Thursday September 8, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts.
It seems to be a rule of the land that everyone of a certain age had a ‘Dad’, ‘Mum’, ‘Uncle’ or ‘Grandad’ who inevitably ‘once drove a Hillman Hunter’.
It was as much a part of the early 1970s as admiring Jason King’s dress sense or off-licences decorated with the Watney’s Red Barrel logo. The Hunter was equally suited to serving as a rep-mobile that smelt of Hai Karate aftershave, with a Harry Fenton suit jacket hanging from the rear coat hook and a tin of travel sweets in the glovebox, as it was for minicab duties. In the case of the latter, transportation via a Hillman to a glamour filled evening at the Southampton branch of the Berni Inn, (coffee and After Eight Mints 15 New Pence) may well have been the highlight of your week.
The Hunter, together with the badge-engineered Singer Vogue, was one of the first of the ‘Arrow’ series of Rootes Group cars that debuted in 1966 as the replacement for the Hillman Super Minx. The MacPherson strut front suspension, the all-synchromesh gearbox and the restrained lines all added up to a rather attractive package and by 1967 the range included the Singer Gazelle, the entry level Hillman Minx, the Sunbeam Rapier fastback coupe and the flagship Humber Sceptre. In 1968 Andrew Cowan’s Hunter won the London to Sydney Endurance Rally, adding further lustre to the range, but the Arrow’s potential was never fully realised. The late 1960s saw the Rootes Group absorbed into the Chrysler empire and the American parent company had no interest in developing the Hunter line-up.
The Hillman badge was dropped after 1976 and the range drastically reduced but even vinyl roofs and quad headlamps patently failed to mask the age of the facelifted ‘Chrysler Hunter’, a 1960s relic competing against the Cortina Mk. IV and the Cavalier. When European production finally ceased in 1979 it looked as contemporary as a record by The Monkees but this was not the end of the Arrow saga, thanks to a 1965 ‘technical assistance agreement’ between Rootes and the Iran National Company to make the Hunter under licence.
The Tehran-built models were to be known as the Paykan and assembly commenced in 1967. By the late 1980s they were fully manufactured and when the saloon version was finally discontinued in 2006, over two million examples had been sold. However, such popularity did not prevent it from being a frequent subject of any number of excellent jokes such as this gem: Q. How do you improve the appearance of a Paykan? A. Park it between two Porsches.
The days when no Wimpey-built semi would have been complete without a highly polished Hunter Super in the driveway may be long past but apparently, its legacy still lives on, for the Bardo pick-up version of the Paykan is still listed on the Iran Khodro website https://www.ikco.ir/en/Product.aspx?ID=86&Section=1.
And as to my own favourite Hunter memory? That has to be the Hillman police car used by Milo O’Shea and Eric Sykes in Theatre of Blood for their inept pursuit of a homicidal Vincent Price.
Now that’s entertainment…