Buyer’s guide Rootes Arrows
The final new cars designed under Rootes ownership, before the Chrysler takeover, ‘Arrow’ saloons were styled principally by Rex Fleming, with Roy Axe responsible for the coupés. It was Rootes’ answer to the Ford Cortina – and the Capri – and although produced in much smaller numbers, they make an interesting alternative. Robust running gear made base models popular taxis worldwide, clocking up huge mileages, and helped the Hunter win the gruelling London-Sydney Marathon in ’1968; the model continued in production in Iran for decades.
There were many variants: Hillman Minx/ Hunter, Singer Gazelle/Vogue, Sunbeam Vogue and Humber Sceptre saloons, plus Sunbeam Alpine/Rapier coupés, each with a range of trim, spec and engine options. Base models used the iron-head 1500 (or 61bhp iron-head 1725 in automatic form); the iron-head 1725 was optional for manuals from late 1968 and can be found in a few other models, such as early Singer Vogues and all Singer Gazelles. The standard alloy-head 1725 had 72bhp, but the twin-carb version in the Rapier and Sceptre put out a useful 79bhp, which, with a close-ratio ’box and overdrive on third and top, gave it lively performance.
Distinctive and practical, the fastback Rapier provides brisk, stylish and comfortable classic motoring for four.
The ultimate spec was the Holbay-tuned Rapier H120 and Hunter GLS, with ‘Holbay’ cast into the rocker cover and twin Webers. If you find one, check its history before paying top price, because many parts have been swapped from car to car: make sure the spec is correct.
Rot is the biggest enemy, and once it gets established, it’s rarely eradicated properly when repairs are made, due to the cars’ low values – so check restored cars very, very carefully and don’t be taken in by a shiny exterior. A restoration, unless you do it all yourself and don’t count your time, will always cost more than the car is worth. Arrow saloons, in particular, tended to be chosen by ageing middle-class customers who garaged them and used them sparingly – some still turn up, long-cocooned, in remarkably original condition and are well worth rescuing.
There’s a keen following, if fragmented between different marque clubs, and a small but dedicated group of specialists, so keeping a sound car in running order is neither difficult nor expensive. Compared to some of its period rivals, the Arrow range of cars represents good value and deserves greater recognition.
UNDERNEATH Sills, floors, outriggers, rear spring mounts and other structural steelwork are all prone to corrosion
FRONT/REAR WINGS External rot is easy to spot; beware sound outer wings attached to rotten inners
FRONT VALANCE Rust around tie-rod mounts behind the valance is an MoT fail
BODY PANELS All panels can rot: new panels are rare, but repair sections are available
ALLOY HEAD Internal corrosion is the enemy of all higher-performance models
MISSING TRIM Parts availability is good for running gear, but not for body and trim items
SEATS & DASH TOPS Plastic trim is prone to splitting and cannot be found new
Cared-for engines will do 200k+ miles between rebuilds. Neglecting antifreeze/ corrosion inhibitor in alloy-head cars leads to corrosion, blocked radiators and coolant passages, overheating and warped/cracked heads. Check for damage/ overheating; listen for bearing knock/rumble; and look for 40psi+ oil pressure.
Plastic seat trim, dash top and rear shelf crack from age, UV degradation and wear. Hunters had leather, vinyl or cloth. Some used parts are around.
Most had a rugged all-synchro manual gearbox with overdrive on top models (optional on others). Autos were three-speed, four-speed from 1974 The Holbay-tuned Rapier H120 and Hunter GLS went well – the Hunter best of all, because it was lighter.
Check for originality and full spec 15° of play is acceptable for the steering; more or a gritty feel and it’s rebuild time. Check the suspension for wear and for effective damping Refinement is high in the luxury Sunbeam and Humber models. Once you get used to a bit of wander from the steering box, and a fair degree of roll in corners, they’re very pleasant to drive. Performance from twin-carb models such as this s adequate, and distinctly lively from the Weber-equipped H120 and GLS.
On the road
The Arrow cars encompassed a wide range of trim and performance levels, from the rubber-matted and rather pedestrian iron-head 1500 Minx and Hunter DL, through iron-head 1725s, alloy-head 1725s with single carbs, alloy-head with twin Strombergs and alloy-head with twin Webers, spec levels also going up through the range to the ultimate leather-trimmed Sceptre with a dashboard stacked with instruments and even a separate cigar lighter for rear-seat passengers.
Some variants were very rare, such as the desirable Sceptre Estate, and one-off specs were ordered including, it’s believed, Holbay power in a Sceptre and a Sunbeam GT saloon.
Parts are available to rebuild engines and running gear, carburettors etc, but a car with missing or damaged trim may be difficult to put right. Through the clubs you can usually track down most parts, lurking in private hoards: a great many have been broken over the years.
Check for a smooth pull through the revs commensurate with engine spec, with no untoward noises or overheating, or excessive oil breathing or leaks. The gearbox should change easily without baulking and overdrive, if fitted, should engage cleanly in third and top. Post-’1973 J-type overdrives are the most robust; Rootes used an unusual relay so if that’s failed, it may be tricky to find. If you prefer an auto, try to find a late model with the Borg-Warner 45 four-speed. Check brakes – upmarket models had servoes – as well as handbrake for effective operation.
Never mind which of the many variants you test, all should pull smoothly through the gears – and be certain to try both the brakes and handbrake.
Father-and-son John and Adam Bryant have run fastbacks since 1971. “I’ve owned Rootes cars since 1962,” says John. “In the 1970s, I bought two H120s for £50 each for spares: we gave all the parts to the Rapier club. I’ve had about 15 fastbacks in total – they were used for my daily transport until 1989.”
Adam has owned 115 Minis, buying his first at 12, but is now more likely than his dad to be seen in this exceptionally original 46,000-mile Rapier. The Bryants also have an H120, which has been in the family since it was three years old, and do all of their own work on the cars. They restored another H120 to concours condition, but sold it because they couldn’t bear to drive such an immaculate car: they were shocked when the new owner used it for historic rallying!
‘They restored an H120 to concours condition, but sold it because they couldn’t bear to drive such an immaculate car’
1966-’1975, 1,823,000 built
Compact and modern-looking, with lively engines, this saloon/estate/coupé range had much to offer, but rusted; survivors are rare.
Price now £4-12,000
1970-’1980, 275,000 built
Traditional British middle-class luxury with a frisson of excitement in the 16-valve Sprint. Parts availability good, tendency to rot less so.
Price now £2-12,000
1966 Hillman Hunter/Singer Vogue introduced
1967 Apr Hillman Minx, Humber Sceptre, Singer Gazelle, Hillman/Vogue Estates and Sunbeam Rapier fastback (99mph, 12secs 0-60/0-62) launched
1968 Hunter wins London-Sydney; H120 added
1969 Hillman GT and Sunbeam Alpine arrive
1970 Minx, Estate and GT become Hunters; Singer Vogue becomes Sunbeam, then Hunter GL
1971 Range facelift; Hunter GLS (Holbay) added
1974 Oct Humber Sceptre Estate added; auto transmission cars get four speeds
1976 Sceptre and Sunbeams dropped
1977 Rebadged Chrysler Hunter
1979 Production ends (Peykan in Iran to 2001)
Sold/number built 1966-’1979/c640,000
Construction steel unitary body
Engine iron-block, iron/alloy head, ohv 1496/1725cc ‘four’, single/twin Stromberg or twin Weber carburettors
Max power 54bhp @ 4600rpm to 93bhp @ 5200rpm / SAE gross
Max torque 73lb ft @ 2500rpm to 106lb ft @ 4000rpm / SAE gross
Transmission all-synchro four-speed manual, overdrive on Sceptre and Rapier (optional on others), or three/four-speed auto, RWD
Suspension: front independent, by MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar rear semi-elliptic leaf springs, telescopic dampers, live axle
Steering recirculating ball Brakes discs front, drums rear, with servo on Sceptre/Rapier/Vogue
Length 14ft-14 ft 6 ¾ in (4267-4439mm)
Width 5ft 3 ½ in-5ft 5 ½ in (1613-1664mm)
Height 4ft 6 ½ in-4ft 8in (1384-1422mm)
Wheelbase 8ft 2 ½ in (2502mm)
Weight 2000-2275lb (909-1034kg)
Top speed 83-109mph
Price new in UK £1223-2072 (Hunter DL-Rapier H120, 1974)
Hillman Owners’ Club07929259448; www.hillmanownersclub.co.uk
Sunbeam Rapier Owners’ Club01829770762; www.sroc.org.uk
Post Vintage Humber Car Club www.humber.org.uk
Speedy Spares 01273417889; www.speedyspares.co.uk
Alpine West Midlands 01527401498; www.sunbeam-alpine.co.uk
Macs Factors 01553841252; www.macsfactors.co.uk
Rootes Post Vintage Spares (NL) www.rootesparts.com
WHAT TO PAY (Minx, Hunter, Gazelle/ Vogue, GT, Alpine/Sceptre, GLS, Rapier/H120)
One you can buy
Recorded mileage 41,850
Asking price £3500
Vendor Dave Hawkins, Essex (private sale) 01375 676953/07961 562148
For Commendably unaffected by rot; newish motor
Against Seat splits; small holes in dash/rear shelf
This facelifted Hunter has survived well, due to being rust-protected from new, and having a limited mileage and two careful owners.
There are a few spots of surface rust and both front wings have had repairs, but the floors and sills are solid, and have never been welded; ditto the front inner wings, boot floor and fuel tank.
There’s a little filler in the front of the right rear wheelarch and a repair will soon be needed between the slam panel and the right wing, but it’s otherwise impressive. The exhaust is in fine shape; the tyres are old, but with decent tread. The vinyl roof is perfect, the bright-work mostly tidy. The seat covers hide splits, but the rest is smart and the dash moulding is largely good.
The motor’s bottom end was new six years ago. There are no leaks and the engine has an Aldon Ignitor instead of points. The coolant is slightly rusty but to a good level, the oil darkish. It starts easily, with no smoke or nasty noises, and drives nicely. The gearchanges and synchros are good, and it tracks and brakes straight.
The car will be sold with a handbook and proper Rootes workshop manual – plus the old short engine, a gasket set and five bottles of Redex lead substitute in the boot.
Low-mileage and much-loved late Hunter drives sweetly. New bottom end 1200 miles ago, and the engine runs well. Interior is good, but the very period seat covers hide splits.
Prices are quite low for these attractive classics, but it’s likely that their rarity will soon have an effect on values, meaning that now could be a good time to buy one of the Arrow range. Buyers can choose from a wide selection, from simple, practical and durable to comfortable, lively and well-equipped: just don’t buy a rusty car, or one that’s been messed with, or an example whose trim parts are missing or damaged.
FOR + Good value, reasonably economical, highly durable and pleasant to drive; an appealing classic option
AGAINST – Base models have a simple charm but won’t suit all. Rust is public enemy number one and bodged cars are common – as are those whose original specs have been lost in the mists of time.