The Car That Was Second in This Year’s Monte Carlo Rally
Only five cars completed the road-section of this year’s Monte Carlo Rally without loss of marks, and in consequence can justifiably be proclaimed exceedingly good cars. Of these five—Hotchkiss, Humber Super Snipe and three little Simcas—the Humber was placed second in the final results and is therefore of topical interest.
Accordingly, we went along to Rootes Ltd. the other day and drove away from Devonshire House—the centre of a great volume of export business—in a sleek black Super Snipe, in order to get to know for ourselves what manner of motor car it was that brought Britain into the Rally news. After driving the big saloon for over 200 miles we returned it, with a profound respect for this, the biggest-engined private car of the Rootes Group products. In the first place London traffic held no terrors for a driver who does his everyday motoring in a truly tiny car. The Super Snipe is 6 ft. 2½ in. wide and 15 ft. 7½ in. long but it nips through congested places, and along country lanes for that matter, like a small family car.
The steering is quite light even at low speeds and although the near-side front wing, unlike its off-side fellow, is invisible, the general view of what goes on ahead and aside is distinctly good. The driving position, too, is excellent, once the vast bench-type front seat, is adjusted to one’s liking—which it easily is. The pedals are of a sensible size, the man-sized, old-style right-hand hand-brake easily reached, and the response to the throttle brisk.
So, with a minimum of effort and absence of anxiety, a driver unaccustomed to the Super Snipe glides through places like Piccadilly and the Strand elegantly, smoothly and in silence. And this big Humber really is quiet. The engine is inaudible when idling, scarcely any noisier when delivering a good percentage of its maximum horses, the gears likewise keep themselves to themselves, while the absence of wind roar at speed is most creditable. Even at peak r.p.m. the power-roar is subdued, the exhaust Inaudible, coupled with which such common (in two senses) intrusions as pinking and valve-bounce never reach the driver. The body, too, is commendably free from rattles.
A novice might feel awed if invited to drive the Humber Super Snipe but his misgivings would be dispelled in a, very few miles. The gearchange, that “Synchromatic” steering-column control of an all-synchromesh gearbox, is about as simple as any gear-change could be, but actually it is seldom used, for the car really does do 5 to 80 m.p.h. in top gear, as claimed, and accelerates so briskly from 25 m.p.h. onwards as to make a change-down uncalled for. The Borg and Beck clutch is light and so smooth that top-gear starting should be possible—we did not attempt it (after all, Mr. Borg and Mr. Beck have never done us any harm) but we did habitually start in second gear and go straight into top as soon as the car was moving. Driven thus the Humber left behind almost all the cars we encountered.
Leave built-up areas and 60 to 79 m.p.h. on the speedometer is the normal gait, while an indicated 70 m.p.h. in third gear is readily obtainable. Brisk acceleration, the aforementioned handy control, and good brakes contribute to good average speeds. Without “going mad” we found we could cover eight miles of give-and-take main road, observing the 1¼ miles of built-up area, in nine minutes exactly.
The external appearance of the Humber Super Snipe is “expensive,” indeed palatial, in the less lurid style and the interior arrangement in keeping. The deep, soft, leather-upholstered seats with their high squabs, the generous leg room, and the wide doors contribute all that the moat fastidious could ask for in the way of creature comfort. The car rides comfortably, too. We hurled it over a rutted, potholed road and gave it full marks. On normal roads pitching is entirely absent, shocks are well absorbed, and the nose does not wallow under heavy retardation. This comfort factor is extended to the Super Snipe’s appointments. Going briskly through them, you have excellent visibility from the side and rear windows, which include front half-windows and pivoted ventilator panels front and back. You have a good Clayton heater and demister, H.M.V. radio, a deep facia locker with an excellent lid, two screen visors with washable finger-grips and a mirror in the passenger’s, cigarette lighter, big, strong leather door pockets, a wide parcels-shelf behind the rear seat, a big ashtray in the back of the front-seat squab, leather-lined “pulls” for the rear-seat passengers, a roof light of adequate power which comes on whenever a door is opened, deep fold-up central arm-rests as well as side-rests front and back, and a good sliding roof. The driver appreciates the clear speedometer and “service” dials on a wooden panel with concealed lighting, the separate ignition key which also locks the driver’s door, electric clock, large non-dazzle central rear-view mirror, the effective wind-tone horns, reversing-lamps, fog-lamps, underbonnet-lamp, twin screen wipers with large control knobs, steering-wheel control of dimmer and indicators, the latter cancelling effectively, the big rear window, and the clever three-spoke, non-sprung steering wheel with one spoke of tubular steel.
Minor grumbles—no car is perfect!—concern the somewhat inaccessible dip stick, the height of the brake pedal above the accelerator, and the rather delicate selection of the combined side-lamps and head-lamp switch. The location of the spare wheel in the forward part of the capacious luggage locker, the slight obstruction of the right-hand brake lever, the disconcerting fact that the roof light would come on, even in daylight, with a door open, and the slight tendency for the polished steering-column to reflect in the screen were other small annoyances. Nor were we very pleased when an inside door handle came off and the heater control worked loose inside 100 miles.
These, however, are very petty things in a car of such comfort and elegance and one offering such excellent value for money. While admiring the general appearance such items as the neat treatment of radiator grille and in-built side-lamps, the red safety light on the luggage locker lid and the three positions of the retractable side-mounted radio aerial and the substantial bumpers do not pass unnoticed. The body is quite low in point of headroom provided.
Quite how Rootes Securities contrive to offer such a fine car for so little money—the basic price is only £895—we do not pretend to know.
Naturally, it would be stupid to suggest either that the Super Snipe handles like a sports car or is in quite the category of a £3,500 super-car. Taking the latter count first, certain road surfaces provoke a slight vibration, the bonnet and front wings weave about on rough roads, a window rattled when open, and the doors emit a “tinny” sound if slammed. Whether one is justified in paying an additional £2,000 or so to have such trifling cons eradicated is a matter for the individual purchaser, and the depth of his pocket, to decide. At the price asked, the Super Snipe provides a really remarkable degree of luxury, and it is a genuine six-seater.
So far as that elusive matter, “handling,” is concerned, we found we could throw this big Humber about in a quite surprising fashion and that it “held in” splendidly round long bends taken fast. At times the very weight of the body promotes oversteer, which affects steering accuracy, and there is a tendency for the car to demand continual concentration on steering at speed along cambered roads or in a cross-wind. Naturally, rolling is pronounced if one “plays sports car” on sharp corners, but the Humber can nevertheless be put round corners really fast, with only occasional protest from the Dunlops. The fact is that the steering, asking nearly four turns lock-to-lock, is too low-geared for true accuracy of control judged at sports-car level, while there is a certain suppleness of the half-elliptic rear suspension which deflects the “aim” slightly if an appreciable bump or pothole is met at an inopportune moment.
That is judging the car hypercritically, but, in fact, the Humber Super Snipe corners better than many ordinary cars of half its size. There is almost negligible return steering-motion, no column-judder, and the castor action is brisk and very effective even out of slow corners. Not unexpectedly, the modern “disconnected” feel is experienced, but free-play amounted to only about three-quarters of an inch after 650 miles’ wear. The Lockheed 2LS brakes have real power for a reasonable pedal pressure in traffic emergencies, without deflecting the car from its path. Front higher speeds fade is evident, there was the merest trace of squeak, and the pedal has to be depressed some distance before the full effect is felt, although no great pressure is called for. The hand-brake holds well on hills and releases easily.
Conscious that these cars are used in the backwoods as well as on the boulevards, we tried it restart test on a rough hill which the previous week-end had defeated quite a high proportion of a trials entry, sports cars and “specials” included. With driver, passenger and two children in the rear the Humber, in spite of its weight of over 34 cwt., never faltered in getting away in its 16-to-1 bottom gear. It is on occasions like these, and when accelerating the big car through a traffic gap, that the effortless power of the 100-b.h.p., alloy-head, side-valve engine is so thoroughly reassuring. It gave no trouble throughout the test, started instantly after a night in the open, and showed 50 lb.+ oil pressure and 75 deg.—water temperature. It pulled away well from cold, although the surge-forward effect of temporarily faster idling-speed due to the action of the thermostat incorporated in the Type DBVA42 Stromberg Carburetter was a thought disconcerting. Driving hard at times, with restraint and some coasting at others, a tankful of petrol took us just under 162 miles, a consumption of approximately 11 m.p.g. On one occasion we followed a certain well-known British quality car, which the Humber just failed to hold on acceleration, speed and road-clinging—but the car in question, although of only half the engine size, seats but four persons and costs over three times the Humber’s price.
The Rootes Group has, in the various version’s of Humber Super Snipe, a fine example of the inexpensive luxury car, it type the usefulness of which is, today, particularly pronounced in so many parts of the globe, for State occasions, for the transport of business executives and for pleasure motoring by families large either in number or in girth.—W. B.
The Humber Super Snipe Mk. II Saloon
Engine: Six cylinders, 85 by 150 mm. (4,086 c.c.), side valves, 100 b.h.p. at 3,400 r.p.m. Compression-ratio 6.25-to-1.
Gear ratios: 1st: 15.95; 2nd: 9.59; 3rd: 5.89; top: 4.09-to-1.
Tyres: Dunlop “Fort” 6.50-16, on bolt-on, “Easi-clean” disc wheels.
Fuel capacity: 15 gallons (range approx. 162 miles).
Steering ratio: Nearly four turns, lock-to-lock.
Weight: Without occupants but ready for the road: 34 cwt. 1 qr.
Wheelbase: 9 ft. 9½ in.
Track: Front, 4 ft. 9.92 in.; rear, 5 ft. 1 in.
Overall dimensions: 15 ft. 7½ in. by 6ft. 2½ in. by 5 ft. 5½ in.
Makers: Humber, Ltd., Coventry, England.