The reaction of Allan Marshall to his father acquiring a six-year-old Humber Pullman in 1960 was one of incredulity: “He hailed me in the street and I was amazed to see him driving this immense car. It looked about 20 feet long and most of that seemed taken up with the bonnet.” Marshall Senior discovered Humber when he drove army staff cars in the Second World War and 15 years after the end of hostilities he finally bought one for a bargain price of £90. Allan never forgot his first ride in this example, which was once the property of Baroness Rothschild: “When we arrived home, some people thought the Lord Mayor of Hull had come to visit.”
The Humber went on to serve loyally as family transport and in the Marshall potato business in Hull: “We’d take out the back seat and put in about a ton of spuds,” he recalls.
The Pullman is now a central part of what is probably the finest collection of Humbers anywhere. The first were made in 1887; the 24 cars in Marshall’s collection represent the era when Humber was the flagship of the Rootes Group empire, the oldest hailing from 1932 and the most recent from 1976.
For many years Humber was associated with municipal authorities, the Royal Mews and Whitehall. Newsreels would often show minister of transport Ernest Marples leading a procession of official cars along a newly opened motorway in a black Hawk saloon; a Super Snipe Convertible was used in the 1954 Royal Tour and British prime ministers until Harold Wilson favoured “The Car That Keeps Its Promise”.
All of Marshall’s Humbers are finished in Black Pearl over Shell Grey, “because my girlfriend did not like plain black cars, which was the original colour of our ’54 Pullman”, he says.
Each evokes a lost world. There is the 80hp Snipe used by the future King Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson and an exquisite Landaulette built for King George VI, while the 4.1 Litre Super Snipe MkIV still looks fit to drive across Africa or India. Indeed, in 1952 Stirling Moss drove one from Oslo to Lisbon in 90 hours.
The gradual Chrysler takeover of the Rootes Group in the Sixties resulted in the cancellation of a V8 version that might have revitalised the brand and the three examples of the late-model Imperial – “I have a ’65, a ’66 and a ’67,” says Marshall – remind us what was lost when production of big Humbers ceased 50 years ago.
There are three cigar lighters, a separate rear heater, a nylon rug to protect the pile carpets, electrically adjustable Selectaride shock absorbers and, unusually for a mid-Sixties car, an electric radio antenna as standard.
In the company’s heyday, Humber offered an entry-level Hawk to partner the six-cylinder Super Snipes, Imperials and Pullmans were but these do not form a part of Allan’s collection: “I preferred the bigger engines and the four-cylinder models take up just as much room, which is a major consideration if you have limited space.”
In 1976 Chrysler applied its own name to its British-made cars, thereby consigning the 89-year-old brand to history. By then, the aftermath of the oil crisis had led to many large, thirsty old cars being sent to the scrapyard.
Selecting a star attraction is a nearly impossible task but ultimately it must be the vehicle that originally fascinated Allan. That 1954 limousine with coachwork by Thrupp & Maberly conveyed passengers and Maris Pipers with equal aplomb, never shied from its industrial duties and even once towed a lorry.