The Minx name was used by the Rootes Group’s main mid market car for 37 years, from 1932 to 1969. This 1967 Minx is probably one of the best examples of its final version you will find.
The Rootes Group was unique in the British motor industry as it was the only manufacturer to have grown out of a vehicle distributor and retailer, and also the only major manufacturer to be controlled by a dynastic family. The Rootes brothers (William and Reginald) started in 1913 as garage owners in Maidstone, Kent in southeast England and grew to become the country’s largest vehicle distributors by the mid 1920s.
They then expanded by buying into car manufacturing, with financial support from the Prudential Assurance Co. The company acquired, in quick order, the coach builder Thrupp and Mabberly, then Humber and Hillman cars and also Commer Trucks. Sunbeam, Talbot and Karrier were all added by 1934, just eight years after the purchase of Thrupp and Mabberley. Singer, where William Rootes had served his apprenticeship, was added in 1955.
The Minx name first appeared in 1932, on the second all-Rootes Hillman–the first was the ill-judged and poorly timed upmarket Hillman Wizard. The Minx was a perfectly conventional and conservative saloon, supported by some typical Rootes marketing initiatives. Production continued throughout the war, as a pickup for the military.
Immediately after the Second World War, the British industry was exhorted to “Export or die!” with each manufacturer to focus resources on one key model. Rootes focused on the Minx, and the all new 1948 model MKIII became a milestone in Rootes history, marking a step change for the company and the position of the Minx in the market. Here was a car that could give the other major manufacturers a real challenge, based around a true modern style. The 1948 Minx eventually wound up as the Mark VIII in 1956, the final version of that generation.
In 1956 came the better-known Audax series of cars. These were styled by Raymond Loewy, and were a clear sign that Rootes was now a business very much influenced by American trends, in this case Studebaker. Sir William (known as Billy) Rootes, Chairman of Rootes until his death in 1964, had long been a keen observer of American trends and styles. As a result, all Rootes products from the 1956 Minx to the last, the 1970 Hillman Avenger, showed American rather than European style influences, as did many British Ford and Vauxhall (GM) products. This distinguished them from BMC, who either did their styling in house with varying success (Mini, Austin-Morris 1800) or relied on Pininfarina (Austin A40, ADO16 and Farina ranges), and from Triumph, who used Michelotti exclusively throughout the 1960s.
The car above is a 1962 Minx convertible; I saw it at a car show in North London in September, during a showery afternoon. Every time I saw it, its lady owner, who has had it since 1964, was drying the cellulose paint to avoid it drying naturally and leaving streaks. The third time I saw her, she was driving home in the rain.
Rootes continually developed the Audax series, from the series I with a 1390cc to the series VI with a 1725cc engine and an option of a BorgWarner 35 automatic. The styling changed little until the series V (there was no series IV, incidentally) of 1963 offered a very much tidied-up and calmed-down style, though with the Loewy roots (sorry, couldn’t resist) still clearly evident. The Audax range also marked Rootes’ true conversion to the practice of badge engineering – the Singer Gazelle and Sunbeam Rapier models spun off the basic Hillman did good business for Rootes.
Prior to the series V, whilst the Minx range (four door saloon, estate, Husky compact estate, hard top Californian and convertibles up to 1962) changed little visually–despite the series III gaining fashionable tailfins, there were significant mechanical changes over this time, including increasing engine sizes, from 1390cc to 1494cc (1958) to 1592cc (1961) and finally 1725cc (1965). The red car shown is a 1966 Series VI automatic, and one of the last years of the Audax range.
The Audax range was originally planned to be replaced by the car that became the Super Minx in 1961, but that had grown in development to be effectively a size larger than the Minx, and was marketed alongside the series V and VI until 1966. The clash between these cars is quite striking – the Super Minx had 5 extra inches in its wheelbase, to the benefit of passenger and boot space, but the same engine. When the Superminx went to a 1725cc engine in 1964, so did the Minx.
But Rootes reached the mid 1960s as essentially a one product company–the Audax Minx and its Singer and Sunbeam derivatives, topped off by low volume and dated Humber Hawks and Super Snipes, the Sunbeam Alpine/Tiger sports car (also based on the Audax Minx) and the unsuccessful, cash draining Hillman Imp.
In 1966, Rootes introduced the new Hillman Hunter, the successor to the Super Minx and the first of the new Arrow range of cars. The Arrow name was never used in the UK as a model designation, but was used in other markets, notably North America where the car was sold as the Sunbeam Arrow. The Hunter (my personal preference is to refer to it as the Hunter, for good reasons as you’ll see) used the same 1725cc engine as the Minx Series VI and Superminx, but was presented in an all new, sharply styled bodyshell–again with North American influences–on a wheelbase exactly half way between the Minx and the Superminx. Better packaging, by moving the engine forward and lower, including inclining it, allowed a much lower bonnet line and maintained the passenger accommodation of the Superminx, although the location of the fuel filler makes you wonder exactly where the fuel tank is, and the how safe it was.
For the first time, Rootes used MacPherson struts, although the Hunter was one of the last British cars to use rear leaf springs. It was also one of the last British cars to offer an overdrive option. More importantly, it was significantly lighter than the Super Minx, and consequently much livelier to drive, although it was in no way a driver’s car. The key competition was from the Ford Cortina, Vauxhall Victor, Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford, though the Austin and Morris 1800 and later the Austin Maxi covered the same area of the market. The Triumph 1300 was smaller; the 2000 significantly upmarket. Assembly was in Ryton, Coventry in the English Midlands and the heart of the UK car industry; in 1970 it moved to Linwood in Scotland
Rootes followed up the Hunter in 1967, with a new Hillman Minx–for all intents and purposes visually indistinguishable except for the badging. The only difference was the engine; the Minx used a 1496cc version of the familiar Rootes OHV engine and was therefore effectively a Hunter 1500 with some deletions in the interior equipment. There were also upmarket Singer variants: the Gazelle (1500cc) and Vogue (1725 cc). In 1969, the Hunter was differentiated from the Minx with larger rectangular headlamps.
By 1970, with Rootes now fully owned by Chrysler, the logical step was taken and the Minx became the Hunter Deluxe 1500, the Gazelle and Vogue (and the Singer name) were discontinued, and the Hunter Super, GL and GT were introduced. The Humber Sceptre (above) version continued until 1976,
as did the rather distinct looking fastback version Sunbeam Rapier (sold as the Sunbeam Alpine in America). But after 37 years, the Minx nameplate was honourably retired. By my estimates, it was the longest running British nameplate, other than Mini.
The Hunter range sold well initially; in the late 1960s it had 6-7% of the British market and was probably as good as a Cortina Mk2, if a little more expensive and with a much more limited range of engines and options. By 1970, though, against the slightly larger, sharply styled and well-marketed Cortina Mk3, it struggled. There was a gentle nip and tuck in 1972 and new grilles and rear trims in 1976, which were at odds with the clean, simple lines of the original car.
European production and sales ended in 1979, after the Peugeot takeover of Chrysler’s European operations. It was not directly replaced, though the Chrysler Alpine hatchback (1975) and Solara saloon (1979) represented Chrysler, and then Peugeot, in that part of the market. Australian and New Zealand assembly also finished in 1979
The Hunter had its half hour of fame in 1968, when, driven by Andrew Cowan, Colin Malkin and Brian Coyle, it won the London-Sydney Marathon. This was a special stage rally, of the type popular in Europe since the 1920s, from London across Europe, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India to Mumbai (then Bombay), onto a ship to Perth, and then across Australia to Sydney. The Hunter was the unexpected winner, with Ford and the BMC leading most of the way, before the only Hunter in the rally claimed the victory, after the Roger Clark’s Lotus Cortina had mechanical issues and Paddy Hopkirk in an Austin 1800 stopped to help a fellow competitor after a traffic accident. Rootes, now Chrysler, were caught as unawares as anyone by this success, and the follow-up marketing effort did not fully exploit it.
Perhaps the best known international aspect of the Arrow story is the Peykan, a version of the Hunter/Arrow built in Iran. The account most commonly recorded is that the Iranian Ministry of Trade invited BMC, Rootes and Vauxhall to pitch ideas for an Iranian national car, and only Rootes showed up. They got the contract and CKD production of the Peykan (Persian for Arrow) began in 1967. Manufacture became all-Iranian by the mid 1970s, except for engines supplied by Coventry. Engine tooling was sold to Iran in the early 1980s and complete manufacture continued until 2005. Later cars were fitted with Peugeot 504 rear axles and engines.
I saw the featured car at a steam railway centre in Quainton, Buckinghamshire last May; it is a 1967 Minx 1500 and appears to be factory standard.
The Rootes group was absorbed into Chrysler by 1967; in 1978, Chrysler Europe was sold to Peugeot and car production in the UK continued until 2005. The retail side, where the Rootes brothers started, still operates today under the Robins and Day name as part of Peugeot UK, having dropped the last Rootes titled franchises in 2007.
And the reason I prefer to use the name Hunter rather than Arrow? My Dad had one, to follow a Super Minx and a Minx series V: a 1972 Hunter Super in Aztec Gold metallic similar to this one. It was the first car for which he asked my opinion before making his purchase, and the first car upon which I performed any corrosion repair.
I had a Hunter as well, a little smaller than Dad’s. It didn’t rust though, thanks to its plastic body.