Naturally, the changing industrial landscape of Coventry and Warwickshire means there are a number of car manufacturers who have fallen by the wayside over the years. This article sketches the later years of Humber, one of the earlier and more established manufacturers, and how the name ended maybe not as finally as it initially appeared.
Brief background to Humber
Humber began by making cycles, with its first car being made in Coventry in 1896. It is claimed that they made the first series production cars in England. One of the major car manufacturers of their day, they survived fires at their premises in 1896 and 1906, with the Stoke (Coventry) works opening on 12th March 1908. In 1929 Humber merged with Rootes controlled Hillman, with Rootes buying a majority stake in 1931. Despite this, the company kept their image for high quality, reliable products despite an inevitable degree of harmonisation.
Humber’s reputation for well-made, lasting products was arguably cemented during World War Two. Manufacturing a number of wartime vehicles, Humbers came to be associated with Field Marshall Montgomery. Christened ‘Old Faithful’, a 1943 Humber staff car was used by Montgomery as his transport in North Africa, Sicily and Italy during World War Two. Apparently such was his affection for the car, that when it fell into the sea after the D-Day landings, Montgomery ordered it to be salvaged and prepared for his use, and within 24 hours the car was running again.
After the war, much Humber production shifted from the Stoke plant to Ryton. Humber continued to manufacture large, statesmanlike cars favoured by Government ministers and royalty. The Hawk, Super Snipe, and Imperial were grand, imposing cars that played on Humber’s reputation for quality. They were discontinued in 1967, however, leaving the sole Humber as the Sceptre. This 1967 version of the Sceptre was a heavily badge engineered version of the new Rootes Group ‘Arrow’ range. Perhaps a sign that Rootes were struggling for cash after the expense of launching the Imp, there was no longer a ‘unique’ Humber in the range, but rather the inherent prestige and value held within the name was used by Rootes to create a luxury medium sized saloon from the base of the mainstream Hillman Hunter.
Perhaps accurately anticipating the trends that would see the likes of BMW, Audi, and Lexus fill this market in the present day, the Sceptre suffered from the lack of investment by new owners Chrysler in Rootes as a whole, and the car soldiered on well past its sell-by date – and at this stage was built at Linwood, Scotland, well away from its Midlands heartlands. Further rationalisation by Chrysler Europe saw the use of the old Rootes brands ending in 1976, with all models re-badged as Chrysler. The Sceptre died out at this stage, leaving the Chrysler Hunter as the last surviving ‘Arrow’1 This was not to last long however, before the Chrysler Europe operations were sold in 1978 to Peugeot for $1.
Although Peugeot chose to revive an old Rootes brand name for the models they inherited, they chose Talbot rather than any of those in recent use. Perhaps this was to avoid any association with the later history of under investment, an ageing model line, and employment disputes. The Arrow range, nonetheless, did not survive the shift to Talbot and was at last allowed to die out.
Although Humber was not revived, the ‘Sceptre’ branding was used on certain Peugeots such as the 205 in the 1990s, along with the Talbot Solara of 1982. Used at this point, much as the ‘original’ Sceptres to denote a luxurious version, it perhaps provided an echo of past glories for this once proud Coventry firm.
Did you work for Humber at any stage? If so, we’d love you to share your memories of doing so, and what life was like working for the company. Perhaps your parents or grandparents did, and they have something they passed on to you? Do let us know.
1 In this country at least, but perhaps that’s a cue for another article!