Simanaitis Says

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ROAD AND TRACK’S INAUGURAL ROAD TEST

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.” 

Image from Road and Track, February 1950.

“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.”

This and the following from Road and Track, March 1951. The information-rich data panel was yet to come, evolving bit by bit.

“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 Hillman Convertible.

“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

10 comments on “ROAD AND TRACK’S INAUGURAL ROAD TEST

  1. Mike B
    July 3, 2022

    40 sec to 60? And I thought my 20ish-sec Rabbit diesel was slow! That Rabbit seems to have filled a similar niche to the Hillman: something that few people would buy, economical, nimble, comfortable, but slow (top speed about 75 mph but all-day cruiser at 70 on a mostly flat road). Aside to the Studebaker reference: the first family car I recall was a Studebaker sedan (early ’50s model) that the transmission “fell out of” on one trip leading to a series of tow truck and cab rides, and a trip to a Chevy dealer for purchase of a ’57 wagon (6 cyl, Powerglide, another slow beast).

    We are living in blessed times when vehicles with 5-7 sec to 60 are commonly available, even to truck buyers.

  2. sabresoftware
    July 4, 2022

    I tried naming the other 26 brands from memory, and came up with 24:

    Aston-Martin, Austin, Bentley, Bond, Bristol, Daimler, Ford, Healy, Hillman, Humber, Jaguar, Jensen, Lagonda, Lotus, MG, Morris, Morgan, Reliant, Riley, Rolls Royce, Rover, Singer, Sunbeam (actually Sunbeam-Talbot in 1951), Standard

    Searching the web to find the other two I came up with twelve more:

    Arnott, Buckler, Dellow, Frazer Nash (I should have remembered this one), HRG, Jowett (I should have remembered this one), Lanchester, Lea-Francis, Marauder, Marcos (I should have remembered this one), Paramount, Russon

    I have a neat children’s book that I have had since I was 9, called the “Ladybird Book of Motor Cars” (https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/1067678933/vintage-1960s-ladybird-book-motor-cars?gpla=1&gao=1&&utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=shopping_ca_en_ca_-books_movies_and_music-non_domestic&utm_custom1=_k_9ea4a4d6365f13ae0c31c61553a2d22f_k_&utm_content=bing_420003114_1298523542007699_81157788806694_pla-4584757336643081:pla-4584757336643081_c__1067678933enca&utm_custom2=420003114&msclkid=9ea4a4d6365f13ae0c31c61553a2d22f) that has details on many British, and some European and American models from the early 1960s.

    • simanaitissays
      July 4, 2022

      Your memory is splendid, Sabre, and better than my counting! (See below). Plus, Barlow’s calendar is different. What with A.C., Allard, Alvis, Triumph, Vauxhall, and Wolsley already cited, the others in his 1950 listing are Armstrong-Siddeley, Aston Martin, Austin, Bentley, Bristol, Daimler, Ford, Frazer Nash, HRG, Healey, Hillman, Humber, Jaguar, Jensen, Jowett/Javelin, Lagonda, Lanchester, Lea-Francis, MG, Morgan, Morris, Riley, Rolls-Royce, Rover, Singer, Standard, and Sunbeam-Talbot.
      Agg!! This totals 33, despite what I said earlier here. (Just for the record, I’ve changed that original 32 to a correct 33.)
      As noted, your memory is super. The Bond and Dellow were around since 1949, the Buckler since 1947, the Paramount 1950, but Barlow didn’t mention them. “Wacky” Arnolt came later, as did the others. Marcos ’59; Russon, ’51; Marauder, ’51. And a fat lot of good it did them. Apart from the Arnolt-MGs and Arnolt-Bristol (a fav of mine).

  3. sabresoftware
    July 4, 2022

    “Your memory is splendid …”, so how come when I get up to go into the kitchen (or anywhere else) I forget why I’m there when I get there! Often I go to the store to pick up a needed item, return with 15 things, except the one that I actually went for.

    I lived in the UK for six years (age 8 to 14) and saw many of these brands on a regular basis. On road trips, when many other kids (like my brothers) complained of being bored, I amused myself by identifying all the other cars on the road. To some extent I still do it, 60 years later. Trips to other countries, such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and even Israel were a whole new adventure with many different sights.

    My favourites at the time were the Aston Martin DB5, Jensen FF, and of course my dad’s 1953 Bentley R Type. A year before moving back to Canada in 1968 my dad bought a Rover 2000 (at my recommendation), an export model which we brought back to Canada. I eventually inherited that car while at university when my parents retired and moved back to the UK for a few years.

    • simanaitissays
      July 4, 2022

      I may have had similar forgetfulness, but I don’t recall.
      You’ve had quite the interesting car history. Prior to my R&T years, mine is relatively tame: Drove dad’s ‘50 Ford as a kiddie, then his ‘55 Ford conv. My own: Ford Consul conv. Falcon conv. Then Volvo wagon, Beetle, Moke, Pinto wagon on St Thomas. Then Pontiac wagon for the ex-.
      Drove R&T test cars until a second Moke. Then four-pass Morgan. Miata. Crosstour when Hearst retired us all. Last two still here. Me too.

      • sabresoftware
        July 4, 2022

        My history is not as glamorous as it may seem. The Aston and Jensen were just dream vehicles of a 14 year old. Occasionally I see a Jensen Interceptor around town, but I have never seen an FF (maybe it was never imported to North America).

        As to my ownership, my cars have been the inherited 1967 Rover 2000 (automatic unfortunately, but still a great car), a 1976 VW Rabbit (automatic, hit while parked off the street by a hit and run drunk driver – she was found in the ditch on the highway a while later and confessed to the accident, claiming that my car jumped out in front of her), a 1978 Rabbit (4 speed manual), a 1984 Mazda 626 (5 speed manual}, a 1993 Mazda 626 (V6, 5 speed manual), a 2001 Audi S4 (6 speed manual), a 2014 Audi Q5 (8 speed auto) and my current ride a 2016 Audi SQ5 (8 speed auto).

        I do own 120 other cars, 19 @ 1:18 scale, 1 @ 1:24 scale and 100 @ 1:43 scale.

  4. sabresoftware
    July 4, 2022

    That reminds me, you know why Pintos burn oil? Keeps tailgaters away to protect the fuel tank. Bad joke I know.

    • Mike B
      July 5, 2022

      On short onramps, my practice with the Rabbit diesel was to run it up to the governor and keep it there, floored. Laid down enough smokescreen (today we would call it ‘rolling coal’) to obscure visibility and open up a space in the line of traffic for me to slot in to. Then I could upshift clearing the cloud.

      I believe it was a Mercedes engineer who once said that if a diesel isn’t smoking it isn’t making enough power.

      As for British – never owned one, but my dad did consider and test-drove a couple of Morris Minors (including a convertible; also a Borgward) before buying the VW Beetle I eventually learned how to drive in.

  5. John Dinkel
    July 20, 2022

    As Joe Biden would say: “You’re over the Hill Man!!!”

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