The cars : Hillman Hunter/Rootes Arrows
The Arrow range was conceived as a smart-suited replacement for the Audax range of Minx/Supermix models and their badge-engineered counterparts. Some have called this the last Rootes car, although the Avenger has equal claim to that title. Launched in 1966/67, the new range of cars came in several guises, from the Hillman Minx at the bottom of the range, to the Humber Sceptre right at the top.
The Arrow range came about as a result of The Rootes Group management’s determination to replace the Audax range of cars with something very conventional, and therefore, more inexpensive to produce. Why was this decision taken, given the buoyancy of the UK car market, and the confidence of the younger buyers coming into it? After all, the early 1960s were a time of great design advancement, with BMC in one corner going following an ambition front-wheel-drive policy, and Ford in the other, demonstrating a flair for design optimization within strict cost control.
Rootes, on the other hand, had put everything into the rear-engined Imp, and at the time, when the company’s thoughts became focused upon the matter of the Audax’s replacement, the Imp had yet-to-be launched. Given that, and the company’s confidence in the Imp, it made sense to devise a larger car designed around the same philosophy: advanced thinking, a rear engined layout, and flamboyant styling.
In 1962, the idea got off the ground, when it was conceived as a smaller, cheaper car, to augment the Swallow project. Initially, its styling was the responsibility of the Rootes design team, led by Peter Ware, and as can be seen from pictures of it in the projects and prototypes section, the styling schemes investigated were of a fairly conventional looking three-box mid-size saloon, with strong overtones of the Imp. The car was designed around a new engine, suspension and floorpan, and as such, Rootes hoped, would move the marque forwards.
Sadly, soon after the launch of the Imp, it became apparent that the Rootes Group profit situation was not good. The investment at Linwood had proved to be a huge drain on resources, even before the launch of the Imp; but, when the car did make it onto the market, Rootes’ negative cashflow situation was seriously exacerbated by the Imp’s lack of sales success and mounting warranty costs. And that seriously affected Rootes management’s confidence in the Swallow. Not only that, but the planned investment in such a car was too much for the financially strapped company. An alternative was needed…
In early 1963, that alternative plan was drawn-up: Arrow would be enlarged to cover the area that Swallow had vacated. The intention was for Rootes to build a lighter, slimmer car, built around the existing engine/transmission package as used in the Audax range. To simplify the product range, it was conceived that the Arrow would replace the Minx, Super Minx, Sceptre and Rapier models – and right from the beginning, saloon, estate and coupe versions of the new car were planned for.
The elementary work undertaken on the Swallow project did not go to waste though. In styling the Arrow, much of the previous car’s design features were incorporated, and that is why the saloon proposal could make the transition from project plan to full-sized clay model, approved by management in less than ten months.
Arrow took shape as a “pure Rootes design”, as Graham Robson describes it, with the styling being led by Rex Fleming. The Rapier and estate version were overseen by Roy Axe, a designer that would go on to lead a long and successful career at Chrysler and Austin-Rover.
When Rootes received its first injection of cash from Chrysler in 1964, the Arrow project did not deviate from its intended course, meaning that it is this car, that should claim the title of “the last Rootes car”. Although, Chrysler’s purchase of a stake in Rootes did not change the design and implementation of the Arrow, it did mean that there was finally, a healthy amount of cash washing around the company. This allowed for the Arrow to enjoy a rapid and well-funded gestation period.
Rootes go Hunting
In comparison with the existing Minx range, the new car was considerably lighter, more square shouldered, and definitely more conventional in its engineering approach. Model-on-model, the new car was upto 135kg lighter than the outgoing one, and this meant that although the existing engine range was used, the new cars would be considerably more lively.
For a car that was launched in 1966, the Arrow was very contemporary in style, shedding the 50s fussiness that typified the its progenitors. The plain-jane three-box reflected its time perfectly, and it would integrate seamlessly in the the UK landscape, thanks to its similarity with Roy Haynes’ Ford Cortina mark II and Vauxhall Viva HB. As it transpired, this school of design did not stay in the ascendence for very long, being overtaken by the Detroit inspired “Coke bottle” cars, typified by the Ford Cortina mark III, Vauxhall Victor FE and Rootes/Chrysler’s own Avenger.
In the chassis department, the Arrow was conventional (in later terms), but proved significant for Rootes, as it was the company’s first car to sport MacPherson strut front suspension, allied to a solid rear axle. This resulted in safe and secure, if uninspiring, handling.
As per the original Arrow design brief, every version would use existing power units, although they were overhauled for their new applications. The ohv units were treated to a new five-bearing crankshaft, and in order to fit under the Arrow’s lower bonnet, they were inclined at a slight angle. The 1964 all-synchromesh gearbox was retained, as was the existing rear axle.
In the marketplace
In between its launch in 1966 and its demise in 1979, the Arrow’s development was really only one in a marketing sense. Badge engineering was the order of the day, and the differing needs of customers was handled with a bewildering array of marques and models. In contemporary road tests, the Arrow range never could be described as a pacesetter, and once the 1970s arrived, this well-engineered saloon was left behind by its contemporaries.
Initially built at Ryton, then Linwood from 1969, with bodies by Pressed Steel Fisher, the Arrow range typified Rootes, rather than Chrysler. By 1976, it was left on the fringes of Chrysler Europe’s range, being left behind by a new generation of SIMCA based products. Production was moved to Ireland in 1976 in order to make way for the Chrysler Alpine, it remained in production, sadly unmodified, until 1979.
The badge engineered variations are broken down below:
The Hillman version of the Arrow was launched in 1966, and along with the Singer Vogue, it ushered the new Rootes style onto the marketplace. Called the Hunter, it replaced the Super Minx; available with 1496 and 1725cc engines and, and immediately began to sell well. 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), and it amounted to little more than a downmarket of the Hunter. Differences were not just limited to trim and equipment, though, as 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.
The trim-looking Hunter estate (sporting Sunbeam Rapier rear lamp clusters), appeared on the scene 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), and could boast a healthy power output of 79bhp. Performance was adequate for its day: 0-60mph in 13.5secs and a top speed of 97mph, but compared with the 1971 Cortina 2000, it began to look a little second rate.
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 (the Sceptre/GLS grille was fitted to both remaining models, with vinyl roof and Rostyle wheels were 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.
The Humber Sceptre Mk III was the optimum Arrow, featuring the best trim package and a 79bhp version of the venerable 1725cc engine. Interior was plush indeed, with a wood veneer dashboard panel and luxuriously trimmed seats – in more modern terms, it would be the Ghia X or Vanden Plas EFi of the range.
Externally, it was distinguised by its handsome four headlamp nose (reminiscent of the Sunbeam Rapier) and the later Hunter GLS. An extremely 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.
Humber Sceptre production continued until 1976, when it was phased out as a result of product rationalization. With its demise, the Humber name went to its grave.
In the same way that the Hillman Hunter/Minx was, 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 extremely 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 extremely stylish Rapier/Alpine models, which were styled 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.
As was the style at the time, the H120 received Rostyle wheels and a natty little boot lid spoiler. The wheels, and not the spoiler would be standardized in later years. When the gorgeous Alpine 2-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. Neither models were replaced by Chrysler Europe, as the Matra SIMCA Bagheera was never officially imported into the UK in right hand drive form. Even if it had been, it would have appealed to an entirely different clientele.
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.
Written with reference to “Cars of the Rootes Group”, by Graham Robson
Thanks to Quentin Gallagher for further information.