Encountering this Rootes rarity elicited an audible “Woah!” from yours truly. The randomness (and awesomeness) of Tokyo’s CC fauna never ceases to amaze, especially the British stuff. Much as one can expect to see Bentleys, MGs and Jags, because everybody loves those, Humbers are a much more obscure proposition, only to be considered by serious Anglophiles. Doubly so when it’s a Super Minx in fancy dress like this one.
Judging by the license plate, this car was probably sold new in Japan back in 1966-67. I’m guessing it must have been restored at some point in the interim fifty-five-plus years, although when you see how pristine certain 30-year-old cars are around here, anything is possible.
It was hard not to (Humber) gawk, but then I tried going around the car and find more angles for photos, the options were very limited. Still, one must make lemonade out of all the lemons, even the ones stuck in a dark corner. Not that I’d ever call the Humber Sceptre a lemon; it’s zesty and full of appeal.
Yes, the Rootes boys did badge-engineer this small Humber into existence (and essentially killed off the marque with it, in the end, as they did Singer, Talbot, Sunbeam and eventually Hillman), but at least the Humber version kept the old Audax-esque mid-‘50s roofline going until it was way past its bedtime. That takes commitment.
I mean look at this car from the profile or the three-quarter rear. Of course I was not able to get a photo of this one in that position, but there’s always period literature to save the day – in the present case, the 1963 Sceptre Mark I’s superb artwork. The reverse-canted C-pillar / wraparound back light combo was all the rage circa 1954, but by the early ‘60s, that Googie-era stuff was seriously out of step.
The first iteration of the Sceptre, launched in 1963, wore quads and a separate grille and had as much chrome as possible, because HUMBER. It also had a rather antiquated 1.6 litre engine (because MINX), but that was not to last too long.
The rest of the car changed little, but when Rootes decided to give the Sceptre an improved engine, they also gave the car a new face. Now, instead of looking like a gussied-up Singer, it looked like a Hillman that went to public school. It seems some folks back then noted the Scepter’s vague resemblance with the 1964-65 Valiant and wondered whether Chrysler’s increasing participation in Rootes’ capital had anything to do with that. Coincidence? Most likely, yes.
The brand new five-bearing 1725 engine was such big news, it just had to be advertised on the Sceptre’s flanks. Well, it did give the aging range a shot in the arm, but still, when seeing the Humber in context – especially by 1966, when the new Arrows cars were being launched, both British and foreign rivals were nipping at the Rootes.
Interestingly, they opted not to bother with wood in this Humber. That shows a remarkable and laudable amount of restraint on Rootes’ part. Aside from the slightly passé horn ring, the Sceptre’s interior looks much more with it than its exterior, with that Jaguar-like battery of small dials and sporty-looking console-mounted gearstick.
The Humber’s lower roofline, as compared to other Super Minx derivatives, is apparently noticeable, especially at the rear, according to period road tests. But the rear legroom was deemed perfectly acceptable for this segment, i.e. the sports / deluxe compact four-door. Speaking of which, let’s do something I haven’t done in a long while and compare this Humber to a dozen of its British and European rivals.
Humber was not very well-known on the Continent, where Rootes cars were usually sold under the Sunbeam and Hillman marques, so I don’t think you could do a comparison table like this based on German or French data, as the Sceptre was probably not sold there. Even with the hefty import taxes levied by the British government on imported cars, there were a number of German, French and Italian rivals at the Humber’s price point. To be fair, a Simca 1500 or a Fiat 1500L would have seemed less special than the Sceptre, but then so would the Riley or the Corsair. And although the Humber’s body did look dated, it was not the only one – nor the ugliest…
In fact, compared to its fussy predecessor and its bland successor, this is probably the Sceptre to have, if one must be had. And it seems a handful of (doubtless well-heeled) Japanese connoisseurs thought the same way.
Rear end styling feels more ’58 Chevy than ’63 Valiant, in keeping with this Humber’s ‘50s flavour. But at least the capable engine, disc brakes and nicely appointed interior give this Sceptre something of an edge beyond mere tailfins.
At least, this Scepter is interesting to behold and seems to have had a fair amount of success: just shy of 12,000 units were made in two years, which considering how niche this car is, is a decent result. By contrast, the square-cut successor Mark III, which lasted for ten seasons with nary a change, was a powerful illustration of how Chrysler let their Rootes branch wither on the vine.