Scanning Around With Gene: Where the Steering Wheel is on the Wrong Side
I've never owned a British car, though I've been attracted to a few and came close to buying an MG sports car when I was a teenager. But, fairly or not, I've let the questionable reputation of British vehicles influence me and have stayed away.
I have no idea whether British cars are any better or worse than many others, and I suppose, just as with American cars, you shouldn't lump all the brands into one mechanical stereotype. Today's images are from brochures for the Rootes Group of car companies (Hillman, Sunbeam, Humber, Singer, and Commer, among others). Click on any image for a larger version.
British electrical systems are supposed to be particularly bad; Jaguar owners will tell you about tearing their hair out over some electrical short.
Yet even the more working-class brands, like many of those pictured here, have a styling that seems distinctly British and makes you want to look the other way when it comes to mechanical reliability.
Rootes was a little like General Motors: an aggregator of car brands to serve different markets. Hillman was the basic brand, Singer a little more upscale, with Sunbeam as the sports car brand, Humber as a luxury brand, and Commer selling trucks, or "lorries" as they're called over there.
At one point the company had factories all over England. During World War II, it turned its efforts to airplanes and military vehicles.
A neighbor of mine had a Hillman Husky when I was growing up, and our mailman had a Sunbeam Alpine (which was one of the few Rootes cars to achieve moderate success in the United States).
Many of the earlier brochures used illustrations instead of photography to promote the vehicles. You don't see many auto illustrations in advertising these days.
And while I know many car interiors where much larger back then, I guess one of the keys to using illustrations was to make them look even more expansive than they were.
There are plenty of reasons to expect British cars to be marketed in ways similar to American vehicles, save for the steering wheel being on the opposite side. Cars are the key to a happy and satisfying life on either side of the pond.
Another striking feature revealed by older car brochures is the what-now-seems-shocking lack of basic safety features. Dashboards were hard metal, seat belts were nonexistent, and things like collapsible steering columns hadn't been invented.
America's Chrysler Corporation purchased Rootes in 1967 and the various brands lasted a short while before either being sold again or put out of business. They join a host of other British car marks that are now only collectibles.
There are still quite a few automobile lines made in Britain, including Vauxhall, Jaguar, Rover, and Rolls Royce. I just don't know if they've ever solved their electrical problems.
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