By 1961, the Rootes Group was established as one of the Big Four in the UK, along with BMC (Austin/Morris/MG/Wolseley/Riley), Ford and Vauxhall (representing GM and then still separate from Opel). Rover and Triumph trailed behind all four, and would eventually combine with BMC to form British Leyland. But Rootes had two major issues, and the Super Minx was its response to the bigger of the two, size wise, anyway.
Rootes had no significant presence in the small car market, where the market was defined by the novel but complicated Mini and the pragmatic Ford Anglia, and with only one product range in the important mid-market. This was the Hillman Minx (above), also known as the Audax series, which whilst available in three brands, was of limited appeal against the more modern looking Ford Cortina, the determinedly fashionable Vauxhall Victor and the ubiquitous Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford twins from BMC.
The Audax series dated from 1957 with an engine from 1953 and the advantages of American inspired styling, by Raymond Loewy, which meant that frequent updates were necessary. It went from series I to series IV between 1957 and 1963, was produced in every day Hillman, luxury Singer (CC here), and sporty Sunbeam (CC here) variations.
Rootes addressed the first issue with the Hillman Imp (CC here) – Britain’s first volume produced, rear–engined car which came with a list of issues that started with innovative but unproven conceptual design and went onto compromised execution, a new factory in new area (Linwood in Scotland, closed in 1981) through inadequate quality, limited dealer network and insufficient volume, collectively resulting in commercial failure.
The second issue, of an inadequate mid-market presence, was to be addressed by a new Minx, to supersede the Audax with a more modern product. The Audax had by now reached series IV, with a 1590cc version of the 1953 Rootes OHV four cylinder engine and considerably cleaned and toned down styling, compared with the 1957 original. Rootes started work on the successor.
With an extended wheelbase of 101in (Audax: 96in), and weighing in at 2400lbs, several hundred more than the Minx, it became apparent that this larger new car was not a direct replacement for the Audax series, and instead Rootes determined to market it as a supplement for the Minx, and as a competitor for the Austin Cambridge, Morris Oxford and Vauxhall Victor, rather than the Ford Cortina. Thus, the Super Minx was born, at the 1961 London Motor Show.
The Super Minx (and indeed the Audax Minx and every Rootes car except the Imp, up to the last, the 1970 Hilman Avenger/Plymouth Cricket)) was a defiantly conventional car - OHV straight four engine, four speed gearbox (synchromesh on top three gears only!) with optional overdrive, coil springs at the front, semi-elliptic at the rear, drum brakes (until 1963), recirculating ball steering, a heater and an optional radio. Bench seats or twin front seat literally meeting in the middle (unusual in Europe) were offered and the floor mounted handbrake was to the right of the driver’s seat (in RHD cars).
The Super Minx continued the traditional Rootes philosophy of offering the UK customer something technically conservative but with styling to match current American trends – hence the panoramic front and rear screens, roof line, truncated tail fins and front styling of the original series I and II versions. Closely involved in the styling was Roy Axe, Rootes Director of Design from 1966.
Rootes were always prompt with revisions, or at least in revisions they considered to be, substantial enough to warrant a new designation. In 1962, came the series II, visually the same but with front disc brakes being the most exciting change. In 1963, the series III had a revised six light roof line design, giving a much more formal look and seeming to match the current Austin Cambridge almost blow for blow – 1.6 litre, 60 bhp engines, wheelbase, length and width all within inches, weight the same, even matching size fuel tanks and a dual tone side stripe – and competing directly against the Vauxhall Victor, which also had US derived style and all of them half a step above the lighter Ford Cortina.
In 1964, came the series IV, visually identical to the series III, but with a 1725cc version of the Rootes OHV engine, with 65 hp and a capability of nearly 90 mph. This moved the car clearly ahead of the Cortina and with clear blue water between it and the Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford, which stayed at 1622 cc to their end, in 1969. Just to keep everything simple, Rootes gave us also the Minx series VI in 1965, with the same 1725cc engine. A Super Minx in a slightly smaller package, in other words. Rootes, of course, still had the same problem of lack if mid-market presence as they did in 1961.
In 1966, Rootes replaced the Super Minx with the Arrow range, badged as the Hillman Hunter in the UK and the Sunbeam Arrow in North America (CC here). The estate and the Sceptre lasted until 1967.
Rootes being Rootes, offered the Super Minx in more than one badge. Hillman for mere mortals, the Singer Vogue (above) for the slightly more affluent;
and as the Humber Sceptre (above) for the “you know I’m more affluent, don’t you?” group (oddly, the Sceptre kept the Superminx Series I and II roof line until 1967).
Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Buick anyone? Sunbeam (Pontiac?) never had a version – the widely accepted story is that the Humber Sceptre was intended to be a Sunbeam but this was changed late on – hence the twin carburettor engine and the grille shape close to the 1955-67 Audax Minx based Rapier, like this. This range of badges also reflected the BMC offering, with its rountine Austin and Morris, the mildly luxurious, mildly sporty Riley 4/72, the luxury Wolesley 15/60 and the sports MG Magnette.
Most would consider the series IV to be the true Super Minx. I’m sure my Dad would have. He wasn’t a car guy, but he bought a 1966 series IV Super Minx saloon in 1967 to replace a Audax Minx series IV he’d had since 1964. It was Kingfisher Blue with a black stripe and black interior – an absolute match for this car I saw in September 2012. He stayed with Hillman, then Chrysler Europe, then Talbot (after the Peugeot buy out of Chrysler Europe in 1978) until 1985 – a total of 11 cars in all; a true Rootes loyalist right to the end.