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The Carchive: The 1967 Humber Sceptre

Chris Haining April 3, 2018 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 10 Comments

It’s Tuesday evening where I am, some way beyond our usual appointment with the musty pages of motoring past, so let’s get straight down to business.

The Rootes Group is late and relatively unlamented, given its fascinating history and the diverse range of products it churned out. Its constituent brands included Hillman, Singer and Sunbeam, more about which we’ll see in a future Carchive instalment. Jewel of the crown, though, was Humber. It sat at the top of the Rootes tree, and was its most luxurious nameplate – the VIP-approved Humber Super Snipe among its poshest products. Today, though, we’re looking at the Sceptre – the final model to bear the Humber name. Welcome back to The Carchive.

Images become larger and more legible after a damn good clicking

“Sceptre – the fast, quiet, perfectly-poised, impressively-luxurious saloon already renowned for its quality. Sceptre standards are high. Sceptre performance is superlative”.

The Humber Sceptre was the ritziest member of the Arrow series Rootes Group cars. It’s a sister to the Singer Vogue and Hillman Hunter (which The Carchive has already documented in its post-1976 Chrysler form). It’s also worth mentioning that it went on to be built as the Paykan Hunter in Iran for a number of years, eventually donating its rear-wheel drive chassis to have the bodywork of a .

Of all Arrow iterations, it’s the Hunter that most folk recall most readily, and which was the first to land in showrooms – in the latter part of 1966. The Sceptre built on those foundations, and was distinguished by its four headlamps and deep horizontally vaned grille, along with a leathercloth-covered roof. Compared to what had gone before, the Sceptre was by far the least Humber of all the Humbers.

“…the Sceptre’s seating is a triumph of design, based on a novel tubular construction overlaid with deep moulded latex foam. Anatomically shaped, it reaches that ultimate in comfort when you are scarcely aware of it.”

Still, this only mattered to those among whom it mattered. Looked at on its own merits, the Sceptre certainly was a very well appointed and comfortable car, of neat, crisp design with a good deal of modesty. Only the whitewall tyres tipped the Sceptre into ostentation.

Compared to the Hunter, the interior was somewhat transformed to fit its quasi-luxury brand positioning. The dashboard was carved out of timber, clad in walnut veneer with a higher sheen than the earth viewed from space. Those ‘novel’ seats weren’t leather but something even better – AMBLA. This, said Humber, was “chosen for its almost indestructible beauty”.

“Almost without noticing, we’ve moved on from the comfort conducive to safe driving to sheer pampered luxury”

There are some fantastic lines of text in this brochure. “The facia is laid out as neatly and efficiently as your office desk with its telephones and intercom”, which rather suggests that the favoured audience for the Sceptre consisted managerial types, not the kind of oily-fingered urchins who would be satisfied by a Hillman Hunter.

By ’60s standards, the dashboard was pretty well furnished, with a rev-counter, dials for oil pressure, amps, fuel and water temperature, and a speedometer that read to 120mph – optimistic enough to accommodate even the very longest of steep downhill gradients.

 

“The Sceptre is designed for drivers who know how to handle power, and use it for safety as well as speed. When you take it overseas you’ll find it capable of speeds over 95mph which means plenty of thrust in hand for British motorways.”

Power came from a 1,725cc slant four, and it was a game enough engine, but one whose status in life was rather more shop worker than chauffeur. Indeed, the Hillman GT (the ‘sporty’ version of the Hunter) boasted the self same engine, and to be fair, it was a second carburettor and a high-lift cam away from 70bhp family car tune. But it was priced almost 20% higher than the Hunter, and the competition was rather tempting, too.

It included the Ford Cortina 1600E – the poshest version of what was among the most fashionable cars on the late ’60s market, and which was a couple of hundred quid cheaper, too. Sadly, the Sceptre simply wasn’t big enough for its price.

Once the Super Snipe died in ’67, the Arrow series was the biggest car Rootes had to offer. Ford, meanwhile, had the Cortina as a Hunter rival, with the slightly larger Ford Corsair slotting in just above it in the range. It was that which the Sceptre really had to compete with, but it was a bit of a stretch.

(All images are of original manufacturers’ publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright presumably belongs to Peugeot, who took over Rootes interests after Chrysler Europe disintegrated in the early 80s. Would have been even more interesting if that hadn’t happened, and the Humber name fell under the MOPAR / FCA umbrella….. Isn’t history fascinating?)

  • tonyola

    This Hillman-in-drag is a pretty sad ending to a marque with a long and storied history. Almost makes the 1957-1958 Packardbaker look like a happy ending.

  • It seemed as though Ford was doing everything right during this time frame in England while every one else was doing it wrong if not mediocre.

  • Citing the neighboring article: “The car was later renamed to “Outlaw” when “Excalibur” was found to be too hard for people to say.” I’d expect the Specter to be renamed, since it’s too hard for me people to spell.

    Aside from that, this is quite a marvel in the Carchive, thanks. This is clearly marketed towards the House of Lords, but was this considered a big, look-I’m-rich car back then? Was this an alternative to a Mercedes 200?

    • outback_ute

      No, it was a smaller cheaper car that still had the luxury trimmings. You could go smaller still and do the same thing, think Wolseley Hornet or Singer Chamois which were luxury town runabouts.

      After the Super Snipe the Australian Valiant Regal was available as a replacement, but was not really successful. It was a size larger which would be noticeable on the tighter UK roads, and having started life as an economy car did not have the same solidity and comfort as the Humber.

    • Alff

      Middle management mobile

      • dukeisduke

        WWRPD?

        (What would Reginald Perrin Drive?)

    • It sort of foreshadowed the X-type Jaguar being a mid-sized luxury car based on a more humble model – except that Rootes did not have the budget to clothe it in unique bodywork.

      • This explains why @tonyola is calling it a sad ending. I have learned something, thanks.

  • Or just get an Austin Sheerline and call it good.

  • Rover 1

    The comparison to the Ford Cortina 1600E and the Ford Corsair 2000E is illuminating. The Rootes ‘Arrow’ range was between these two in size and competed quite well. by not directly competing with both.
    The Mk2 Cortina was fractionally smaller with smaller motors and the Corsair was a long wheelbase, lightly reskinned Mk2Cortina with one of the worst Ford motors ever, the 2 litre Essex V4, This was best suited in refinement to the Transit van it was designed for and it’s fibre timing gears, like that of it’s V6 sister engine, wore out quickly while trying to be quiet. Despite the balance shafts it always revved and sounded like the diesel that it was half designed as, and as the timing gears wore and put the valve timing out, power dropped sharply.
    In my experience with all of these cars, even the basic Hunter compared quite well, and with it’s much nicer interior and greater soundproofing, both the Singer Vogue and the slightly further upmarket, but not quite Rover P6, Humber Sceptre were much nicer to travel in than either of the Fords, E badge included.
    One thing that’s not been mentioned is the gearbox, Ford’s gearboxes were good but the Rootes car’s box was just as slick and positive, one of the best you’ll find, even though, like the Ford it only had four speeds. BUT. It did have the, (virtually standard), fitment of overdrive on the top gears with the flick of a switch, giving six speeds, extra refinement, and the cachet of upmarket technical sophistication of marques like Jaguar, Triumph , Volvo Austin Healey or even Aston Martin or Maserati.
    Ford couldn’t compete with that, they didn’t have overdrive available. And the Automatics in all these cars were power sapping clunky three speeds, the manual was what you wanted.
    Against the other mass market cars from Ford and Vauxhall and Leyland’s Marina they compared very well.