A 1963 Humber Super Snipe (Series IV)


By John Ray

I have always been a demon driver. People who get into my car often emerge shaking. So I buy very small cars -- which enable me to flash through traffic down lanes that are not supposed to be there. I remember one occasion when I upset some guy in a big Ford without being aware of it and he decided to chase me to remonstrate with me. I was just driving in my normal way but it still stretched him to chase me. By the time he caught up with me he was too exhausted to say much to me. If I had been aware of him chasing me, he would never have caught up.

But the cars I drive are not powerful ones. Not at all ones that rev-heads like The Good Blair would approve of. My first car was a VW and those since have always been small and humble too. Though I did at one stage have a Mini K -- which was an Australian version of the Morris Mini Minor but with an 1100cc motor in it -- and did that thing go! There is NO car that is as much fun to drive as a Mini.

At the beginning of 2005, I had two cars -- a 1991 Ford Festiva (really a Korean-made Kia) and a 1995 Daihatsu Charade. The Festiva was as near as I had come to a Mini in terms of fun to drive. It was a real Go-Kart. But my son Joe was just starting university so I gave him the choice of which car he wanted to drive and he chose the Festiva. It was a VERY old car as small cars go, however, so at the beginning of this year the motor blew up and I reluctantly gave it away and gave Joe the Daihatsu instead.

I then bought a one-year-old ex-hire Toyota Echo off Hertz for myself. I had always thought that my Daihatsu was the easiest car to drive ever made but the Echo was even easier. If you see them being driven around the place they are almost always flying and that is because they are such a Swiss-watch of a car. They feel like a single thing to drive rather than a mechanical device.

But that was not enough. I have always wanted a really old car as well, and now that age has slowed me down I thought it was time. Vintage cars are of course wonderful but you virtually need to be a mechanic to keep them going so I have compromised on a veteran car -- and not such a veteran one at that. I bought the 1963 Humber Super Snipe above off a family who had been driving it since new. It is a big old English car and, as such, bound to need lots of work to keep it going but I have a mechanic friend living just over the road so I think I can afford it! I remember that when they were new the Humbers were being advertised as being able to cruise on the open road at 100 mph but I am not going to try that. I am sure it would blow up if I tried it at this stage in its life.

The difference in handling of the two cars is of course enormous but I used to be a cab-driver many years ago so I am not bothered by big clumsy cars. The style of the Humber makes up for all else, in my view, particularly as the car has been very well-maintained and looks immaculate.

Collecting the Humber was rather fun. Everybody who heard about the impending purchase was enthusiastic and none more than an old friend who was born and bred in Coventry, England, where the Humber was built. The first car he ever drove was a Humber so he couldn't wait to see my Humber and came along with me to collect it. And my stepson Paul was equally enthusiastic. He and his wife drove us out to collect it and both were delighted by the car.

When we got the car home, we all had steak pies, teacake and tea on my verandah to celebrate.

More on Motor Vehicles I Have Known

The first car I owned I bought new with the aid of a personal loan from the Bank of N.S.W. (now Westpac). It was a base-model Volkswagen Type 1 ("beetle"). It cost 799 pounds. It was sky-blue because that was the only colour in stock at the time. I would have preferred red. I was living in Quay St, Paddington, near the Brisbane S.D.A church at the time and was working for Customs. I don't know how I kept up the payments after I became a full-time student. I think I must have had enough savings to pay out the loan. I was always a good saver. I recollect that I had a deposit of around three hundred in the first place.

I really gave the VW a thrashing the way I used it but it never faltered. I drove it down to Sydney (Alex Barnes came with me) when I left Brisbane and it was still going as well as new when I wrote it off in a collision five years after having bought it. I was exceeding the speed limit while going the wrong way (inadvertently) down a one-way Sydney street at the time. Up until then it always started at the first touch of the key. Janet Coomber and I had kept in periodic contact since we split up and I used occasionally to drive back in the V.W. to Brisbane to "see" her. Such visits also helped me to keep in touch with Alex Barnes. So I really burned up the miles in the V.W.

My next car was another beetle -- an old dark-blue one with a pretty clapped-out motor. The motor eventually expired so I went out and bought a V.W. Kombi van for $70. It was cheap because it was nearly out of registration and had bad body rust that would cost a lot to fix so would not be able to be re-registered. Its motor was O.K., however, so I had the motor transplanted into my beetle -- where it was fine. That VW got written off less than a year later when someone ploughed into the back of me on a wet night.

I then bought another beetle (white this time) that had been "hotted up". It did have more power but the motor eventually blew up after about 6 months. It was not worth fixing so I abandoned it outside the John Fairfax building in Sydney -- much to Henningham's bemusement. He worked there at the time and gave me daily reports on whether it had been towed away yet.

I then got another personal loan and bought a new yellow Mazda 1300 2-door sedan. I was at the time sharing a house at Wentworth Park Rd., Glebe with Henningham and Croucher. They were at the time both car nuts. Henningham had an Alfa Romeo and Croucher had a Volvo which he used to race. Croucher even used to buy regularly a monthly magazine called "Wheels" which told you all about the various cars on the market. In our usual bantering way, both Henningham and Croucher were quite contemptuous of my purchase. They told me it was very poor value and a foolish buy from their informed and sophisticated point of view. I of course just continued on my merry way untroubled. I pointed out the various advantages of that model at that time -- a lot of power for the money etc. -- and said that they were being misled by glamour rather than looking realistically at where real value lay. They of course rejected all that.

Lo and behold, however, when Croucher bought his next "Wheels" magazine it featured the Mazda 1300 as "Car of the year". Henningham and Croucher were so completely hoist with their own petard that they actually hid that issue of the magazine from me (not that I usually read it) and it was only two or three years later that they told me of it.

Years later in Brisbane when Henningham bought an XD Falcon I was rather critical of his buying a Falcon on the grounds that a much smaller Japanese car with a much lower fuel consumption rate could have carried as many people. He seemed rather sensitive about my criticism which I put down at the time to his wife Helen's influence -- i.e. he had adopted her very serious attitude and longer took criticism as good sport. But maybe he also remembered the "Wheels" episode and suspected that his view of what is a good thing in cars might have been less prudent than mine once again!

The Mazda went like a dream for about 8 years. Only then did it begin to need some work, even then only minor. I ended up pranging it and writing it off too. My most serious prang was when I rolled my first V.W. but even then I was not injured.

After the Mazda I bought an old Morris Mini Minor K. The K was an Australian version with an 1100cc motor. It went like a bat out of hell and was great fun to drive. It was so narrow it could often create an extra lane for itself -- a bit like a motorbike. It tended to need a lot of mechanical work, however, so I eventually sold it when the clutch was getting dodgy.

I then bought an Isuzu Gemini from a N.S.W. government auction. It was a very civilized vehicle but did have problems with overheating on long trips. It was a white automatic wagon. I had it for about 4 years before I decided it was a bit gutless for me and sold it.

I then (in 1985) got the Jade-green Ford Laser hatch (actually a rebadged Mazda 323) which I had until the end of 1995. The Laser certainly is a very well balanced and zippy car, though I had got terminally bored with it by the time I got rid of it. I also bought Jenny her yellow Daihatsu Charade van. It was a great car to drive -- almost as much fun as a Morris Mini Minor.

I also had for a time while I was living at 9 Faversham St a white 1973 V.W. minibus that I greatly enjoyed driving. I originally bought it to fit everyone in on Sunday drives but ended up driving it almost everywhere because I liked to. I liked being up above the other traffic mostly, I guess. I felt more relaxed driving it, somehow. It cost me a fortune to keep it going, however, so I eventually sold it for much less than I spent on it.

After I got rid of the Laser (I gave it to big Kath), I bought a 1995 white Daihatsu Charade TS. I had never before had a car that is so easy to drive and it certainly goes like a rocket with me behind the wheel.

The Charade:

Some years after I had bought the Charade, I also bought for $2,000 an old white Ford Festiva (really a rebadged Kia) off a tenant who was going home to China. It was a great car -- nearly as small as a Mini -- but was rather past its use-by date so needed a lot of work from time to time. I gave it to Joe as soon as he got his driver's licence. I gave him the choice of the Festiva or the Charade but he chose the Festiva because the Dai was not airconditioned. After about 6 months however, the motor blew up so we finally wrote the car off and I gave Joe the Dai instead.


My first two car accidents were rather instructive to me so let me relate them: My first accident occurred when I noticed the passenger-side door of my new VW rattling while I was driving along. I had just dropped off Zita Trevethan and she must not have closed it properly. So I leant over to close it properly while I was driving along. I only intended to take my eyes of the road for a couple of seconds and that is all I did. But it was enough. I must have jerked the steering wheel a little while I was not looking at the road and the VW went off the road and ran into a brick fence. Lesson? NEVER take your eyes of the road while driving. Do anything you like while driving but your eyes must stay on the road. If you must glance aside, do it only for a split second and do it only when all ahead seems very clear and easy.

My second accident occurred soon after the first -- before the damage of the first one was fixed in fact. I was driving along Coronation Drive in my VW. It was raining but I thought: "So what? Why let a bit of bad weather slow me down? Modern technology should enable us to ignore weather most of the time!". I was wrong. The VW hit a puddle on one side of the road that was only about 6" deep or less but it was enough to create a drag on one side and cause me to swerve and lose control. I hit a post. It was only a minor prang but it bent the front of the VW even more. Lesson? Be super-cautious on wet roads. You have only about a tenth of the adhesion you have on dry roads so you have virtually no control at all if the slightest thing goes wrong. So slow RIGHT down. Let the mugs keep speeding.

Even though I drive like a demon, I have had only two other prangs of any note. The third was five years after the first when I inadvertently went the wrong way down a one-way street in East Sydney at night in my VW and was rammed in the side by a driver who wasn't expecting me any more than I was expecting him. It rolled the VW and wrote it off but I was unscathed even though I was not wearing my seatbelt. I have never been injured in any way in a prang.

The fourth prang was when I came over the brow of a hill at Drummoyne in my Mazda 1300 and found a car stopped to turn in front of me. I jammed on the brakes but it was a wet road so I could not stop in time and slammed into his rear. Lesson? You can NEVER be too careful on a wet road.

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