Humber was the quintessential lower upper-middle class brand. Their 1967 Super Snipe epitomised the Rootes Group’s attempt to dissect Britain’s fading class system and sell something targeted very precisely.
In 1958 when Britain’s class system was alive and well, the Super Snipe name re-emerged on a gracious, stately car that offered space and grandeur if not much pace for less than the price of a Jaguar and with none of the raffish connotations of a Triumph saloon. Perhaps only Rover offered a similar sort of small mansion-on-wheels-feeling.
The Super Snipe served as the car for bank managers (and not bank robbers) and accountants and lawyers in medium-sized English towns. An Armstrong Siddely engine of 2.6 litres provided the power to the unibody vehicle, driving the rear wheels. It was very conventional, which is what was expected of a country for whom the Second World War was a recent memory. After a year on sale the engine was increased in size to 3 litres. And so began a process of gradual modifications which didn’t change the downward slope of the sales graph.
Like a canary in the mine, the Super Snipe was choking as revolutionary social upheaval swept upheavingly over Britain. Britain was upheaved. The slice of the British market that was the Humber’s was getting thinner and thinner and thinner. People were getting out of the habit of wearing ties at the weekend, for example.
People like to remember the Establishment Club as one of the hammer blows that began overturning centuries of deference. But perhaps we should think of the competitors who stole sales from Humber, year after year from 1958 to 1967. When production stopped the annual sales of the Super Snipe were about 3,000. Where had they gone? To Jaguar, to BMW and to Mercedes.
Now that time has passed, the virtues of the Super Snipe are becoming clearer and these days the car has something of a cult following, being seen as a less obvious alternative to precisely those cars that stole its customers.