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The Humber Super Snipe, flagship of the Rootes range from 1957 to ’67, was really pitched half a class higher than the likes of a Vauxhall Cresta or Ford Zodiac in the luxobarge hierarchy, even if it never quite had the gravitas of a Rover 3-Litre.
It was a car that gave local councillors, accountants and general self-styled pillars of the community just the right veneer of ’60s respectability.
They grew from 2.6 to 3 litres in 1960 and evolved through five series of development, the most memorable changes being the paired headlights on the Series III and the squared-off roofline of the 1965 Series V.
The Rootes brothers were inspired by all things American and there are clear traces of GM styling the treatment of the Super Snipe Estate, my favoured variant, particularly the rear side windows, which are pure Chevrolet Nomad.
The basic Super Snipe shell appeared first as a four-cylinder Humber Hawk in 1957 – the Carbodies-built estate was released later in the year.
At nearly £2000 in 1960, these big wagons were virtually made to order and were among the biggest monocoque bodyshells built in Britain.
The six-pot Super Snipe had an Armstrong Siddeley-designed engine giving no more than 124bhp, hardly a bonanza of power to haul 3600Ib of not-very-aerodynamic Rootes-mobile along: 100mph with a tail wind was all you could hope for.
What a shame the Chrysler V8-engined version never came to pass, although at under 5 litres it was not much more lively than the old straight-six. Rootes got as far as designing brochures before pulling the plug on the V8 idea, and thereafter all subsequent Humbers were four-cylinder Sceptres.
In their prime, Super Snipes had an air of authority that endeared them to the police who used the estates extensively in London as high-speed motorway-incident cars.
There was 56cu ft of load space with the rear seat folded down, plus the bottom half of the two-way opening tailgate was supported by spring-loaded cables.
But I’d be lying if I said these cars are nice to drive, and I can only hope Raymond Baxter got paid well for fielding one in the Rallye Monte-Carlo in the early ’60s.
Slothful in automatic form and hard work as a manual, the best that can be said is that the hemi-head straight-six sounds quite pleasing, and has solid torque that gives little cause to use the column gearshift and pump the hefty clutch.
It was, then, a car of charm rather than performance or driver appeal, a smooth, quiet machine that power-steered in a manner all of its own, but got you to your destination feeling relaxed.
The perfect car for a gentle run to the coast with shooting sticks, tartan travel rugs and a picnic hamper in the back.
Overdrive – and utter stability – made the big Humbers good motorway cars, but handling was of the terminal understeer variety with a heavy dose of readily induced axle tramp. Most buyers only cared that the power steering and brakes were light.
Really, the glory of these big Humbers was the atmosphere of their rich, comfortable interiors, a riot of leather and walnut that was well up to Rover standards in materials and detail finish, with veneered picnic tables for the rear-seat occupants.
The 1965-’67 Imperial was the ultimate development of the Super Snipe concept.
I once owned an example with air conditioning and bombproofing that had been the personal car of ex-Prime Minister Harold Wilson, but only the Super Snipes came as estate cars, in which form they make a kind of sense, and still look swish enough for me to be able to overlook their dynamic shortcomings.
A few years ago a noted collector of Humbers actually gifted me a scruffy example, which I managed to get up and running but eventually swapped for a Vauxhall Viscount, but that’s another story.
Images: Thomas Brimblecombe
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