Two-Carburetter O.H. Camshaft Hunter Special De Luxe Saloon Constitutes a Luxury 1 1/2-litre Car in the Pre-War Tradition.
Once upon a time the name Singer was one for sportsmen to enthuse over, for in its day the Singer Nine Le Mans was a staunch little car, noted for a hard-wearing o.h. camshaft engine and a pleasant gearbox. Later models scored convincing successes in trials and Fox and NichoII raced a six-cylinder Singer successfully at Brooklands.
A little while ago it was rumoured that the Singer Hunter saloon, descendant from the long line of earlier cars of this make, was to be endowed with a twin o.h. camshaft cylinder head of a design which emanated at H.R.G. when the advanced new post-war sports car bearing those initials was evolved. This aroused a bright spark of enthusiasm in the Editorial breast, for the idea of a twin-cam engine, just like Aston Martin and Jaguar use and Sunbeam and Lea-Francis did in saloons before that, in an outwardly bread-and-margarine 1 1/2-litre vehicle, promised fun.
Consequently, soon after the Rootes Group acquired Singer Motors I telephoned the P.RO., John Bullock, and said, “John, I must sample a Singer Hunter 75.” John had a neat reply. The “doubleknocker” Singer had never got as far as the production stage and now it never will. However, my so-quickly dispelled enthusiasm struck a response somewhere, for not long after this brief conversation, “Jackie” Masters of Rootes, whom you know as the popular Secretary of the Motor Cycling Club and Treasurer of the V.C.C., wrote to say a normal Singer Hunter Special De Luxe saloon was being placed at Motor Sport’s disposal – that is to say, one with but one upstairs-camshaft, albeit with twin Solex carburetters
Accordingly, the Volkswagen was taken to see the people who once said it was without a future and I drove away in the latest car to carry the time-honoured name of Singer. Incidentally, Rootes tell me that such is the appeal of this competitively-priced fully-equipped quality car that they have sold out all Singer’s stock and there is now a waiting-list of some weeks on Hunter delivery.
Before I drove out into the congestion which is rush-hour London, Mr. Boness kindly allowed me to look round the fine premises which the Rootes Group occupies at Ladbrook Hall. In 1903 these premises caused no small stir when they were opened for the manufacture, by the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Shrewslsury and Talbot, of Clement-Bayard cars in England. The English Talbots, as these became, were built in this then extremely advanced 31-acre factory, the present exhibition-hall then housing three giant Willans and Robinson gas-engines which, started by a small National gas-engine, supplied the machine shops with power and the cooling water of which heated the offices. A gallery ran round this unique power station, so that visitors could watch the engines at work. Today the huge crest of the Earl of Shrewsbury still adorns the walls although “Clement-Talbot” round its circumference has changed to “Sunbeam Talbot”(!). I was also allowed to walk round what is left of the old one-eighth-mile test track, some of the banking of which is still in evidence.
On being introduced to the Hunter I was to borrow, a car unmistakable on account of the horse’s-head mascot on its prow, I was warned that I should bark my knuckles on the base of the radio set when changing gear, that the boot required a knack to open, that oil-smoke on opening up is a legacy of the o.h.c. engine and that if I wanted the car to handle properly with four persons in it I must inflate the back Goodyears from 24 to 28 lb./sq. in. Certainly the gear-lever, even with a shallow knob, goes so close to the radio in first and third positions that there is no room for the driver’s hand – a pretty shocking design-snag on a 1956 car and a pity, because it is a nice gearbox and the radio didn’t work anyway. The other points didn’t worry me, because I had my wife as the only passenger and luckily neither of us had brought any luggage.
On this warm May morning we had to go beyond Reading before shaking off the traffic, but thereafter, turning off the Bath Road just beyond Newbury, we had miles of very beautiful Berkshire/Wiltshire countryside to ourselves. After calling at Swindon to check up on an elusive H.E. we decided, in view of the name on our car and its aforesaid mascot, to drive over to Lambourn – only to find Lambourn nothing like Newmarket and rather an anti-climax, although the run from there back to Newbury, the road flanked by a single-track railway and passing through charming villages, was pleasant indeed.
I have been wondering if, with vintage cars commanding considerable prices, whether vintage lorries wouldn’t be a better bet, so that an early Morris Commercial which caught my eye near Newbury was of more than passing interest!
The modern Singer, with its long, alligator bonnet and deep leather-upholstered seats, its polished wood dash and very complete equipment, imparts an air of solidity and luxury. It is curious how, when a particular make or model of car is in mind, unless it be a Sheffield-Simplex you keep on seeing more and more of them; it was so with the Singer and we had to bow to people driving past in sister Hunters or the older SM 1,500 from which the Hunter was evolved. Doing this brought us home to Hampshire, with some considerable motoring planned for the following day.
With a fellow-enthusiast and my 10-year-old daughter I made for that part of Kent which I shall always know as the “Zborowski country” and, shaking off the traffic beyond Maidstone, after deviating to the village of Bridge to look again at the garages where the Chitty-Bang-Bangs were conceived we penetrated by early afternoon to a farm beyond Canterbury, where we were successful in locating a brass-radiator model T Ford.
Elated by this discovery of a complete and well-preserved Edwardian motor vehicle, we drove on to the nearby seaside resort for my daughter’s benefit, amusing ourselves by calling on Mr. William Culling at his garage, to ask him exactly where the course along the sea front ran when speed trials were held at Herne Bay thirty-two years ago. Mr. Culling, then aged 21, had made a special journey to watch this event, at which Leon Cushman’s Brescia Bugatti made f.t.d. over the s.s. 1/2-mile. Diving into the pocket of his overalls he drew out a photograph of a Riley Redwing racer getting ready for its run.
Our next objective was in far-away Sussex, in search of another rumoured-to-exist Edwardian. The journey, through the beautiful sun-drenched countryside via Charing, Biddenden, Sissinghurst, Rotherfield and Crowborough, was enlivened by a duel with a Morris Minor tourer handled with skill by a girl who used the well-known good roadholding of this little car to the best advantage, although in speed it was no match for the Singer. Arrived at our venue, the “clues” we had proved too elusive and as the girl in the Minor had long ago got away from us when my navigator proved uncertain of the route at a T-junction, we decided to return home, the day’s mileage coming to 310. I have long thought that a reserve fuel tap is a better thing to have on a car than a fuel gauge alone, and I had confirmation of this when, hoping the reading lied slightly, I let the Hunter run dry – partly, too, the blame lies on the “tied-garage” system, because one drives on hoping to find the desired brand of petrol, when formerly it would have been available, mingling with other brands, at any of the larger petrol stations. However, an Esso Service in East Grinstead provided a can and, after we had devised a funnel from the top of a cheese box for the awkwardly placed filler of the Singer (which lives under a locked flap in the near-side back wing), we were all set to continue, one very cheering aspect of the evening being the surprising lack of troublesome congestion on the main roads from the coast.
On the Sunday we drove to Emswerth for the speed trials and, although comparatively back-routes were used, we were again agreeably surprised at the lack of traffic on this warm and pleasant day. Inadequate as our roads are, it is nonsense to suggest that pleasure motoring in Britain is no longer possible.
By now definite opinions had been formed regarding the Hunter. It is a very fully-equipped car, offering comfort in the pre-war tradition. This results in an unladen weight of some 24 cwt.but with this the twin-carburetter high-compression o.h.v. engine copes very well, providing notably brisk acceleration to the accompaniment of only very slight tappet noise and an equally subdued power roar, providing the gearbox is used, and giving indicated maximum of 38, 58 and over 80 m.p.h. in the three higher ratios. The true maximum speed is about 70 m.p.h. The handling qualities are hardly in keeping for the steering is too low-geared, at 3 1/2 turns lock-to-lock, to cope easily with the roll promoted by quite supple suspension when cornering. Yet, given an alert driver, the Singer can be driven fast without undue anxiety, although the heavy steering, which pulls against strong castor return action, is tiresome and the tendency to tyre-squeal under enterprising cornering or when using the insensitive, if adequate, brakes, is irritating.
Driven in a more leisurely manner this Singer excels, for its controls, driving position, seating and visibility are well planned, and a sense of luxury is imparted to the driver and his companions.
The interior is roomy and imposing, the deep facia in polished walnut, with a full-width parcels-shelf beneath it, having a 100-m.p.h. Jaeger speedometer with trip and total mileage recorders and a matching Jaeger dial containing ammeter, fuel gauge, oil-pressure gauge (normal reading about 35 lb./sq. in.) and water-temperature gauge (calibrated H, N and C). On the centre panel are seven white knobs, each lettered for easy identification (but confusing at night, as the panel lighting does not illuminate them), controlling the starter (push-in), head and sidelamps. fog-lamps, panel lights, fan for the Smith’s heater, and choke. Flanking this control panel on each side are the control quadrants for heater and ventilation. Warning lamps are employed for dynamo not charging, headlamps full-beam, and as a warning that the “winkers,” self-cancelling and operated by a lever on the steering-wheel centre, are in use. The twin Lucas under-bonnet horns, which are far too blatant, are controlled by a full-circle horn-ring on the big, high-set, triple spring-spoke 16 1/2-in. steering wheel, a ring which it is only too easy to contact when not intending to – most embarrassing!
On the left of the facia (as this dashboard really is made of wood I feel I may safely use this term, even if readers have, in the past, pointed out that it means a shop-front!) is a very loud Jaeger clock set in the centre of a loudspeaker – alas, not only did the radio fail to work but the clock gained about half-an-hour a day. There are effective but noisy non-self-parking dual screen-wipers, Trico screen-squirts of the long-duration variety, and twin anti-dazzle vizors. Visibility from the driving seat is good, although the bonnet is long and only the off-side wing can be seen. The steering wheel rather blanks the minor instruments.
The bench front seat is useful for the occasional accommodation of three persons, the slight gearbox protrusion and central gear-lever not being unduly impeding: it has small side armrests and a concealed very wide central armrest, and slides back automatically when adjustment is required. In spite of deep upholstery it becomes rather “hard” towards the end of a full day’s driving. The rear seat is similar and earned praise from the passengers who used it. Wood door fillets and imitation-wood surrounds blend well with the smart facia, the leather upholstery and pile carpets. Besides its full equipment, such as heater, air-conditioning, radio, full instrumentation, screen-squirts, rim-embellishers, reversing lamp and twin Lucas spot-lamps, this Singer has its tools in a neat foam-rubber-lined wooden tray under the facia shelf on the passenger’s side, and an inspection-lamp is clipped beside this tool-tray. The chassis incorporates useful towing attachments, while deep pockets in the front doors, a shelf behind the back seats (incorporating, a second radio loudspeaker), the big back window, and an interior lamp which comes on when the front doors are opened, are appreciated. The front doors trail but the back doors do not. Ventilator windows of generous size are fitted in front but they are stiff to shut and their catches are the sort that car-thieves are said to welcome. The main window-winders ask 2 1/2 turns, up to down. There are no “pulls” for the rear-seat occupants, nor is a cubbyhole provided, but there is an ashtray in the front compartment, which swivels away under the facia. Push-button door handles are fitted, with a lock in the driver’s door.
Coming back to the controls, the hand-brake is an ingenious hinged lever-cum-ratchet, protruding from the right of the steering column. It is unusual but reasonably convenient to use and holds the car firmly. The pedals, which bear the letters “SM” on their rubbers, are well spaced, with plenty of room for the left foot, and the gear-lever, cranked to clear the driver’s left leg, is well placed, if a trifle far away when first or third is engaged. The gear-change is very pleasant, if rather stiff, only marred by the aforesaid jamming of the luckless driver’s hand between the knob and the centrally-mounted radio set. It is possible to jump the synchromesh when changing from first to second. The lever lifts beyond second with an easy action to engage reverse. The knob tends to soil the driver’s hand.
The steering is heavy and rather spongy. No road-wheel movement is returned but there is sometintes vibration via the column. The suspension gives a very shock-insulated ride at the expense of roll; at times the front wishbones appear to “bottom” over bad bumps, while over such surfaces the cart-sprung back axle makes itself felt, but the nose does not dip appreciably under heavy braking. The Lockkheed 2LS brakes are rather fierce, call for firm pedal pressure and could be more convincing. The clutch pedal alls for fairly heavy pressure but the action is satisfactory.
The car was shod with Goodyear Allweather De Luxe tubeless tyres, our first experience of motoring without tubes, a reassuring feeling when traversing those newly-laid roads which the motorist pays 250s. a year for the privilege of rolling.
The inbuilt 6 1/2-in. Lucas headlamps give a rather poor driving light. In a total mileage of 870, accomplished in six days, the Singer gave no trouble, except when the fuel gauge temporarily stuck at “full” (a most unusual sight on the Editor’s cars, for he is prone to running dry at awkward moments!). It called for of a gallon of oil but no water. Fuel consumption came out at 26.1 m.p.g., which is reasonable with the twin-carburetter engine, in a heavy car.
The bonnet appears to be hinged in the centre but is actually of alligator-type. Rather heavy, it has to be propped open (the prop is troublesome to stow) to reveal accessible water and oil fillers, fuse-boxes and Lucas battery, but a dip-stick rather deeply buried. There is a big A.C. air-cleaner for the carburetters. The cooling system incorporates a four-bladed fan. The luggage boot lid has over-centre hinges and locks; a concealed lever releases it. The luggage capacity is exceedingly generous and the spare wheel has its own compartment under the flat floor, although luggage has to be removed to reveal this. The tyre pump is clipped to the inside of the boot lid.
The body, quite handsome in side elevation, offers conventional comfort and is free from wind-noise, rattles and fumes. This is a car you step up into and the luxury grows on you so that for some time after retrieving the Volkswagen it seemed fabulously small, spartan and light on the controls. Altogether we rate the modern Singer Hunter De Luxe as one of the nicest Rootemobiles we have yet tried. At the all-in price of £863 17s. it represents keen value for a class of car, very fully equipped and offering a sense of luxury with fair performance, which is encountered only infrequently amongst post-war models.—W. B.