Thursday December 28, 2017
Six decades ago, taking delivery of a new Humber Hawk was a proud moment in the life of many a British motorist; proof that they had ‘arrived’ in elite suburban circles. In a world of coffee bars, Teds and wild skiffle sounds on BBC Television’s The Six-Five Special, the mighty car from the Rootes commanded respect. This is not to infer that it was dull – with two-tone paint and whitewall tyres the Hawk looked downright jaunty – but the Humber represented solid dignity, for it was often seen parked outside of the Mayor’s Parlour or as official transport for government ministers - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqL1-2G3zJg.
The ‘Series’ Hawk, as it would come to be known, also represented a considerable engineering feat as it was Britain’s largest monocoque-bodied car. By 1957, the brand had been associated for 12 years with respectable family and business transport powered by a ‘Big Four’ engine and the latest version was powered by the familiar 2,267cc plant. The new Humber did look very different from its predecessors, with its overtones of the 1955 Chevrolet; the Rootes Group were famous for adapting trans-Atlantic styling tropes on their products and their in-house design for the Humber created an attractively low-key interpretation of Detroit coachwork.
At a cost of £1,221 7s, the Hawk was an expensive proposition – it cost £200 more than a Ford Zodiac Mk. II or a Vauxhall Cresta PA – but it was well-built, had room for six occupants and, according to the advertisements, was ‘praised for its beauty – prized for its economy’. 24 mpg was indeed reasonable by the standards of the day and if you specified Laycock-de-Normanville overdrive, the top speed of 84 mph was usefully improved. The list of fittings included full instrumentation, a reversing lamp, two-speed wipers, folding armrests and a front bench seat that could, albeit with some effort, be adjusted for height. Borg Warner automatic was another option, one which the chaps at Motor Sport preferred over the standard set-up; ‘an unfortunate choice of ratios for its four-speed gearbox and a quite horrid steering-column gear-change’. However, they also thought that ‘It is on long, main-road runs that the latest Humber Hawk shows up so well. It is as silent as most of the fabulously expensive luxury cars, wind-noise being virtually nil with all windows closed, as it cruises effortlessly at 70 mph’.
1958 saw the introduction of the six-cylinder Super Snipe – more of which later – and the very imposing Hawk Estate. Rootes constantly updated the range, adding (very welcome) servo-assisted front disc brakes in 1960 while the 1964 Series IVA boasted an attractive new “razor-edge” roofline and an all-synchromesh gearbox. By that time, the Humber was a part of the fabric of everyday life – the sort of attainable prestige car associated with local factory owners, Town Clerks and solicitors. The Hawk could also frequently be seen patrolling Britain's roads, with the brochure for the police specification version offering, ‘special suspension’ ‘a laminated windscreen’ and ‘a re-calibrated speedometer’.
When production of the Hawk, together with its more luxurious 3-Litre stablemates, ended in early 1967 it was a sad moment for the British motor industry. The 1970 Coventry-designed Chrysler 180 was intended as a belated replacement but by then many former Humber customers were starting to opt for imported Volvo 144s. As for my own memories of this very enjoyable classic, they tend to derive from the strange realm of 1960s British science-fiction cinema. After all, only a Hawk would suffice when Howard Keel to evade some bad-tempered plants in 1962’s The Day of Triffids - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGZ4v1PpSYU