Monday September 25, 2017
The Sceptre’s grille resembled that of the Sunbeam Rapier and this was no coincidence as Rootes did not originally plan to badge their latest up-market saloon as a Humber.
Their initial idea was to replace the entire Minx/Gazelle/Rapier ‘Audax’ series with a larger car but at a very late stage, the decision was taken to sell them as a supplementary range.
The Hillman Super Minx and the Singer Vogue debuted in 1961 while the intended four-door successor to the Sunbeam was to gain a Humber identity shortly before it was launched in the summer of 1963.
As compared with its stablemates, the roofline was far sleeker and quad headlamps added a touch of verve, as well as lending a contemporary look to a car that was handsome but already faintly dated in appearance.
The first post-war compact Humber was less The Beatles’ Please Please Me LP and more Marty Wilde & The Wildcats – which for many, including myself, is an essential part of its appeal.
At £997 8s 9d, the Humber was considerably more expensive than a Ford Consul Cortina GT but then it was aimed at a different market sector.
This was a car for anyone who wanted a slightly more ostentation that an MG Magnette Mk. IV or Riley 4/72 could offer – or for the former Sunbeam Alpine owner whose family requirements now included a back seat.
In terms of image, it was far more youthful than the Hawk and Super Snipe, with two PR shots encapsulating the world of the Sceptre.
In one, the gentleman is clearly from the young Peter Sellers/ the ‘bass player from The Seekers’ school of fashion while in the second picture, madam looks as though she is about to audition for The Avengers while sir looks like the hero of British B-film.
Indeed, Rootes’ sharp antennae for product placement saw the Humber guest star as the villain’s transport in Ricochet, one of the long-running Edgar Wallace series.
The advertising material, not reasonably, further claimed that the new Humber was a ‘superbly equipped sports saloon’ with Laycock overdrive on third and top gears, full instrumentation, a cigar lighter and front disc brakes as standard plus a dramatically styled fascia to complement the respectable 90 mph top speed.
There were also ‘wide opening doors’, in case prospective owners were worried that the body lacked practicality.
The Sceptre was to subsequently gain adjustable steering and reclining front seats while another detail that many owners will recall was the air vent in the driver’s footwell.
The 1965 London Motor Show saw the unveiling of the Sceptre Mk. II, the Humber ‘for the man who wants to do more than just sit there and steer’ although Autocar thought it more of a ‘very refined and comfortable four-five seater family car’.
Such dynamic types, who probably liked to think of themselves as the Sean Connery of the internal auditing department, were now offered modified frontal treatment and a five-bearing 1,725cc engine.
The arrival of the Hillman Hunter in 1966 anticipated the demise of the original Sceptre and the last examples were sold in the following year before they were replaced by the Arrow-series Mk. III.
That will have its own blog as it is a rather different type of executive transport compared with its predecessor.
In many ways, the Mk. I and Mk. II represents the twilight of the Brylcreem and flat hat motoring world – which is possibly why the Humber Sceptre remains one of my favourite Rootes Group cars.