Impossibly good value sums up the Hillman Hunter series of saloons and estates. The general car body has been around since 1966 and Rootes are still managing new ways to improve on its formula. Here are some of my impressions about this old stager. Technically, the Hunter is nothing to write home about. There are two engines, a 1500 and a five-bearing 1725 unit which is familiar to anyone who has ever driven a Sunbeam Rapier, for example. As a result of this policy of using established components and putting them in a simple-to-make body, the prices are very attractive. How does £1,750 strike you?
To make the car even more alluring as a sales prospect, Hillman have added inertia reel safety seat belt straps (which you don’t have to use). For the man who likes a little extra, the Super version has the 1725 cc, 72 bhp engine with a light alloy cylinder head. There are brushed nylon seats or sturdy vinyl, a lockable box for storing gloves and a viscous-coupled cooling fan for when you are stuck in a traffic jam outside Birmingham for three hours on a hot day.
What makes the Hillman so very useful is not the sleek and aerodynamic body-work but the Laycock overdrive and four-speed ´box. At 80 miles per hour the car is quieter than a Jaguar and gets better fuel economy. 22 miles per gallon, no less. If you drive a little more cautiously you can easily see 24 miles per gallon. If you are imprisoned in stop-start traffic then it falls to 12 mpg.
Inside the car the instrumentation has been improved in line with modern scientific thinking. The dials are easily seen and the equipment bests the confusing layouts offered by Triumph, Ford and Alfa Romeo. Passengers and drivers alike will take much pleasure in the comfortable seats and roomy cabin. The ashtray was a delight to use, especially as time passed while we waited for the traffic to get moving in the aforementioned traffic jam. I calculate that upwards of four packs of cigarettes can be managed by the ashtrays in the car. The ones on the doors at the rear proved invaluable.
But it’s not all cigarettes and traffic jams. How does the car conduct itself? The engine starts promptly. There is none of the fussing one associates with Italian or French cars. That said, the engine does need a bit of coaxing after a cold start even in cold weather but it’s not very severe. At least it starts which is something you can’t always say of Jaguars or Rovers or indeed some of the supposedly superior machines from Stuttgart or Munich. Perhaps it is the use of a Stromberg carburetor, set to lean to maximise fuel economy and to reduce pollution. We found this device needed almost no adjustment during our two days with the car.
In terms of performance, the Hunter is competitive. Nought to eighty comes in thirty seconds, top speed is over 90 miles per hour but don’t be too harsh with releasing the clutch as it produces the most astonishing juddering. Apart from this the clutch is smooth and not too heavy. The same goes for the steering which matches the best from Lancia and Peugeot. The brakes have optional Servo assistance which is good for ladies. The car stops as expected but there can be severe vibration felt through the bulkhead. The mirror dropped off but my contact at Rootes told me this is not normal. Rear drums are fitted.
We stayed in the Midlands Hotel in Mansfield which we used a base for our tour. It is located near the Mansfield British Rail station. The food can only be described as pleasing (I had black pudding and steak and kidney pie) and, to digress slightly, the street outside is a charming place to spend some quiet time after one has been enjoying the excellent local ales.
The Hillman Hunter is equipped with pressed steel disc wheels with four and a half inch rims. Radial ply tubeless tyres are fitted all around. The battery is a 12 volt, 40 ah. type, with a 35 amp a.c. alternator. The headlamps are sealed units, 150/120 watt (total) and interestingly, in the light of recent changes to Austin Cars’ policy, the reversing lamp is an extra. To refuel the car you need 10 gallons and the cooling system takes 12.5 pints. As for oil, it’s odd to note that the engine sump requires 7.5 pints, more than I would have thought. I asked my contact at Rootes about this and he said that this was a requirement of engines of this type. He recommended SAE 20W/50 and again, I raised my eyebrows. Turning to the contact breaker, one finds 0.015 in gap (not so different from Morris’s) and 51 + 5 deg. dwell. Champion spark plugs are used.
Putting all this together, the Hillman was not bad when it was launched and it is not bad now. That says something about the competition in these increasingly competitive times. The car is quite lively and more efficient than a Jaguar XJ-S, roomier than a Triumph Dolomite and cheaper than a Ford Cortina. It even looks rather sporting from some views. The ventilation is superior to anything from Italy.
Even if the clutch can vibrate and the brakes judder, these are cosmetic matters that can’t detract from the fact that the Hillman is one of Britain’s most competent medium-price saloons. It seems rather a shame that our one was not representative of the car’s ability. On our second morning we simply could not start the car and had to take the train back but we went home with fond memories.