1967 Humber Super Snipe Review

“Uncommon the twain!” In what is probably a purported period review, the motoring writer Mr. A. Vicar considers the choices of car afforded to varietists enjoying a moderately higher-than-average income.

The super Humber Super Snipe
The super Humber Super Snipe

[From “The Motoring and Driving Register”, July 1967. Photography by Cyril Leadbeater. Owing to the poor quality of the original images, stock photos have been used.]

This month’s motor vehicle comparison pits two well-established players against one another. For the gentleman of comfortable means life affords choice and what is choice if it is not among things that differ? What point is there in being offered a large range of very similar cars for a similar price as many makers seem to want to do these days? That is no choice at all. We can see at the more pedestrian end of the market – and indeed have done for some time now- that many car builders are merely shadowing one another so that were one to sit inside a Ford, a Vauxhall, an Austin, or a Hillman selling for, say, £800, one could not tell one from the other without careful inspection.

If we move a little upmarket to, say, around the price of £1500 (as it happens the average income last year!) we find ourselves at the door to Jaguar ownership but sadly £100 short, as it happens. Oddly once again a certain uniformity sets in at the point where Jaguar have pitched their marquee: Triumph, Lancia and even certain German makers such as BMW of Bavaria have oddly similar-looking motor vehicles to offer the man on the move. Yet, just a little below that point we find a curiously contrasting pair of vehicles for the man with £1500 and no more to spend. Those cars are the Fiat 2300 saloon and the Humber Super Snipe. Neither of these cars can one accuse of being in the first flush of youth as both have been on sale for almost a decade.

1967 Fiat 2300 saloon
1967 Fiat 2300 saloon

That the motoring market has seen fit to throw such disparate competitors into a struggle for sales supremacy at this level can only be a source of pleasure to a man about to buy his £1500 car. He can have the comfortable and refined grandeur of the Humber Super Snipe with its Churchillian associations, or the continental exoticism of Fiat’s very respected 2300 saloon. Both cars can convey four adults in comfort and at high speed but do so in markedly different ways.

For this motor comparison we toured the east of Scotland, took the steam ferry from Rosyth to Zeebrugge in the Netherlands, and motored on to Calais and concluded in Ashford, Kent.

Super Snipe´s commodious interior
Super Snipe´s commodious interior

Day 1. Rosyth. Starting with the Humber Super Snipe, we find a vehicle that has enjoyed continued production for the best part of a decade and which looks by all accounts to have considerable scope for further improvement in future (Citroen’s lamentable DS has, after all managed almost 13 years in production by now). Some call the Super Snipe a poor man’s Rolls-Royce but this does the car an injustice as for one thing, those who buy it are not poor and indeed they probably manage the Rolls-Royce owner’s money.

The Super Snipe superficially resembles Humber’s own Hawk with which some bodywork is indeed shared. But the similarity ends there because the Super Snipe has two extra cylinders to its credit ( it has a 2965 cc ohv motor). Further distinction has been added by dint of a new, more steamlined and modern roofline, six side glasses and four headlamps. The vehicle also has the option of the renowned Laycock de Normanville overdrive mechanism which affords the possibility of quiet high speed motoring at very low engine revolutions. This obviates the problem of having the gear ratios governed by the needs of low-speed driving on uneven roads and moving off which in turn can mean a high gear ill-suited to the speeds possible on the new motorways that are spreading across this green and pleasant land. The Laycock system effectively adds a speed above fourth, which still permits flexible and quiet A-road driving and also makes high steady speeds attainable at lowish engine revolutions; cars without such a “fifth” gear must spin quite quickly at, say, 90 mph to the detriment of economy and calm progress.

The Fiat 2300 entered service in 1961 as straight six-cylinder car which to some eyes looks rather too similar to its cheaper and, indeed smaller,  4 cylinder stablemate the 1500. The 2300 has an almost North American appearance despite being designed by Ing. Dante Giacosa (see Motoring and Driving Register, April 1962 for an interview). One could easily imagine the same sort of grille adorning a Chevrolet, Dodge or Ford. That said, Fiat have endeavoured to keep the car up-to-date with the addition of a fully automatic Borg-Warner gearbox which replaces the much-renowned and technically fascinating Saxomat unit of earlier versions. The Fiat has 105 horses to help move it along.

1967 Fiat 2300 saloon: fins?
1967 Fiat 2300 saloon: fins?

Turning back to the matter of the Laycock de Normanville overdrive on the Humber, I had a chance to consider its workings as we sailed the 18 hours from Rosyth to Zeebrugge. This was no easy task as the crossing entertained us with some rolling seas and high winds. One of the commercial vehicles was not tethered tightly to the deck and rolled free, crushing the Humber’s rear right wing such that it had to be removed to allow the wheel to rotate. That was done using a blow-torch located among the ship’s inventory.

In fact, poor weather meant we had to wait two days in the pleasant if confined locale of the Arthur Hotel in nearby Queensferry before our sailing (snapper Cyril joked there was more room in the Humber). There isn’t so much to do at Queensferry but the landlord had an ample supply of Scotch and half coronas to keep us occupied. The photographer took some nice snaps of the fine iron bridge that looms over the hotel and I had a good sleep-in both days. The haggis was off but we enjoyed the Scotch broth – the best I have had this side of Lothian and better even the version served by Peugeot Automobiles on the occasion of the English launch of the 404.

The Laycock de Normanville’s engagement is driven by hydraulics. Let us look now in detail at how it operates, a simple matter really. A reciprocating pump provides pressure, it being activated by following a cam on the gear box’s main shaft. In so doing the pump increases the system’s pressure. Using a switch inside the car, the driver engages overdrive. This might be when one settles down to a fast cruising speed as we did during testing on the Ferry Toll Road (where there is good warm food trailer selling wares to hungry commercial drivers!).

Having actuated overdrive, the reservoir accumulates oil and the piston sealing the reservoir is pushed against a stiff spring. As this happens a small aperture is opened and this relieves pressure and oil rushes back into the system under that pressure (which is thus lowered). Thus we can see a cycle of pressure building, being released and building again so creating a steady oscillation. The oil released flows against a pair of dainty pistons which must also overcome the force of springs. These pistons thus release a conical clutch which is normally held in place against an annulus. In so doing the clutch is freed and a stationary brake ring is activated and a sun wheel then lodges. This change in position naturally results in the one-way clutch overdriving. Planetary gears obviously control the precise ratio of the overdrive when the sun wheel and annulus come into contact during this process. In this general manner a driver can activate the “high” gear and simultaneously lower engine speed but retain a high, steady vehicle speed.

In contrast to this technical wizardry, the Borg Warner of the Fiat is comparatively hum-drum. Interestingly, Borg-Warner have had some experience with overdrive transmissions so it is peculiar that Fiat have chosen to reject this path in favour of the 3-speed automatic. The 1967 unit is not very different from the M-35 of 1965 barring the provision of an external transmission oil cooler, a fiddly and fussy little detail that does not, to my mind inspire much confidence, striking one as a remedy to a problem that could otherwise be avoided by other and simpler means. Another curiosity is that Humber also offers a Borg-Warner unit, so it looks like they are hedging their bets at the Rootes group office.

Miles covered: 12 (we got a bit lost between the hotel and the ferry).

Day 3. At Zeebrugge we drove to and stayed at the Palace Hotel, a veritable wedding-cake of a building and took stock of the journey so far. The Humber showed us a car with a high-grade of finish and plenty of room for the busy bank-manager’s family when they are touring during holiday time.  The Fiat 2300 is touted as a car for a wide variety of motoring needs but is more of a sporting saloon. An estate is offered too and is much the better car. The Fiat has a twin-choke carburetor (Stromberg) and in the back a fine, large ashtray is set in front of those positioned on the comfortable if rather Spartan cloth seats. The fuel tank of the Fiat is a rather paltry 13 gallons compared to the Humber’s majestic 16 imperial gallons. By our calculations, the Fiat achieved about 22 miles per gallon while the Humber could boast a range of 20 t0 25  mpg, not bad for such a large and heavy car.

Miles covered: 3.

We motored on from Zeebrugge to Calais (in very congested conditions) and then ferried back to Ashford after taking the Dover-Calais boat. The steak and chips deserves a special mention – it revolted me. This tour offered a good overall mix of realistic driving conditions though the Fiat suffered a severe blow when a careless motorist in Calais lost control and hit the passenger side of the car, breaking the windows and removing the rear bumper. The Fiat dealer plundered a car for spare glass so as to allow us to carry on.

To compare these cars is not an easy feat. Perhaps if we turn to their driving characteristics we find some way to see which is the best as its chosen task. The Humber Super Snipe is an assured car for travelling comfortably from town to town and especially on the new, fast motorways. Yet its powerful, adroit engine allows it to handle the challenges of smaller lanes where the speeds rise and fall with each change of direction and each corner negotiated.

The Fiat, on the other hand, offers assured high-speed motoring above 110 mph though the necessary compromise is a somewhat less pliant suspension than Humber affords. Some drivers may prefer the Fiat’s light steering and the way in which the steering signalled conditions at the road’s surface. Others might decide that the Humber approach of refinement and cossetting might be more suitable for today’s ever busier and confined roads. Where can one drive at speeds over 70 mph now, one might ask?

But Fiat do offer an alternative to Humber’s approach which is certainly intriguing. I could not find very many obvious faults with Fiat’s design even if appears somewhat American on the outside and Spartan on the inside. The 2300 certainly lays the ground for a promising move upmarket for Fiat and when the time comes for a successor we can be sure it will at the very least, be an interesting and capable vehicle which ought to attract more buyers from the upper echelons of the car-buying public.

Nonetheless, choices must be made and were a chap to have £1500 to spend on his motor car, he could do no worse than to visit his Humber dealer and invest in a Super Snipe. Its reliable formula of wood cappings, leather furniture and soft, pliant suspension with space for six seems to this writer to trump Fiat’s somewhat brash and aggressive approach. I expect Humber will be able to win over customers from Jaguar through their competitive pricing and also whisk customers from Triumph and Rover by their superior quality. I am quietly optimistic that the next Super Snipe will be even more refined and desirable. Humber’s good name is in good hands, I say.

Miles covered: 77

At Ashford we completed our trip and as our cars were transported away for repairs, we reflected on the amazing ability of their makers to offer such variegated driving pleasure to the discerning motorist. And after all, it is choice that matters when we consider what is most important.

Miles covered: 6.


[Thanks for dropping by. A steady stream of readers view this article. If you liked it, please tell other Humber fans or leave a message.]

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

14 thoughts on “1967 Humber Super Snipe Review”

  1. Hello visitor: did you find what you were looking for? You are one of a few, steady daily visitors to this page and I would be very interested to know what you thought of the article. Did you leap for joy that the Humber triumphed? Do you own a Humber? What is owning one like?

    1. Hello Mr. Lieth:
      Thanks for dropping by. These are fascinating cars: I am interested in the LdN overdrive system. I presume some of your cars have the feature. How does it compare to a fifth gear? I gather it’s a kind of workaround but a charming one. Do you find the “transcript” credible?

    2. I worked for the Rootes Group in 1963 in their PR department in London. The Super Snipe was a lovely car, but handled like a rudderless barge. The company was run with an iron fist by the Rootes brothers, and anything progressive was frowned upon. The Sunbeam Rapier had established a good reputation in rallying, but we weren’t allowed to use that in promotional material or advertising – it was seen as a “gentleman’s sporting tourer” by the hierarchy. That the Imp was produced was a minor miracle, but they didn’t really approve of it – far to flighty and modern – and the fact that the government insisted that it was built in Linwood meant that the company, even then, was doomed. Sad really, the cars were decent, if old fashioned, and there were some good people, but the hands on the tiller were dead.

    3. Thanks for stopping by, Charles. I hope you enjoyed the “transcription”. I didn´t know Rootes had such a personal form of management. Companies are so often influenced by the personalities of those at the top. Plainly the brothers Rootes were making cars for themselves and that other people might want them was merely a bonus. I suppose Rootes felt it was safer to remain unchanged than to risk investment in unknown directions. I´d have thought that by the middle 60s the writing was on the wall for lower volume firms pursuing middle market customers. Might I ask if you can say what other marques a Humber customer might have considered? If it was around today, what would it plausibly be?

  2. This is just what I was looking for. My parents had exactly these two cars, at one time. The Humber Super Snipe in dark blue with dark red leather upholstery and Overdrive, the Fiat 2300 Saloon with 4 speed manual, white body with light blue cloth interior. I remember that the Fiat was faster on the motorways and easier to drive in town and to the mountains ; the Humber felt more at ease when going to visit friends living in the countryside. Two lovely cars which were part of my life. The following year the Fiat 2300 was traded in for a Fiat 2300-S coupe, also 4 speed manual, and the Humber was traded in for an automatic Rover.

    1. Good article but for one thing…… the Supersnipe manual gearbox was 3 speed, not 4!
      The Supersnipe was or course the better car!

  3. Hi Andre: that is a coincidence of remarkable oddness. When I penned this article one of the things at the back of my mind was the sheer strangeness of the juxtaposition. I really didn´t imagine these cars went after the same audience. And yet, as Archie Vicar said, what´s the point of choice if it means a selection of the same things. So you had two cars in about the same price range that did different things. That´s a real choice. You might be interested to know that Classic & Sports Car (Jan 2015 issue) has a very nicely photographed article about the Humber Imperial, which was the top range version of the Snipe body. Lovely machines – Humber were long dead before I became alert to cars so they exist for me like dinosaurs. That said, I did see an Imperial parked outside a sinister hospital on the north side of Dublin about a decade ago. I wish I had photographed it. At the time I had no idea what was or how to assess it.
    We hope you come back to DTW as we have some more Humber goodies (a very tiny article) scheduled for the Christmas period.

  4. It’s always nice to see this article appearing in our click statistics. I particularly like the idea of Vicar stuck for three days in a Scottish hotel eating, smoking and drinking, all paid for by the Motoring & Driving Register.
    I must see if I can get a list of its articles from that edition.

    1. Only in passing. If you hunt for the Citroen CX review you´ll find some reference to the DS. The DS came out in 1955 so its possible Vicar might not have been seniour enough to be allowed to review it. If anyone has a copy of a DS review I´ll be happy to transcribe it. It´s a funny ommission, no?

  5. Richard,
    Not really sure there’s a replacement for Humber… it was just sub-Jaguar in terms of comfort and trim, and we don’t make anything like that today. The entire genre of luxurious but dignified “gentlemen’s carriages” has died out and been replaced by Fiat 2300 successors – as Mr Vicar says: “Disparate competitors”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: