David Mullen casts an eye over the Hillman Hunter, the Coventry saloon that just wouldn’t quit.
Hillman’s parent-company, the Rootes Group, was in trouble in the mid-Sixties. It had needed a new small car to compete with BMC’s Mini and a new factory in which to build it.
Thanks to a decree by the Tory government, designed to bring employment to economically-depressed areas, Rootes was forced to invest millions in a new factory at Linwood, fourteen miles west of Glasgow, and three-hundred miles from the heart of the British motor industry in the West Midlands.
The workers at Linwood had no experience of building cars and Rootes’ new baby car, the Hillman Imp, paid the price.
The Imp was a great car in many respects. It was small, practical, had an innovative all-aluminium engine and, unusually for the time, an automatic choke. It should have been a success, but thanks to quality issues and union problems at Linwood (as well as the costly need to send components back and forth by train from Coventry) it ended up being something of a disaster for Rootes.
The plan had been to follow-through on the Imp and replace Rootes’ mid-sized car, the Hillman Minx range, with something akin to a scaled-up Imp, much as BMC had done in scaling-up the Mini to become the Austin/Morris 1100 range.
The plan had been for an interesting, rear-engined saloon, but after the debacle following the Imp’s launch in 1963, it was literally back to the drawing-board.
Like BMC, the Rootes Group was made up of a number of different brands, many producing the same cars under different names in a practice known as “badge engineering”.