History

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE HILLMAN MOTOR VEHICLE.

 

In 1907 William Hillman and Louis Coatalen formed a car making business called Hillman-Coatalen.  Hillman was English engineer who, in the mid 19th century, worked in a sewing machine factory in Coventry, England. The company commenced making velocipedes. In 1870 Hillman and James Starley patented a new bicycle called an ‘Ariel’. Hillman established a new company called Hillman Herbert Cooper producing bicycles.  By the turn of the 20th century Hillman was a millionaire. His next ambition was to build motor cars. He has moved to Abingdon House in Stoke Aldermoor near Coventry and set up a car factory in its grounds.  With Louis Coatalen, a French designer and chief engineer, he set up a motor vehicle business called Hillman-Coatalen in 1907 and launched that year a 24hp vehicle which they called the Hillman-Coatalen. When Coatalen left in 1909 to join Sunbeam the company was re-registered as the Hillman Motor Car Company in 1910.


 

The first cars were large, featuring a 9.76-litre 6-cylinder engine or a 6.4-litre four. A smaller car, the 9 hp of 1913 with a 1357 cc side-valve four-cylinder engine, was the first to sell in significant numbers and was re-introduced after the First World War as the 11 hp, having grown to 1600 cc. The big seller was the 14 hp introduced in 1925, and the only model made until 1928. Following the fashion of the time a Straight Eight of 2.6 litres and Hillman's first use of overhead valves came in 1928 but soon gained a reputation for big-end problems.

 Meanwhile, in 1919 brothers William Edward Rootes and Reginald Rootes established a car sales firm called Rootes Ltd.  Their father William Rootes had a motor agency before the 1914-1918 war but neither son at that time showed interest in joining their father.  Reginald was a great administrator while William Edward was the salesman. By 1926 they had acquired offices and showrooms in the heart of London's West End, at Devonshire House. Within a matter of months they had acquired other branches in various parts of the country and become the largest motor distributing company in Europe. As they prospered, many well known and old established firms in the motor industry began to feel the impact of economic recession. But while some companies closed down, the brothers accepted the challenge. In 1928, the Rootes brothers were the largest distributors in England. The brothers saw the opportunity to go into volume manufacturing production.

                   

The Rootes Group was formed by the acquisition of Humber Ltd, Hillman Car Co and the Commer Commercial Vehicles Company.  These three companies were failing fast, due to outdated plant and production methods, and gave the brothers a chance to put their ideas into reality.  The task facing the brothers was that of turning failure into success - and they accepted the challenge.

In 1928 Hillman Motor Car Company  was taken over by Humber Limited and both (together with Commer Commercial Vehicles Company) were taken over by Rootes in 1931 and this became known as The Rootes Group.   Hillman went on to become the dominant brand within the Rootes empire, alongside Humber, Sunbeam and Singer.

The 1930s saw a return to side valves with a 6-cylinder Wizard first produced in April 1931 and in 1932 the first car to carry the Minx name. This had an 1185 cc four-cylinder and went through a series of updates in body style and construction until the end of the Second World War. In 1934 th Hillman Wizard ‘65’ and ‘75’   were replaced by the 2110cc Hillman ‘16hp’  and  the  2810 cc ‘ 20/70’  which lasted until 1936 when a new body design in the form of the 2576 cc Hillman ‘Sixteen’ and the 3181cc ‘Hawk’ and ‘80’, all with side valve straight six engines , were introduced.

Karrier Motors was acquired and so was Clement-Talbot Ltd.   British Light Steel Pressings followed in 1937 and a year later the Sunbeam Motor Car Company Ltd., was taken into the Rootes Group and merged with Clement-Talbot Ltd

At Ryton-on-Dunsmore in Warwickshire, England the Rootes Groups in 1940 built a factory originally to build aircraft engines during the Second World War. After the war it became the headquarters of the Rootes Group. The plant was eventually taken over by Chrysler and in 1978 it sold the plan for US$1.00 to PSA Peugeot Citroen.  Peugeot built cars there from 1985 to 1995. Production was revived in 1998 until 2001. The plant was closed in 2006 and sold to a developer for industrial use in March 2007.  Demolition of the plant commenced on 12 November 2007. 

During the war of 1939-1945 the Rootes Group made military vehicles, aero engines and aeroplanes.The Rootes Group had made one out of every seven bombers produced in the United Kingdom during the war, 60 per cent of the armoured cars and 30 percent of the scout cars. It had also built 50,000 aeroplane engines, had repaired 28,000 others wrecked in crashes or in battle, had repaired more than 12,000 vehicles for the Army and the Royal Air Force and had assembled 20,000 other vehicles imported from allied countries.At the beginning of the war, 17,000 employees were on the Rootes pay-roll. By the end, one in every hundred people in Great Britain employed as civilians in the war effort was working for, or on behalf of, the Group.

After the war the Rootes Group established a motor factory in Australia, then rapidly developing as one of Britain's most valuable markets. By the end of 1946 the plant was already producing cars and trucks for the Australian market.

                                

After the war of 1939-1945 the Minx was reintroduced with the same 1185 cc engine. It went through a series of models given Phase numbers and the Phase VIII of 1955 saw the arrival of an overhead-valve engine 1390cc, the Mk 8. The later 1956 Two Tone version of this model was called the "Gay Look" or Mk 8A model, led to the advertising slogan "As Gay as a Mardi Gras". A smaller car, the Husky with van like body and using the old side-valve engine, was also new for 1954.

From 1956 to 1967 the Rootes Group produced the Audax body Series I to Series VI Hillman Minx. The car was designed by the Rootes group and helped by the Raymond Loewy design organisation who were involved in the design of Studebaker coupes in 1953.  The car went through a series of annual face lifts each given a Series number, replacing the Mark number used on the previous Minxes; there was no Series IV. The engine was new for the model with overhead valves – a first for a post war Hillman. Over the years the engine grew from 1390 cc (in the Series I and II) to 1725 cc in the Series VI. A variety of manual transmissions with column or floor change, and automatic transmissions were offered.

In Australia, the first of the series V vehicles fitted with all-synchro gearboxes was known locally as the series Va. The Audax Minx was also built in Japan by Isuzu Motors as the Isuzu Hillman Minx under licence from Rootes between September 1956 and June 1964.

In October 1961 the Super Minx was released.  This was a slightly larger version of the Hillman Minx.   An estate car joined the range in May 1962, and a two-door convertible in June 1962. The convertible never sold in significant numbers: the last one was made in June 1964.   The car was powered by the Rootes 1,592 cc engine.  The original Super Minx had the cast-iron cylinder head version of the engine, though on later cars the cylinder head was replaced with an aluminium one. 

The Hillman Imp is a compact, rear-engined saloon car, manufactured under the Hillman marque by the Rootes Group (later Chrysler Europe) from 1963 to 1976. The Imp was assembled at a purpose-built plant at Linwood, near Paisley, in the West of Scotland.

The Hillman Gazelle is an automobile which was produced by Chrysler from 1966 to 1967.

Based on the British Singer Gazelle VI, the Hillman Gazelle was offered only as a four-door sedan and was essentially an upmarket version of the Hillman Minx VI.  It was powered by a 1725 cc four-cylinder engine producing 85 bhp (63 kW), 15 bhp (11 kW) more than the Minx thanks to its alloy cylinder head and twin-barreled Solex carburetor. Chrysler Australia replaced both the Minx and the Gazelle with the Hillman Arrow/Hunter range during 1967.

A complete departure in 1963 was the Hillman Imp using a Coventry Climax all alloy, 875 cc rear engine and built in a brand new factory in Linwood, Scotland. The location was chosen under government influence to bring employment to a depressed area. A fastback version, the Californian, and an estate re-using the Husky name were also made.  Over the life of the car, Rootes (and later Chrysler UK) produced three basic body styles. The original Saloon was introduced in May 1963 and ran through to the end of production in 1976. It had an opening rear window, making it effectively a hatchback. In 1965 a van badged as the Commer Imp was introduced. A coupe, the Imp Californian, was introduced in 1967 at the same time as the van's pressings were used to create an estate car, badged Hillman Husky. Both the van and estate ceased production in 1970.

The Hillman Hunter was launched in 1966 ushered the new Rootes style onto the marketplace. It replaced the Super Minx and was available with 1496 and 1725cc engines and immediately began to sell well (an estate wagon joined the sedan a year later   The trim-looking Hunter estate appeared  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)  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  Production of the Chrysler Hunter continued (in Ireland) until 1979, when it was retired after a production run of 470,000 units.

Between 1959 and 1961 the Rootes Group suffered crippling strikes by workers at their pressing plant, British Light Steel Pressings Ltd in Acton London.. In 1961 a strike had brought the Rootes Group almost to a standstill with over 6,000 workers from the various Coventry factories being laid off. Only the non-production line staff continued to work. Striking workers were threatened with the sack, they ignored the threat and 1000 were dismissed.  As the weeks rolled on, 8,000 workers from other factories were made redundant. Rootes were now having financial problems, and it was in fact the beginning of the downfall of the Rootes Empire. Controlled by five men, the strike had caused irreparable damage to the Rootes Group and its finances.  At the end of 31 July 1962 they showed a loss of £891,088, compared with a profit of nearly £3 million the previous year because of the strike.  This type of loss Rootes could not afford. They were already heavily committed to a new project, the Hillman Imp, and the opening of a new plant at Linwood in Scotland where it was to be produced.

On 30th September 1964, Lord Rootes announced that during October three representatives of the Chrysler Corporation would be joining the board of Rootes Motors Ltd. - Irving Minett, Group Vice-president, International Operations of the Chrysler Corporation, Lovis B. Warren, a director of Chrysler, and Robert C. Mitchell, President and Managing Director of Chrysler International. The move followed the acceptance by the shareholders of Rootes Motors Ltd. of the Chrysler Corporation's offer to acquire 30 per cent of the ordinary voting shares in the company and 50 per cent of the non-voting 'A' shares.

During the financial year 1966/67, the Rootes Group had accumulated enormous losses totalling £10 million. It became obvious to all that Chrysler would soon take over control of the Group. This actually took place in January 1967, when they increased their holding of voting shares to 77.3 per cent. It was now only a matter of time before the Rootes Group as such disappeared completely. In March 1967, Sir Reginald Rootes stepped down from office and Geoffrey (the second Lord Rootes) took his place as Chairman. Chrysler's Gilbert Hunt was then appointed Managing Director and given the job of reclaiming what was left of the once thriving Rootes Empire. Chrysler took over Simca of France and Barreiros of Spain at the same time, merging it with Rootes (now renamed "Chrysler UK") to create Chrysler Europe. The Rootes name had largely vanished by 1971, and soon its other brand names were progressively phased out as the 1970s progressed. Only Hillman was left by 1977, when it, too, was shelved in favour of the Chrysler name. The Commer name was also phased out in the 1970s, the group's van and truck models mostly assuming the Dodge nameplate by 1976. Chrysler Europe collapsed in 1977, leading to the company's 1978 takeover by PSA Peugeot-Citroen. PSA soon wielded the axe over the troubled Linwood factory in Scotland, and exhumed the Talbot marque from the pages of Rootes' history to re-badge the former Chrysler models. Whilst Ryton was saved, PSA took little interest in the heavy commercial vehicles and the former Commer/Dodge/Karrier truck and van factory was run in conjunction with the trucks division of Renault. After the withdrawal of the last Dodge-derived trucks (latterly badged as Renaults) it became a production plant for engines for Renault Véhicules Industriels.

This history has been put together from information from the following websites. More detailed information can be obtained from these sites.  Help in correcting errors in this history is very welcome.

www.hillmanownersclub.co.uk

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rootes_Group

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillman

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillman_Minx

http://www.rootes-chrysler.co.uk/car-history/history-hilman.html

http://www.allpar.com/cars/adopted/rootes.html