Factory Methods In The Vintage Era No. 2: Hillman

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Today, when you think of Hillman you think of the highly successful Minx in its various forms. In 1929 the Hillman Motor Company in Coventry was engaged in manufacturing the stolid Fourteen and the then-recently-introduced straight-eight—examples of both these vintage models are still in existence, including a 1929 Hillman coupe which took its owner to Italy and over the Alps from Grenoble this summer. These cars were being turned out at the rate of 150 to 200 each week, the factory employing some 2,000 people.

Unlike many other firms at this late-vintage period, Hillman were making quite a lot of open touring cars and did not believe in its early demise.

Before the new straight-eight was introduced at the 1928 Olympia Show it had been expressly designed for quick production and was aimed at the Overseas and U.S.A. markets as well as the home market. New shops were put up and here the Hillman straight-eight was built separately from the well-established four-cylinder Fourteen. Incidentally, every machine tool in these new shops was of British manufacture.

The Fourteen assembly line moved the cars along in batches of four, bodies being lowered by chain onto the chassis, coming via a door from an adjacent shop. While the engines were being run-in they were made to drive C.R.C. regenerative test sets and thus contributed some 30 per cent. to the factory’s electrical storage.

There were two chassis types in 14-h.p. form, the “Standard” and the “Safety,” going through the assembly shops in 1929 and six body styles, two saloon types, a coachbuilt coupe, a sports four-seater, the “Segrave ” coupe, and a four-seater tourer, so expert timing was necessary to mate the right body with the appropriate chassis.

Hillman had its own, very large, very effective wood mill and its own drop-forging shop; in the latter a huge Ajax tool pressed out complete axle shafts from steel bars. An individualistic aspect of the Hillman factory in vintage times was a jig on which artillery and wire wheels were sprayed in coloured cellulose, Hillman happily departing from the almost universal tendency towards dull black road wheels.

The demise of the Armstrong Siddeley was marked by a humorous but appreciative item by Peter Simple in the Daily Telegraph, in which he recalls being taken to school in “a gigantic saloon, vintage 1923 approx,” (presumably one of the battleship Thirties) of which “within all was space and grandeur. There were two great halls, separated by a glass wall. The foremost of these was a combination of bridge and engine-room, devoted to banausic mysteries. The rear hall was rather like the library of a good club, all silence, mahogany, old leather, frowsy curtains, repose, chandeliers and cavernous ash-trays.” This so splendidly describes the better vintage gentlemens’ carriages that we take the liberty of quoting it. Obviously Mr. Simple felt great affection for this old Armstrong Siddeley, for he concludes: ” At the prow sailed the traditional Sphinx. It was a fitting symbol, standing not for speed, noise and haste but for decorum, reserve, perpetuity and unruffled serenity.” While there remain people who can appreciate such qualities, Armstrong Siddeleys will continue to roam our roads.

The Autocar also paid a nice tribute to this now defunct make but was in error in stating that the only model with other than six cylinders was “the short-lived 234 of recent years.” In fact, the other four-cylinder Armstrong Siddeley was the Fourteen, in production from 1923 to 1929. A detailed history of the make, accurate we hope, appeared in Motor Sport for November and December 1958.

• • •

G. T. Richards, M.B.E., died recently, aged 76. He worked on the design of the early Rolls-Royce T.T. and “Legalimit” cars, was chief designer to Belsize from 1906 to 1908 and, before turning to aviation, designed the 1909 12/24 Crowdy car.

• • •

In Australia a Brocklebank Six two-door saloon was discovered in a yard on the day after the person who found it received the issue of Motor Sport containing an article on these cars. Previously the name meant little to him. Restoration is now in hand. Incidentally, one not very lovable feature are window winders needing 14 turns to raise a window!

• • •

The 12/50 Alvis Register is to be congratulated on issuing exceedingly comprehensive duplicated “Bulletins” and circulars at regular intervals. The Hon. Registrar’s address is now 1, Chestnut Close, Buckhurst Hill, Essex. The current “Bulletin” contains an amusing account of M. J. Head’s experiences in racing the ex-Powys-Lybbe 12/50 during 1958 and 1959.

• • •

The Vintage Austin Twelve-Four Register now has 122 cars on its books, of which 99 are pre-1931 Austin Twelves-Fours, one as old as 1922, while there are also four four-cylinder Austin Twenties, a six-cylinder Twenty and five Sixteen-Sixes. Associate members are accepted with post-vintage Twelves and there are seven of these.