Jump to content
barrett

Irrational desires: The Humber Sceptre

Recommended Posts

"The Humber Sceptre is an automobile which was produced in the United Kingdom from 1963 to 1976 by Humber."

 

So says Wikipedia. Well, quite.

 

One could add the following to that rather dismissive description: It is a medium-sized car that wasn't quite sure if it was a sports saloon or a luxury cruiser; it is a parts-bin special, taking absolute advantage of the Rootes Group's model range, but wrapped up in a body shared by no other car; it is, for reasons unknown, achingly desirable.

 

Why am I obsessed, all of a sudden? I don't particularly like British cars. I don't have any special affinity for the Rootes Group. I prefer Modernism to traditionalism, and I like cars with are technologically advanced or, at the very least, pay lip service to advanced technology in their styling. 

 

Then again, I also love Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) and that whole hazy, sunday-evening 1960s ITC milieu. I love half-speed cameras replicating 'night', guys in slim ties chain-smoking filterless cigarettes and the mundanity of crime. That is the world in which the Humber Sceptre fits, to me at least. 

 

In 1963 the Rover and Triumph 2000s had pretty much sewn up the newly minted 'junior executive' market in the UK. City planners, council members, maybe the odd junior MP. Chaps (and they were always chaps) under 60 with money in their pockets and a real need to impress with their choice of motor car. The Humber Sceptre sort of fits in to this niche, but as usual Rootes didn't quire hit the target. Mechanically, it used the venerable 1600cc 'four' with twin carbs and raised compression as normally seen in the Alpine. The superstructure was borrowed from the Hillman Super Minx, to which is bore a vague resemblance, but the upper half of the Sceptre was all new - a sharply raked roofline with a deep wraparound rear screen. The rear window pillars formed peaks along the top of the rear wings, under which ran a second chrome streak which passed over the rear lamps and then down to the bumper, creating a wild set of vee-shaped fins. The front end was an odd mix of Sunbeam Rapier-style grille and quad headlamps. The whole thing harked back to previous Rootes designs and was clearly influenced by the Bob Bourke-for-Raymond Loewy Minx of the '50s (which was a crib from Bourke's groundbreaking '53 Studebakers) and it all looked weirdly antiquated next to Rover's DS-influenced P6 and Michelotti's sharp effort for Triumph. Performance was sprightly but nothing to shout about. It would do a genuine 90, which actually wasn't much less than the much lighter Alpine, and handling and refinement were highly praised. Still, nobody was quite sure if it was supposed to be 'sporty' or 'sedate'. Humber wasn't the 'sporty' brand in the line-up, for a start, and nor did it build 'small' cars. In hindsight, the Sceptre was one of the first signs that a policy based solely on badge-engineering might lead to manufacturers building a range of un-categorisable cars with very little to distinguish one from the other. 

 

The Mk2 Sceptre of 1965 went a long way to solve the aesthetic problems, with a restyled front end which improved things immensely. This is the model with which I have become enamoured. The engine was also enlarged to 1725cc, although I'm not sure there was much change in power output or top speed. The Mk2 was produced for a couple of years before it was superseded by an Arrow-series Sceptre. But, I don't care about those.

 

post-3924-0-46877800-1529677042_thumb.jpg

I find the whole appeal incredibly hard to define, but this brochure image almost sums it up: what appears to be the early stages of a menages-a-trois at the Sona Electronics factory Christmas party. "Don't be such a prude, Carol. I've got a bottle of scotch in my office if you need to loosen up."

 

Annoyingly, these things have become very rare. I guess most hand been banger-raced into oblivion when values of all Rootes cars were at their lowest. I can't imagine how unfashionable one of these would have seemed in about 1974. I am keeping a beady eye open, but I suspect even if I could find a nice one I wouldn't be able to afford it.

 

It's not even easy to find nice pictures to, er, satisfy myself with. This fabulous brochure comes close but it's for the obviously inferior Mk1. Lets have a look anyway:

post-3924-0-45959400-1529677377_thumb.jpg

post-3924-0-27745300-1529677436_thumb.jpg

 

Typical 1960s modesty there. The 'brilliant' new Humber Sceptre.

post-3924-0-69803400-1529677475_thumb.jpg

post-3924-0-34021400-1529677485_thumb.jpg

 

hey, take a look at that rear end! There is something so nice about the subtle lip over the rear screen and the way those fins trail off along the wing line. Seriously over the top but 100 per cent satisfying.

 

The other major factor in my lust is the interior. The seats look like the most comfortable armchairs and the dash has SEVEN DIALS, including the two main ones under deep hoods. I love a hooded dial, me. The Mk1s were all manual, with overdrive on third and fourth, but an automatic was introduced on the Mk2 and I suspect most were sold in that configuration. I'd have the manual, personally, but I'd probably compromise. The steering wheel looks like a deeply-dished Alpine item. '60s Rootes switchgear is all really nice to handle and I just know I'd have a whole load of tactile pleasure sat here.

post-3924-0-29652700-1529677714_thumb.jpg

 

 

Let's just consider some random google pictures, eh?

post-3924-0-11623200-1529677853_thumb.jpg

post-3924-0-56750300-1529677863_thumb.jpg

post-3924-0-58324200-1529677876_thumb.jpg

I do think I'd have to go monotone, frankly. Maybe a nice light metallic colour? I will never get tired of looking at those fin things, that's for sure.

 

 

So, have I lost the plot? Am I getting old? Why do I feel I can't live without a Humber Sceptre Mk2 in my life? I want to play out my ITC fantasies, but deep down I know a P6 would be a much better chariot in which to pretend to be a junior architect on his way to a town planning meeting. But, somehow, I just can't shake this thing.

 

Is anyone else on here similarly afflicted? Could we form a support group?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I share your desire, although for me it'd need to be a mark 1,i just love how fussy the design of the front end looks. A friend had one back in 1995 which was nearly my first car (probably best it wasn't, although it ended up scrapped anyway). It was black with a green interior, a combination I've never seen since. KMH285B, and I'm completely with you on the interior, the dash is a different world to the Super Minx or Vogue equivalent and seems properly out of keeping with Humber's projected image although I'm fairly sure I read somewhere that the Sceptre was originally intended to be the next generation of Sunbeam Rapier which might explain some of it. I've had quite a few 60's cars, almost all British and to my mind Rootes were the best built of what you might call everyday cars, certainly it feels a better quality product than BMC, Ford or Vauxhall. I came across another Mark 1 up in Nuneaton about 15 years ago which the same friend eventually wound up with and it was a cracker. 129KPO,a low mileage example in a peculiar pale metallic gold with a tan interior. It was about a grand and as much as I coveted it, I just couldn't find the money. The next owner used it as a daily without garaging the poor thing so by the time Jason got it (roughly ten years ago) the wings, door bottoms, sills and valances were all distinctly crispy. It's possibly still about, I saw it on ebay about a year ago looking even worse up in Norfolk with a comedy price tag. You're not the only one, trust me..

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is one car I always wanted, but it passed me by. The closest I got was a '63 Singer Vogue, which I wish I'd kept.

 

I did however, buy a later Sceptre - the boxy one - it was Mrs Tet's very first car, until some div smacked it straight up the arse.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mk1 styling at the front is considered, balanced, appealing.  Mk2 front end styling looks like it was driven at speed into a bin of chrome trim and they just went with whatever didn't fall off.  Rear end fins with those upright lozenge lights shouldn't work, it should be all kinds of fussy and wrong, but somehow it manages to pull it off.  Charcoal metallic is the best colour because it manages to tone down the chrome accident that is the front end styling.  This example has undone some of that by throwing a badge bar at it.

 

35003084900_32875928cf_b.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I must confess that I never realised the Sceptre had a different roofline to the Super Minx/Vogue... It does explain why I've always found them more attractive for some reason though!

 

I will say that I am, personally, a mk1 fan. Although I also like the Super Minx and the Singer variant and am essentially an old fart, I also prefer the Singer's wood and strip speedo dash to the Humber's sportier effort. I only really like the early models with the wrap around rear screen though, the latter boxier editions I'm not as fond of. Interestingly my girlfriend also likes them and there is a tatty Singer Vogue a few streets away that never seems to move anymore. If only I had the money...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Hooli

I nearly got a Mk1 about 20 years ago, just couldn't get the bank loan. Lovely looking things, they just seem so right in the flesh.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Sceptre kept the early shell; the others went six-light in 1964.

 

They look similar, but actually the Sceptre roofline is lower than a Super Minx with quite different sheet metal... I think they are closely related below the belt line but the roof is unique to the Sceptre!

 

Let's see a pic of the one local to you, then. 'Gently painted' sounds right up my street

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 I'm fairly sure I read somewhere that the Sceptre was originally intended to be the next generation of Sunbeam Rapier which might explain some of it. 

 

I have always understood that to be the case, and yes, it does make a lot more sense in that context.   These cars should have been much more of a sales success, they are so redolent of that whole junior exec. limited budget aspirational thing that Barrett paints such a vivid picture of.    Likewise, the Arrow shape Sceptre which so nearly hit the 1600E bullseye.   It almost seems a foregone conclusion that it would have sold better as a Sunbeam one has to wonder why it was saddled with the dying Humber brand.

 

There is a giffer-owned Mk2 not far from me and I have been gently hinting that it would find a good home nearby if and when the time ever comes.......

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Curiously I saw one of these on J24 M1 only last weekend. It got away from me as the lights changed and I only saw it from the rear. 'Humber Sceptre' I said out loud, but had to google check when I got home as I'd not seen one for so long.

Good luck finding one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Rootes stuff seems very underappreciated compared with contemporary Fords, Vauxhalls and even BMC products. There's a couple of rather tasty Sceptres that appear at many of my local shows - I love the colours on the green one.

 

34907912136_c85ba65930_c.jpg

1966 Humber Sceptre by Adam Floyd, on Flickr

 

27672507957_53872c49cf_c.jpg

1965 Humber Sceptre by Adam Floyd, on Flickr

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've got a right thing about these too  8)

 

Very nearly bought one a few years back when they were still on the 'cheap' side, for what you got. Until you park one next to a Super Minx you don't realise how tall that front screen really is.

 

Personal pick is the MKII (much prefer the brow over the grille look) which means the 1750 and typically OD, in a metallic and bright colour looking more early sixties than the fifties wafty colours typically on MKI.

 

One like this one lives locally.  Adore the thing.

 

1966-humber-sceptre-mk2-1725cc-saloon.jp

 

The Sunbeam Rapier we never got.

 

Whitewall tyres finish this transatlantic Loewey effort off for me

 

GIB!  etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I forgot to ask the one thing I wanted to ask: were these sold in Australia? I can't quite get my head round the weird Antipodean Rootes ranges and I haven't yet seen any proof these made it over there. It seems like it would be a good place to find one considering the lack of rust thing. You could probably spend the sipping costs on having a UK one welded up quite easily.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I forgot to ask the one thing I wanted to ask: were these sold in Australia? I can't quite get my head round the weird Antipodean Rootes ranges and I haven't yet seen any proof these made it over there. It seems like it would be a good place to find one considering the lack of rust thing. You could probably spend the sipping costs on having a UK one welded up quite easily.

 

I don't think they got them, the Singer Vogue was locally assembled and badged as a Humber though to add to the confusion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My parents had a Humber Sceptre. I think they had that car in the late 1960s or early 1970s so well before I was born. Apparently the story goes that it had to be sold as they were short of cash. The replacement was a crappy Zephyr 4 with lots of pollyfilla in the bodywork. The Sceptre was one of the nicest cars they had owned.

 

Like Nibblet I too prefer the later 'Arrows' Sceptre. Weren't they sold right up to 1979 on a V reg (omg late reg madness) ??

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 Hi, I had one in the mid 70s as a cheap stop gap car for a few months.  It was a Mk1 manual with O/D to which someone had fitted a single carb 1725 engine, the increase of capacity offsetting the loss of the second carb on the 1600.  Dark green with black interior and a mismatched set of crossplies which I swapped to a spare set of Ford 5 1/2 J's with radials which improved the roadholding no end, changed back on sale.  I wasn't expecting great things from it but was very pleasantly surprised with it.  It reinforced my desire to own and drive cars from the luxury end of the spectrum as soon as possible and still have the Rovers I eventually attained.  I would have another in a heartbeat (note to self, must resist... I wonder if I've got room for another car!!).

 

 Colin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You've convinced me on the styling of the Mk2.  Much prefer it.

 

Friends father had a Hunter based one which he weighed in in the early 80s as it was totally rotten.  He kept a lot of parts, most of which I have sold but I do have a load of side strips.  Not entirely sure what I've got but if anyone wants 'em they'll be free.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...

×
×
  • Create New...