CC has recently featured the Rootes Group Arrow range in its better known variations – the Hillman Minx (1500 cc engine) and Hunter (1725cc engine), and the Sunbeam Rapier, known as the Sunbeam Arrow and Sunbeam Alpine GT in North America, but there were two other brands under which the car was sold. One was Singer – the Singer Vogue was a mildly dressed up Hunter and other was Gazelle, a similarly tweaked Minx. These variants didn’t last long–badge engineering could not sustain shallow changes in 1970, even in Britain.
The other version was the decidedly more upmarket Humber Sceptre. Humber was Rootes’s most upmarket brand, without the sporting image of Sunbeam, and essentially limited to the home market. Prior to the Sceptre, the Humber brand had been kept exclusively for a separate range of large, mostly six-cylinder cars like the Hawk and Super Snipe, competing with cars like the Vauxhall Cresta, Austin Westminster and Ford Zodiac, as cars that were bigger than the higher volume, smaller cars like the Victor, Farina saloons or Cortina. These Humbers died in 1967 and were never directly replaced, by which time competing cars were old and the market had basically died. The Rover 2000 and Triumph 2000 signed their death warrant in 1963, if truth be told.
Rootes, arguably, spotted this trend ahead of Vauxhall and Ford, offering a Superminx-based Sceptre from 1963 and this Arrow-based car from 1967. On paper, it had most of the fittings you’d see on a Triumph 2000 or Rover 2000–real wood trim, a high power, alloy head version of the familiar Rootes 1725cc OHV engine, twin rear bucket seats, a full set of instrumentation, a vinyl roof, and twin headlamps, among other things.
It had some things the Rover and Triumph didn’t though–leaf springs at the back, a pretty old engine (so did the Triumph but it was at least a six cylinder), leatherette cloth (which is not leather) trim and styling, which though absolutely fine to my taste, is clearly a Hunter with Rapier headlights. Such things matter in that market.
Something else mattered too – the Ford Cortina, specifically the Cortina Mk2 1600E, which covered practically all of these bases without the image of being an older driver’s car. The Mk3 Cortina GXL of 1970 did it all, with a much more fashionable style as well.
By 1974, Chrysler UK was up to its neck in trouble, and anything able to gain some market share was appreciated. The Chrysler 180/2 Litre range had not made the impression expected or required, so the parts department was called upon to place one of everything from the stores into one car (possibly; I may be abbreviating a little here) to create the Sceptre Estate, based on the Hunter estate and perhaps the first estate car offered in the UK with a deliberate luxury emphasis. This was a bigger step than it might seem now, compared with the plumber’s or large family’s Hunter estate.
The car was among the first, perhaps the first, to offer factory fitted roof rails, at lest in Europe. The interior was as plush as such a car’s could be in 1974, with all the trim and equipment offered in the saloon, and a rear window heater and screen wiper, which were unusual features back then. As a measure of how things have changed, there were no electric windows, central locking, head restraints or five-speed gearbox (overdrive was fitted instead). An eight-track stereo was available though.
This car is a 1975 model, finished in a surprisingly attractive shade of pale yellow, with wood effect trim on the pillars, rather than the vinyl on the saloon. The tailgate had a wood effect trim panel as well, housing the reversing lights.
The Sceptre Estate was always “too little, too late” – maybe it would have worked better in 1968, and there are now very few left around, In total, there are fewer than 20 Sceptres from 1975 still registered in the UK, so to see a Sceptre Estate in this condition is quite something. A good start to the car show season summer.
It may not be a great car, or even the best Arrow, but as a practical classic with bit of distinction and easy maintenance, it makes a strong case. I could even accept the colour; overdrive is a useful feature; it’s practical for carrying (clean) stuff; the wood effect exterior trim is distinctive….
I’d best stop, before I talk myself into something.