Great Cars of Yesteryear


Californian-MinxIMAGE_edited1959_singer_gazelle1Not many people will remember the Roots Group or the lovely little Hillman Minx. Nevertheless they were among the finest cars produced in Britain for the first half of the 20th century.  You might wonder why I mention this subject, after all, I’m the Irishrover and have owned and driven Rovers for the last forty years.  Well, Hillman does have a link to Rover.  In the 1860’s William Hillman, a young engineer was hired by the firm of Turner & Starley know as the Coventry Singer Sewing Machine Co. Besides sewing machines they were now experimenting with the rising popularity of Bicycles both peddle and powered. After a few years of successful sales of the two wheel machines James Starley went on to produce the first Rover automobile in 1904. In 1907 Hillman built his first car, he was already a millionaire from the sale of his bicycles. By the 1930’s the Hillman automobile was a popular choice of British motorists. During the depression years the company was merged into the Rootes Group which included such vehicles as Humber, Singer and Sunbeam. After the Second World War when car manufacturing started to rebound the Hillman Minx fast became a common sight on the roads of Britain. All through the 1950’s and 60’s Rootes enjoyed great success. However by the mid 70’s the British car  industry was in serious trouble. They were plagued by labour strikes and disputes, poor quality control and foreign competition.In the late 70’s the Chrysler Corporation took over the Rootes Group.  By the 1980’s the writing was on the wall, Chrysler was struggling and although the Rootes group tottered on under the Sunbeam name it was soon cancelled. Looking back it is so sad to see such wonderful little cars that are gone forever. My first real car was a 1936 Hillman Minx saloon, I purchased it from my brother in 1959 for 12 GBP’s. It was a great car and took me across England more than once. I eventually traded it for a 1938 Jaguar, but that’s another story. In 1964 now serving with the Navy in Canada I bought a 1959 Singer Gazelle (Rootes Group) it was identical to the Minx but better equipped with a radio, leather and wood trim etc. I paid $200 and drove it for two years including the harsh Nova Scotia winters. All I ever spent on it was a new battery and two snow tires. In the 1970’s I bought a 1956 Hillman Californian, I fixed it up but never put it on the road, by this time my interests were moving toward Rovers. Nevertheless, the Hillman cars were among the best I have ever owned, unfortunately they are rarely ever seen these days. Just another chapter in the history of the many forgotten British cars. In the photos I have posted the oldest is the 1936 Hillman then the Singer Gazelle,didn’t keep a photo of the Californian but the poster shows how stylish it was.

God Bless and keep reading

About irishroverpei

Author of "Lily & Me", "The Royal Navy & Me" and Chapter XXl Armageddon. Writer, blogger and RN Submariner, antique automobile enthusiast.
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