Historic Car Brands
Humber was originally a British manufacturer of bicycles and, later, motorcycles that had an enviable reputation for quality. From an interest in motor vehicles beginning in 1896, the motor division became much more important than the cycle division.
The cycle trade marques were sold to Raleigh in 1932 and the motorcycles were withdrawn from sale during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In 1896 Humber built a prototype and nine production motor cars that are said to be the first series-production cars made in England. Just as with bicycles, Humber products retained high quality.
1904 Humber Forecar – Buch T
The Humber car of 1898 was a three-wheeler, followed by the first four-wheeled car in 1901. Subsequent models were 12hp and 20hp four-cylinder cars and a three-cylinder, 9hp model.
In 1903 the Humberette featured a tubular frame and a single-cylinder, 5hp engine.
After 1905 the range consisted of four-cylinder, 10/12hp and 16/20hp cars, and a 15hp version arrived in 1907.
1904 Humber Humberette- London to Brighton 2014 – Robert Hummerstone
By 1908, a wide range of Humber cars was produced, from the 600cc Humberette to several six-cylinder, six-litre models.
In 1913, Humber was second only to Wolseley, which was then the largest manufacturer of cars in the United Kingdom. The company also dallied with an air-cooled 8hp, vee-twin, but it was later water-cooled.
1914 Humber TT – Dave
Humber entered three-car team in the 1914 Tourist Trophy event that must have been a very expensive exercise. Designed by F T Burgess, these cars had four-cylinder engines, with four overhead valves per cylinder, operated by twin overhead, gear-driven camshafts. The three-litre engines developed 100hp at 3200rpm, but unfortunately, they didn’t do well over two days of racing.
During Word War I, Humber produced motorcycles and bicycles for the War Office as well as cars.
1927 Humber saloon – Thomas’s pics
Post-War Humbers won a reputation for being solidly-made, reliable cars, powered by uncomplicated, L-head, side-valve engines.
However, in 1922 the company switched to more efficient inlet-over-exhaust, F-head engines. The 8/18 light car’s one-litre engine propelled its 610kg open-tourer bodywork quite well. The later and larger 9/20 was sluggish by comparison.
In 1925, four-wheel brakes were introduced, if in the form of external bands at first.
1928 Humber 14/40 All Weather Tourer – Steve Glover
Also, Humber made the move into the production of commercial vehicles through the purchase of Commer in 1925.
In 1927 the Humber range included the 9/20 and 14/40 four-cylinder models and the six-cylinder 20/55.
In 1928, Humber’s chairman was obliged to report a loss for the second year running and although Commer’s turnover was substantially increased, Commer did not make a profit. Sales of Humber cars, being high-class, were more influenced by conditions than were mass-produced vehicles.
Salvation for Humber was sought through amalgamation of Humber with its partly-owned subsidiary, Hillman Motor Car Company. Hillman, the chairman explained, made one of the most popular medium priced cars and would provide a suitable partner to the distinctive Humber products.
1933 Humber 16/60 – Charles 01
However, the Rootes brothers also had an interest in Hillman, so as a result of the amalgamation, Rootes acquired 60 percent of Humber’s ordinary capital: sufficient for a controlling interest.
The two Rootes brothers joined the Humber board in 1932 and made Humber the holding company for vehicle manufacturing members of what became the Rootes Group.
Humber had introduced three new models: the 2.1-litre,16-50 for 1928 Motor Show release and 3.5-litre Snipe and seven-seater Pullman, both for the October 1929 Motor Show. For the time being, the upgraded 9/28 and 20/65 hp continued, but at a reduced price.
Rootes rationalisation meant the demise of the Humber inlet-over-exhaust engines and dodgy brakes, but also getting the chop was the Humber Snipe’s top-quality coachwork on all but the top-shelf models. The smaller Humber models became Hillmans with different engines and longer wheelbases.
1937 Humber 12 Vogue Pillarless Saloon – Steve Glover
A Humber 1.7-litre Twelve was introduced and it looked like a Hillman Minx with a painted spare wheel cover and hinged quarter lights. However, there was attractive work by independent coach builders on someTwelve chassis and the Vogue sports saloon was rumoured to have been designed by couturier Captain Molyneux.
The Twelve’s engine was bored out and powered Hillman’s Fourteen.
Humber Hawk – Charles 01
By 1939 the Humber range was all six-cylinder cars, topped by the 4.1-litre Super Snipe.
1943 Humber MkII armoured car and crew of B Squadron,11th Hussars, inTripoli.
During Word War II Humber built armoured vehicles and a pair of particularly significant staff cars.
General Montgomery, Commander of the British and Allied forces in Northern Africa during the Desert war of WWII, had two specially built Humber Super Snipe, four-door, open tourers made with larger front mudguards, mine-proof floors and long range fuel tanks. Montgomery’s Humbers were known as ‘Old Faithful’ and the ‘Victory Car’.
1943 The British Army in Italy – Sgt Rooke
‘Victory Car’ took Montgomery and Churchill through the streets of London during the VE parade at the end of WWII.
In the postwar era, Humber’s mainstay products included the two-litre, four-cylinder Hawk, with Hillman-derived engine and the six-cylinder Super Snipe.
1954 – Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in a Humber during their visit to Brisbane in 1954 – State Library of Queensland
The choice of businessmen and officialdom alike, Humbers gained a reputation for well appointed interiors and solid quality. The Hawk and the Super Snipe went through various changes over the next few years.
In 1953 the Super Snipe and Pullman models belatedly scored overhead-valve engines and the Hawk went OHV in 1954.
Humber Super Snipe Mark IV – Jeremy
The Super Snipe disappeared for a time and re-emerged in 1959 with a 2.7-litre six that was soon enlarged to three litres.
By 1960, Rootes annual production was around 200,000 vehicles. Insistence on Rootes family control, however, may have led to under-capitalisation of the business. Building a brand new and ultimately unsuccessful rear engined small car, the Hillman Imp, proved beyond Humber and Rootes Group resources and their businesses were bought by the Chrysler Corporation in 1967.
1966 Humber Super Snipe Series V – Charles 01
The only Humber-branded model to survive the takeover was the uninspiring Sceptre that was a tricked-up, rebadged Hillman Minx, with a 1.7-litre four-cylinder engine. It was mercifully taken off the market in 1976.
It’s sad that the Humber legacy didn’t warrant more respect from Chrysler.