Lifelong Travel Companion – Humber Super Snipe
Humber Historian Steve Lewis informed me of a Super Snipe Mark 3 and its partnership with his father-in-law John Easton who purchased his vehicle of choice in 1956, then cherished it for an amazing 60 years. John passed away in 2016 following a stroke (aged 84) and the Humber was now in Steve’s care and so the time was right to document a lifetime of ownership that covered 180,000 miles. Steve explained his relationship with car and owner "I first met John in 1982 attending the Kew Engines Museum gathering for Humber’s.
John's car stood out as being a well looked after example and he was always willing to talk. A lovely car and man but never thought any more of it! More events over a couple of years and I met his daughter, Andrea. One thing led to another and we were married in 1986; the Humber was one of our wedding cars’’. Long term classic custodians are not unique but I suggest there are few classics with 60 years of single ownership left on UK roads.
More surprising, this Humber was not tucked away for years, preserved; on the contrary, enjoying a life on the move with its owner in his favourite seat, behind the wheel. During his national service John was sent to post-war Germany and trained as a projectionist, showing films to ‘squaddies’ stationed far from home. ‘Demobbed’ he was the man behind the reels at Hastings ABC Cinema and during down time would often enjoy ‘window shopping’ at Langney Motors, the local Rootes dealer which was located on ground level at Marine Court in St Leonards-on –Sea; a stunning building that harks back to the days of the White Star Line, particularly the Queen Mary and resembles a transatlantic cruise liner tied up on the sea front. John in his early twenties yearned for something special he could cruise along the south coast, a Cresta or the Sunbeam-Talbot Alpine maybe? Unbeknown to John, his future wife Jean worked in Marine Court, she too would often admire a red sports model on display in the dealership window. In 2015 Stephen commissioned a painting by one time Rootes stylist Eric C Ball, recounting the scene from this era. The Super Snipe appeared in the showroom in 1956, it was four years old and available at £650.00; previously the steed of Hastings Mayor and thus immaculate, the sight of nearly 16ft of black and chrome Humber was enough to force the decision.
The Last of the Running Boards
The Snipe name first appeared with the Rootes Group takeover of Humber’s Coventry factory and the models good name for durability is well documented, especially during WW2. Stories of Monty’s Snipe staff cars ‘Old Faithful’ and ‘Victory Car’ traversing vast distances under battle conditions are appreciated more when you get up close to one, delicate and cute they are not. Impressive, the best way to describe any of the Super Snipe range from the immediately post-war Mark 1 to the Mark 3, I expected to see a ‘Four Star’ General step from the rear seat; from this model forward though the six-cylinder side valve would be replaced whilst the running boards would go altogether.
The Mark 3 arrived in 1950 with spats covering the upper rear wheels and softened rear suspension, its pre-war look was updated back in 1948. Super Snipe luxury of the early 50s came at a price with The Motor magazine of 1951 quoting an on the road figure of £1471, at a time when a Morris Minor was only £520. Fuel at 3s and 6d per gallon was also a consideration, especially when the most frugal drivers would usually achieve 15mpg with a fully laden Mark 3 weighing in at over 2 tons. These stats didn’t concern owners then and once sampled it becomes irrelevant to anyone now travelling in one of Rootes Groups finest offerings. John and the Easton family would enjoy many journeys over the decades, often towing a caravan towards the coastal resorts around the UK. Maintenance was regular and meticulous along with some clever additions under the hood including lighting, power point and relays for the caravan’s electricity.
Provenance by the Pallet Load
Ever wondered what the first MOT certificates look like This from 1962 issued by Blacklands Garage Hastings
1952, Alderman J D Cooper, Mayor of Hastings took delivery of his Super Snipe Mark 3 finished in black with a fawn leather interior. This Humber stood in Langney Motors showroom four years later and was immaculate after mainly enjoying light ceremonial use. The perfect first car for 23-year-old John Easton, an acknowledged perfectionist who no doubt inspected the Humber from bow to stern before taking the wheel on the 4th
April 1956. The Humber would soon clock up many miles as John took a projectionist job in Maidenhead and then the ABC in Fulham. This Humber played a massive part in John Easton’s life over the decades, its classic car status grew, often on show it became well known especially to Rootes Group enthusiasts.
Included within the wealth of paperwork are images from the 50s of a young family enjoying life with a large black Super Snipe watching over them, also the Humber’s 1st
MOT test certificate, issued in 1962. Up until December 1961 cars required test after a decade but the law changed to seven years thus John needed to be tested 3 months early in January. Every pass certificate with tax discs have been diligently kept, giving a complete and comprehensive history. A wider audience would also admire the Super Snipe as it appeared on several TV period dramas; also the 1985 Meryl Streep film ‘Plenty’. Its real claim to fame can still be enjoyed via you tube with Channel 4’s documentary Classic British Cars broadcast in 1999. The reassuring voice of John Peel narrating, brings the audience a pair of long term owners with their steeds. The first a Jowett Javelin, also a 1952 registered and purchased by the owner in 1956 the same timeline as John who follows and offers some unique maintenance tips; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJcbLf2kwgk
A Waltz Within the Snipe
Releasing the heavy suicide door it is immediately apparent that space will not be in short supply on this trip. Sliding across the bench seat you can imagine a young family ‘up front’ together in the days before seat belts; John had confessed to carrying 8 or 9 on the odd family outing. Dark wood, enamel and chrome trimming, Bakelite and leather, all with a distinctive American influence plus elegance. The original roof lining is perfect and the seats although worn have a gentlemen’s club feel to them whilst the creamed face Jaeger dials are perfectly at home in their environment. Steve Lewis gives the ‘start’ button a press and the straight six jumps into life then immediately settles, so much so that I thought it had stalled. On tick-over it is virtually silent and the 4 litre is smooth enough for the 50p test with little vibration through the car. Column change accepts second (normal take off gear) and the scenery changes over the long bonnet; no power steering I noticed. ‘Is it heavy’? knowing at a standstill it certainly is, ‘not once you are moving’ comes the logical answer. Once underway the Super Snipe just floats along, fast enough to flow with the modern road users. Four speeds with full synchromesh, impressive for 1952 and the Lockheed drum brakes also surprise as they can bring all this car to a halt with less effort than you may expect. No doubt the owners ‘perfectionist’ habits extended to the upkeep of the Humber’s mechanicals, as this 180k mile Snipe behaves much as it did half a century ago. We travelled sweeping country lanes and along fast dual carriageways all with ease, confirming most of the original 100bhp remains. Conclusion, a pre-war design with added 50s technology that out performs many 60s offerings; this Super Snipe is still a luxury cruise.
A Future on Route
This Super Snipe enjoys the security of a future in the knowledgeable hands of Steve Lewis; its next milestone, the longest family-owned classic in the country? As before it won’t be hidden from view, travelling to shows and events as it has always done; being concealed in a museum or moist-free plastic tomb just wouldn’t be correct. At future annual gatherings, the Post-Vintage Humber Car Club will present the John Easton Trophy to the longest owner-vehicle partnership; a memorial to John and recognition of achievement to those individual enthusiasts’ whose passion and dedication for preserving a piece of British motoring history is commended.
Continuing the Memories
John’s daughter Andrea explains her families ties to the Humber
Dad’s car has always been a big part of my life and will continue to be. He already had the car when I was born and I remember large family outings with it, going on picnics, especially one in the New Forest where we all had a make a run to the safety of the car from the ponies who liked the look of our spread! We were always late leaving as the car had to be washed and checked over first before we could go. On one of these trips, we even slept in the Humber in a car park in Bournemouth! We did numerous caravan holidays with the car, attracting a lot of attention. It looked a bit silly towing a small Sprite 400 but we ended up towing a Royale Touranger; much more in keeping! Dad was always happy to talk to anyone about his beloved Humber or the caravan. It was an event when the car reached 100,000 miles on a day out in Kent. I would never have met my husband, Stephen had it not been for ‘FDY281’ and it has brought Dad, Stephen and I many happy memories of rallies and trips out. We shall continue this voyage in his memory.