Why not a Funky British Sedan?

Photography by David S. Wallens

Sports cars might be the greatest things since sliced bread, but they’re not ideal for every driving situation. These machines aren’t quite suited to extended trips or inclement weather, and comfortably carrying more than two people is rarely their forte.

Why not opt for a quirky, vintage British family car as a practical alternative? Anyone can have an MGB or TR6, so how about rolling up to the next show in something a little more unorthodox, like a Humber Super Snipe?

These sedans and upright coupes feature all of that great British charm in a more practical package. As an added bonus, they’re not terribly expensive to own or operate. 

They can also be a little more comfortable. “You have to fold your leg three different ways to get in a sports car,” notes Kip Lankenau, founder of Kip Motor Company. Create your own order rather than following what the marketing department dictates, he adds.

Kip’s company is dedicated to keeping these orphaned and unusual British cars on the road. Their catalogs don’t feature pages of parts for MG Midgets and Jaguar E-types. However, if you need a bonnet badge for a Hillman Minx or a Ford Anglia brake pedal cover, they can help.

There is no N/A in our catalog,” he says, referring to the popular abbreviation for no longer available. “When something goes out of stock, we start making it.” 

In addition to in-house manufacturing facilities, their Texas shop is also stuffed full of new old stock parts and quality reproductions: chrome trim, glass lenses, suspension hardware, electrical harnesses, rubber gaskets, interior upholstery, body patch panels and more. They can even source replacement windshields.

While they can’t recreate the cars themselves, Kip Motor Co. can help match people to prospective purchases. They don’t buy and sell cars, but through word of mouth often work as a matchmaker. While supply is low, so is demand, Kip notes. 

Clubs are also viable ways to find a car. While there’s no North American group dedicated to the Super Snipe, for example, the British Saloon Car Club of Canada and the North American English & European Ford Registry are worth a look—don’t forget, many North American-bound imports from England entered Canada, not the U.S.

When looking at a prospective purchase, Kip has some sound advice: Buy a complete car. While his company supplies just about all of the required restoration parts, buying all of those needed clips and moldings can get expensive. “Spend a hundred bucks more and get a car that has all of the trim on it,” he advises.

While most of us have covered some miles in the popular sports cars from MG, Triumph and Jaguar, these British sedans are a different flavor of our favorite drink. And as we recently experienced during a test day, they can be a great way to share the hobby with the rest of the family.

1953-’59 Ford Anglia: Cute, Cuddly, But Not Very Fast

Through the middle part of the 20th century, the Anglia was Ford of England’s basic family car. While the original 1939-’53 models featured upright, prewar styling, the car received an entire redo for 1953. Suddenly the Anglia was fresh and contemporary.

Not only was the design appropriate for the ’50s, but so was the color palette. So long black and gray, hello Conway Yellow, Ludlow Green and Kenilworth Blue. The sales literature made it clear that this was a car for the modern family: pipe-smoking dads and pearl-wearing moms were shown happily shopping, traveling and commuting, all while saving money.

The car was no rocket ship, but its 36-horsepower engine was acceptable for the times. Top speed was right at 70 mph, and Ford promised up to 40 mpg. The transmission left a little more to be desired, though, as there was a big gap between second and third gears. Think of it as a four-speed that’s missing third, Kip says.

Two doors not enough? The four-door Ford Prefect was nearly identical under the skin.

Test Drive

Visibility in all directions is great, and the floor-mounted shift lever and nice complement of gauges add a sporting touch. Everyone has their own take on style, but we’d say that this 100E-chassis Anglia almost has a hint of ’55 Chevy. While probably not the original designer’s intent, this one could very well slip through the gates at any hotrod show.

Unfortunately, the Anglia isn’t going to win any speed contests. Thirty-six horsepower might have been fine for postwar England, but the car is woefully underpowered by today’s standards. The big gap between second and third doesn’t help. On the other hand, it’s about as quick as its contemporaries, including the Triumph 10, Fiat 500 and Morris Minor. 

Parting Words

Consider the Anglia a neat family car for local use and you’ll be happy.

1956-’62 Ford Zephyr: British Tea Meets American Beer

For the family who wanted a little more space—or the businessman who needed a little more status—Ford had an answer: the Zephyr. This machine represented Ford of England’s full-size family car from 1950 though 1962. 

Ford released the second-generation Zephyr for 1956, and the styling was right in line with the times, from the full-width chrome grille to the little tail fins. In fact, some Brits found the look to be too American. 

Where the Anglia could carry four passengers, a pair of bench seats gave the Zephyr room for six. It also featured a big trunk that could carry everyone’s stuff. And for those who wanted to arrive in style, there was the fancier Zephyr Zodiac.

The cars in the Zephyr line weren’t just bigger, as they also offered six-cylinder performance—a nice touch for today’s driving conditions. A 2.5-liter, 86-horsepower engine backed by a three-speed manual transmission was standard, and top speed was close to 90 mph. An overdrive for the manual transmission and automatic gearboxes were optional.

Test Drive

As soon as the clutch is released, the extra torque offered by the inline-six is realized. Despite being half a century old, this car can run with modern traffic—up to a point. Our three-speed-equipped car was excellent around town, but the engine felt strong enough to tackle a fourth gear for more relaxed cruising.

As is typical with ’50s and ’60s sedans, the Zephyr also offers plenty of seating: The two bench seats don’t offer a ton of lateral support, but there’s definitely room for the entire crew.

Parting Words

The Zephyr offers a great mix of practicality, price and performance.

1960 Humber Super Snipe Series III: Great Name, Great Presence

Where the two Fords we tested were aimed primarily at the masses, the Humber Super Snipe was marketed more as an executive vehicle. Period advertisements featured gentlemen wearing tuxedos and women in evening gowns. Think of this car as an alternative to a Jaguar Mark II.

Humber was part of the Rootes Group, the same organization that gave the world the Sunbeam Tiger and Raymond Loewy-designed Hillman Minx. The Super Snipe first appeared for the 1938 model year and combined strong performance with a reasonable price tag. 

The updated prewar design was replaced by a contemporary, all-new Super Snipe in 1958. The design was very up to date, featuring jet-age-inspired lines, small tail fins and a healthy dose of brightwork.

This new Super Snipe originally featured a 2.6-liter inline-six, but displacement grew to 3.0 liters by the 1959 model year. Front disc brakes were also new for that year. 

Humber continually updated the car during the model run, using series numbers to chart the changes. One of the biggest modifications occurred for 1960. This Series III car gained contemporary quad headlamps, a feature largely adopted by Detroit two years earlier. Like the related Sunbeam Tiger, the Super Snipe also disappeared in 1967.

Test Drive

Right off the bat, the Super Snipe wins the exhaust note comparison test. It emits a nice, deep note at idle—it’s not a loud wail or the sound of a car that needs a muffler. In an understated manner, it simply lets everyone know that this car means business.

Once underway, the ride is comfortable yet quiet. It’s the right mix of performance and luxury, a precursor to the formula since perfected by BMW.

Parting Words

Easily our favorite, the Super Snipe is quick yet nicely appointed.

Other Candidates

England’s once-mighty auto industry turned out several other family-friendly machines during the ’50s and ’60s. Here are a few more that are worthy of a look.

Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford: Not Quick, but Inexpensive and Different

The Austin Cambridge and nearly identical Morris Oxford lasted from 1954 through 1971. While none are particularly fast—they run out of steam around 60 mph—these BMC twins offer a lot of room for the price. A new Pininfarina-penned body appeared for 1959; tail fins and crisp lines replaced the earlier rounded profile. 

BMC 1100 and 1300: Like a Big Mini

Think of this one as a big Mini and you’re halfway there. BMC sold their AD016 chassis under several nameplates during its 1962-’74 run, including the Morris 1100, MG 1100, Vanden Plas, Wolseley 1100, Riley Kestrel, MG 1300 and Austin America. All feature BMC’s then-revolutionary and smooth-riding hydrolastic suspension. 

Triumph 2000: Classy but Rare

We know that the Vitesse and Herald have fans, but the 1963-’69 Triumph 2000 might be the brand’s best family car. On paper, it was hard to beat: inline-six power, independent rear suspension, automatic or manual transmissions, and even wood door cappings. Unfortunately, the 2000 cost nearly as much as a new Cadillac, so U.S. sales were weak.

Hillman Minx and variants: Badge Engineering by Rootes Group

The Rootes Group got a lot of mileage out of this mid-sized chassis, as it also formed the basis for other 1956-’67 models like the Singer Gazelle and Sunbeam Rapier. All of the available body styles, including the sedans and convertibles, seat four people. Performance is good, and neat details separate this one from many of its contemporaries.

Hillman Husky: A Smart Little Wagon

For those who like the practicality of a station wagon, we present the 1954-’63 Hillman Husky. Rear lever shock absorbers give this small wagon’s cargo hold a flat floor. It was perfect for farming implements half a century ago; today, it’s great for holding bicycles and camping gear. With the back seat folded up, four passengers can fit inside.

Sunbeam-Talbot 90: Classic Motoring, Opened or Closed

Even though this one was all-new for 1948, the design channeled the prewar Sunbeam-Talbot Ten. The classic look definitely recalled an earlier age of motoring, as the 1948-’54 Sunbeam-Talbot 90 featured an art deco interior and suicide-style rear doors. Two body styles were also available, as a drophead coupe joined the more traditional four-door sedan.

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sir_mike
sir_mike New Reader
9/7/20 5:58 p.m.

I own two funky English Ford's.A 1968 and 1969 Cortina GT's.The 68 from new also.Most people have no idea what they are or who made and sold them.Have fun answering questions about them.

wspohn
wspohn Dork
9/8/20 11:44 a.m.

Where I live in British Columbia, we had a lot of British imports for many years including sedans.

I drove Jaguar Mk 2 and Mk 9, Riley 1.5, Wolseley 6/99 , Sunbeam Imp, and old Jensens (still run a 71 Interceptor)

I never got around to building a couple of Q ship projects. I wanted to use a TR4 driveline in the Triumph Mayflower we had (the suspension was based on the 1800/2000/Renown that begat the TR2 etc. and I wanted to use one of my hot MGB engines in a Riley 1.5 (you need to upgrade brakes and rear axle but that is all easily doable).

Nice to see these neglected classics getting some mention.

cosworth1
cosworth1
9/8/20 1:02 p.m.

My 1957 Austin A35. Funky...for sure!

keithedwards
keithedwards Reader
9/8/20 6:26 p.m.

I had a 1954 Austin Princess Vanden Plas limo for 30+ years. It had the 3990cc 6 cylinder that the Austin-Healey 100-4 2660cc 4 cylinder engine was based on. Lorry chassis with 6-lug wheels. Lug nuts were Whitworth thread, brass, and handed L and R. It was the A135 model.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austin_Princess

chandler
chandler PowerDork
9/10/20 9:04 a.m.

I switched jobs so let this go before I was able to start body work. Makes me sad still. Some of these are completely unknown in the US and make really really good drivers due to good parts availability in other countries.

wspohn
wspohn Dork
9/10/20 10:28 a.m.

I like the Austin A40s a lot, and many of them have been mildly hot rodded, which usually consists of upgrading to disc brakes and using the trans and engine from a later A series. A friend had  done up 1275 in one and it was a hoot.

Also had a teacher at a British oriented private school who had a really rare one (not a coupe so off topic for this thread) an Austin A40 Sports made by Jensen. It looked decrepit with flapping bits of soft top and likely fenders, too. He had a done up Chev 283 in it (this was a lot of years ago) and used to go out hunting for American hot rods to punish.

Gary
Gary UltraDork
9/13/20 3:33 p.m.

Triumph Herald, pretty much standard:

And one that's been tweaked a bit:

And a race-prepped version:

spitfirebill
spitfirebill MegaDork
9/13/20 6:33 p.m.

In reply to Gary :

I totally want a Vitesse.   

wspohn
wspohn Dork
9/14/20 10:44 a.m.
spitfirebill said:

In reply to Gary :

I totally want a Vitesse.   

Yeah - with a 2JZ transplant!  wink

flat4_5spd
flat4_5spd New Reader
9/14/20 7:59 p.m.

Rover 2000TC. There is none funkier. Horizontal front coil springs. Modified DeDion rear end. All body panels, including the roof and the rocker panels bolt on to a structural floorpan/tub.  Girling swinging caliper inboard rear disc brakes (except on the very earliest cars, which had Dunlops) which are the most insane thing you've ever seen (only used on one other car, some English Ford.)  How insane? The pads have the friction material angled, the entire caliper is supported by a single pin...

A 2 liter SOHC "heron head" 4 cyl motor with twin 2" SU carbs...probably the most normal part of the car. 

wspohn
wspohn Dork
9/15/20 12:48 p.m.

The Rovers were always considered by British car fans to be an intentional boon to British mechanics tp pay for their holidays. There was no single day (including bew car delivery day) that all of the oddball gadgets worked at the same time. Good luck finding a replacement Ice-Alert today.

It was also a good example of the wrong headedness of the factory vis a vis carb sizing. No 2.0 needed a pair of 2" SUs, the same carb they specced for racing MGBs which suffered ever after by being unable to use 1 3/4" carbs that gave better acceleration instead of the big ones that couldn't maintain flow velocity (even though they could post a BHP or two higher at peak on a dyno).

 

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