Week-end with the New Hawk

The Rootes Group have a vastly improved car in the new Humber Hawk II. The former Hawk was a wide, sluggish car which invariably inhabited the centre of British roads, driven without ambition by the elderly and sedate. The new version has ceased to be sluggish, although its body is wider than those of its competitors, making it a comfortable six-seater, and it possesses a handsome appearance not derived from transatlantic gimmickry.

Perhaps, however, the Hawk II is better with automatic transmission, with which it is available for £1,433 17s., because the example the writer drove for over 470 miles one recent week-end had an unfortunate choice of ratios for its four-speed gearbox and a quite horrid steering-column gear-change. The latter is surprising, because Rootes used to provide at excellent gear-shift of this sort, notably on the late-lamented Sunbeam Mk. III. The Hawk’s four-speed box is arranged with an emergency bottom gear, so that normally one starts in second. This makes for an unfortunate gap between top and third. However, in main-road motoring the Hawk is a top-gear car, the Laycock de Normanville overdrive, which is selected by a convenient flick-switch on the right of the steering-column, gearing-up the drive appreciably, yet being usable down to quite low speeds. A flick into normal-top calls up usefully brisk acceleration, so that only below 20 m.p.h. is the heavy “notchy” change into third called for.

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 m.p.h. It is well sprung and has very comfortable bench seats, the front one easily adjustable. The back seat has a wide cushion forward of the wheel arches and more than generous leg room. The driving position is excellent, visibility of both front wings likewise.

The steering is rather heavy and spongy, but smooth; it transmits little vibration or kick-back and feels higher geared than in fact it is, at four turns lock-to-lock. The brakes are adequate but apt to bring the tail round on wet roads unless treated with respect. They are otherwise vice- and fade-free. The bulky Hawk handles well; its commendable balance between over- and understeer can be used to good effect by an ambitious driver. But it is at its best on main roads, being too bulky and the steering too low-geared, although aided by strong castor action, for safe hurrying along winding lanes.

There are many worthwhile refinements and convenient features in this £1,261 7s. Saloon. The hooded instrument panel is well stocked with controls, rotary switches looking after the heater settings, ventilation and lighting, and neat tumbler switches controlling dash lighting and heater-fan. The dash, however, is of metal painted to represent grained wood — the Humber stylists should settle either for wood or metal and eschew this unhappy subterfuge.

Useful stowage for small objects, including a big lidded, lockable cubbyhole, is provided, the luggage boot is vast (but contains the spare wheel) and the radio has a volume control for the speaker on the back parcels’ shelf. There is a good right-hand brake lever and we like the calibrations of the speedometer in k.p.h. and m.p.h. and the reminder, inscribed on the sensible petrol gauge, that the petrol tank capacity is 11½ gallons. There is an accurate dashboard clock and a water thermometer which never seems to vary from 175 deg. F. The wrap-round windscreen contributes to the aforesaid good visibility yet does not rap your knees when entering or leaving the front seat, and the four doors have push-button exterior handles, armrests and sill-locks. A good feature is the provision of really wide folding centre armrests for both seats, so that with only two occupants on each passenger stability is maintained.

The horn is actuated by a convenient horn-ring and a stalk, set rather close to the overdrive control, works well-arranged self-cancelling direction-flashers.

After finding so many well-contrived features in this silent, comfortable car, the debit points are the more noticeable. The needle of the A.C. speedometer obscures the trip mileage reading both when stationary and at customary cruising speeds. The lighting of the instruments could be brighter. Set to the “off” location, the ventilatory system emitted an irritating whistle, and opening the quarter-windows spoilt the otherwise commendably low wind-noise. The heater did not readily warm the interior. Slight tremors were transmitted through the bodyshell when accelerating hard in the lower gears and at times the rigid back axle tried to “wag the dog.” A serious criticism concerns the blind area left in the centre of the screen by the screen wipers; in self parking one blade also left an inconvenient ridge of moisture on the driver’s arc. The rear-view mirror could be improved. Screen squirts are fitted.

We did not have an opportunity to check petrol thirst, the horizontal off-side filler, which puzzles pump-attendants by pretending to be a reflector, making replenishment from a can impossible. It is in the region of 20 m.p.g., giving the somewhat restricted range of about 230 miles. We were disappointed that after a mileage of 840 the oil-warning light was flashing and no less than six pints of lubricant were required to restore the sump level.

So far as performance goes, the 2.3-litre Humber Hawk will reach about 85 m.p.h. in top gear, over 60 in third, and will accelerate from rest to 50 m.p.h. in 14 seconds. But the Hawk II should not be judged as a high-performance model but rather as a comfortable, well-appointed six-seater saloon of good appearance, at its best cruising silently along main roads in its highest gear ratios.

— W. B.