The motor show was always a good opportunity to show off the new wares of the industry. This is less of the case now than it was, of course, with just two major shows in Europe each year now for example. But back in 1948, this was most certainly still the case, and no one was more aware of it than the Rootes brothers, perhaps the British industry’s ultimate salesmen and showmen.
CC has seen before the importance of the 1948 London Motor Show, the first since 1938 with several milestone vehicles presented, and heard of the presentation skills of Billy (Lord) Rootes, the man who made a complete model out of a car, the 1935 Hillman Melody Minx, with a radio.
The 1948 British Motor Show, at the Earls Court exhibition centre in west London, was perhaps the most significant ever. Not only was it the first show since 1938, but it marked the debut of three of the great cars that put Britain back on its feet after the second World War – the Land Rover, the Morris Minor and the Jaguar XK120. Each could claim greatness, and many could spend a happy evening debating their relative merits and choosing one to go home in.
But there were many more debutants – each of the British manufacturers had something new to show, and Rootes were no exception. Their star cars were the new Minx, known as the Phase III Minx, new big Humber luxury saloons and new Sunbeam-Talbot sports saloons. Rootes were determined that their new Minx, commercially the most important of the three, would be remembered, but how?
The X-ray Minx was the answer. The idea is reported to have been from Geoffrey Rootes, son of Lord Rootes and then a director of the business, and was based on a car built with Perspex panels, coloured black, and lit powerfully from within the car. Add in a timer and strong lights on the interior of the vehicle, and you’re there. The effect included the engine bay, showing a turning engine and transmission driven off an electric motor.
The x-ray impression continued to the interior fittings, which would otherwise not have been visible, such as the seat frames, door cards and inner panels.
The Minx itself was a pretty unremarkable car – a unitary construction with a straight four engine of 1185cc, giving some 35 bhp and 63 mph. 0-60 was 24 seconds and 40 mpg was claimed. Suspension was independent at the front, using wishbones and leaf springs at the rear. Perhaps the stand out feature compared with its competitors was the Loewy styling, showing similarities to post war Studebakers, albeit in a truncated form. Some resemblance was evident in Rootes products for almost 20 years, until the Hillman Hunter/Sunbeam Arrow range came on the scene.
Assembly was completed in Coventry but with CKD assembly across the world in Rootes’ outposts, especially in Australia and New Zealand, as Britain pushed for exports. A total of 150,000 were built in five years, over three variations.
The panels were produced by Triplex, the safety and toughened glass business that was part of the Pilkington glass empire. Triplex was a name based on the idea of bonding glass in layers using adhesive plastic membranes.
And the cost? A regular Minx was £505, the X-ray Minx £15000.00, around 30 Minxes, equivalent to £400,000 today or around 20 Peugeot 308 hatchbacks, the spiritual successor to the Minx.
I suspect Lord Rootes would have considered it a bargain.