HUMBER – it’s one of those names that instantly evoke waves of nostalgia among people of a certain age.
They were big, impressive cars, like great ocean-going cruise ships. They shared the narrow streets of 1940s and 1950s Britain with the likes of Wolseley, Riley, Hillman, Singer, Sunbeam, Standard and Triumph.
In 1950s London, our family neither owned nor needed a car – in fact, I can remember only one neighbour who had one, a bulbous old Vauxhall that seemed a perfect fit for its bulbous old owner.
But when holiday time came around, which wasn’t often, my father would sometimes hire a car to get us to the coast where we could spend a week sitting in beachfront cafes wiping the steam off the windows so we could see the rain more clearly and all of us wishing that we were back at home.
The car we would hire was usually a Hillman Minx, which did little to raise my schoolboy level of excitement – but once or twice we got a big, floaty Humber and how I loved it.
The model we’d hire was a Humber Hawk and memories of it came flooding back when its bigger, plusher sibling, the Super Snipe, went under the hammer at last week’s Dorset Vintage and Classic Auctions sale at Yenston, near Templecombe.
This was a 1950 mark three saloon, with 95,000 miles on the clock, and it sold for £10,560 – well above the pre-sale estimate of £8,500 to £9,000 – to a buyer from Hertfordshire.
The Super Snipe is about the size of a detached bungalow with conservatory to the rear and yet inside there is probably no more space for adult posteriors on its inviting leather bench-seats than in a medium-sized modern hatchback. Interior design, particularly the skill of maximising space, has come a very long way but I’d still rather enjoy a Sunday jaunt in the big Humber than a shiny new Focus or Golf.
Humber produced high-quality cars from its plant at Ryton-on-Dunsmore in Warwickshire from 1946. Earlier production was from the Coventry works and prior to 1880, Thomas Humber produced bicycles and early powered vehicles from Beeston in Nottinghamshire.
The Snipe and its longer wheelbase Pullman cousin arrived in 1930, shortly before the company was acquired by the Rootes Group. The Super Snipe combined the Pullman’s meaty four-litre engine and the body of the Snipe. Variants saw service with the Allied Forces during the war.
Brian Chant, boss of the Stalbridge-based auction house, explains the technical stuff: “This one is a rare car. It is believed that just four pre-1952 Super Snipes were fitted with the Blue Riband overhead valve 4138cc engine and the vendor believes this to be the only one on the road today.”
I don’t know about that but I do know that, when I looked inside the big Humber at the auction viewing, the sight of that huge steering wheel, its column-mounted gear stick, wooden dash and thick carpets transported me back to a time when Britain’s roads were a lot more genteel and slow-but-sure was more important than acceleration figures or emission levels.