Majestic Imperial – Classic Conservation

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Thirty five years behind these closed doors but the worst of the neglect was hidden from viewHumber enjoyed a well-earned reputation for offering up market vehicles over many decades and as the choice of Government officials and the military’s ‘top brass’ the Rootes Group looked to their Imperial to take on the likes of Jaguar in the sales battle. Like so many of the marques Rootes absorbed, Thomas Humber enjoyed a thriving bicycle business in the 1870’s before joining the early motoring pioneers before WW1. Although Humber survived the great depression, the Rootes Brothers had bought up a majority share and the company fell under their umbrella in the early 1930’s. Post WW2 both the Hawk and the Super Snipe models were up dated and improved thus continuing to attract customers within the executive car market. The Imperial arrived in late 1964 (Humber now under Chrysler ownership) and this car had higher ambitions, its target the luxury buyers and came with the quality and features to back up its claim. Based around the Super Snipe it shared the straight six 2965cc OHV power plant that offered 135 BHP coupled to a Borg Warner DG (Detroit Gear) three speed auto. The Imperial enjoyed a sumptuous interior with walnut veneer finish to dash, door capping’s and rear passenger picnic trays; the reclining seats were all finished in the finest West of England cloth. Pile carpets and individual rear passenger heating with superb chrome fittings including reading lights made the Imperial a car you ‘arrived in’ and everyone noticed. Electrically adjustable rear suspension and ‘Hydrosteer’ powered steering combined to make a package that drove as smooth as a 60’s ‘Crooner’ according to one journalist. Saved from the Scrap Yard A rats nest in the bulkhead could have spelt disaster but for the talents of Glen Bunting’s welderWhilst the car behind the doors of a tumbled down garage in Cambridge may not have fallen victim to banger racing, rust would have certainly taken its toll. With this thought forefront in his mind Chas Thompson had made the journey after a chance conversation ended with phone numbers exchanged and the story of a 1965 Humber Imperial that hadn’t moved for 35 years. The tax disc on the screen confirmed the car last saw the public highway in 1975. A conversation with the owner’s son revealed that after engine issues a tractor was utilised to push the Imperial inside in 1977 and once the doors were closed the car wouldn’t see daylight for decades. A tree had grown up blocking the exit for the Humber but that would be a minor worry for Chas as the original crossply tyres no longer held air and the car had sunk into the soft soil over the years. Checking the car over offered both good and bad news, the previous owner had the foresight to place a box of mothballs inside the cabin and the excellent interior was largely unscathed; in fact it remained in excellent condition. The Imperial was wedged against the edge of the garage wall but a visual inspection was all that was needed to see both sills had suffered along with at least one wheel arch. Using a starting handle located in the boot also confirmed the engine was seized, so with photos taken Chas enjoyed a ‘should I’ or ‘shouldn’t I’ debate in his head on the drive home. This discussion would continue in the Thompson household, somewhere Humber’s had sought refuge and salvation before, as Chas was already the owner of a splendid Hawk. As Chairman and parts advisor for the Post Vintage Humber Car Club and with partner Sandra contributing six years as the club secretary much of the couple’s life revolved around the marque. 1965 Humber ImperialThe Imperial would become Sandra’s pride and joy, so after much debate and long discussions with specialist Glen Bunting at Norfolk Humber’s, the couple returned to remove the car from its tomb. The original owner’s son was happy to see the car leave on the condition restoration would be the new owner’s prime objective and not to be patched up for one last hurrah around Wimbledon Stadium in a destruction derby. Armed with spare wheels and trolley jacks Chas and Sandra attempted to extract the Imperial and after some considerable effort the car stood on inflated rubber. Chas remembers a cold December day when he met Glen from Norfolk Humber’s, trailer in tow for the Imperial’s final bid for freedom, with assistance from his Vauxhall estate; all 15ft 6inches and 1.8 tons was on its way to his workshop. Restoration Time and Evicting the Wildlife 2965cc and 135bhp straight six is comfortable pulling a big and heavy carOnce the Humber was safely re homed at Norfolk Humber’s a series of methods to get the engine to turn over failed, so Glen extracted the straight six along with the gearbox and front suspension. Once stripped the truth was plain to see, confirmation of head gasket failure that had allowed water into two cylinders, over the years the pistons had seized solid and both would need replacing as they contained cracks. The bores had survived very well and with a re-hone would be good to go.  Chas was able to purchase a set of standard pistons and plan another trip to Norfolk and a chance to get his hands dirty. ‘And did I get dirty’! Chas told me. He was given the job of removing the rat’s nest that had been made on the sound deadening material that filled the area behind the n/s front wheel arch. The description of the smell maybe far too graphic for the pages of this publication, best to say rats have no issues with messing on their own doorstep, whilst the urine can rot through steel with ease and had. Meanwhile the cylinders enjoyed a hone and re assembly of the engine went well, so it was agreed Glen would continue a-pace with the body work; new sills being the first of many jobs. With the front wings removed the real damage a family of small hairy rodents can cause was plain to see; inner wing now crumbled but worse still a large area of bulkhead would need replacing. Images flashed back and forth on the web and by utilising a donor vehicle Glen carried out a fantastic repair, saving the day and Sandra’s Humber. No doubt the welding talents of Norfolk Humber’s finest were called into action over several weeks but eventually an image of a solid Imperial dressed in primer reached Chas Thompson’s desktop. Sourcing the original Royal Blue metallic finish was the next challenge facing Chas and with five litres required along with undercoat, thinners etc his flexible friend got a work out to remember, again. Sandra recounted the opportunity for the couple to spend a long weekend with Glen in Norfolk working on the car and on arrival the sight of the Imperial with the front end in colour was a real boost, spurring them on for a couple of days of real graft. Sandra cleaned the front suspension and got active with the sand blaster whilst Chas renovated the brake calipers. The motor received a new water pump and the radiator was back flushed after a can of cola had removed everything bar the metal core. Interior luxury and comfort ideal for the busy executive with miles to coverSeeing a light at the end of the tunnel Chas considered it time to contact the DVLA and source some documentation the Imperial was minus. In fact the car came with two significant items, the tax disc confirming the registration number and a key that failed to fit any of the locks. The DVLA had no trace of the Humber but agreed it could keep its number plate because the tax disc proved its existence but with no proof of registration date available the document states 2013 and Chas being the first owner. The weeks went by and Chas was able to travel east again and this time he arrived to see the re painted engine (courtesy of Sandra) was back where it belonged. A day cleaning, painting and refitting all of the ancillary parts meant a test firing of the Imperial could be attempted before the end of the day; she ran for the first time in nearly 40 years. Glen continued with the painting, then on to a flat and polish, so by the time of Chas’s next visit the delicate task of refitting the chrome work was underway. MOT passed, everything was looking good for a train ticket purchase and the excitement of taking the now stunning Imperial home. The Imperial though had other ideas and whilst on road test at 65mph dropped into second without being asked, exit stage left one gearbox, differential and torque convertor. Glen worked through the parts and was able to pinpoint the fault to a torque convertor with an excess of metal in the oil. Once replaced the Imperial behaved faultlessly on the drive home and again five days later when it journeyed to Chelmsford for the Humber International Rally where it took the trophy for Best Super Snipe/Imperial. Wafted Along in the Imperial Rootes marketed the Imperial towards high end executives who drove as well as being chauffeuredThis is really ‘comfy’, my first thought in the passenger seat as Sandra turned over the straight six, which fired up with little fuss and quietly settled. This is a big car and certainly not ideal for racing around small country lanes, much happier on 1960s A roads crossing the country with ease. The power assistance on the ‘hydrosteer’ makes light work of the most awkward of tight spaces and once away the Imperial does just waft along. Whilst some of the narrowest of tracks would normally give the pilot of such a large car a real workout Sandra was quite happy to push a 5ft 8in wide car confidently into a six foot gap. ‘Oh yes, it’s very easy to drive but is certainly much more at home on a dual carriageway’ she told me and proved her point once the Imperial cruised nicely at 60mph on the A27. The DG gearbox is rarely noticed, the revs build quietly and as nearly two tons of comfort smoothly propels you down the road, it becomes apparent that this car is a ‘60s mile muncher’.  One the last projects taken on by coachbuilders Thrupp and Maberly at their Cricklewood factory there is much to admire looking over the Imperial but for me the interior steals the show and the old Humber sales slogan ‘Craftsman Built’ seems very apt. My thanks to Sandra and Chas for their time and for putting their lives on hold and their bank balance in jeopardy, ensuring another Imperial is back on the road.

1965 Humber Imperial Saloon Specification

  • Engine: 2965cc straight six OHV 135bhp RWD
  • Carbs: Twin Stromberg CD175
  • Gearbox: Three speed Borg Warner (DG)
  • Performance: 0-60mph 11.8 secs 100mph top speed
  • Length: 15ft 6in Width: 5ft 8in
  • Curb weight: 3505lbs