A Road-Test of a 1939 Hillman 14 Saloon from Harold Radford & Co., Ltd.
AS we have been taken to task in the past for testing and enthusing over Axis motor-cars, it occurred to us that it would be opportune to put a typical British medium-sized saloon through its paces. If any reader objects to devotion of space to a car of this nature we can defend ourselves by saying that, if Messrs. Strachan and Tubbs are to be believed, the sports car is as good as defunct anyway! At all events, this Hillman Fourteen saloon which Harold Radford & Co. Ltd. presented for the sort of trial we had in mind is just the type of car which so many enthusiasts employ nowadays on journeys of national moment. It offers fair comparison with those Continental saloons which we have never scorned and it suggests a sound basis for a very effective future sports-touring car.
Externally a well-balanced, essentially modern and eager looking car, the Hillman Fourteen is typically British in its appointments. It seats five in comfort on leather-upholstered seats, has a simple instrument panel with two large main dials before the driver and a huge cubby-hole before the front passenger, and is possessed of an efficient sliding-roof, hidden spare wheel and tool-kit, and a roomy rear locker. The modern-style artillery wheels and moderate radiator-grille give the car style; in keeping, choke and ignition-control are automatic. The four-cylinder 2-litre s.v. engine performs admirably up to its maximum and is unquestionably a top-gear performer. If mood dictates, the Hillman can be allowed to drop to 10 m.p.h. on the highest ratio without any serious protest from the power-unit’s flexible mountings and pick-up becomes useful from 20 m.p.h. onwards. There is all that silky, “feed-the-gas-and-it-performs” action that is one of the best points of far larger Americans. At the upper end of the scale, speedometer readings of 65-70 m.p.h. are entirely effortless and 80 m.p.h. was achieved with no fuss, wind-roar apart. On the other hand, wagging the gear-lever as the sportsman is wont to do produces maxima of 18, 30 and 50 m.p.h. on the indirect gears. The central gear-lever is lengthy, but enables quite rapid changes to be accomplished, either double declutching or, better, just slashing through the synchro-mesh. From rest, it was sometimes a trifle difficult not to confuse the position of second gear with those for reverse and top, as all lie in the same plane—the solution, of course, is to start in bottom. The handbrake lever on the right-hand side is sufficiently far forward to provide convenient egress from the driver’s seat without being difficult to reach. It held well and the brakes so actuated really functioned in reverse on freak-gradients.
In conformity with the need for increased fuel-rationing, we had to limit our experience of the car and drive it mostly in a sober fashion, with a deal of coasting. Even so, something like 150 miles was covered on what must have been less than six gallons of petrol, and, driven rather harder, the consumption was about 20 m.p.g. And, to us, “driven harder” meant quite a few climbs of trials-type hills and several miles with the speedometer at the “70” mark. The speedometer-needle went rather lightheaded after “65,” but there is no doubt that the Hillman was cruising very happily at over 60 m.p.h. and reaching over 65 m.p.h. With full load it climbed a 1 in 6 gradient in Surrey at 30 m.p.h. and restarted easily on this hill. The clutch functioned well, although inclined to be fierce, and the accelerator permitted excellent judgment of wheel-spin.
The suspension is supple and permitted some roll when cornering fast, as one expects from a touring saloon, but the Hillman engineers deserve full marks for their transverse-leaf-spring system of “Even keel” independent front springing. The car was remarkably comfortable and stable at seemingly impossible speeds over atrocious surfaces and the usual sound of pattering tyres was conspicuously absent. Moreover, only a trace of return movement came through to the steering-wheel under these conditions and none at all on ordinary roads, nor was there any column or scuttle shudder. The steering is accurate and its low gear ratio (3⅓ turns lock to lock) is offset by full and extremely vivid castor-action at all speeds; the lock is very good. This is really first-class independent suspension. In spite of a tendency to roll, the Hillman could be cornered rapidly and the tyres only protested when acute bends were taken at what the majority of users of this class of car would consider stupid speeds, nor is it easy to make the car slide.
Some acceleration tests were conducted, casual driving methods off-setting possible speedometer optimism; 0-50 m.p.h. occupied around 16 secs., 10-30 m.p.h. in top gear approx. 11 secs. and, in second gear, approximately 6 secs. The engine took such medicine without protest. The oil-pressure showed a healthy 30-40 lb./sq. in. There was only a momentary vicious pinking at one particular throttle-opening over a very small speed range, which is very different from suffering this reminder of the low octane value of “Pool” whenever the engine is opened up under load.
The Hillman was an extremely pleasant car for rapid negotiation of heavy traffic and equally pleasing when one was in a hurry out on the open road. The body was well-ventilated, draught-free and very spacious. The brakes were reasonably progressive and entirely adequate to the performance capabilities. The rear-view mirror was fairly useful, the seat-adjustment excellent and the interior appointments solid and efficient. The driver’s door locked with a Yale key, as did the luggage-boot, and when the ignition key was removed the horn was inoperative. The spare wheel stowage panel was easily released, although the key turned the opposite way from the usual. The fuel gauge seemed very reasonably reliable and its needle was dead steady ; the dynamo charged fully and the lighting was effective. The test served to remind us that too much is apt to be put out in praise of race-bred Continentals, and that British medium-sized, medium-priced saloon cars will also average speeds round about 40 m.p.h. in security and great contentment. The Hillman could certainly do so, and with, as it were, an inbuilt impression of British conventionality suggesting entire dependability and freedom from anxiety. The rugged engine, it is true, was not good to look upon, but it is doubtful if it would be so much as glanced at in 50,000 miles. It had an accessible dip-stick and the usual air-cleaner, and used no water during the run. This report is headed “Trying a Second-hander,” but the car has been written-up as if it were a manufacturer’s demonstrator. That, in effect, it is, for there was not the tiniest blemish externally or internally and only one entirely minor rattle, to suggest that it was offered secondhand; the mileage was 9,000 and the price asked £395. The 5.75 in. by 16 in. Dunlop E.L.P. tyres were unmarked. A most useful car, in an era of “no new cars,” but then Harold Radford & Co. specialize in these high-class secondhand cars, which are reconditioned and sold from their spacious premises at Melton Court, S. Kensington, London, S.W.7 (Ken. 6642). Mr. Harold Radford is himself a really keen motorist, determined to carry on as if war had not happened, offering, incidentally, cars representing valuable transport to people engaged on essential war duties.
Engine: 4-cyl. s.v. 75x 110 m.m. (1,943 c.c.). 51 b.h.p. at 3,600 r.p.m. Coil ignition. Pump and fan cooling.
Gearbox: 4 speeds and reverse, central control.
Ratios: 4.89, 7.29, 12.08 and 17.42 to 1.
Dimensions: Wheelbase: 9 ft. 6 in.
Track: 4 ft. 7½ in.
Body: 4-door, 6-light metal saloon.
Brakes: Bendix-Cowdray. R.h. lever.
Makers: Hillman Motor Co., Ltd., Coventry.
Price: As tested, £395.