The modern Humber

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Impressions of the Super Snipe, a beautifully equipped and sensibly appointed luxury car at a competitive price.

Many manufacturers thought, rougly as it proved, that after the 1914/18 disturbance war profiteers would require large, expensive motor-cars. Rolls-Royce were already in this field with their 40/50 hp Silver Ghost, Daimlier, with Royal patronage, introduced slightly modified versions of their pre-strife sleeve-valve luxury cars, while Napier, Lanchester, Ensign, Leyland and other British companies evolved special Armistice designs of considerable complexity and high price to meet the anticipated demand. War profiteers were fewer than expected, but certainly some of them found these large, powerful, imposing and beautifully-appointed motor carriages just what they wanted.

Not everyone who had a “position to keep up,” and who sought the personal satisfaction of owning a distinguished looking car could afford a couple of thousand pounds, fortunately other firms, of whom Austin with their entirely new post-Armistice Twenty and Armstrong-Siddeley with their massive Thirty were outstanding examples, had made available cars which, in closed form, looked to the next-door neighbours the equal of the Daimler and Rolls-Royce, but which in effect, cost less than half as much, at the expense, perhaps, of being rather agricultural in their manner of functioning.

Today’s Humber Super Snipe Mk IV falls into this useful latter category, except that there is nothing agricultural about it. Stemming from a 1929 design, the modern Super Snipe is a roomy, high-performance, handsome saloon car which yet costs less than £1,500 inclusive of the crippling purchase tax. It is just the car for thrifty Corporations to provide for their Mayors, Police Forces for their chiefs, for MPs, VIPs and Business Executives. The Rootes Group can be proud of this, their largest model in their private-car range—a conclusion reached by Motor Sport after a 330-mile test of the 1956 version of this handsome Humber.

If we were disappointed not to get the model with automatic transmission, it can be remarked that the Super Snipe hardly needs this aid to effortless driving. The car we drove started comfortably in its 8.577 to 1 second gear, after which it was normal to change straight into top gear (4.1 to 1) or even into the Laycock de Normanville overdrive-top (3.188 to 1). This treatment causes the big ohv 4,139 cc “Blue Riband” engine no apparent concern, indeed it pulls away from 8 mph in normal top without “pinking” or hesitating. Moreover, by merely changing from overdrive to normal top cog, a simple matter of flicking over a little lever on the right of the steering column, acceleration brisk enough for all practical purposes becomes available, so that, once on the move, this big Humber is, in effect, a one-gear, clutchless model.

If the lower gears are used the acceleration is commendable indeed and indicated speeds of 30, 42 and 68 mph are obtainable on the indirect ratios. In top gear the Super Snipe can achieve 90 mph, but just over 80 is the useful maximum on normal straight stretches of road.

Gear-changes are effected by a substantial steering-column lever (lh) which is unhappily stiff to operate. The higher gear positions are uppermost and the lever lifts beyond 2nd gear to engage reverse. The treatntent of the instrument panel, in dark polished walnut with matching door fillets, and of the minor controls is especially commendable. At first sight the layout is imposing in its completeness but seemingly rather haphazard. In use, however, it is found to be sensibly planned. Thus the control area of the panel carries knobs which, from left to right, are as follows : cigar lighter, panel lighting (having two positions, one unnecessary, but apparently duplicating the lamps-control), head and side lamps, 2-speed self-parking wipers, and starter. Also on this area of the panel are found the tiny tumbler-switch for the heater/ventilator fan, two slide-controls for defroster/demister and hot/cold air adjustment, the radio loudspeaker (augmented by another on the back shelf) with HMV control-panel below, ignition warning-light, ignition keyhole and two tiny indicator lamps for the direction-flashers. Above these controls on the top area of the panel is an arc-shaped 120 mph Jaeger speedometer with total and decimal-trip mileage recorders and spaced out, two on each side, small square Jaeger fuel gauge, ammeter, water thermometer (graduated CNH) and oil-pressure gauge, which normally reads 60 lb/sq in.

On the lower area of the panel are levers controlling air/heat to car, the scuttle ventilator flap, a quadrant control for the choke, labelled Run—Start, which also acts as a hand-throttle, the buttons for screen-squirts and Lucas fog-lamp and the bonnet-release toggle. All these minor controls are readily to hand, while being impressive in number and positioning, letters or wording on the knobs further simplyfy their use. The direction-flashers are controlled by a twist-lever extending from the right of the steering column below the overdrive-control lever (they are self-cancelling and too sensitive to steering-wheel play-back, so that they cancel prematurely). and a full-circle horn-ring, sensibly stiff to operate, sounds the horn. Above the very adequate central rear-view mirror is an electric clock, visible to all the car’s occupants and illuminated when the panel Lighting is switched on. Both front wings are visible to a driver of average height and the radio aerial can be elevated from the driver’s seat.

All four doors trail and possess arm-rests and deep wells. The front windows are easy to raise and lower, needing only 21/2 turns of the handles up-to-down (11/2 for the rear door windows), and the front doors have ventilator windows, the catches of which are not particularly high-class, and seem ideal for car-thieves. Both seats are bench-type, so that six people can occupy the Super Snipe, and the front seat adjusts easily, its squab also having three angles, adjustable by moving a lever on the passenger’s side. Disappearing central arm-rests of generous proportions grace both seats and ashtrays are provided front and back. Incidentally, bucket front seats are available if preferred.

The headlamps dipper matches the treadle accelerator, and is a useful rest for the clutch foot in daylight.

Other features which add to the luxury-impression imparted by the Super Snipe are the roof light, which has a press-button on the offside of the car but which functions when any door is opened, twin anti-glare visors, spring-loaded “pulls” for the rear-seat passengers, as well as a rubber “pull” along the back of the front seat squab, a reversing lamp automatically put on when reverse gear is selected. and a good cubby-hole before the front seat passenger with lockable inclined lid with press-button catch. The handsome appearance is set off by a subdued two-colour scheme, whitewall tubeless Dunlops and not too much chrome, backed up by the quiet dignity of the leather-upholstered interior. There are covered locks in both the front doors and the door handles and window winders are of substantial quality. Bonnet and boot lid have over-centre hinges. The boot is of very generous capacity, although the luggage has to share it with a vertically-mounted spare wheel and a tyre pump etc ; the lid locks, a separate key rendering cubby hole and boot secure. Both front doors can be locked from inside, but it is impossible for the owner to lock himself out, and the locked position of the handles is restored when a door is shut from outside. The Thrupp and Maberley body is well made and generally free from rattles.

The Humber Super Snipe has exceedingly comfortable seats, runs quietly except for a whisper from the exhaust tail-pipe, except when the engine is revved to near its peak speed of 3.600 rpm and is very luxuriously sprung, although the wheels generate considerable jarr when they fall into potholes. The 130 bhp six-cylinder engine provides all the performance a non-sporting motorist should need especially as this is not a car suited to fast driving. The steering is heavy, particularly so when parking, and sensitive and although there is useful castor-return action, the low gearing, calling for four turns from lock-to-lock, makes itself evident on sharp corners. No vibration is normally transmitted to the driver’s hands but road wheel movements can be felt. The suspension is supple, so that the car rolls appreciably and dips its nose when cornering, which coupled with spongy steering, calls for care and quick action when driving towards the limit of performance. The tail will slide fairly readily on wet roads but the tyres do not normally protest when cornering. The cornering tendency is oversteer, accentuated by roll.

The Lockheed brakes are deceptive, because at first they seem none too convincing, an impression dispelled by experimentation and longer acquaintance. Light pedal pressure serves to slow the car and firm application results in quite powerful, vice-free retardation. The handbrake, under the instrument panel on the right is set too far forward and its release mechanism is stiff to operate and can pinch the fingers of the ungloved hand. It holds the car securely, however.

These comments apart, it is difficult to fault the modern Super Snipe when considering it in relation to its design context. The screen wipers left an unswept arc at the base, in the line of vision and as the ventilator windows, in common with those of most cars (there is one notable low-priced exception !) have no gutters. they let in raindrops in severe weather. The fuel filler, under a flap on the near side, is small and diffieult to fill from a can without a funnel, but its cap is usefully attached to it and no key is called for to unlock flap or cap.

The high-set seats render the car a trifle difficult to leave, and over bad road surfaces the presence of a rigid back axle makes its presence felt and wags the tail of the Snipe. The rearward inclined screen pillars tend to impair vision and some drumming and air-noise is evident to the car’s occupants. Otherwise the latest Humber Super Snipe is a very pleasing car, commendably appointed and representing value for money. Incidentally if even more accomodation is required the Super Snipe is available in limousine form, still at under £1,600 inclusive of purchace tax.

We had no opportunity of doing a completely accurate fuel consumption check but a full tank lasts for 240 miles, a useful range which represents just better than 16 mpg. No other fluids were needed.

We were favourably impressed by this impressive car and congratulate the Rootes Group on producing a handsome and genuine luxury car in the medium-price category—a car which fulfils admirably the requirements of a large proportion of business executives and upper middle class owners.-WB.

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