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The Carchive: The Humber Super Snipe

It’s drizzling and overcast outside and the downstairs of my house is littered with camping equipment. Yes, I have a 712 mile road trip ahead of me and am leaving in about four hours time.

Before that, we’ve just enough time to don our rubber trousers and wade through the primordial soup that is motoring past, ready to scoop up whatever obscure relic bobs up to the surface. Welcome to The Carchive.

After spending a few weeks in the 1990s British Midlands looking at the MG-F and RV8, we wind back thirty years or so but stay local. We’re in Coventry, and we’re checking out the Humber Super Snipe.

All images can be made larger when clicked upon, for enhanced viewing and reduced eye-strain

“The distinguished new Humber Super Snipe is one of the world’s really fine cars. Built with traditional Humber quality and craftsmanship, it combines advanced design and high performance with elegant styling and impeccable interior comfort”

When the first Humber Super Snipe was released way back in 1938, it was actually a bit of a British hotrod. The original model took what was basically the hull of the workaday Humber Hawk and added the engine of the big, posh Humber Pullman. The result was a reasonably compact saloon car with a pretty surprising turn of speed.

By the time this car was built, the Humber Hawk had grown in size somewhat. Furthermore, the Humber Pullman had been discontinued. For a while, then, this was the top of the Rootes Group range.

“The styling of the Humber Super Snipe has a contemporary elegance than reflects the quality of this superlative car.”

The version you see here is a Series IV,  introduced in ’63 as an evolution of the ’58 Series I. The styling was unashamedly ‘inspired’ by the ’55 Chevy, but despite this manages to look remarkably British and, well, more than a little regal.

It was available in saloon and estate-car wagon shapes. I’ll go out on a limb here and declare that I don’t think the estate looks quite as pretty.

“In the spacious and beautifully appointed Saloon, you have luxurious comfort for restful, relaxed travel. You will appreciate the smooth, even ride and the quietness of the interior”

The Super Snipe was very definitely built for comfort. A pretty heavy car, it was happier whisking a small group of people in pretty impressive comfort at sustained high speeds which, thanks to the UK’s burgeoning – and as yet un-speed-limited – motorway network, was becoming a reality.

Passengers sat on leather benches or, if requested, the front seats could be split with indvidual arm-rests.

“You drive in superb comfort, with an ease of control that heightens the pleasure of high-performance motoring.”

By 1963 the six-cylinder, three-litre engine was pushing out 132.5 bhp. That ‘.5’ is of vital importance, of course.

When the Series V arrived in ’64, the engine was pushed to 137.5 bhp thanks to some clever cylinder-head work by the famous Harry Weslake, a name that would become synonymous with higher-performance Rootes Group engines.

The Series V was slightly restyled, with a larger windscreen and altered roof-profile, and at around the same time a flagship model was released, basically the same car but up-specified and carrying the shelved Humber Imperial name.

“The dignified Humber Super Snipe Limousine is eminently suitable for formal or informal occasions, for professional or private use.

That’s great news. I’m pretty sure the Redusernab ministerial transport contract is coming up for renewal pretty soon.

While I’m here in in 1963, I’ll give Humber a bell.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity material photographed by me. Presumably, copyright belongs to PSA group, but could well have been lost to the swirling mists of time.)

 

 

  • Fuhrman16

    You can buy quite possibly the only road racing Super Snipe estate right now for only $2200.

    • Rover 1

      If you squint slightly you can see that car is exactly as descibed in the brochure, “a distinguished dual purpose Estate car” , easily capable of giving the driver, ” the enjoyment of high-performance motoring”

      and now there is photographic proof.

  • Sjalabais

    Not long ago I came across a specimen akin to the one on the cover above. It was cheap and in fair shape. I have to add that to my list, not too long, not too short, of cars I should have given a shot. If only my car side wouldn’t take that regular beating by my in-head-financial-adviser or, alternatively, by my kid-like trust when I show up to look at a car that is not as described. Gruntle rumble.

    These are gorgeous cars, respected and, in my mind, any LHD version in drivable shape turns out to be incredibly desirable.

    The weather is the same here across the North Sea and I’m not envious about packing camping gear right now. We have still a week or so left before we get that far. Have a nice vacation!

  • Van_Sarockin

    The HSS was once the favorite snark-pony of C&D. Perhaps a mite unfairly. Just as they unfairly beat up on Opel because it had a trifling market share. And that 0.5 makes all the difference. I’m not abut to consider a conveyance that delivers 132 BHP, or less. Sorry about your standard weather. We’re threatened with nothing but scorching sun and mild temps for the next five days. Likely, they lie. Best of luck, all around, in Blighty.

  • dukeisduke

    Long ago, I remember reading a snippet about the Super Snipe on Road &Track’s “Years Ago in R&T” page, referring to a road test they’d done. It commented on the HSS’s automatic transmission, and some weird foghorn noises it made.

    Two of the most egregious things R&T did several years ago during a redesign was getting rid of the “Years Ago in R&T” and “People & Places” pages. The P&P page usually had some news items collected from around the world, that made me laugh out loud.

  • outback_ute

    If I’m not mistaken the 1938 Hawk would have a 2- or 2.3-L four and the Pullman a 4.1-L six, so it was no small upgrade. So readers aren’t left thinking that Rootes were so far behind the times, the Series 1 that was recognisably the same debuted in 1957, they just ran short of funds to build a replacement so instead kept tweaking the car; Chrysler started their takeover in 1964.

    I used to see a S/Snipe like these when I was young and have ridden in one more recently, yes comfort was the first priority! And the second, third…. Plus looking Important and Dignified

    • Vairship

      “comfort was the first priority! And the second, third…. Plus looking Important and Dignified”.
      As well it should be in a luxury car. I’m slightly baffled by the current spate of “sporty” luxury cars. If I was a Wall Street (or City, for that matter) banker, or a CEO, having a sports suspension on, say, my BMW 7-series or Mercedes S-class would be the furthest thing from my mind. Sure, a suspension capable of carving corners on alpine back roads SOUNDS good, but how many alpine back roads are there in Manhattan or central London? Wouldn’t you rather be wafted across the potholes in sublime comfort after a hard day’s work?

      • outback_ute

        Agreed, the Humber served its market well. The American luxury cars of the same era did likewise, also Mercedes. Now the luxury car that focuses on luxury and comfort would seem to be Lexus, with Lincoln similar.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    I’ve always liked the name and that one appears in the music video for Colours Fly Away by The Teardrop Explodes. I also used to see one driving around the town I grew up in, alongside the RHD Honda 600 meter maid cars.

  • Alff

    Let this be a reminder of a time when the rest of the world aspired to make cars that looked like they were built in America.

  • Rover 1

    The Humber Super Snipe might have become even more American if things had panned out diferently, and as confirmed by this letter to the illustrious ‘Motor Sport’ magazine printed in the March 1977 issue.

    “Sir,

    With regard to the letter in February’s Motor Sport from M. Gregory, I
    am surprised that Chrysler UK should deny knowledge of such a vehicle
    since two, at least, examples did exist.

    During 1967 as pan of my apprenticeship with Chrysler, I spent some
    months at the Rootes depot at Labroke Hall (now Warwick Wright Motors,
    Hanby Rd., W10) and helped service a Super Snipe fitted with a Chrysler
    V8 engine and automatic gearbox. This I believe was operated by a member
    of the Rootes family.

    We a year later I was completing my apprenticeship in the
    Development Dept. and at that time another V8-engined Snipe was being
    used as a support car trailing development cars to such test areas as
    MIRA.

    Opinions varied on why these cars were built. Some said they were
    specials purely for the Rootes family, others that they were the
    fore-runners of a new model, but the idea had been shelved.

    If Mr. Gregory requires any further details I could put him in touch
    with colleagues still with Chrysler who may he able to assist assuming
    the files still exist.

    Staffs. A.S. CAMPBELL ”

    The Humber Imperial V8 prototype has since been restored, complete with it’s Chrysler 318 and Torqueflite automatic.

    • Vairship

      Jolly good work, old chap!

    • outback_ute

      I gather a prototype exists in Sydney too.

      In reality the Snipe needed replacement not a V8 engine as it was 10 years old by that time.

      • Indeed. And Rootes had been working on a replacement. But when Chrysler came along they decided they already had big cars covered outside Europe and that they would replace the Super Snipe in the UK market with imported Aussie Valiants. Of course all the faithful Humber customers immediately went elsewhere. History seems to have repeated itself recently with FCA’s failed Lancia-Chryslers.

        • outback_ute

          I wonder (doubt) if there would have been the money to develop a replacement for the Super Snipe anyway.

      • Rover 1

        Very true. A Humber version of the Chrysler 180 / Centura could have happened.

      • According to an article I read somewhere (I think it was a Humber club magazine) the idea was floated to partner with Jensen and use a common Chrysler V8-powered platform as the basis for replacements for both the Super Snipe and the Interceptor. Now that would have been something.