look like. thanks,
Oct 18, 2008 7:23 a.m.
Tim Suddard:
We bent the lip in and trimmed about half an inch off of it. Every car will be a little different, depending on what size tire and even more importantly, what size and offset wheel you use. Put your tire and wheel combo on the car (on both sides), turn the wheels full lock, both ways, and see where it fouls. You can trim as needed. Remember, the suspension moves not only up and down, but forward and backward a bit, so allow for this and trim a little extra.
Oct 22, 2008 3:21 p.m.
ptonizzo:
Thanks, Tim. My car has the lip bent in on the passenger side about 1/2". Odd, but at least now I know why it was done.
Feb 25, 2009 3:57 p.m.
Series6:
Tim, I'm doing V6 swap on my 66 Alpine (doesn't everyone need 2 V6 Alpine's?) and now, due to the 11" Wilwoods I just installed, need 15" front (and rear) wheels/tires. I am running 5 lug hubs front and back. Body is straight but unprimed/unpainted so this cme at a good time. I was wondering what changes I'd be facing. Thanks for the information.
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