The 1968 Humber
The Mk. III Sceptre is now the only car to carry the honoured name of Humber, but should really be described as a de luxe, or in modern jargon “executive,” Hillman Hunter. When I tried a Hunter last year I liked it, and I expressed the hope that it would help to retrieve Rootes Group fortunes. The Sceptre is nicely contrived within, as a four-seater four-door saloon, a folding armrest and a lidded stowage-bin dividing the back seat into virtually two separate ones, as in a Rover 2000. The front seats, which have reclining squabs, the controlling lever being very stiff to operate, are on the small side, and not particularly comfortable. The luxury touches come from a dark veneered-walnut facia and deep matching window surrounds nicely blended with ambla trim and upholstery, pile carpets on the floor, an illuminated lockable cubby-hole of ample size, a lift-up vanity mirror within this, a veneered console extending the length of the floor and containing ash-trays and lighters for front and rear compartments, sensible roof grab-handles, decor on the steering-wheel spokes that is intended to impart a sporting flavour, adjustable steering-column, sliding interior door-locks, facia-vent and rear-extractor ventilation like that on Fords, but retaining front ¼-lights, shaped seat cushions, two speed wipers, four headlamps and a Vinyl-covered roof. The facia is secured by small Allen screws and the lack of veneer at the surrounds of the recessed instruments is unpalatable. A noisy Smiths clock occupies the front of the console.
There is full instrumentation, with tachometer and speedometer having total and decimal-trip odometers flanking a fuel-gauge, and oil-gauge (normally showing just over 40 lb./sq. in.), ammeter and thermometer to the left. The usual Rootes Continental calibrations of fuel-gauge and speedometer are incorporated. Around the former, like jewels on the wooden facia, are five warning lights, of which that for low fuel level shines in the driver’s eyes when about three gallons remain in the 10-gallon tank. The latter gave an absolute range of 273 miles, but a fuel-consumption check returned the excellent figure of 30.1 m.p.g., so maybe the tank capacity is not quite as much as the amount listed. There is a rather unfortunate horizontal fuel filler closed by an awkward unsecured “hot-water-bottle” cap.
As this Sceptre accelerates about as well as an M.G.-B sports car and will go to nearly 99 m.p.h., its twin Zenith-Stromberg engine poking out 88 net b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m. and running smoothly up to 6,000 r.p.m., the m.p.g. figure is creditable; admittedly it was taken with judicious use of o/d, which operates in 3rd and top gear, and without opportunity for very fast cruising, but the local runs were not conducive to maximum economy.
A left-hand flick-stalk selects o/d, which goes out of use when a lower gear is used. A heavier r.h.-stalk controls turn-indicators, flasher, and sounds the horn. A well-placed central gear lever controls a very nice gearbox, and the brake lever is out of the way on the right of the driving seat, where it does not impede entry or exit. There is a full-width parcels shelf below the facia. Tumbler buttons work the minor services; I found these “fumbly,” particularly as those for side/headlamps (foot dipper) are adjacent. The heater-fan works quietly and the heater is very adequate, although demisting seemed slower than on a Ford. Good exterior mirrors aid vision when the back window is misted up, but are of “vanishing” type, which the interior mirrors are not.
The Sceptre is not very nice to drive. The ride is soggy, the steering spongy, low geared and rather heavy, and the ride is lurchy, especially under braking. The brakes are good but somewhat sudden, although very light (servo, disc/drum), and better grip in the wet would have been appreciated; the test car was on Dunlop C41 tyres and things might have been different on SP41s; I liked the way the Hunter handled; it was on radial-ply Dunlops.
There is plenty of sound damping in the Sceptre but it is not an outstandingly quiet car. Its main appeal is full equipment at a price of £1,146 and very creditable urge from its 1.7-litre power unit, allied to notable economy. But unless the customer is hard up for a few hundred pounds, wants to save a little on fuel bills, or insists on a “conventional” car, the Rover 2000TC is, in my opinion, a more satisfactory purchase. In Arctic weather, parked overnight in the open, its engine protected with Smiths Super Bluecol, it was a very prompt starter, and in 540 miles the rather tucked-away dip-stick showed that only a pint of oil had been used.—W. B.