The Hillman Hunter, Hillman Arrow, and Chrysler Hunter
(Sunbeam Rapier, Humber Sceptre Mk III, Singer Arrow and Vogue)
In the early 1960s, Rootes Group decided to replace its Audax range with a more conventional, inexpensive architecture, based on the same basics as the soon-to-come Imp: advance thinking, rear-engine layout, and flamboyant styling.
In 1962, it was conceived as a smaller, cheaper car to augment the Swallow project. Initially, its styling was the responsibility of the Rootes design team, led by Peter Ware, which produced a fairly conventional looking three-box mid-size sedan, with strong overtones of the Imp. The car was designed around a new engine, suspension, and floorpan.
Sadly, soon after the launch of the Imp, it became apparent that the profit situation was not good. The investment at Linwood was a huge drain on resources, even before the launch of the Imp; but, when the car did make it onto the market, it flopped, and poor quality led to mounting warranty costs. That seriously affected Rootes management's confidence in the Swallow; in addition, without revenue from the Imp, the planned investment in such a car was too much for the financially strapped company.
In early 1963, an alternative plan was drawn up: Arrow would be enlarged to replace the planned Swallow, which was now dropped. Rootes would build a lighter, slimmer car, built around the engine and transmission from the Audax. The Arrow would replace the Minx, Super Minx, Sceptre and Rapier models - and right from the beginning, saloon, estate and coupe versions of the new car were planned for.
The elementary work on the Swallow did not go to waste. Many of the Swallow’s design features were incorporated into the Arrow, so the saloon went from project plan to full-sized clay model approved by management in less than ten months.
Arrow took shape as a "pure Rootes design", as Graham Robson describes it, with the styling being led by Rex Fleming. The Rapier and estate version were overseen by Roy Axe, a designer who would go on to lead a long and successful career at Chrysler and Austin-Rover.
When Rootes received its first injection of cash from Chrysler in 1964, the Arrow project did not deviate from its intended course; this car should claim the title of "the last Rootes car." Although Chrysler's purchase of a stake in Rootes did not change the design and implementation of the Arrow, there was finally a healthy amount of cash washing around the company. This allowed for the Arrow to enjoy a rapid and well-funded gestation period.
The Arrow monocoque was around 70 kg lighter than the Super Minx, with an overall weight of 262 kg. Structural rigidity was 4650 lb ft/deg, which was not bad for a 1966 four-door saloon. The body structure was built by Pressed Steel Fisher Ltd., and was comprised of seven separate sub-assemblies.
Compared with the existing Minx, the new car was considerably lighter, more square shouldered, and definitely more conventional in its engineering. Model-on-model, the new car was up to 135 kg lighter than the outgoing one, and this meant that although the existing engines were used, the new cars were considerably more lively.
For a car that was launched in 1966, the Arrow was very contemporary in style, shedding the 1950s fussiness that typified its progenitors. The plain-jane three-box reflected its time perfectly, and it would integrate seamlessly in the the UK landscape, thanks to its similarity with Roy Haynes' Ford Cortina mark II and Vauxhall Viva HB. As it transpired, this school of design did not stay in the ascendence for very long, being overtaken by the Detroit inspired "Coke bottle" cars, typified by the Ford Cortina mark III, Vauxhall Victor FE and Rootes/Chrysler's own Avenger.
In the chassis, the Arrow was conventional (in later terms), was Rootes’ first car to sport a MacPherson strut front suspension, allied to a solid rear axle. This resulted in safe and secure, if uninspiring, handling.
As per the original Arrow design brief, every version would use existing power units, although they were overhauled for their new applications. The ohv units were treated to a new five-bearing crankshaft, and in order to fit under the Arrow's lower hood, they were inclined at a slight angle (shades of the slant six). The 1964 all-synchromesh gearbox was retained, as was the existing rear axle.
Between its launch in 1966 and its demise in 1979, badge engineering was the order of the day, and the differing needs of customers was handled with a bewildering array of marques and models. In contemporary road tests, the Arrow range never could be described as a pacesetter, and once the 1970s arrived, this well-engineered saloon was left behind.
The tough nature of the Hillman Hunter was proven on the London to Sydney Endurance Rally, won by Andrew Cowan in a 1968 Hunter.
Initially built at Ryton, then at Linwood from 1969, with bodies by Pressed Steel Fisher, the Arrow range typified Rootes rather than Chrysler. By 1976, it was left on the fringes of Chrysler Europe's range, behind a new generation of SIMCA-based products. Production was moved to Ireland in 1976 to make way for the Chrysler Alpine, and it remained in production, unmodified, until 1979.
The badge engineered variations are broken down below:
The Hillman version of the Arrow was launched in 1966, and along with the Singer Vogue, it ushered the new Rootes style onto the marketplace. Called the Hunter, it replaced the Super Minx; it was available with 1496 and 1725cc engines and immediately began to sell well (an estate wagon joined the sedan a year later). The Minx version of the Arrow followed a year later (in saloon and estate form, although the Minx name was never attached to the five-door in the UK), and it amounted to little more than a downmarket of the Hunter. Differences were not just limited to trim and equipment, though, as it used an iron-headed version of the 1496cc engine (developing 54bhp). This principle was applied to the 1725cc Minx a year later (iron-headed again, producing 61bhp), but 1970, and in the spirit of Chrysler-sponsored rationalization, the Minx was dropped to make way for the Hunter De Luxe.
The trim-looking Hunter estate (sporting Sunbeam Rapier rear lamp clusters), appeared on the scene in 1970, the same time that the Hunter GT was made available. The sporting Hunter replaced a model based upon the Minx (but called, simply, the Hillman GT), and could boast a healthy power output of 79bhp. Performance was adequate for its day: 0-60mph in 13.5 secs and a top speed of 97mph, but compared with the 1971 Cortina 2000, it began to look a little second rate.
In 1972, the Hunter received a further facelift, which was the announcement of the 93bhp Holbay-engined Hunter GLS, with Humber Sceptre-style front end styling. Beyond this, the Hunter did not receive any further improvements of substance. The Hunter was rebadged a Chrysler in late 1977, receiving its last minor facelift, in order to fit into the rationalized range (the Sceptre/GLS grille was fitted to both remaining models, with vinyl roof and Rostyle wheels were added to the the Super). Production of the Chrysler Hunter continued (in Ireland) until 1979, when it was retired after a production run of 470,000 units.
Andy Wilson, who worked at the Linwood plant, wrote: “The Hunter was also produced at Linwood in CKD (car knocked down) form for export to, of all places-Iran!-there was also a short production run of Sunbeam Vogues exported to USA and Canada, along with, slightly later, a short run of Avengers, badged as Plymouth Crickets, again for the USA/Canada market.”
The Humber Sceptre Mk III was the optimum Arrow, featuring the best trim package and a 79bhp version of the venerable 1725cc engine. The interior was plush indeed, with a wood veneer dashboard panel and luxuriously trimmed seats - in more modern terms, it would be the Ghia X or Vanden Plas EFi of the range.
Externally, it was distinguised by its handsome four headlamp nose (reminiscent of the Sunbeam Rapier) and the later Hunter GLS. An extremely appealing estate version was added in 1974, which used the Hunter estate shell and a complete set of Sceptre interior appointments. Externally, it was finished off with chromed roof rails, and as such, was considerably ahead of its time, as the idea of a plushly trimmed estate car had yet to find favour with rival manufacturers.
The Humber Sceptre was, according to Matthias Zabel, sold on some Continental European markets (including Austria and Germany) as the Sunbeam Sceptre.
Humber Sceptre production continued until 1976, when it was phased out as a result of product rationalization. With its demise, the Humber name went to its grave.
In the same way that the Hillman Hunter/Minx was, the Singer Arrow was developed to replace two ranges (Vogue Mk IV and Gazelle Mk VI), with a single body shell. The existing names were carried over, but the Arrow-type Vogue, which appeared alongside the Hillman Hunter in 1966 and the Gazelle, which appeared a year later, were little more than an exercise in badge engineering.
These Singers were extremely closely related to their Hillman brethren, so it comes as no surprise that they were phased out in 1970 following further range rationalization.
The Sunbeam versions of the Arrow were the extremely stylish Rapier/Alpine models, which were styled by Roy Axe. The pillarless two-door coupe was heavily based on Arrow underpinnings, right down to the suspension layout and engine configuration. The 1725cc Rapier came in two rates of tune; the 76bhp standard version, and the 93bhp H120. The H120's engine featured twin dual-choke Weber carburettors, and was developed by notable Rootes tuners, Holbay. The Rapier, launched in 1967, could best be summed up as a “gentleman’s touring car” — it was very stylish but was not developed much throughout its life.
As was the style at the time, the H120 received Rostyle wheels and a natty little boot lid spoiler. The wheels, and not the spoiler would be standardized in later years. When the gorgeous Alpine 2-seater roadster was dropped in 1968, it was replaced by a cheaper version of the Rapier, with simpler trim and a downrated 72bhp version of the 1725cc engine. A sad end, it has to be said, for the Sunbeam Alpine line...
The Sunbeam Alpine lasted until 1975, and the Rapier, a year later. Neither models were replaced by Chrysler Europe, as the Matra SIMCA Bagheera was never officially imported into the UK in right hand drive form. Even if it had been, it would have appealed to an entirely different clientele.
In mainland Europe, there were also Sunbeam versions of the Arrow saloon (as there were of the Avenger), but these were never sold in the UK in large numbers; only being offered for a few months during 1970, following the death of the Singer Vogue.