A facelift is sometimes an indication that all is far from well with the car’s manufacturer.
In 1958 Humber cars introduced a new body style which was sold under the Hawk and Super Snipe labels. The Super Snipe was the more expensive of the two. For the last word in Humberness, there was the Humber Imperial which was the same as a Hawk and a Snipe in terms of the bodywork but which had “a vinyl roof, automatic transmission and hydrosteer power steering as standard… electrically adjustable rear shock absorber settings, a rear heater and optional West-of-England cloth-trimmed seats”.
That West of England cloth was fitted by Thrupp and Maberley***. These details matter. So what was behind the belated facelift of Humber’s ageing flagship?
By the 1960’s the UK car industry was consolidating and almost none of the Rootes Group cars seemed to fit in with the new market with more and more foreign brands being available. In a market confined to British products (as it was more or less until the ’60s) there was room for a larger variety of cars that expressed British, middle-class values.
Rover, Jaguar, Triumph, Wolseley, Riley and Humber were all about core British values of wood, leather and chrome. Looking back it is hard to see how customers distinguished them. Perhaps they weren’t – maybe customers were like men in a shop choosing happily from 140 tweed jackets instead of choosing from 20 tweed jackets, 20 jogging tops, 20 leather jackets and 20 fleeces.
As a result of this change in the market, the Rootes portfolio was doomed. There was not the cash for new models and so in 1966 (I think), the Humber Super Snipe made do with an upper body restyle to take the bulbous, ’50s look off its roof. These changes were applied across the model range so the Hawk, Snipe and Imperial all saw out their last few years before execution with a modest, too-little-too-late facelift.
But the car was fundamentally a good one and the changes were sympathetic. What the Hawk/Snipe range really needed was a whole new body to take on the mid 60s Rover P6 and the successful lower-end Jaguars. What it got was something else.
For 1970 the car-body we know chiefly under the Hillman Hunter moniker was rather laughably given the job of replacing the Super Snipe which was a car sometimes known as the poor man’s Rolls Royce. The contrast was bitterly harsh.
The example of the Snipe and its brethren brings us to the end of our tour of facelifts. It was an example of the symptoms of an ailing firm rather than a mid-term adjustment of a model in the face of renewing competition or the correction of an initial mistake.
***When writing this first I thought Thrupp and Maberley was a manufacturer of upholstery. T&M was actually a coach-building firm based in the West of London. They used to provide whole custom-designed car bodies (e.g for Humber or Rolls-Royce) but as with so many coach-builders the era of unibody construction spelled doom for their business. The firm was absorbed into the Rootes group and let die slowly. By the end they were reduced to trimming the Humper Super Snipes. They closed in 1967.