Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley

| 17 Jan 2022
Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley

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A stop for coffee at the Ace Cafe London on the North Circular provides a chance to pause and compile your expenses.

Most important, you need to keep an eye on your new company car in this haven of the Ton-Up Boys, because it is a hard-won status symbol.

Commercial travelling in a bottom-of-the-range model now belongs in the past, for extra chrome means managerial status.

Plus a look of respect from the maître d’hôtel of the Golden Egg on Friday lunchtime.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
T-bird influence is clear in the Corsair’s distinctive snout

Many Ford drivers probably believed the launch brochure’s boasts that the new Corsair was for the motorist who was: ‘Sophisticated, cool, tough – and on the outside, casually elegant. James Bond with a touch of Peter O’Toole.’

The reality was probably closer to Eric Sykes with a touch of Terry Scott, but those quasi-Thunderbird lines would indeed cause a stir outside the local branch of Lipton’s.

Ford devised the Corsair as its replacement for the Consul Classic in the D-class sector.

Chairman Terence Beckett thought ‘Project Buccaneer’ should be an extension of the Cortina formula, using that car’s ’screen, windows and door frames. 

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The V4 was first introduced in the Ford in 1965

The Consul Corsair arrived in 1963, losing its prefix a year later.

In ’65 the 1.7-litre 60º V4 succeeded the 1.5-litre Kent engine, augmented by the more potent 1996cc GT.

“It should sizzle,” observed Stirling Moss in a Ferodo advertisement.

Dagenham promoted the latest Corsair as ‘The Car That Is Seen But Not Heard’, a claim that not all drivers regarded as accurate.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Corsair features very discreet detailing

But Rob Shand, custodian of the featured 1966 GT, enjoys the thrum of the V4.

“I think it’s a good unit, and stories of it being rough are overblown,” says Shand, who in 2008 rescued his Saluki Bronze Ford from the garden where it had been languishing for several years.

Shand has been a Corsair enthusiast since he was 16 years old and regards the model as much underrated compared with its Cortina sibling.

His example is a reminder of how low-key so many 1960s British sporting Fords now appear, with their discreet shields on the rear wings.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Stateside flavour continues inside

The cabin is similarly businesslike, for too much equipment would prevent the owner from aspiring to a Zodiac MkIV.

Ford offered lesser Corsairs with a column-mounted gear lever, but Shand prefers the GT’s sportier floor change.

Motor Sport’s Bill Boddy complained that, while the V4 Corsair was ‘a well-equipped, nicely upholstered family car’, as a GT it was ‘a tragedy’.

Yet the typical driver was less concerned with being the next Graham Hill than arriving at their next appointment on time.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Vauxhall Victor has American influences of its own

Production ceased in 1970 when the range was replaced by the upper echelons of the Cortina MkIII range.

Today, the Corsair represents a lost vision of the future, one of urban freeways, Terylene suits and ‘Autosnack’ vending machines.

Not to mention an appearance that is ‘as dashing as its name suggests’.

The Vauxhall Victor FB looks even more Detroit-inspired than the Corsair.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
Dave Troughton has a long history with the Vauxhall marque

Its style was partially dictated by Luton’s Canadian export market, in which the FB-series was sold as the Envoy via Chevrolet and Oldsmobile dealers.

Meanwhile, a Vauxhall motorist in the UK would probably affect the sort of mid-Atlantic accent favoured by ITV quiz-show hosts as they asked a scowling Grill and Griddle waitress on the M1 for “the check please, honey”.

Vauxhall unveiled the second-generation Victor in the autumn of 1961, and it was replaced three years later by the FC.

Dave Troughton has owned this 1963 FB since 2011, but his history with the model goes back much further.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Victor’s badges are similarly low-key to those of the Ford

“My dad was a draughtsman on Bedford chassis and received an employee discount,” he recalls.

“He described the FB as one of the best cars Vauxhall ever made.

“I first saw this car on eBay, but someone offered a large sum of money to end the auction early.

“So I then decided to buy a motorcycle instead, only to get a call saying that the other buyer had pulled out.”

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The tail-lights were donated to the Lotus Elan

Troughton explained that he had already spent his cash, but agreed to go and take a look anyway.

Inevitably, he couldn’t resist purchasing the Victor, a machine that was promoted by its maker as: ‘Lovely to look at, delightful to drive.’

Furthermore, this example is a Deluxe with separate front seats, leather and ‘lustre’ carpets, a heater and ‘Screenclean’ windscreen washers.

“It’s very satisfying and engaging to drive,” confirms Troughton.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
Deluxe trim gives the Victor a touch of class

“Vision is far superior to any modern car, and the leather interior is more pleasant than a 2021 textile cabin.

“It’s remarkable how smooth the Victor feels at 50-70mph, considering it has a maximum speed of around 80mph.

“The three-speed column gearchange is very pleasant – and a good anti-theft device!”

One of the FB’s closest rivals was the Super Minx, the Hillman for the motorway age with a 1.6-litre engine that promised ‘Power. Energy. Vitality’.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
Glenn and Lourdes Brackenridge with their Super Minx

Equally importantly, any keen sales representative would be bound to impress their potential clients when they arrived in a car that reputedly allowed the driver to ‘stay ahead’.

The Rootes Group had originally intended to replace the Audax-series Minx, but instead introduced the Super Minx as a supplementary model in October 1961.

Glenn Brackenridge’s 1962 car is a fine example of the Series I, with its all-drum brakes and front bench seat.

The first owner invested an extra £10 18s 9d in optional duotone paintwork, enhancing the Hillman’s transatlantic lines.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Hillman’s rare timber dash

 “I came by the Super Minx four years ago,” says Brackenridge.

“It had done just 8600 miles, but needed plenty of attention to its mechanicals, wiring and interior – it took me a year to make the car roadworthy and reliable.”

One attraction of this particular Hillman was the wooden dashboard veneer: “It was a dealer option from Clarkes of Leicester, and only a few examples survive.”

The Super Minx now sports a Sunbeam Rapier overdrive, halogen headlights and a heated rear ’screen.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Hillman’s unstressed 1.6 engine

“The intention is to keep the car as original as possible, but take advantage of discreet upgrades to improve the driving experience,” says Brackenridge, whose SI has a 1.6-litre ‘four’ rather than the 1725cc unit that arrived in the 1965 Series IV: “It cruises happily at an unstressed 60mph, while still allowing easy conversation with passengers.”

Such motoring is only to be expected from a car that Hillman claimed represented: ‘The Finest Value in Luxury Transport.’

The Super Minx was partnered in the Rootes range by the more upmarket Singer Vogue, which made its debut in July 1961.

Three years later the Series III, together with its Hillman stablemate, lost its wraparound rear ’screen in favour of an attractive razor-edge roofline, and an alloy head gave a useful power hike.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Singer features discreet rear fins

‘Quality build and exceptionally fine value,’ claimed Rootes, and the Vogue did indeed possess a distinct, conservative yet contemporary appeal.

But for Rob Moss, the owner of this superb ’65 example, his first experience with the Singer wasn’t entirely positive.

“I bought it sight unseen via eBay about 10 years ago,” he recalls, “and as soon as I saw it, I hated it.

“The interior smelled of paint, there was filler in the wheelarches, glassfibre sills and the engine overheated.”

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Singer’s custodians, Bella Taylor and Moss’ son James

Moss left the Vogue on his workshop driveway for the following six months while he searched for a better example, but to no avail.

Instead, he embarked on a £10,000 restoration: “There was major welding underneath, new wings all round and work on the engine.

“I also fitted new carpets and piping around the door apertures.”

The result looks magnificent, and has proved extremely reliable since.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Vogue’s dash includes a stylish strip speedo

“I maintain it well,” he says, “and although the 1600 engine is quite lethargic, it is happy at 55-60mph.”

The 1725cc Series IV from late 1965 offered more power, and in ’66 both the Singer and the Super Minx were succeeded by Rootes’ new Arrow series.

It marked the end of the line for a model which for five years proved that respectability need not preclude cutting a dash at the local village fête.

The Humber Sceptre is the ideal transport for the sales manager with a Bob Monkhouse smile. 

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Humber Sceptre’s style is close to its Singer sibling

For the third of its badge-engineered set, Rootes promised the customer a superbly equipped sports saloon, and the list of fixtures was undeniably lavish: from an adjustable steering column to quad headlights and overdrive.

Best of all, its looks were pleasingly flamboyant, from the vestigial fins to the dramatically styled fascia.

The first post-war compact Humber arrived in 1963 as the flagship of the Super Minx/Vogue line-up.

It sported a lower roofline, a more powerful engine and a Sunbeam Rapier-style grille (Rootes had originally planned for the Sceptre to wear Sunbeam badges). 

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Humber with its long-term owner, Nicholas Harries

Two years later, the MkII gained a new frontal treatment and the five-bearing 1725cc engine, making this 1965 Sage Green over Velvet Green example one of the last MkIs.

It also has a remarkable history, as owner Nicholas Harries explains: “My grandfather bought it new, and I’ve known the car since I was born.

“I learnt to drive in her, and became her custodian when he died in ’85.”

Harries finds the Humber’s road manners to be excellent: “She is as familiar to me as an old, well-fitting glove.”

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Solex carburettor boosts the 1.6 engine to 80bhp

He continues: “The gearchanges are smooth and easy, and the overdrive makes motorway cruising a breeze.

“Refitting the original – and in my view unjustly maligned – Solex PAIA carb and air filter after 30-odd years of having a Weber has made her quieter and more refined, with no adverse effect on her performance.”

It could be argued that the Humber’s lines were already faintly passé by the time of the model’s launch.

The Arrow series replaced the MkII in late 1967, by which time it looked as surreally dated as a Teddy Boy finding himself in the audience for a Pentangle concert.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
Badge-engineering created the ’Farina’ range, with the Riley at its top

Yet the Sceptre is a car of genuine verve and considerable charm.

It represented affordable Americana for the middle-class professional who was definitely, to use a favourite ’60s phrase, on the move.

While the Ford, the Vauxhall and the Rootes trio would probably have appealed to Britons whose role models were the kind of fast-talking individuals played by Ian Hendry in Live Now, Pay Later or The Beauty Jungle, the world of the Riley 4/72 driver was one of order, sobriety and pipe-smoking.

Its owners’ radio station of choice would doubtless have been the BBC Home Service, and if they did have a cinematic role model, it was more likely to be Scotland Yard’s crisply-spoken host Edgar Lustgarten.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The 1622cc 4/72 replaced the 1489cc 4/68

Yet Alan Marshall’s 1964 Riley is undeniably glamorous, albeit in a highly respectable manner.

The combination of extensive chrome plating and the classy Porcelain Grey over Almond Green paint finish highlights the 4/72’s Italian American lines.

The diamond-badged version of the BMC 1½-litre ‘Farina’ range took its bow in early 1959 as the 4/68.

It was facelifted in 1961 as the 4/72, with anti-roll bars front and rear, a longer wheelbase and a 1622cc engine.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Riley with its owner Alan Marshall

Marshall came by his Riley in 1982.

“It’s my second Farina,” he explains, “and it does feel quicker than my old Wolseley.

“Over the years, I’ve changed the needles in the SU carburettors, which makes a difference to the performance.”

He has also replaced the crossply tyres with radials to improve the handling, but admits: “You still can’t go screaming into corners! It is a shame that BMC did not offer the 4/72 with overdrive or the 1.8-litre MGB engine.”

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Riley has a well-appointed cabin

When 4/72 production ended in 1969, it sadly marked the end of the Riley name.

Marshall’s Farina exemplifies the appeal of this regal brand: traditional values in a modernist package – or, as BMC put it, a car for the motorist who ‘travels far and fast’.

The sales copy further targeted the nation’s social climbers, boasting: ‘We often sell this car to people who haven’t got a chauffeur.’

If the ambitious young Basil Fawlty didn’t crave a Riley, he probably should have done.

Classic & Sports Car – Keeping up appearances: Ford vs Vauxhall vs Hillman vs Singer vs Humber vs Riley
The Humber Sceptre wins this particular battle, in part due to its eye-catching dash

None of these compact saloons represented a breakthrough in automotive technology, but that was never their raison d’être.

Instead, each succeeds in marrying conventional engineering with a certain degree of flair.

If I opt for the Sceptre, it is simply for its sheer exuberance.

It’s a car equally suited to the ambitious business driver or the Vince Taylor-style singer making a stand against those long-haired beat combos. And who could resist such a dashboard?

Images: John Bradshaw

Thanks to The Ford Corsair Owners’ Club; Eddie Foster, The Cambridge-Oxford Owners’ Club; Rob and James Moss, The Chevronic Centre; Mark Wilsmore, Ace Cafe London


Factfiles

Ford Corsair V4 GT

  • Sold/no built 1965-’70/135,000 (all V4s)
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine all-iron, ohv 1996cc V4, single Zenith carburettor
  • Max power 88bhp @ 4750rpm
  • Max torque 117lb ft @ 2750rpm
  • Transmission four-speed manual, RWD
  • Suspension at front MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, telescopic dampers
  • Steering recirculating ball
  • Brakes discs/drums, with servo
  • Length 14ft 9in (4496mm)
  • Width 5ft 6in (1676mm)
  • Height 4ft 10in (1473mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 5in (2565mm)
  • Weight 2273lb (1030kg)
  • 0-60mph 14.7 secs
  • Top speed 91mph
  • Mpg 24.8
  • Price new £909
  • Now £5-8000*

 

Vauxhall Victor FB

  • Sold/no built 1961-’64/328,640
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine all-iron, ohv 1508cc ‘four’, single Zenith carburettor
  • Max power 56bhp @ 4600rpm
  • Max torque 86lb ft @ 2200rpm
  • Transmission three-speed manual, RWD
  • Suspension at front wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, telescopic dampers f/r
  • Steering recirculating ball
  • Brakes drums
  • Length 14ft 5¼in (4400mm)
  • Width 5ft 4in (1626mm)
  • Height 4ft 9in (1448mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 4in (2540mm)
  • Weight 2485lb (1127kg)
  • 0-60mph 23.4 secs
  • Top speed 77mph
  • Mpg 28
  • Price new £744
  • Now £4-8000*

 

Hillman Super Minx Series I

  • Sold/no built 1961-’62/n/a
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine all-iron, ohv 1592cc ‘four’, Zenith-Stromberg carburettor
  • Max power 62bhp @ 4800rpm
  • Max torque 86lb ft @ 3000rpm
  • Transmission four-speed manual, RWD
  • Suspension at front double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs; telescopic dampers f/r
  • Steering recirculating ball
  • Brakes drums, with servo
  • Length 13ft 9½in (4191mm)
  • Width 5ft 2½in (1588mm)
  • Height 4ft 10½in (1480mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 5in (2565mm)
  • Weight 2355lb (1068kg)
  • 0-60mph 22.2 secs
  • Top speed 86mph
  • Mpg 25
  • Price new £854
  • Now £3-7000*

 

Singer Vogue Series III

  • Sold/no built 1961-’66/47,769
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine iron-block, alloy-head, ohv 1592cc ‘four’, Solex carburettor
  • Max power 79bhp @ 5000rpm Max torque 91lb ft @ 3500rpm
  • Transmission four-speed manual, RWD
  • Suspension at front double wishbones, coil springs rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs; telescopic dampers f/r
  • Steering recirculating ball
  • Brakes discs/drums
  • Length 13ft 11in (4242mm)
  • Width 5ft 3in (1619mm)
  • Height 4ft 10½in (1480mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 5in (2565mm)
  • Weight 2407lb (1092kg)
  • 0-60mph 17.7 secs
  • Top speed 90mph
  • Mpg 23
  • Price new £844
  • Now £4-8000*

 

Humber Sceptre MkI

  • Sold/no built 1963-’65/17,011
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine iron-block, alloy-head, ohv 1592cc ‘four’, Solex carburettor
  • Max power 80bhp @ 5200rpm
  • Max torque 91lb ft @ 3500rpm
  • Transmission four-speed manual with overdrive, RWD
  • Suspension at front double wishbones, coil springs rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs; telescopic dampers f/r
  • Steering recirculating ball
  • Brakes discs front, drums rear
  • Length 13ft 9½in (4204mm)
  • Width 5ft 3½in (1607mm)
  • Height 4ft 9in (1448mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 5in (2565mm)
  • Weight 2478lb (1124kg)
  • 0-60mph 17.1 secs
  • Top speed 90mph
  • Mpg 23
  • Price new £997
  • Now £4-8000*

 

Riley 4/72

  • Sold/no built 1961-’69/15,151
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine all-iron, ohv 1622cc ‘four’, twin SU carburettors
  • Max power 68bhp @ 5000rpm
  • Max torque 89lb ft @ 2500rpm
  • Transmission four-speed manual, RWD
  • Suspension at front double wishbones, coil springs rear semi-elliptic leaf springs; telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r
  • Steering cam and lever
  • Brakes drums
  • Length 14ft 10½in (4534mm)
  • Width 5ft 3½in (1600mm)
  • Height 4ft 11¾in (1518mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 3¼in (2521mm)
  • Weight 2531lb (1148kg)
  • 0-60mph 19.5 secs
  • Top speed 86.5mph
  • Mpg 25
  • Price new £1097
  • Now £6-10,000*
      

*Prices correct at date of original publication


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