Sunbeam Tigers: recreating Rallye Monte-Carlo magic

| 26 Feb 2024
Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

Outside of a small clutch of Sunbeam Tiger enthusiasts, the significance of the 25th running of the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique back at the beginning of 2023 would seem to have been totally overlooked by the entire classic car movement.

Even the organisers appeared largely oblivious to what had occurred within their own rally.

Few, if any, competitive events for historic vehicles can boast entries of truly significant provenance.

One or two maybe, but three?

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

Three ex-works Sunbeam Tiger rally cars reunited for the 2023 Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique

Even at the Goodwood Revival, the likelihood of finding half a factory team together in the paddock would be unprecedented.

Yet, in the depths of last winter, a trio of former works Sunbeam Tigers, registered ADU 311B, ADU 312B and AHP 294B, was assembled on the harbour front in Monaco to contest a hugely competitive rally for the first time since the mid-1960s.

Remarkably, the few reports that did find their way into the specialist press all failed to pick up on the magnitude of the occasion: of the five remaining works rally cars, three were in the principality nearly six decades after their previous appearance.

In total, seven Tigers were prepared in-house by the factory for rallying, and of the other two, one was modified for the Targa Florio and today lives in Colorado, while unlucky number seven was crushed after a huge accident at Oulton Park during a race back in the ’70s.

Underlying this historic and unique event were the entrants themselves.

For the past five decades, the three Tigers in question had all resided in the UK – indeed, all have appeared in the pages of Classic & Sports Car over the years – but by the autumn of 2022 they had all emigrated to Belgium and the workshop of Tim Motte.

Tim, a Jaguar and British sports car specialist of 20 years, has a workshop in Wervik, close to the French border, and it became the new home of the Rootes Competition Department as he and his mechanics prepared the cars for their assault on the world’s most famous rally stages.

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

Sunbeam Tiger AHP 294B, campaigned by Maurice Gatsonides and Albert Ilcken, retired from the 1965 Monte

The Tigers’ new Belgian owners, as well as having Tim’s MB Motors in common, had all started out competing with Porsche 911s and are all fiercely competitive.

It was during one of their local rallies in Ypres during the early 2000s that one of them, Jean-Claude Castelein, first encountered the V8-powered hot rod from Coventry.

“Dad couldn’t believe how quick it was,” his son Maxime recalls.

“It seemed to always be ahead on the leaderboard. He vowed there and then that one day he’d own one.”

The example causing the local pilot such grief was campaigned extremely successfully by Exeter-based motor-trader Paul Kynaston, who enjoyed a number of seasons humbling more fancied competition.

He, as the Belgians soon worked out, realised the Tiger had huge potential as a rally car – a potential that was never fully realised in period, primarily due to its short career as a top-flight factory entry.

The Casteleins’ chance to acquire a Tiger, and not just any Tiger, came in 2019 when Jeremy Holden consigned his restored, ex-works example, AHP 294B, to the Bonhams auction at the Grand Palais in Paris.

Unsold on the night, a deal was struck a few days later, whereupon the red-and-white-liveried Sunbeam joined an enviable collection of classics, a number of which were used in various competitions.

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

In 2023, Maxime Castelein and Filip Deplancke took this Sunbeam Tiger to eighth overall on the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique

Tragically, Jean-Claude suffered an accident and, while he recovered, it resulted in prolonged periods behind the wheel of an old car being too uncomfortable.

Consequently, the mantle of family rally driver was handed to son Maxime.

Before he could get his hands on the Tiger, though, Tim suggested that the car be lent to their friend and rallyist Carlo Mylle to use on a local event.

Although the outing was not without incident, Carlo was also duly impressed with the Tiger.

In the meantime, their friends – and fellow customers of Tim Motte – the de Jaegers were looking for a car in which to contest prestigious rallies.

The criteria were that it should be more powerful and comfortable than their AC Ace, but a little bit more unusual than the family 911.

With his roots in Jaguars, Tim had dealt with Brackley-based expert and restorer David Brazell.

He had acquired ADU 312B, the red Tiger campaigned in the early days of historic rallying by Don Pither, but which had spent nearly two decades in storage.

Of the three ex-works cars it was slightly more developed, having been used in anger frequently during the ’80s and ’90s.

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

Rootes team boss Marcus Chambers (centre), Ian Hall (left) and Don Barrow study notes on ADU 312B’s bonnet

Realising he was never going to find the time to use the Tiger properly, David sold the car, via Tim, to father and son Geert and Cédric de Jaeger – who immediately entered the 2022 Monte Historique.

With little experience of the V8-powered car, they finished a plucky 25th overall ahead of some much younger and more competitive machinery.

“At first I was afraid to use all the power,” remembers Geert. “After a while, though, I got used to it and found that it was excellent on snow.”

By all accounts the weather was generally dry but extremely cold, and by the end of the day Tim’s support team was running around the car taping up holes in the floorpan and cockpit in an attempt to prevent perishing draughts.

Nevertheless, they were hooked, and their enthusiasm soon spread around the MB Motors clientele.

Other than the loan to Carlo, AHP hadn’t been used much since its purchase, but an invitation to the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed encouraged Maxime to make the trip to West Sussex and the event’s rally stage.

By the end of the weekend, pictures were circulating of the ex-works warhorse clearing a brow, a foot off the ground.

“Despite not being fully prepared it performed well, so we decided to enter the Historique,” recounts the 26-year-old.

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

This ex-works Sunbeam Tiger was restored in the 2000s – now it has returned to Rallye Monte-Carlo

The trio was completed during the summer of 2022 when, through Gregor Fisken, Carlo acquired Paul Roberts’ restored ex-works Tiger, ADU 311B.

Acknowledged as being the first of the rally cars, it was campaigned relentlessly throughout its factory career and immediately afterwards at home in events such as the Gulf Rally.

At one point it was owned by Peter Riley, who had driven it in period, but it was Paul who returned it to its Acropolis livery (the last rally entered by Rootes with a Tiger) when he had the car restored in the 2000s.

Tim and his team let themselves in for a monumental challenge, but, having provided back-up for 15 years on the Mille Miglia, the reborn Rootes Competition Department was in safe hands.

Marcus Chambers, the 1960s team leader, would have been proud. Each of the cars was assigned a support van, a pair of mechanics, assorted spare parts and three sets of wheels and tyres.

“They are tricky cars to work on,” Tim says.

“The drivetrain is solid and well built, but the electrics aren’t great and if it gets to anything above 30°C they want to overheat.

“My mechanics aren’t the biggest fans, either: accessibility is tight in the engine bay. In an ideal world they would have various-sized sockets instead of fingers!”

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

Ian Hall and Peter Harper took Sunbeam Tiger ADU 312B to fourth on the 1965 Rallye Monte-Carlo

The team’s rally didn’t pass without incident, the majority of problems being inflicted on ADU 311B, crewed by Carlo with Steven Vyncke alongside.

This experienced pairing struggled with the programming of their Tripmaster and in effect drove two and a half days with no way of gauging their mileage.

To further hinder their progress, they also lost part of their throttle cable on the penultimate day.

After they stuttered to a halt in a precarious place on the mountain roads, British Tiger-owner Jason Edwards, who was crewing a Ford Falcon on the rally, happened to be passing and, with some quick thinking and a pair of mole grips, enabled the crew to finish the stage without incurring further penalties.

Just to add to the frustration and give a hint of what might have been, the duo went on to take a win over one particularly snowy special stage.

“Finishing first on that stage with ADU 311B felt like scoring a goal in a World Cup,” says Carlo.

Despite all of their problems, they brought ADU 311B home 112th, which was no mean feat given that the event started with 285 cars, of which 232 finished.

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

The Sunbeam Tiger’s 2023 crew take it steady on the Monaco seafront

Geert and Cédric de Jaeger finished 24th with ADU 312B, a place higher than in the previous year’s event.

They might well have done better had they not incurred massive penalties on the first day for going too fast through a village.

“The Monte-Carlo Historique is unique, and a magic event which has legendary status in the world of rallying,” says Cédric.

“It’s great that we are able to relive this rally in such a competitive way.”

And the third Tiger? The young Maxime, with his father’s friend and professional navigator Filip Deplancke alongside, finished an amazing eighth overall.

“He did everything I told him to,” Filip remembers.

“He always listened, was always polite and I’d be happy to continue with him.”

A top piece of advice Maxime stuck to was to use studded tyres throughout the rally.

“You only have to find that one bit of ice under a tree where the sun hasn’t been and your whole rally can be lost,” he says.

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

ADU 311B tackles the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique’s 2800km route through snow and ice

Shortly after the finish, Tim confirmed that the Tigers could have performed even better were it not for the Tripmaster issues, and speed penalties amassed early on.

The organisers had gone to great lengths to discourage speeding through residential areas, and were splashing the penalties around like cheap aftershave, with the de Jaegers being early scalps.

A reflective Tim says: “We didn’t have long to get 311B rally-ready because, despite it looking beautiful post-restoration, it hadn’t been run in anger for more than 40 years.

“The potential is there, though, and it won’t be long before it joins its brothers in vying for silverware.”

The intention is for the trio to contest further rallies as a team – Greece is their next proposed target, and then a return to Monaco.

There is even talk that a fourth, equally important Tiger could be joining them at MB Motors in Belgium.

You sense that the more the cars are used, the better they will become and, along with their competitive crews, these ex-works Tigers will be mauling the opposition once again.

Images: Monte-Carlo Historique/Renè

Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: meet the teams

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

Geert (left) and Cédric de Jaeger placed 24th in the 2023 Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique

Geert and Cédric de Jaeger

Of the three crews, the de Jaegers have the most experience with the Tiger.

They contested two local events leading up to the 2023 Monte, one in May 2022 and one in October, the latter claiming the car’s engine – which subsequently ramped up Tim Motte’s stress levels.

The pair has turned more competitive miles than the others and would be considered the bookies’ favourite.

The duo also appears to have truly embraced the American-powered hybrid.

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

The Sunbeam Tiger of Geert and Cédric contends with the Monte’s typically treacherous conditions

“The noise of the V8 is superb,” enthuses 61-year-old father, and driver, Geert. “We installed headphones, but don’t use them.”

Son Cédric agrees, although he rarely gets behind the wheel.

He is, though, a committed navigator of eight years’ standing, despite being only 23: “With our AC Ace we contested regularities, so the focus was more on me than father.

“I enjoyed the pressure – and the attention.”

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

Sunbeam Tiger ADU 311B was fastest through one of the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique’s gruelling stages

Carlo Mylle and Steven Vyncke

“We were fortunate that a lot of snow had fallen days before, bringing out the true potential of the Tiger,” confesses Carlo.

“It’s easy to drive because you know it’s going to understeer.

“Uphill the driver is in control, but downhill not so much. The handbrake is essential.”

The team is hugely experienced, having competed together in at least 20 events.

Carlo started in 2000, first with a Peugeot 205 1.9 GTI then with a Porsche 996, which was an association that netted a national championship GT Class win in 2009.

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

ADU 311B was the first of the original Sunbeam Tiger rally cars

As much as he enjoys driving quickly, an outing with an older 911 in the Ypres Historic rally turned his head towards historic cars.

As Steven rightly claims: “The driver can only make a difference when it’s snowing.”

Carlo has the last word: “We were only able to drive four out of the 16 stages in a normal way, with properly working equipment.

“Despite our problems, though, we were very happy that all three Tigers finished the rally after 2800km through snow, ice and vicious oncoming traffic on small roads.

“The car definitely has the potential to finish in the top 10, as shown by our two friends.”

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

Filip Deplancke (left) has plenty of experience on the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique

Maxime Castelein and Filip Deplancke

This final pairing provides the perfect combination of youth and experience.

Filip started navigating in 1997 and has contested 10 Rallye Monte-Carlo Historiques since 2007, three with Maxime’s father in a trio of rally heavyweights – a Ford Escort, an Austin-Healey and a Porsche 904 GTS – although the first outing with Castelein Jnr was aboard a Saab 96.

“I’ve come close to being on a winning team,” laments Filip. “Three times in a Porsche 914/6 we were leading but spun out on black ice.

Classic & Sports Car – Sunbeam Tigers on the Rallye Monte-Carlo: Rootes reunion

Maxime’s Sunbeam Tiger stayed on studded tyres throughout the rally

“I really liked the Tiger. It’s a bit like being in your living room: very comfortable,” he continues.

Young Maxime is also a fan: “You can feel the weight over the nose, but it’s quick and powerful.”

Maxime has raced his father’s Porsche 906 at places such as Spa-Francorchamps, but is more than happy to divide his time between the two disciplines.

Judging by his pace on some of the stages – he was fastest on one, second on another – major success is just around the hairpin.

Enjoy more of the world’s best classic car content every month when you subscribe to C&SC – get our latest deals here


Sunbeam Tiger vs Lotus Elan: brains or brawn?

Your classic: Sunbeam Tiger

Every car that’s won Rallye Monte-Carlo more than once