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IT WAS IN MARCH 1951 that Road and Track inaugurated “a series of road tests of foreign and American automobiles from the American driver’s viewpoint.”
Indeed, there had been earlier automobile evaluations in the magazine, beginning with its June 1947 debut. But to emphasize this series, Road and Track established an identification scheme for its road tests: The Hillman Minx Sedan was Road Test No. F-1-51. In May 1951, the Studebaker Land Cruiser was No. A-1-51, by which time the Jaguar XK-120 was No. F-4-51. No surprise that the foreign cars outnumbered the Americans.
In January–April 1950, Roger Barlow’s series of “British Automobiles” listed 33 British cars, from A.C., Allard, and Alvis, to Triumph, Vauxhall, and Wolseley. (Extra credit if you can name all the others from memory.) [Agg! My original total was 32, now corrected; see below.]
The Hillman. Of the Hillman, Barlow said, “Altho now a part of the famous Rootes Group, the Hillman car came into being in 1907 and the firm has always specialized in small cars of excellent quality. The now famous ‘Minx’ was first introduced more than 15 years ago and has undergone continuous development during this period.”
“Last year,” Barlow noted, “the very successful engine and transmission was fitted into a chassis and body [i.e., a unibody] of entirely new design and has since won friends all over the world. Americans like the smart modern lines and good finish of this most attractive little car.”
Road Test No. F-1-51. Road and Track opened this first road test with “When taking over the wheel of the Hillman 4-door sedan, in its latest Mark IV form, we tried to evaluate the car in a manner similar to the approach of an average American motorist.”
“First of all,” the magazine said, “we thought the prospective purchaser is interested in either a handier car for traffic, or in operating economy, or both, or he would not be considering the Hillman. This approach is, however, a mistake, for while the car had handiness and economy in abundance, it also is fully capable of long journeys with amazing comfort for 4 people at a steady cruising speed as high as 60 mph.”
It continued, “The small four-cylinder engine is smoother and quieter than many current American cars, and while stop-light getaway is relatively tame, it is sufficient to keep up with ordinary American traffic without winding the engine to the limit on each gear.”
“Relatively Tame” Indeed. “As mentioned previously,” the magazine noted, “the performance is satisfactory, especially in consideration of the power to weight ratio of 55 pounds per horsepower…. Using the gears to best advantage, the acceleration time from zero to an honest 60 mph took an average of 40.0 seconds, and the standing start 1/4 mile was covered in 25.0 seconds.”
To put this in perspective, Studebaker figures were 0-60 in 15.4 seconds and the quarter in 21.1 seconds. The Jaguar XK-120’s were 10.1 seconds to 60 and an 18.3-second quarter.
Styling a Plus. “The job of styling a small car,” Road and Track said, “is recognized as being extremely difficult, and our personal opinion is that the Hillman is by far the best available today. Interiors are impressive, the high quality pleated red leather upholstery earning very favorable comments. Matching deep-pile carpets cover the floor…. A convenient, and typically British, parcel shelf under the dash relieves the glove box load.”
“The convertible is a welcome and good-looking addition to the Hillman line. Selling for $1745, it is a ideal car for the enthusiast who likes fresh-air,” Road and Track said. “Quality of the top material is above average.”
My English Ford Consul had a similar three-position top, er… hood.
General Operation. “To get right into a strange car,” the magazine wrote, “and almost immediately feel at ease is unusual, but quite possible with the Hillman. Visibility is excellent, and the steering is unquestionably one of the best ever tried by this writer.”
“With one exception,” Road and Track said, “it is difficult to find any serious fault or criticism of this car. The exception is the shifting mechanism [a four-speed column shift] which not only is of a non-standard shift pattern, which is serious enough, but also falls far short of American standards of positive control. What happens to the clutch when parking lot attendants use high for starting up, or try to find reverse, I would hate to observe.”
Overall Assessment of Road Test No. F-1-51: “Summing up the Hillman Mark IV, I especially liked its appearance, comfort, and smoothness. It should be thoroly reliable, low cost transportation for thousands of Americans who would appreciate such a car—but do not know it even exists.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022