Tech Tips:  The USA Perspective

From: Jan Eyerman [jan.eyerman(at)usa.net]
Sent: Friday, 21 November 2003 5:19 AM
To: KosmicDancr(at)aol.com; hillmanminx(at)hermon.net; Hillman@can-inc.com
Subject: "Hillman – " "Social" history of Hillman

This message forwarded by the Hillman List.

In the USA, Hillmans are just not pretentious cars.  They are more like the friendly mixed breed dog you bring home from the pound that loves everybody but would defend your home (and family) to the death if anyone ever threatened them.  You wouldn't enter your mutt in a dog show, but it serves its purpose better than most "pure breeds".

The "social" history of Hillman in the USA is very different from both England and Australia/New Zealand.  In the USA, Hillmans were usually bought as "station cars" or "second cars" (back in the days when "second cars" were a luxury).  Later, they became extremely cheap used cars.  The combination of good gas mileage, low cost, stylish, but understated looks made them desireable cars to a certain group of people.  Their ease of repair and use of SAE bolts as opposed to Metric on cars like the VW also sold them (you could use your father's old tool set).  A Husky was the perfect combination since it added a great deal of practicality overall.

Things began to get difficult when Chrysler took over Rootes, it became worse after 1968-69 when Chrysler effectively closed all of the non-Chrysler dealer sales outlets.  Parts became very difficult to get.... the strange part was that parts were actually very EASY to get throughout the 1970's.  They only dried up in 1979 when Chrysler scrapped all of their Rootes parts.  What occurred was that the parts were available through all Chrysler-Dodge-Plymouth dealers IF you knew the part number and the part number was simply the Rootes part number with an "X" added to the front of it.  A friend of mine was a service manager at a Dodge dealer and we figured this out by looking at his price books.  So I just ordered my Sunbeam Arrow parts from him.  I also ordered parts for my '51 Minx from him!!!!

By 1980 Hillmans were getting pretty rare and had moved into the "collector car" world.  The interesting thing is how well loved they were.  Their survival rate is amazing compared with other small cars.  For example.... Datsun sold hundreds of thousands of cars in 1970-73, have you seen a Datsun "1200" around lately?  Or a "510"?  How about a Ford Pinto?  or a Chevy Vega?  Considering that in over 20 years (1948-68) Hillman sold under 100,000 cars in the USA, and that Datsun sold more twice that number in the USA in 1972 alone – we should be aflood in vintage Datsuns, but we ain't.

Another interesting aspect is that Hillman sold a very high percentage of convertibles in the USA compared with other American makes.  The reason being that the Minx convertible was very, very inexpensive compared to American convertibles.  Using Chevy for example, while a base model 4 door Chevy was available in Chevy's lowest cost model (the "150" back in the fifties) convertibles were only available in Chevy's most expensive model-the Bel Aire.  So while there was not much a price difference between a base model Chevy 4 door and a Minx 4 door, there was a huge price difference between a Chevy convertible and a Minx convertible.  That explains why there are so many Minx convertibles in the USA.  I would be willing to bet that that there are more 1950-1964 Minx/Super Minx convertibles in the USA than are in England.

Jan Eyerman
1962 Hillman Minx Series IIIC Convertible

From: Miles Family [milesfamily(at)telus.net]
Sent: Friday, 21 November 2003 1:48 PM
To: Jan Eyerman; Hillman@can-inc.com
Subject: Re: "Hillman – " "Social" history of Hillman

This message forwarded by the Hillman List.

Fascinating stuff, Jan.  You've really got to write that book on the history of the Hillman marque, actually you should do one on the Rootes group in general.
It is amazing that so many Hillmans have survived when it seems they have been all but forgotten by the general public.  Even in 1975 when I had my first Hillman I would run into quite a few people who hadn't heard of the make even though there was still a fair number of them around.  It seems that things haven't changed that much as a visit to any local British car show will usually turn up only one or maybe two Hillmans.  I'm looking forward to a trip to the UK my wife and I are planning for next July and hoping to catch some car shows while there.  I notice that the Rapier club is having their annual show plus attending another that month so hopefully I'll be able to get to at least one.  I haven't checked out if there are any shows put on by the HOC yet.  It'll be a blast to see that many Rootes products at one show!

From: Jan Eyerman [jan.eyerman(at)usa.net]
Sent: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 2:41 AM
To: Keith Johnson; hillmanlist
Subject: "Hillman – " OFF TOPIC- Fifties

This message forwarded by the Hillman List.

It has occurred to me that people outside of the USA do not appreciate the "2 door hardtop craze" of the fifties.  The popularity of this style of car exploded in the USA after 1949.  The first US "hardtops" were the Buick Riviera, Olds Holiday and Cadillac "Coupe DeVille".  These came from Harley Earl who noted that his wife always had a convertible (I cannot say "buy" as he got them for free from GM) but never put the top down!  She liked the lower, sportier lines of a convertible but did not like the wind messing up her hair.  Also, although old Harley really did not experience it, convertibles were impractical because as they got older they leaked, let in drafts, etc.
So putting a metal top on a convertible made for a racy, practical car.  Up until 1949 "fast backs" dominated the "racy" "sporty" car scene (they were essentially invented by the Aussies as "slopers").  But within 2-3 years the hardtop totally replaced the fastback.  Just look at Chevrolets production figures – in 1949-50 the "Fleetlines" sold about as well as the "styleline" (notch back) and then quickly faded away after Chevy launced the "Bel Aire" hardtop.

After the mid-fifties NO one under 30 years old would own a 4 door sedan.  The hardtop craze got so wild that Olds and Buick were building hardtop station wagons!!!  But most importantly, kids and hot rodders would NOT own a 4 door.  I know one fellow who was given a '57 Chevy 4 door hardtop and so he welded the rear doors shut and fiberglassed them in!!!!  Again, I must emphasize, in the USA ONLY 2 door cars were acceptable to the hot rodder/teenage set.

Older cars were OK if they were coupes or 2 door sedans, but NO 4 doors.  Again, this was a USA thing as we were big into 2 door cars (I believe more 2 door model "A"s were sold than 4 door).

Of course convertibles continued to sell between 5-10% of the market up until the late sixties when the auto makers decided to kill them.  Long before there were any laws or even fear of laws basically banning them, the US automakers stopped advertising them.  In 1960 a sales brochure would show a convertible on the cover, by 1972-73 there often wasn't even a picture of one in the brochure.

Anyway, I cannot even begin to explain the "culture" of that era, but I can assure you that 4 door cars were more "out" than "Yugos" are today among teenagers/hot rodders.  For example-while a 4 door sedan cost more new than a 2 door sedan, after 2-3 years, the 2 door sedan would bring more on the used car market than a 4 door.  Or, if it did not show any price premium, it would sell much quicker.

Jan Eyerman
(who bucked the trend and owned 4 door Hillmans)

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