based on an article by Keith Adams
In the early 1960s, Rootes Group started to replace its Audax range with a more conventional car, using the same basics as the soon-to-come Imp: advance thinking, rear-engine layout, and flamboyant styling.
In 1962, when it was conceived, styling was led by Peter Ware, leading to a conventional-looking three-box mid-size sedan, with strong overtones of the soon-to-be-launched Imp; the car was designed around a new engine, suspension, and floorpan.
When the Imp flopped on the market, its poor quality causing high warranty costs, Rootes realized it couldn’t afford its amibitous “all new” plan. In early 1963, the company chose instead to enlarge the Hillman Arrow, replacing the planned Swallow as well as the Minx, Super Minx, Sceptre and Rapier.
Much of the Swallow’s design was incorporated into the Arrow, so the saloon went from project plan to an approved full-sized clay model in less than ten months. Styling was led by Rex Fleming; the Rapier and estate version were overseen by Roy Axe, who would go on to lead a long and successful career at Chrysler and Austin-Rover.
The car was helped by Rootes’s first injection of cash from Chrysler in 1964. It was the last Rootes Group car designed without any Chrysler oversight.
The Arrow monocoque was around 70 kg lighter than that of 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, seven separate sub-assemblies, was built by Pressed Steel Fisher Ltd.
The new car was considerably lighter, more square shouldered, and more conventional than the Minx; and up to 135 kg lighter, so the new cars were more lively even with the same engines.
The Arrow 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.
The overhead-valve engines were treated to a new five-bearing crankshaft, and to fit under the Arrow's lower hood, they were inclined at a slight angle (shades of the 1960 slant six). The 1964 all-synchromesh gearbox was retained, as was the existing rear axle.
Launched in 1966, the Arrow was contemporary in style, but its school of design did not lead for long, overtaken by the Detroit inspired “Coke bottle” cars.
In road tests, the Arrow range never could be described as a pacesetter, and once the 1970s arrived, this well-engineered saloon was left behind. Still, the tough nature of the Hillman Hunter was proven on the London to Sydney Endurance Rally, won by Andrew Cowan in a 1968 Hunter.
First built at Ryton, and from 1969 at Linwood, the Arrow range typified Rootes Group. By 1976, it was on the fringes of Chrysler Europe’s range. Production moved to Ireland in 1976 to make way for the Chrysler Alpine, and it remained in unmodified, until being dropped in 1979.
The variations were:
The 1966 Hillman Arrow, along with the Singer Vogue, ushered in the new Rootes style. It replaced the Super Minx; it was available with 1496 and 1725cc engines and immediately began to sell well (an estate 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), little more than a downmarket of the Hunter. 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, above.
The trim-looking Hunter estate (sporting Sunbeam Rapier rear lamp clusters) and the Hunter GT were both launched for 1970. The sporting Hunter replaced a model based upon the Minx (the Hillman GT), and could boast a healthy power output of 79 bhp. Performance was adequate for its day: 0-60mph in 13.5 secs and a top speed of 97mph.
In 1972, the 93bhp Holbay-engined Hunter GLS, with Humber Sceptre-style front end styling, was launched. Beyond this, the Hunter did not receive any further improvements of substance. The Hunter was rebadged a Chrysler in late 1977, with its last minor facelift (the Sceptre/GLS grille was fitted to both remaining models, with vinyl roof and Rostyle wheels 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 and Canada.”
The Humber Sceptre Mk III may have been 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.
Externally, it was distinguised by its handsome four headlamp nose (reminiscent of the Sunbeam Rapier and the later Hunter GLS). An 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. With its demise, the Humber name went to its grave.
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 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 stylish Rapier/Alpine models, created 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.
The H120 received Rostyle wheels and a natty little boot lid spoiler. The wheels (not the spoiler) would become standard in later years. When the beautiful Alpine two-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. 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.
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