Friday August 26, 2016
60 years ago a new Hillman Minx was the company car that all ambitious sales representatives craved. No prospective client could fail to be impressed by those sharp modern lines with the wraparound rear screen while the boot was large enough for any number of sample cases. The styling of the latest Hillman managed the difficult trick of looking contemporary without lapsing into a parody of 1950s Detroit car. And from the viewpoint of a parsimonious fleet manager, the Minx’s engineering was both straightforward and cheap to maintain.
Between 1956 and 1967 the ‘Audax’ (as it was nicknamed at the factory) Minx was as essential an aspect of British motoring as traffic lights on striped poles and a set of leather driving gloves. When you compare one of the surviving examples to the latest Mini Countryman, it is quite hard to think of the Hillman as a four-seater but it was actually marketed as offering space for six occupants! This claim was an extremely optimistic unless all occupants were very close friends but at least they would be cramped with style.
When the Audax range was being planned the Rootes Group had hired Raymond Loewy to design it and so the Minx did bear a passing resemblance a 1955 Studebaker Starliner. Albeit shorter. And with a 1,390cc engine. And seen at a distance during a fog-ridden day.
The Rootes Group’s standard policy was one of progressively updating their model lines and so the Minx gained a 1.5-litre engine in 1958 and more pronounced tail-fins in 1959. The Minx could be ordered as a saloon, estate-car or convertible while buyers with deeper pockets always could opt for its more glamorous cousins, the Singer Gazelle and the Sunbeam Rapier, but the even the bottom of the range ‘Minx Special’ (headlamp main beam warning lamp and ashtrays extra) offered quite sufficient verve in its own right.
The Minx was also designed for the company’s quite extensive overseas markets; in the USA the Minx was marketed as a Sunbeam (for extra glamour) and it was also built in Australia, New Zealand (as the ‘Humber 80’) and by Isuzu Motors. In 1953, the Japanese government-brokered a ‘technical assistance agreement with Rootes and between 1956 and 1964 the ‘Isuzu Hillman Minx’ was a popular Nissan and Toyota rival.
1963 saw the Minx gain a rather attractive new razor-edge roofline and two years later it was powered by a five bearing 1,725cc engine. When the Audax was replaced by the ‘Arrow Series’ Minx in 1967 its coachwork was redolent of another era, akin to Bill Haley and the Comets appearing in a psychedelic festival, but it still looked fit to provide years of service.
Throughout the 1970s an Audax Minx was a fairly common sight but by the end of the decade, it was as if they had all vanished, together with any gentleman admitting to owning a pair of flared trousers. Fortunately, the Minx is now very popular sight at classic car shows across the UK for, as The Motor put it back in 1956, who could resist ‘one of the most alluring medium-sized saloons ever built in this country'?