In 1964 I was 18 and wanted my first car, naturally. I asked Dad, and he said "sure Son, go out and buy one". In the back yard of a family friend I spotted this gray four door, and after the exchange of the tidy sum of $75, it was mine. Basically sound, had a real red leather interior with "4 on the floor" and only 35,000 miles on the clock - it seemed promising. All it needed was a battery, a few windows, and tires - so it seemed. A month later, it was on the road, after learning the hard way that the Brits prefer "positive earth" (burned up two new generators and regulators in a row). So my "love affair" with the Hillman began.
The first picture shown is my Hillman in it's natural state - being worked on. At age 16 I was as an auto mechanic in Washington D.C., my hometown. That experience proved helpful during the next five years of Hillman motoring. The story behind the pix is interesting too. I had a hot date, and borrowed the family Buick. I gave my Dad the keys to the Hillman, and he assured me he wouldn't have any problems with the four speed. When I got home, no one was there. It seems Dad couldn't find the parking brake, so he assumed there wasn't any and drove off to play canasta with some friends 10 miles away. Needless to say, the clutch was totally burned. Dad was a sport about it, opting to pay for the parts. I did the work, hence the photo.
The Hillman took me through my first five years of college, two years locally, and the next three in West Virginia. I graduated in 1970 - did I say I changed majors a few times? Needless to say the 53 horses of the Hillman were challenged by the steep mountains of West Virginia but constant stirring of the shifter solved that. I'll never forget the fond memory of being stranded one night in the middle of nowhere, in falling snow trying to figure out why all the electronics disappeared without warning. After a half hour of groping under the hood testing connections I gave up, took a seat in the car to have a smoke and gather my wits. Ten minutes later I thought to try one last time before trekking on foot, and everything worked! It was as if the problem never existed. After that night the electronics never gave me a problem again - go figure?
Strangely enough, over those five years of ownership I gained an appreciation for British engineering. Like the little hinged lever behind the pedals, and the often useful primer handle on the gas pump. Everything was accessible. I replaced every brake part, master cylinder, exhaust system part, clutch assembly part, rehoned the head and replaced all the valves, "renewed" the timing chain assembly, water pump, starter, regulator, front end A-arm frames, rebuilt the radiator and carburetor - not to mention replacing various missing body parts and interior upholstery items without the help of garage or mechanic. Two years into owning the car, it was rear ended on the driver's side while making a turn. I hammered the body out by hand, repainted it with a rented sprayer, and replaced the taillight assembly. The black and white photo below was taken after the repairs. This work increased my appreciation for the quality (thickness) of metal these cars were made of.
The funny thing is, to this day, I miss that car. For some strange reason I have the original owners manual, and have strangely acquired several more manuals, brochures, and Hillman "memorabilia". I liked looking out over that hood, seeing the bead that went straight down the center, and the two fenders with visible headlight rims. I liked the interior - surprisingly roomy and comfortable. I liked the way the exhaust sounded - often turning the head of the occasional MGA or Triumph owner. It seated four adults in comfort, but one time it held six! The trunk was bigger than it looked too. All in all it was a great little car. But one 25 degree-below night, after venturing out of the heated garage on an errand the cold cracked the block, and sold it days later for $50. Two weeks after that, I passed it going down the road while driving my "new" 67 Rambler. In 1990 I rebuilt a basket case 1974 MGB roadster, but later sold it. It just wasn't right. Then I did a 1968 Chevy II, but it just wasn't what I wanted. Now I am the proud owner of another identical car, and a brand new garage to play with it in - thanks to Hemmings Motor News!
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