River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Ron’s Rambles May

May 2020

Covid – 19 Not much to say that hasn’t already been said. What the government should have been doing several weeks before it arrived they didn’t start doing until two weeks after it had arrived. Perhaps so engaged in getting Brexit done they took their eye off the ball. It is a catastrophe, a plague that has got a long way to go before it will have run its course globally, and I cannot see how the world can get back to exactly how it was. From a local point of view the problem that I see is how soon can we return to a normal way of life. They may get to the stage in the major conurbations where the majority have developed some immunity and they can start getting back to normal. In areas such as this it is most likely that the majority will not have had the virus and therefore will not have immunity. As the rest of the country is getting back to normal there will be a tendency for us to drop our guard whilst we are still vulnerable. Not until we have a vaccine, or a satisfactory treatment can we feel safe. The BBC Prior to the current crisis, the BBC had been under constant attack by the leaders of the Conservative Party, and the Labour Party weren’t very keen either. In recent years politics has, to some extent, been dominated by ‘spin’, but in very recent times, particularly in relation to Brexit, spin degenerated into downright lies. Some say Dominic Cummings is responsible. The BBC, as it has always done, endeavoured to tell the truth and expose the lies, and that made them unpopular with the liars. As a consequence it was as though they determined to do their best to silence the BBC, they have attacked the notion of paying for a licence, suggesting it should be a subscription service like many commercial broadcasters, and went so far as to say they would no longer pay the licences for the OAPs. Boris forbid ministers from appearing on the BBC radio’s ‘Today’ programme. Even at the start of the pandemic the Health Secretary Matt Hancock first reported the government’s strategy for dealing with Covid-19 in ‘The Sunday Telegraph’, rather than the BBC. They soon realised that to speak to the public at large they needed the BBC. Boris was not providing his daily reports to the nation through the Telegraph, or Sky News. One wonders what it would have been like if the BBC had been reduced to a subscription only service. The BBC has not only produced its TV broadcasts, it’s news website has received weekly views of 70million, the BBC News channel has had a 70% increase in viewers compared with its 2019 average, News at Six and News at Ten have each had a more than 20% increase. It is also spreading the news through podcasts and BBC Sounds app. The BBC Director General Tony Hall said “As the national broadcaster, the BBC has a special role to play at this time of national need. We need to pull together to get through this. That is why the BBC will be using all of its resources – channels, station and output – to help keep the nation informed, educated and entertained.” Those who wanted to attack the BBC have been pleased, at this time, to have, at their disposal, a national broadcaster, known and respected internationally, I hope, when this situation is over, they will realise their mistake. How dare they even think of trying to reduce our national asset, a national treasure, down to just another subscription service subservient to partisan and private sponsors. Rootes Who remembers Rootes cars? You certainly don’t see many about now, but at one time they were the third largest UK motor manufacturer. Like most of the car makers William Rootes started by making and selling bicycles in the late nineteenth century. Unlike the others he did not go into motor manufacturing but concentrated on distributing and selling cars from other manufacturers. He had two sons William (Billy) and Reginald. Both Billy and Reginald served in the first world war. Billy, in the navy, set up a factory for reconditioning Le Rhone aero-engines, this he did making a deal with the Ministry that led to a lump sum payment after the war. He used that money to expand his father’s business. Billy and Reginald became the driving force and saw the business grow rapidly, establishing dealers around the world, selling mostly British cars because that was William’s aim. So successful were they that they bought Devonshire House in Piccadilly as their headquarters. They had always aspired to be manufacturers and in the late 1920s they bought Thrupp and Maberley, up-market coach builders. By the end of the 1920s many of the motor manufacturers that started in the beginning of the 20th century were struggling financially. Hillman and Humber merged along with Commer, who had specialised in commercial vehicles and Karrier who had tended to build vehicles for local government work in particular. Despite the mergers they were failing. With a big investment from the Prudential, Rootes bought the Hillman – Humber – Commer - Karrier combine They immediately put a team together to design their first car, the Hillman Wizard. This was a medium to large saloon. It was quite well received by the press and it went on to perform some outstanding advertising feats, demonstrating its reliability, but it did not sell very well. Hot on its heels they introduced the Minx at the Paris motor show. The Minx was a conventional 1200cc side valve engine four door saloon, it was nicely styled. This was extremely well received and went on to be a big market success. They had invested the money in creating a factory capable of producing large numbers and in a matter of a very few years they became a very big player in the motor manufacturing scene. The Minx was their principle product, but they also introduced new Humber’s, using the Humber name for the larger cars. There were three Humber models, the Hawk, the Snipe and the Pullman. The Hawk owed quite a lot to the Hillman Wixard which had been discontinued. The Pullman was a full Limo, one was ordered by the Duke of Windsor, the future king, and that gave them a royal warrant and established the marque in the higher echelons. During the 1930s their success continued, they modernised the styling, of the MInx making the car a little more streamlined, they put the spare wheel in a compartment beneath the rear seat, accessible from outside. This gave the car a smooth back that was slightly sloping. They also went to pressed steel wheels, the Humbers were modernised in a similar way. There were a number of variants of the Minx including a cabriolet and a more sporty version, the Aero Minx. In 1939 they added a small boot to the Minx and went for a monocoque structure (chassis less). Several other British manufacturers were in financial difficulty in the 30s. Sunbeam, who had built Seagraves world speed record car, and had been second to the Bentleys at Le Mans, Talbot, who had built the first 100mph car, and Darraq, had merged but that had not helped. Rootes went on to acquire those three companies also. Initially intending to use the Sunbeam and Talbot names independently they soon linked them to produce Sunbeam-Talbots. These were very attractive two door spots saloons in style, using mainly Rootes parts.

In world war 2 Rootes made a major contribution to the war effort. In addition to producing a variety of vehicles for military use, including Monty’s car, they built factories for manufacturing parts for RR Merlin engines, for making Blenheim and Beaufighter aircraft and for overhauling Bristol air-cooled aero engines. After the war, for two or three years, they produced much the same models that they were making in 1939. In 1948 they produced a new Minx, this had a more pronounced boot. It was, like all Rootes cars, attractively styled. It sold well but perhaps not as well as hoped, up against strong competition from the Morris Minor and Austin A40. I thought the Minx to be rather cramped. It sold very well in the colonies and in the US. Japan had been prohibited from building cars for a few years and were not up to European standards, Isuzu built Minx’s under licence (ironic). The Humber Hawk, with 2.2litres and ohv engine was similarly styled to the Minx, it was the best looking medium sized car of the period. It was in competition with Austin A70, Ford Zephyr, Wolseley 80 and Standard Vanguard, but it had a touch of ‘class’. A new Super Snipe followed a year or two later in similar style, but with 4litres of ohv engine. At the same time, 1948, they introduced new Sunbeams-Talbots (later dropping the name Talbot}. The Sunbeam 80 and 90, the 80 was soon dropped when they increased the engine size for the 90 to 2.2l. One might describe the styling as ‘sports-saloons’. With this car, and an open version, they went on to considerable competition success, with some outstanding drivers, including Stirling Moss, Pat Moss and Sheila Van-Damm. Along the way Rootes had also absorbed Singer. In the late fifties they revised all their models, going for more rounded styling, they continued with the Minx, and a Singer version, the Hawk and Super-Snipe (now sharing many body parts). There was a sports version of the new range the ‘Rapier’, two door with custom styling, which enjoyed some competition success. They also produced a true sports car, the ‘Alpine’, this was very well received and rivalled the MGB. At about the same time thy introduced a new small car, the ‘Imp’, to compete with the Mini. The Imp was a delightful car but did go into production before all the shortcomings had been sorted, nevertheless it was quite successful, it was said by some that, if it had appeared before the Mini, motor history might have been very different. The Minx range was enhanced with the ‘Super-Minx’, a slightly larger car similarly styled, along with slightly more expensive variants in the form of Singer ‘Vogue’ and Humber ‘Sceptre’. Like most UK manufacturers, Rootes found it increasingly difficult to make a profit, too many models, not enough investment etc. They attempted to merge with BMC but Leyland succeeded in striking the deal. Had it been Rootes UK motor history might have been very different. Rootes concentrated on one basic model for the late 60s and 70s. This they called the Arrow range, very similar in specification to the highly successful Mk 2 Ford Cortina, and a very worthy challenger. The principal model in the range was the ‘Hunter’, with 1725cc engine, there was also a Minx 1500cc, a Singer ‘Gazelle’, a Humber Sceptre and a Sunbeam Rapier, the latter with a more streamlined style. The range was well engineered and better quality than most of its rivals. The Hunter proved itself by winning the London to Sydney race. The company was taken over by Chrysler/Peugeot in 1967, they continued to sell under the Rootes name until 1976, the last two years of production they were sold as Chrysler Hunters. The final fling of the Rootes designers was the Avenger, another good car, but that had a fairly limited production run.

They had kept going with the commercial side, in the 1950s Commer produced a very popular Transit size van well before Ford, they valiantly battled with Bedford in the medium to large range. They produced an interesting ‘flat’ diesel engine for fitting under the floor of the driver’s cab, this engine had horizontal opposed pistons. It was reasonably successful and was the mainstay of the Commer range. They dropped out of the market as engines and trucks got bigger, leaving Leyland – Daf the only UK company in the field. Ron Watts

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