My Car Quest

April 14, 2024

What Is The Difference Between A Cobra And A Tiger?

by Mike Gulett – 

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 based on the AC Ace and he and Ken Miles helped Sunbeam create the first two prototypes of the Tiger based on the Sunbeam Alpine.

Sunbeam Tiger

Sunbeam Tiger

Shelby Cobra CSX 2001

Shelby Cobra CSX 2001 – photo by Mike Gulett

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. Jensen had the capacity because their agreement to manufacture the Volvo 1800 was ending.

Sunbeam Tiger Engine

Sunbeam Tiger Engine

Shelby Cobra 289 Engine

Shelby Cobra 289 Engine

The Mark I Tigers used the 260 cid Ford engine and the Mark II 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 and apparently did not want to produce a car with an engine from a competitor.

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 perhaps the most copied car in history (maybe the ’32 Ford is a contender for ‘most copied car in history’ too).

Shelby Cobra Factory Postcard

Shelby Cobra 427 Factory Postcard

I can see four 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 and the Tiger had some success at racing.

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

4) Carroll Shelby’s involvement with the Tiger was fleeting, where he spent years dedicated to the Cobra. The Cobra even carries the Shelby name.

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

Cobra Logo

This was originally published in September 2016. I have made some minor modifications to this version.

Mike Gulett, Editor

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 ?

  7. Mike, I know you previously owned a Cobra; what about a Tiger? Would you consider buying one now?

  8. But Mike, aren’t you intrigued by the unknown?
    The Tiger is a fun car and could be more comfortable with dynamat on the floor and firewall. The right engine, the right color, the right wheels, and you’re all set for fun drives and shows. Oh, reupholster the seats in leather instead of the original vinyl too.

  9. Gordon Dewhurst says

    Adding the optional alloy wheels and hood scoop – as well as the LAT performance options – change the character of a Tiger. Owned mine for over 40 years and it’s a keeper. Love Cobras but they have always been out of my price range.

  10. … then, there are the Harrington Tigers…

  11. Glenn Krasner says

    Difference #5 between Cobras and Tigers:

    Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, drove a red Sunbeam Tiger, as seen on the opening credits of “Get Smart” of Season 1, Season 2, and Season 5. While he digressed from the Tiger on the opening credits for Season 3 and Season 4 (Karmann Ghia and Opel GT did opening credit duty those seasons), throughout its 5 year run, within the actual episodes, he always drove his red Sunbeam Tiger, albeit one equipped with dual machine guns that popped up from the middle of the hood and missile launchers. If there isn’t a cooler reason to own a Tiger for a reasonable under-$100,000 price, as opposed to a silver James Bond DB5 (for $275,000), I can’t think of one!!!!

    Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

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