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posted: 9/10/2012 4:00 AM

High-power hybrids mix American, European ideas

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  • These models built at the end of the muscle-car era combine European styling and American-made brawn. Clockwise, from left, a 1966 Sunbeam Tiger MK1A, the 1965 Shelby Cobra and 1972 De Tomaso Pantera.

      These models built at the end of the muscle-car era combine European styling and American-made brawn. Clockwise, from left, a 1966 Sunbeam Tiger MK1A, the 1965 Shelby Cobra and 1972 De Tomaso Pantera.
    Photos Courtesy of Prestige MotorCar Photography

  • Tom Jaworski, Prospect Heights, owns a 1965 Shelby Cobra.

      Tom Jaworski, Prospect Heights, owns a 1965 Shelby Cobra.

  • Dale Anderson, Barrington, owns a 1966 Sunbeam Tiger MK1A.

      Dale Anderson, Barrington, owns a 1966 Sunbeam Tiger MK1A.

  • 1972 De Tomaso Pantera

      1972 De Tomaso Pantera

  • 1966 Sunbeam Tiger MK1A

      1966 Sunbeam Tiger MK1A

  • 1965 Shelby Cobra

      1965 Shelby Cobra

  • Robert Vicioso, South Elgin, owns the 1972 De Tomaso Pantera.

      Robert Vicioso, South Elgin, owns the 1972 De Tomaso Pantera.

 
By Matthew Avery
Special to the Daily Herald

In the past decade or so, many automakers have designed engines that sip both gas and electrons. These hybrid vehicles continue to grow in popularity as manufacturers improve the cars' looks to match the much better fuel efficiency.

While the current engineering focus is all about MPGs, there was a point in automotive history when a certain cadre of cars were designed to balance both a sleek European style and the brawn of a big American V-8 underhood.

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We've assembled a trio of American/European hybrids that fit this build, having the right "continental" sports look and the all-out, "Made in the U.S.A." performance credentials to back it up.

1966 Sunbeam Tiger MK1A, Dale Anderson, Barrington

Dale Anderson had been down the all-American route, once possessing a 1969 Chevrolet Z-28 Camaro, but found himself in the mood for something else. "I was getting more into sports cars than muscle cars," he said.

The Barrington resident sold his bow-tie classic just prior to going on the hunt for a nimble, road hugging Sunbeam Tiger. He came across this Carnival Red 1966 MK1A example in Northbrook. The Tiger model had been born out of Sunbeam's desire to give their Alpine roadster a burlier image. They sought out performance guru Carroll Shelby, who stuck to his tried-and-true method of replacing the small power plant with a much larger unit. He excised the mild 1.7-liter factory engine and shoehorned in a 4.3-liter Ford V-8. Production of this new variation was subcontracted to English coachbuilder Jensen, who made the cars for four years (1964-1967).

To preserve its authenticity, Dale has the original 260-cubic-inch V-8 safely mounted on a stand in his garage: a 1965 289-cubic-inch V-8, stroked to 333 cubic inches, now lives between the front wheels. "It's very fast with way more horsepower than the brakes and suspension need. The common expression about the car is its 'The poor man's Cobra.' "

1965 Shelby Cobra, Tom Jaworski, Prospect Heights

That notorious four-wheeled snake is exactly what Tom Jaworski owns and drives: a 1965 Shelby Cobra. Based on the British manufacturer AC Cars' Ace roadster, the Cobra model came to life in 1962 when Carroll Shelby asked AC if they would provide a car made to accommodate a V-8 engine. The Texan looked first to Chevrolet to provide a powerplant, but it refused, worried about conflicts with its sporty Corvette. When Shelby banged on Ford's door, they were more than happy to oblige, offering their 260-cubic-inch HiPo V-8.

Tom's second generation Cobra is equipped with Ford's small block 289-cubic-inch V-8. By the end of the Cobra's run in 1967, Shelby would even go on to squeeze in a 427-cubic-inch V-8 engine under the hood. Tom had owned Mustangs since high school and dreamed of owning a Cobra. The Prospect Heights resident found his red-hot roadster in 2000 in Oak Brook. The previous owner had purchased it for himself as a Christmas present in 1975. "This is the 467th Cobra built and is the actual car that Sam Posey drove in the February 1970 edition of Car and Driver, where they ran it against the Boss 302, Plymouth Duster and Chevy Chevelle."

Other than a repaint, Tom's muscled machine is unrestored and continues to baffle spectators. "Driving the lightweight car is a blast! Although, most people don't know what it is; they assume its an obscure MG or Triumph."

1972 De Tomaso Pantera, Robert Vicioso, South Elgin

It wasn't just the English automakers that were looking to add some power to their offerings: the Italian manufacturer De Tomaso jumped into the action as well. Their Pantera, or Panther, model was released in 1971 and featured a rear-mounted 351-cubic-inch Cleveland Ford V-8 engine. Through a special arrangement, these wedgelike autos were sold in the American market through Lincoln and Mercury dealerships. South Elgin resident Robert Vicioso owns this Chrome Yellow '72 example.

"The car was purchased by the second owner in 1974 and put on blocks in storage in a converted chicken coupe garage with only 10,000 miles on the odometer." Protected only by a tattered bedspread, the car remained motionless until March 2010, when the owner passed away. Through mutual friends, Vicioso was able to meet the owner's widow and purchase the vehicle. After a thorough cleaning of the fuel system, the Pantera started and came to life immediately. "It has required ongoing maintenance but the satisfaction of taking a vintage time capsule and bringing it back to road worthiness to show people who have never seen one before, makes the effort worth while."

During the enthusiast's time out on the open road, he's noticed something unusual about his hybrid. "My car is very low, sitting at only 43 inches tall at its highest place," Vicioso said. "It's very different looking up to drivers in today's economy cars."

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