Californian Dreaming

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1953 Mark VI Hillman CalifornianThroughout the decades the success of a car is often affected by events on the world stage; with the US market targeted the 1953 Mark VI Hillman Californian was a couple of years early, so nearly the right car at the right time. Although Rootes management primarily had the American motorist in their ‘crosshairs’, aided by the increased fuel costs and petrol rationing during  the 1956 Suez Crisis the later Mark VIII a stylish and economic Californian proved to be just as popular in the UK. Mark VI Hillman CalifornianThe rather tired offerings from Britain’s post war car manufactures ensured British drivers could not help but look across the Atlantic and admire the care free designs and striking colour combinations the US market offered. The huge engines were not for the UK buyer but a two door pillar-less Coupe image and even a convertible would prove popular. Rootes already had this in mind when they brought in Raymond Loewy an American designer; he took their convertible Minx and simply fitted a non-load bearing roof. Wind down the windows for an obstruction free view, the art deco rear screen is impressive and works in harmony with many other touches that make this car so different. A contrasting two tone paint scheme with the wheels matching the roof and the art deco theme continued inside with a lovely dash layout. The car sold well in the US and Australia where fuel costs had not been a priority (US 60cents a gallon 1956) but having doubled in three years a 10mpg V8 engine made the American driver think. The Californians 1390cc OHV engine new for 1954 produced 47bhp and a top speed of 73mph and driven carefully could return 45mpg plus. Mark VI Hillman Californian25 HME is a Mark VIII Californian belonging to David Welsh; the car was completed in December 1955 but didn’t hit the roads for six months as it was on display in Piccadilly, London at the Rootes headquarters in Devonshire House. As David explained to me the Californian models had a three stage build process which was quite unique at the time. The bodies once pressed and assembled in Oxford were transported to coachbuilders Thrupp and Maberly in London for the bespoke paint and trimming process. Once completed the bodies were sent onto the main Rootes factory at Ryton on Dunsmore near Coventry where all the running gear was fitted. 1953 Mark VI Hillman Californian EngineAfter completing display duty in the capital 25 HME was first registered in Southall, Middlesex to a Polish native Mr J Gadowski who enjoyed the car for 35 years.  It seems the car was not used daily (Mr Gadowski kept usage records) but on longer journeys which included a return trip to Poland in July 1966, obviously not a football fan as he would have missed the World Cup Finals. In 1972 the car had recorded 27000 miles and by 1976 Mr Gadowski had moved to Gloucestershire where 25 HME was put into storage where it remained for 17 years without turning a wheel. In 1991 the car re-emerged at the Hillman Owners Club Rally in Burford with new owner Mr Dring and then in 1993 the car was sold again to a Mr Haines via a Leckhampton Auction. In 1996  this Californian story could have ended after being abandoned in a muddy field in Gloucester; left covered in mud, a non-runner after being used for some off-roading. Andy Eakatts realised what the car was and after some TLC and a good clean 25 HME was back on the road and on its way to current owner David Welsh. 1953 Mark VI Hillman Californian InteriorJust prior to the Millennium celebrations saw David’s ten year search for the right Californian come to an end. In his garage already was a pristine Series 5 Minx but the pillar-less coupe style had caught his attention years before and this was the one to own. Having covered only 33500 miles the car still carried its original paint and the interior is as it left the factory all those years ago. 2013 another decade on and David has kept the car as it should be, avoiding the painters gun an unmolested example.  Amazingly Rootes Archive Centre confirmed the total Mark VIII production from Oct 1954 to May 1957 was 93609 and there is only a dozen or so on the roads in the UK now. Offered an opportunity for a drive in the Californian, I only needed to be asked once. The four speed column change is the first thing I noticed, quick and precise David informed me the Rootes Synchromatic system was excellent. 1st is hardly used and top comes around under 30mph. The engine is quiet and responsive; with drums all-round the brakes are adequate but as with all old cars in modern traffic thinking ahead is a must. The interior detailing is just perfect for this car and I really enjoyed my time with a really special Hillman. Many thanks to David for his time and input, no more Californian dreaming for him, there’s one in the garage.