1975 Hillman Hunter Super Roadtest

In July 1975 Archie Vicar contributed a review of the Hillman Hunter to the “Brecon Beacons Herald Advertiser”. Here is what he wrote.

1975 Hillman Hunter advert

[Original photos taken by Douglas Land-Windermere. Due to butter stains from crumpets affecting the original items stock photos have been used.]

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? 

1975 hillman 1975 hunter_saloon

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.

1970 Hillman Hunter Super interior: www.myclassicuk.com
1970 Hillman Hunter Super interior: http://www.myclassicuk.com

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.

1975 Hillman Hunter colour advertIn 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.

Author: richard herriott

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

25 thoughts on “1975 Hillman Hunter Super Roadtest”

  1. Amazed that 24mpg was it’s best and would drop to 12mpg… any comments as to the accuracy of Archie’s statements? Was he particularly heavy footed?

  2. Looks like the top speed was 90mph – so 22mpg at 80 actually sounds quite good with the tappets jumping out from under the bonnet.

  3. Though another report indicates that the 24mpg is not imperial (perhaps)
    fuel consumption and mileage: average estimated by a-c: 10.1 l/100km / 28 mpg (imp.) / 23.3 mpg (U.S.) / 9.9 km/l
    Bearing in mind Archie’s writing style – I suggest that he didn’t bother to measure mpg but would have taken figures from the spec sheet. He may have reported the US gallon figures… a little lazy but his style appears to be one of entertainment rather than factual accuracy.

  4. The Rootes Arrow cars were horrid. I think I’ve moaned here before about various wheezy drives I had in an automatic 1725 Singer Vogue Estate. I can’t think of a single thing in its favour, except the metallic green colour which seemed vaguely distinctive at the time.

    An indicator of a car well past its marketable date used to be its adoption by the cash-strapped Metropolitan Police. In the second half of the 1970s, if you ever saw a deep red Hunter with two guys in it, you always knew to slow down. As a plain clothes vehicle or unmarked patrol car it was pretty useless – no-one else seemed to drive them.

    1. It almost reads like a telegram. Perhaps he meant to send one.

  5. I remember travelling to hospital once in our family friend’s Hillman Hunter. Nursing what turned out to be a broken collar bone, I can still picture the road surface passing by, which was odd considering that I was laying across the back seat facing downwards towards the rear footwell at the time.

  6. At the risk of sounding wilfully contrarian, or perhaps insane, I drove a Hunter once (in about 1989) and enjoyed it. It belonged to a client’s wife and I was asked as a favour to drive it from his home to the dealership where I worked at the time in Cork city.

    Rather naturally I dreaded the prospect, but to my blank surprise and genuine horror, I found it charming. So much so that I was sorry to have to hand it over.

    It forms part of a very short list of cars that really surprised me. A Citroen Visa diesel being another.

    And before you say anything about Allegro’s, Mark Hamilton, the electro-shock therapy has been very effective.

    1. Eoin. My memories of the Arrow drive are 45 years old now, so maybe time has exaggerated how bad it was. It had all those things about 60s cars that seem quite nice now – the large thin steering wheel, the strip of ‘timber’ interspersed with chromey controls, a T bar selector for the auto, the wonderful visibility, a proper load carrying estate rear – but compared with the lively Fiat 124 I was used to driving (itself, on paper, no less crude than the Rootes car) it seemed dire. Possibly my attitude reflects my youth at the time, and a leisurely drive down Irish back roads could be quite pleasant.

    2. The only point I would make is, have you driven one yet? Besides, if the therapy does fail there is a sanctuary amongst the readers of Practical Classics, whose unspoken motto seems to be ‘crap cars deserve love too.’ I never thought I’d ever read a motoring magazine that would have warm words for an early ’80s Nissan Bluebird estate, Leyland Princess or a Morris Marina…

    3. The downside of owning any car is the knowledge that some other people have fixed opinions of them that verge on bigotry. With an older car that’s even more extreme. As such, I’m reticent to criticise but, yes Mark, at heart I agree that, just like people, age doesn’t really improve cars. Old men are just creaky versions of the mean bastards they were when young and old cars are no better.

      As a serial instigator of projects that I lack the energy and resources to take through to completion, I have great respect for anyone who restores a 1.3 Marina Coupe to its original state – actually, unless they are very inept, better than its original state. Yet there is the disappointment that such commitment can’t be directed towards world peace, curing the common cold or, even, knocking on my door and offering to fix the persistent wet-starting problem my SM has had since it was resprayed.

    4. I think I may have created a misunderstanding. I like old cars and have most recently purchased a 27yr old car with no regrets at all, even though it came with a list of maintenance tasks that need doing. The thing that I find remarkable about Practical Classics is that they seem to have an unconditional love for any old car, no matter how unfancied. The key is that someone decided to preserve it, and I imagine that is the reason they can claim to be Britain’s most popular classics mag – as long as it’s a car then it’s welcome, no questions asked. If ownership & driving of internal combustion engined cars is still a thing in 30 years time, then Practical Classics will be congratulating a dedicated reader for nursing a bandaid beige 2015 Citroen C4 in 1.3i ‘tragique’ spec back to health just as much as a ground-up 2015 Fiesta ST or Porsche Boxster S restoration.

      I’d imagine the problem with having a desirable classic car like your SM is that people knock on the door wanting to buy it rather than repair it. Is there not an owners club forum you could set to work considering your wet starting problem?

    5. No, Mark, I realised what you meant, and was trying to agree. Although I am in awe of people who can dedicate weeks of their lives to, say, the Hillman Avenger, it needs to be acknowledged that the actual cars were insignificant steps (or even steps backward) in the evolution of the car.

      As regards the wet-starting, my specialist garage has been dealing with it for 3 years now. Various solutions improve matters, never seem to eliminate it. I think the answer is just age. When I bought it, it was half the age it is now. Insulation degrades and, really, the whole ignition circuit should be stripped out and reinstalled. Unless, of course, it’s something else.

    6. OK, I see what you’re getting at. And it sounds like you’re on the way to getting the SM starting problem solved too, without going full Gorfe and disappearing into an endless cycle of visits to the garage to pay bills and view an immobile car.

  7. Bigotry definitely, I actually think the Marina was a decent car of its time and sales numbers demonstrate this. Sure there were better cars in some ways and worse cars in others. However I once called a friend over to a Marina at a classic car show to demonstrate how ridiculous the Marinas interior designers were.. they angled the dash away from the driver in the centre and then placed the radio facing the passenger. Ergonomically awful but the owner overheard the criticism without knowing my full opinion and went into berserker mode. I tried to pacify them but to no avail – they were full on ranting.

    1. I must disagree with you on the Marina, Stephen. Even by the standards of the time, it was a bad and cynical car, and a shameful product from a company that had been groundbreakers. I really do think the sales numbers solely reflect the ‘Buy British’ attitude that people still had back then. I have read a couple of other Marina owners being oversensitive to criticism. Like their cars, they seem quite thin skinned. The following link would dispute what I say :

  8. This article is a great piss-take.
    I learned how to drive on one of these in the mid 1990s (my cheapskate father refused to get a more modern car until it died altogether ~1997). It was easily the worst car I have ever regularly driven. It handled poorly, was underpowered, was atrociously ventilated, was uncomfortable, only one window could wind down, the brakes were unresponsive drum types. And on top of that; the clutch was worn somewhat so at times it wouldn’t change into third and I had to move the stick to neutral. Take my fort of the pedal and and put it in again like an old crash transmission.
    Dreadful car, 1960s technology being rehashed in the 70s.

    1. Hi Daniel: thanks for stopping by. In accordance with the Constitution of the Single Model Enthusiast´s Club, I have cry foul at your denigration of the world´s best car. The Hillman was safer than an Isetta bubble car, faster than a Massey Ferguon B300, quieter inside than a Chieftain tank and used less petrol too. And it was more comfortable than a Mini. It cost less than a Ford Granada too. I think Archie Vicar made the same point. Only people who want to talk down the UK would criticise this car, surely.

    2. The problem with the Setright quote is that the same car remained on sale for so long after 1969, until 1979. He also pulled his punch by qualifying the remark: “produced by Rootes”. The accurate speedo only supports an impression. I like Setright´s musings. They aren´t always as logical as they seem.

  9. “…the Hunter (Mk 2)….is probably the most intelligent medium-sized car yet produced by Rootes; and the dead-accurate instruments, a very rare feature nowadays, support the impression that it is one of the most honest cars currently produced by anyone.”
    So wrote one L J K Setright in the English edition of ‘Automobile World 1969’. He praised the “first class driving position, making the driver feel really in command”; the heating & ventilation system “rates exceptionally well”; notes the “creditable vigour and economy of performance” and made much of the advantages of a large engine in a light car when it came to fuel economy and wear & tear in comparison with a more stressed small engine.
    Messrs Herriott & Setright seem to be in accord; only the very brave or foolish would dare to contradict them….

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