My Car Quest

September 24, 2021

What Is The Difference Between A Cobra And A Tiger?

by Mike – 

Both the AC Shelby Cobra and the Sunbeam Tiger were styled by British companies, built on British chassis designs and are powered by Ford V8 engines. And Carroll Shelby was involved with both.

Shelby created the Cobra and he and Ken Miles helped Sunbeam create the first two prototypes of the Tiger.

Sunbeam Tiger

AC Shelby Cobra

The Sunbeam Tiger is a Ford powered variation of the Sunbeam Alpine roadster. Once Shelby and Miles helped prove the Tiger concept Rootes (the owner of Sunbeam) contracted Jensen in England for development and manufacturing of the Tiger.

Sunbeam Tiger Engine

The Mark 1 Tigers used the 260 cid Ford and the Mark 2 used the 289 cid Ford engine. There were a total of 7,085 Tigers made from 1964 to 1967 when Chrysler bought Rootes and ended production of the Tiger because it used a Ford engine and Chrysler did not have an engine that would fit in the Sunbeam.

Sunbeam Tiger

There were 75 Cobra 260s made between 1962 and 1963, 580 Cobra 289 models made between 1963 and 1965 and 343 Cobra 427 versions produced between 1965 and 1967. No one knows how many thousands of replicas have been made because the Cobra is the most copied car in history.

AC Shelby Cobra

I can see three big differences between the Tiger and the Cobra:

1) The Cobra is drop dead gorgeous and the Tiger is cute.

2) The Cobra has a fantastic race history.

3) There were many more Tigers made than Cobras, not counting the uncountable Cobra replicas.

The result is there is more than a ten to one valuation difference between a Cobra and a Tiger and that is the biggest difference of all.



Sunbeam Tiger Brochure

AC Cobra Brochure

Sunbeam Tiger Logo

AC Shelby Cobra Logo

What Is The Difference Between A Cobra And A Tiger?
Article Name
What Is The Difference Between A Cobra And A Tiger?
Both the Tiger and Cobra are British made cars with Ford power but what are the differences?


  1. What Tigers used a Cobra snake badge on the rear quarter panels? I have one in mind that has this and I don’t see them anywhere.

  2. wallace wyss says

    One of the big differences is something called “Ackermann steering geometry.” When they did the Tiger they could have corrected it before starting production but figured “this is a street car” so it won’t matter but when you get out on the track, the Tiger uses up tires like crazy where the Cobra doesn’t. I don’t know how they solved that on the racing Tigers but suffice to say that Tigers can’t catch Cobras with the same engine, given equally talented drivers. I can see someone putting a Cobra badge on their Tiger to proclaim it has the same engine as a Cobra, be it 260 or 289.

  3. I owned a Tiger and now have a Cobra and the biggest difference is the handling and feel of the Cobra over the Tiger which seemed to plow around corners, especially at slow speeds, likely due to the steering geometry Wallace Wyss mentioned. The inside wheel on a turn was noticeably farther into the turn then the outside wheel as was easily seen when parked with the wheels turned hard left or right. You can hear the scrubbing on the pavement in a tight turn in a parking lot for example.

    Besides that, the Cobra is faster, not as hot in the passenger compartment, the seating is more comfortable, and it looks much more aggressive than the Tiger. The word “cute” that someone used for the Tiger is a good one. However, the steel body on the Tiger makes it more practical to own. You can leave it in the parking lot at Home Depot for an hour and a half and not worry about someone bumping into it with a bag of bolts or tapping on the fender to see “if it’s real”.

    Tigers are not at all comfortable to drive on hot days. With no room in the engine compartment for heat to be dissipated, the firewall becomes a radiator and once the temperature gets over 75 degrees on the humid East Coast it’s not a fun car to drive. I usually left the hood unlatched for two reasons. One, the back of the hood would lift and allow heat to escape, and two, passengers would often freak out at higher speeds when the hood would lift about six inches. They didn’t intuitively understand the down pressure created by air passing over the hood would not allow the air escaping from the engine compartment to lift it higher than that.

    But, there’s far fewer Tigers around than real and replica Cobras, so a Tiger might attract more attention at car shows if that’s your reason for owning one.

  4. Nice hearing from the people that have owned both!

  5. Richard Flasck says

    Shouldn’t the Griffith be discussed – a similar scenario, only with a TVR.

  6. Actually the Griffith became even more cobra- like by lengthening the wheel base when it’ was built by intermeccanica, but it debuted with a plymouth engine because Frank didn’t pay his bills to Ford, this was later rectified by Intermeccanica president Frank Reisner and the same car now called the “Torino” acquired the Ford 302. Frank then received a letter from Ford letting him know that the name “Torino” was taken. So the car once again received a new name being called the “Italia”. To make things even more confusing somewhere in that scramble Holman and Moody built a few of the cars calling them the “Omega” whats in the name ?

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