Get Smart car star in Cape Girardeau

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The newest Hollywood revival -- "Get Smart" -- recently hit area theaters, but Maxwell Smart's famous car has been in Cape Girardeau all along.

John and Vivian Selby of Cape Girardeau aren't car aficionados, but the red 1966 Sunbeam Tiger they own would be considered a prize by any collector. John and Vivian say the car has more sentimental value to them than anything.

"We bought the vehicle about seven years ago from a seller in the Washington, D.C., area and drove it back to Cape Girardeau," he said. "I've wanted a Sunbeam Tiger since 1964 when my brother and I were in his 1963 Galaxy and this little car passed us on the highway. We tried to keep up, but at 90 mph, we gave up as it was still pulling away."

Although John and Vivian say they both loved the television version of "Get Smart," they didn't know they were driving Agent 86's gadget car.

"I was a big fan of 'Get Smart,'" John said. "I watched the show often, but I didn't connect the car and the show until I bought a Sunbeam Alpine about 15 years ago, joined a Sunbeam car club, and learned a little bit about Sunbeam car history. I also found out that James Bond drove an Alpine in the movie 'Dr. No.'"

AMT, a major producer of model car kits, produced a replica of the 1965 Sunbeam Tiger roadster Maxwell Smart drove in the opening credits of the television show. Complete with a horde of hidden weapons, it is the only kit of the Tiger produced to date and is highly coveted by collectors. In the recently released feature film starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, the vehicle appears again in the CONTROL museum. And, apparently, at the Cape Girardeau movie theater.

"We parked the Tiger in the front spot at the movie theater, and I printed a sign to place under the windshield -- or wind screen as the Brits would say -- that read "Reserved for M. Smart," Vivian Selby said. "OK, I know that might have been a little over the top. But, for years, we have been driving this unique car around town and folks have been turning heads and wondering 'what's that car?' It is small so most people expected a little sports car noise. The muscle car engine sound surprises them."

With just more than 7,000 ever produced, the Sunbeam Tiger is a rare find. Besides having a starring role in "Get Smart," the Tiger was the first car to exceed 150 mph, and (with a Ford Windsor 164 horsepower V-8 engine) was the smallest-engined car ever to hold the World Land Speed Record.

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