Theme : Facelifts – A Facelift Before the Funeral

A facelift is sometimes an indication that all is far from well with the car’s manufacturer.

1964 Humber Super Snipe
1964 Humber Super Snipe

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.

1967 Humber Super Snipe
1967 Humber Super Snipe

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.

Humber Super Snipe Series V:

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.

Author: richard herriott

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

2 thoughts on “Theme : Facelifts – A Facelift Before the Funeral”

  1. As you say Richard, the changes were sympathetic and, although the original was hardly up to William Lyons’ standards of elegance, the facelift was of the clever type that gave the Series 3 XJ a greatly extended life. Rootes even toyed with putting the same Ford V8 they put in the Sunbeam Tiger into the Hawk at one time, which would have been one up on the Rover 3.5 Litre for power, but probably not handling. The Chrysler takeover made Rootes an official member of the UK branch of the Big Three, but the presence of Austin Morris really meant they remained somehow the outsiders. Britain’s Studebaker in a way, though with a far more ambitious range of models. Actually, I’m probably embellishing the Studebaker parallel because of the Loewy connection – he recycled his 53 designs for Studebaker for the Audax Minx and I guess both firms employed him because he gave good value for money.

  2. Richard. In practical terms, the Hunter in Humber Sceptre drag ended up being at the top of the Rootes range, so could be said to have replaced the Super Snipe. However, immediately after the Super Snipes’ demise, its place was taken by the Australian Chrysler Valiant which, in turn, was to have been replaced in the UK by a stretched Chrysler 180, the car that makes the Tagora look characterful – but that never happened. As for the Arrow range, they looked neat enough but were horrible. I base this on a personal grudge since a Singer Vogue Estate is the only car that has ever made me travel sick – admittedly I was travelling in the loading bay. But I also drove that car on several occasions and I still remember what a thankless business that was. The most embarrassing thing is that it was bought on my recommendation.

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