NB: THIS ARTICLE IS UNDER DEVELOPMENT
Humber Motors will always hold a place in my heart. I remember walking past the Coventry factory in Stoke on many occasions whilst visiting a good friend, who like me, worshiped Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin. The cars were usually quite ‘up-market’ for the day and often bought by well healed types. They were probably aimed at the same sector as Rover, Riley and Wolseley.
Founded in the late 1890’s by Thomas Humber the Humber motor company initially produced light-cycle cars after manufacturing bicycles for many years. By 1908 Humber was producing models from two factories and was establishing itself as a luxury-car manufacturer to rival other companies.
The first Humber car was produced in 1898 and was a three-wheeled tricar with the first conventional four-wheeled car appearing in 1901. The company had factories in Beeston near Nottingham and Coventry. The Beeston factory produced a more expensive range known as Beeston-Humbers but the factory closed in 1908 after financial problems. Before the First World War a wide range of models were produced from the 600 cc Humberette to several six-cylinder 6-litre models. In 1913 Humber was the second largest manufacturer of cars in the United Kingdom. The Humber Motor Works in Coventry still survives – a rare thing as the majority of the city was destroyed in the November 1940 air raid.
In 1925 Humber moved into the production of commercial vehicles with the purchase of Commer. In 1928 Hillman was added but independence ended in 1931 when the Rootes Brothers bought a majority shareholding.
During World War II, several armoured cars were produced under the Humber name, along with heavy-duty “staff” cars.
In the postwar era, Humber’s mainstay products included the four-cylinder Hawk and six-cylinder Super Snipe. Being a choice of businessmen and officialdom alike, Humbers gained a reputation for beautifully appointed interiors and build quality. The Hawk and the Super Snipe went through various designs, though all had a ‘transatlantic’ influence. They offered disc brakes and automatic transmission at a time when these fitments were rare. A top-flight model, the Imperial, had these as standard, along with metallic paintwork and other luxury touches.
The Humber business was taken over by the Rootes brothers in 1932 when cycle manufacture ceased, and soon after, six-cylinder cars were built known as the ‘Snipe’, followed by the ‘Pullman’ aimed at the large family market. By the 1930’s Humber had become the flagship and backbone marque of the Rootes Group. The ‘Super Snipe’ was introduced in 1939, many of which served allied forces during the War.
The 1940’s brought the famous Super Snipe model which would become a favourite official car amongst British Generals and politicians. The ‘Hawk’ model came about following the conclusion of War along side the Super Snipe, and in 1946, all car production moved to Ryton. Humber enjoyed a successful period during the 50’s and 60’s and sadly fell victim to Rootes rationalisation.
The last of the traditional large Humbers were sold in 1968, when Chrysler, who by then owned the Rootes group, pulled the plug on production. Several V8 models had been in pre-production at this time, and several of these test examples survive today. Later well known models included the ‘Sceptre’, one of the last cars to carry the Humber name until 1970. Its last car was the second generation of Humber Sceptre, a badge-engineered Rootes Arrow model.
The marque was shelved in 1976 when all Hillmans became badged as Chryslers. The Hillman Hunter (another Arrow model) was subsequently badged as a Chrysler until production ceased in 1979 when Chrysler’s European division was sold to Peugeot and the marque renamed Talbot. The Talbot marque was abandoned at the end of 1986 on passenger cars, although it was continued on vans for six years afterwards.