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Hillman Hunter

Published: 6th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Hillman Hunter
Hillman Hunter
Hillman Hunter
Hillman Hunter
Hillman Hunter
Hillman Hunter
Hillman Hunter
Hillman Hunter
Hillman Hunter
Hillman Hunter

Buyer Beware

  • Check anywhere and everywhere for rust. Regular trouble spots include front wings above the lights, outer sills and the leading edge of the bonnet.
  • Less visible checkpoints are the front tie-bar mountings behind front valence, inner sills, wheelarches where they close off the sill ends and the chassis legs both ahead of the front subframe and where steering box locates.
  • Suspension pick-up points need check, so poke around the strut mountings on the front inner wings (have a look at the bonnet slam panel while the bonnet is up) and inspect the hangers at both ends of the rear springs from both above and below.
  • The door frames can rot out before visible scars bubble up on the skins, so have a look underneath, particularly on the rear doors. If doors are drooping, it could be due to water directed in from rain gutters has rotted the A-posts and the front wing’s trailing edge.
  • Most Arrow cars had alloy heads. These need a regular supply of antifreeze to stop the waterways silting up. This usually gathers around number four cylinder and knocks out the back core plug or runs the big end when the piston seizes, so look carefully for any signs of overheating, especially as these heads don’t take kindly to skimming.
  • Engines will slog on manfully when worn, but you should expect oil pressure to be 40psi or more once on the move. Poor running could be down to nothing more than emission flame trap that simply needs cleaning out.
  • A whine from the back axle does not spell its imminent demise, most racking up 100,000 miles with ease. Gearboxes should be smooth to operate, with failing synchromesh on second gear usually your first sign of wear. Jumping out of third is not unknown.
  • Poor handling can be rectified cheaply and easily by replacing the swivel joints, track rod ends and dampers although they where fairly skittish, especially in the wet! Brakes should feel sharp. If they feel spongy and bleeding doesn’t improve matters, then the servo could be faulty. Replacements are available and won’t break the bank.
  • Electrics are usually reliable, but iffy switches used on later Humbers can be hard to find.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 3/5

    Old hat but generally okay. Quick versions are quite fun

  • Usability: 3/5

    Roomy and comfortable if noisy. Estates are good workers

  • Maintaining: 4/5

    A DIY dream and a lot of the oily bits can be easily upgraded

  • Owning: 4/5

    Cheap but some spares are hard to come by these days

  • Value: 4/5

    Very cheap to buy but hardly of any real classics value yet

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Always playing second fiddle to Ford's Cortina, the Hunter and its badge-engineered Arrow stablemates from Rootes were in many ways the better cars. Survivors may be few and far between but, says Simon Goldsworthy, buy a good one and you could hit the bullseye

If you are looking for a car with undisputed classic status that won’t cost a fortune to buy or run and which can be used on a regular basis, then the designs of the 1960s make a great hunting ground. The flamboyant curves, fins and chrome of earlier models might have been replaced by rather more utilitarian and boxy styles, but they brought with them roomy interiors and great visibility as well as lower lines for improved aerodynamics and better handling and roadholding. The mechanical package also made a huge leap forwards through the 1960s and into the 1970s. Engines could top 100,000 miles before needing a big overhaul, service schedules were simplified immensely as grease nipples were phased out, and British manufacturers finally accepted that some motorists might want to cruise at more than 50mph and so fitted taller ratios to all cars and overdrive to many others. No car typifies this shift in design more than the range of cars that developed from the Arrow design project at Rootes. Usually known as the Hunter, but also encompassing variants from Singer, Sunbeam and Humber, these cars were a world apart from the Minx and Super Minxes that they replaced. Some 640,000 of the range were sold between 1966 and 1976, but the well-engineered Hunter seemed to suffer more than most from public indifference through the 1980s and their numbers were decimated as falling values and rising rust took a heavy toll. But there are survivors out there, many in remarkably good condition. If you have the patience and determination to track down a good ‘un, then you could enjoy the twin benefits of rarity and practicality on a relative shoestring.

Which model to buy?

There is a huge difference between the base models and the high-spec ones. The Rootes hierarchy was such that Hillman provided the basic variants, while Singer added a bit more luxury and Humbers were top-of-therange. Sunbeams were the sporty ones, a short-lived Vogue saloon appearing only in 1970 but the pillarless coupe Alpine (single carb and 74bhp) and Rapier (twin carbs and 88bhp) adding considerably more sex appeal. Top of the sporty range was the Holbay-tuned Sunbeam H120 with a full fat 105bhp - these are obviously the most sought after today and good ones change hands for well over £3000. The lesser fastbacks don’t command much of a price premium against the top saloons, which drift from a couple of thousand downwards depending on condition and specification. The plusher upper crust Humbers (and the hot GLSs) do seem to have survived the best, as they were popular with those about to retire and ready to pamper their vehicles. Engine size and tune makes a big difference to performance, the 1496cc Minx struggling to 60mph in 18 secs while the 1725cc Hunter GLS got there in a tad over ten with normal Hunters around 15 seconds. The optional overdrive (standard on Sceptres and Rapiers) makes a big difference on long hauls, and the fourspeed Borg Warner automatic fitted from 1974 is slightly livelier than the earlier three-speeder. But it is not a buyer’s market, and instead of picking and choosing, you may have to simply go with the best you can find within your budget. And don’t overlook the estates if a tidy one comes your way - they are hugely capable machines, and later Humbers in particular are very well specced.

Behind the wheel?

Arrow cars come from an era of classics which you can get in and drive pretty much like a modern

The Arrow cars come from that era of classics which you can get in and drive pretty much like a modern car, but with a driving experience that is far more involved. Much like its direct mainstream competitors from the likes of Ford, Fiat and BL, the Rootes cars manage to do most things well without necessarily excelling at any one area in particular. In the Humber Sceptre that we drove for the photoshoot, the dash is relatively plain by 1960s Rootes standards but typically stuffed full of gauges. Lesser versions made do with just a couple of dials and plenty of vinyl instead of the Humber’s wood. The switchgear is naturally less ergonomically laid out than we expect today and you do have to move your hands to reach most things (handbrake is down on the right), but at least everything is clearly labelled. The gear lever is cranked back to leave it comfortably positioned and its action is smooth, but the throw is long enough to discourage racing changes. There is synchromesh on all ratios including first, which contributes a lot to the modern feel. The steering wheel is big and heavily dished in typical 1960s fashion. Its action is light at speed but heavy when parking, though it remains reasonably direct at all times despite the extra linkages associated with a steering box as opposed to a rack. The brakes were praised at the time and should still feel good, needing more of a push than a modern set-up but boosted by a remote servo and without excessive pedal travel. The cars don’t look especially tall, but there is plenty of headroom for all. The glass area is excellent too and, since the door glass does not taper inwards as much as a modern, even the most claustrophobic passenger should feel comfortable, especially in the back, where there is acres of space for shoulders, bums and legs. And on the plusher versions in particular, piles of insulation makes them nicely quiet and refined too, except for the wind noise that headwinds can easily generate above 60mph.

The Daily Option?

These cars can be run on a relative shoestring

With four doors, five seats and a generous boot that is wide, flat and deep, the Hunter range is more than capable of being used as a daily hack. It is modern enough as well to boast many of the creature comforts that make a car much more pleasurable to drive year round, particularly on the more upmarket versions like the Hunter GLS and the Sceptre. Things such as a heated rear screen, two-speed wipers and a threespeed fan allied to a heater that works! And while there might not be air con for those summer scorchers, the Arrow can reacquaint any modern softies with the ventilation pleasures that come from having front quarterlights that actually open and do their job. Interiors came in a number of styles to suit the variety of badges on the boot. The dashes ranged from functional, through sporting to luxurious, while the brushed nylon seating in the upmarket versions is comfortable all year round (the vinyl covers of some lesser models can be a tad chilly in winter or burning hot in the summer sun but Humbers have leather). One of the selling points of the model when new was that it was designed without grease points, so that is one job eliminated from the servicing schedule.As for running on unleaded, for many years the perceived wisdom was that the Rootes engine was not compatible. But it has emerged that the valve seats in the alloy head of the Superminx rally cars used in Europe were hardened, and that the specification was not changed for the Arrows cars. It is worth monitoring the valve clearances, but that does indicate that the alloy-headed engines at least are OK on unleaded.

Ease of ownership?

These cars can be run on a relative shoestring. They aren’t excessively thirsty with 30mpg being normal, a little less about town and 35mpg easily achieved on arun, and none of this on anything more than 97Ron fuel. Stuff like tyres are a nice easy size to source (and therefore cheap too) at a (too) skinny 155-R13, and specialists such as Macs Factors (01553 841252) and Speedy Spares (01273 417889) have most mechanical parts on the shelf that you’ll need to keep mobile. That mechanical specification is utterly conventional for the era, and maintenance/repair should present no problem to the home mechanic. Suspension is MacPherson strut at the front and a live rear axle. The OHV engines are very simple and sturdy, soldiering easily past the 100,000 mark before requiring any major overhauls. The situation is not quite so rosy for body panels and trim. With so many variants and regular detail changes to the trim, it can take a long time to source the correct secondhand parts if any are missing ordamaged. And while the cars were well screwed together for their era and relatively simple, full body restorations are few and far between given their low values and the scarcity of body panels. The cars’ simple construction does mean that small repairs are relatively easy, although many cars will need plenty of them. The rule of thumb has to be to buy the best you can, and then to protect it with copious amounts of anti-rust wax in all box sections and underneath while keeping the paintwork clean and regularly polished.

Timelines

1963

Rootes starts the Arrow project, a single car to replace the Minx and Superminx families, a very tangled web of Hillman, Singer, Sunbeam and Humber variants. Chrysler injects £12.3m into the struggling group the following year, but doesn't take full formal control until January 1967.

1966

New model is revealed. Hillman Hunter specification is particularly good with alloy head and five main bearings on lusty 1725cc engine, front disc brakes and MacPherson strut front suspension. Singer Vogue has cosmetic changes - a bit more luxury and different trim.

1967

Hillman Minx and Singer Gazelle join the party with smaller 1496cc engine and less efficient iron head in manual form, but with bigger 1725 if auto. Plusher Humber Sceptre adds Jaguar like luxury. Mild facelift becomes the MkII - most obvious changes are a switch to rectangular headlights!

1968

Sunbeam Rapier is introduced in October 1967 with exotic fastback body sitting on basic Hunter floorpan. Brake servo becomes standard fitment across ranges. Holbay-tuned H120 Rapier debuts, and a Hunter wins the gruelling London-Sydney Marathon using a similar spec engine.

1969

Sunbeam Alpine arrives as an entry-level version of fastback Rapier with single carb, less trim and no overdrive but with racy high backed seats. Hunter moves in the opposite direction with Rapier powered GT based upon the base Minx!

1970

Minx dropped as are Singers, but Vogue continues as a Sunbeam for just six months, before bowing out in October (replaced by the Hunter GL). 1.5-litre cars now called Hunter Deluxe, while base 1725cc Hunters get cast iron head and Super nameplate.

1972

Flagship GLS combines best of GL and GT plus H120's potent powerplant. This is now one of the most sought-after variants although critics say car is old hat, skittish and arrived five years too late to compete with likes of the Escort Mexico.

1976

Historic Sunbeam name dies when Alpine/Rapier killed off. Final culling of the Rootes takes place as both Humber and Hillman are dropped to make way for Chrysler Hunter. Production moved to Ireland and tarty facelifts cheapen car.

1979

Ailing Chrysler concern sells whole of European operations to Peugeot for £225m and final Arrow bows out by 1980 now totally outclassed by rivals. However the tooling is sold to Iran, and production continues as the Peykan.

We Reckon...

Most of the surviving Arrow cars will be wellspecified variants with a decent slab of power under the bonnet (especially the GLS), combining performance and creature comforts expected today of a classic 1960s package. Perhaps only the fastback variants can be described as remotely sexy, but any car is guaranteed to still turn heads and provide its owner with miles of pennywise pleasure behind the wheel.



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