Luxury from Rootes for a modest £1,796
An appraisal of the 3-litre 6-cylinder Humber Imperial
There is still a demand in this world for luxury cars, with interiors reminiscent of Clubland, which run quietly, have adequate or exceptional performance, and possess an air of dignity and integrity. Nowhere are they better built than in England, reaching their zenith in the guise of modern Bentley and Rolls-Royce, carriages which combine with the aforelisted virtues something of the spaciousness of the typical American automobile and more stable road-holding, more efficient retardation.
The recent Labour Government Budget, while it was not particularly hard on the car owner, nevertheless emphasised the rising cost of British living, and certainly deprived the businessman of any tax concessions against car purchase. This could well have the effect of causing even wealthy people to veer away from luxury cars costing over £2,000 to those offering similar attractions at a lower purchase price. So it seemed appropriate that I found myself on Budget Day bound for Welsh Wales in one of the latest 3-litre Humber Imperial saloons.
This is outwardly a substantial-looking but by no means excessively bulky car. It is impressive in rather an old-fashioned, subtle way, like a Rolls-Royce, and it is certainly extremely well appointed and equipped, so that even the most demanding and fastidious purchasers could scarcely complain.
To prove my point I will run through the big Humber’s refinements. The test car was cloth upholstered, but leather, which I prefer as being less clinging, is available to choice. The cloth is of fine quality West of England material, reminding one of the interiors of those stately Daimlers of the Edwardian era.
The separate front seats have Reutter fully-reclining squabs, with folding arm-rests on their inner edges, the seats slide easily, and the bench rear seat has the high-level squab that is found in luxury cars, and a very wide, folding arm-rest that divides it into two luxurious armchairs when only two travellers occupy it.
Now let me catalogue the Humber Imperial’s amenities. These are thermostatically-controlled separate heating, ventilating and demisting services for front and rear compartments, corner roof lamps in the rear compartment controlled individually by rear-door courtesy action and by nicely-acting slide-switches on each door pillar, these being supplemented by swivelling corner reading lamps of magnifying type which enable the passengers to read The Financial Times without distracting the chauffeur. There is rear-window demisting under the control of the driver and at each end of the facia there are big fresh-air vents, from which the air flow, which is refreshing rather than gale-force, is varied by transverse-moving levers, and deflector flaps. There are smokers’ companions on each rear door, openable side-window vents, deep wells in the front doors, and a lockable cubby-hole which is not only truly commodious but styled to prevent objects falling out, while its lid, when open, forms a shelf also sensibly angled, a bright lamp then illuminating the interior.
Pulls for the rear-seat passengers, a Radiomobile radio with selective front/rear speaker control, red warning lamps in the trailing edges of the four doors, childproof locks on all the doors, crash-padding on facia surround and centre of the steering wheel, anti-dazzle rear-view mirror (too loosely-mounted on the test car), swivelling vizors with vanity mirror, reversing lamp, Rootes’ fog and spot-lamps to supplement the Lucas sealed-beam four-headlamp system, and two-stage facia lighting are further notable items of this inexpensive luxury car.
The body, made by Thrupp & Maberly of London, and bearing their name-plates in true luxury tradition on the door sills, is, as I have explained, beautifully upholstered, the cloth trim extending round the door pulls-curn-arm-rests and pockets. There is discreet dark-veneer walnut for facia, cappings, and the rather shallow folding picnic tables in the rear compartment, and an unusual but appreciated touch of extra dignity is lent by a black fabric covering over the steel roof, matching the matt-black facia-sill trim above the walnut cappings and used also for the spacious shelf behind the rear seat. It offsets well the dark maroon finish of the test car. The doors shut nicely, in the pre-war carriage trade tradition. A little lever (with neatly concealed lock) releases the boot lid, which is self-supporting, and the boot interior is automatically illuminated. The large spare wheel under a cover on the o/s. impedes luggage space, but there is still 19-1/2 cubic feet available. The floor carries deep pile carpeting, with a nylon mat covering in the rear compartment. There are convenient sill-type interior door-locks. The driver’s window can be lowered with 1-3/4-turns of its handle. The quarter-lights have rain gutters but no thief-proof pips.
Enough has been set down to establish the Humber Imperial, a car which revives an old Humber type-name and whose insignia is the former snipe motif, shortened in the beak, as a compact, typically-English 5/6-seater saloon which, in spite of being priced at well under £2,000, is appointed, equipped and built in a tradition that would most certainly not shame luxury carriages costing twice or three times this amount.
On the road its initial promise is well fulfilled. The 3-litre o.h.v. 6-cylinder 87.3 x 82.5mm., 137-1/2-b.h.p. engine develops maximum torque (167 lb./ft.) at 2,600 r.p.m., which suits very well the Borg Warner fully automatic transmission, which provides ratios of 9.75/23.38, 6.04/14.47, and 4.22 to 1, although hill roads where one has to lift off for bends tend to catch the gearbox between ratios, so that fussy action results and the automatic change-down is too sluggish to provide acceptable acceleration, without kick-down assistance. The suspension, conventional coil front, leaf-spring at the rear, has anti-roll bars front and back and four-position Armstrong “Selectaride” control of rear spring stiffness, its control located conveniently for the driver’s right hand. Braking is by Girling discs at the front, drums at the back, vacuum-servo assisted. The Lucas 12-volt 51 amp./hr. battery is fed by an alternator, and really large semi-whitewall Dunlop 6.70 in. x 15 in. “Gold Seal” C41 tubeless tyres enhance the appearance of this manly car and also reduce road noise to a low level. The fuel tank holds 16 gallons and a warning light begins to flash when about four gallons remain in it. The fuel gauge reads “empty” many miles before the fuel supply is exhausted.
How does all this add up when the car is in action? The gearbox, its usual P, N, D, L, R settings selected by a r.h. lever, works very smoothly, and there is the conventional kick-down for additional acceleration which is held to approx. 60 m.p.h. The indicator quadrant for the lever settings is very neat, in contrast to the more usual gormlessly large panels, and is illuminated with the instruments, as is the Smiths clock, centrally located on the facia.
There is “Hydrosteer” power-assisted steering and, although this is a good compromise between very light but extremely insensitive full power steering and manual control, it is “lumpy” and needs more corrective attention than some systems, especially at low speeds, as I found with the Vanden Plas Princess R which is also, unfortunately, endowed with it. The wheel is geared exactly four turns, lock-to-lock, and you can park with a forefinger. The initial impression is of a soggy car with vague steering, and further acquaintance with the Humber Imperial endorses this if one drives fast. This is, naturally, not a vehicle to fling around like a GT car, but it corners adequately for its type. Initial understeer changes to roll oversteer, as is to be expected of a heavy car (3,593 lb., say 32 cwt.) with conventional back suspension, but, even with a big load in the boot, corners can be taken with the ride control on the hardest No. 4 setting, without undue roll or other unpleasantness. Even on this setting, a comfortable ride is ensured, but for really rapid motoring higher geared steering, less roll, and not quite such lively suspension would be appreciated.
As to performance, I spent my time enjoying the comfort and amenities of the Humber, which promote a tolerant and patient driving style, rather than forcing it to its limit. No figures were taken, nor are they of any great moment from a car of this type. Rootes claim a top speed of 97 to 100 m.p.h., and 0-60 m.p.h. acceleration in 17.1 seconds. I am willing, in the absence of an opportunity to visit our test track, to accept that. What strikes me as more important is that the car cruises at an indicated 80 m.p.h. in near-silence. Apart from pronounced wind noise round the screen pillars and a subdued rumble from the big Dunlops, there is no sense of effort, except when the gremlins select a lower gear, which causes a mild increase in mechanical sound. The engine, almost inaudible when idling, so that the ticking of the clock can be heard, is hardly more in evidence at speed. It is true, however, that the Humber feels to be travelling faster than the speedometer registers and an indicated 70 to 90 m.p.h. is its more normal speed away from Motorways.
The. brakes are so powerful yet progressive they can be forgotten, although a little more power might be provided for crash stops from cruising speed. The r.h. brake-lever is within reach, yet it does not impede exit from or access to the high-set driving seat. Forward visibility is good, the long nacelles which house the dual headlamps being proud of the bonnet and useful for aiming what seems quite a narrow car. A full horn-ring sounds a blatant note, a cigar-lighter on the facia supplements those in the back doors, and the tiny coloured inset warning lights – for choke, ignition, turn-indicators, brake on, full-beam and fuel level – are very well done, but dazzling at night. The brake light also warns of low fluid level, incidentally, à la Jaguar and others. A single control looks after 2-speed wipers and washers, and flick switches for the left hand control instrument and car lights.
There are three Jaeger dials, the 120-m.p.h. speedometer, also calibrated in k.p.h., with decimal-trip and total odometers, matching multi-gauge for ammeter (50-, 0, 50+), oil pressure 0–50–100 lb./sq. in., normally showing 50 lb.), and water ternperature (normal segment, ending in red), and the smaller fuel gauge (E, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, F). The quadrant for the starting-settings is labelled COLD, WARM-UP, NORMAL, and there are twin heater quadrants, for distribution and temperature, also clearly labelled, with a trim little switch for the quiet 2-speed blower between them. The rather-heavy foot lamps-dimmer is rubber-covered, the accelerator is a treadle, the brake pedal of sensible dimensions. The bonnet release is under the scuttle on the o/s., and the bonnet is self-supporting.
The fuel-filler is concealed behind the hinged o/s. rear reflector. A cranked funnel is provided in the tool-kit to facilitate refuelling the horizontal orifice from a can. The absolute range proved to be 248-1/2 miles, after which a check showed an overall fuel consumption of premium petrol of 17.2 m.p.g., although faster driving increased this to just over 14 m.p.g. After 475 miles the oil had not fallen from the-top level on the very accessible dip-stick, which is calibrated 1 qt. between this and the danger mark.
The engine, with its dual Zenith/Stromberg 575CD) carburetters which have a big A.C. air-cleaner, is an imposing power unit, with the plugs hidden under a duct and the oil filler (inscribed “Use Only Shell Oil,” which the comprehensive instruction book endorses) and Lucas type BT9A battery extremely accessible. No trouble was experienced in 800 miles’ driving, except that a foreign body blocked the fuel tank after it had been run dry to test the range. Although this happened in remote Wales, a Rootes’ agent sent out in a Land Rover in response to a telephone call an efficient mechanic, himself a keen Minx owner, so that our schedule was delayed by only a couple of hours.
Altogether, it would be unduly demanding to ask for more equipment in a luxury car selling at a competitive £1,795 18s. 9d. – purchase tax accounts for £310 18s. 9d. of this. A limousine version is available for £1,916 15s. 5d. Whether this latest Humber imperial will find favour in St. James’s I do not know, but certain it is that amongst financially shrewd industrialists, such as abide in the busy Midlands and elsewhere, this is a car the quality-for-outlay of which should exert a strong appeal.
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While taking this look at luxury road travel – I won’t call it motoring – consider where this Humber Imperial stands. You can buy a Rolls-Royce for £5,632 and a Daimler Majestic Major for £2,703, but there are not many luxury cars under £2,000. American cars do not come into it, the least expensive trans-Atlantic models with automatic transmission available here being the Rambler 770 Six at £1,861 and the Studebaker Commander 2-door at £1,918, and these are far from being regarded as luxury automobiles in their own country.
So the Humber is challenged only by the Jaguars, which have the allure of twin-cam engines – although the Humber engine, as introduced in 112-b.h.p. 2.6-litre form for the revised Super Snipe of 1958, with inclined o.h. valves in hemispherical combustion chambers operated by special push-rod valve gear is quite sophisticated – the 3.8 Mk. II automatic at £1,737 being less spacious than the Humber, which is £149 less costly than the 3.8S automatic Jaguar, and by the 3-litre Rover and Vanden Pins Princess 4-litre R. Initially the Rover had road-holding and braking problems, and it is so long since I have driven one that I cannot compare the two cars. The Princess R is £189 more expensive, is less lavishly equipped and although its “Hydrosteer” power-assisted steering is higher-geared, on the car I tried it was quite ghastly, although I am told I may have had a bad example and am to try another one. – W. B.