|My First Hillman|
I rode the school bus past the local airport daily, and each day I was treated to the sight of a car parked out by one of the hangars. It never seemed to go anywhere, it just sat patiently. It was an unusual car to me because I could not identify it. It looked a little like a 1954 Chevy that had been left out in the rain and shrunk. It was black, mostly, with signs of rough handling in the patches of body filler that it wore. I watched it for months, twice a day, and for some reason I became attached to that car. I had to have it.
I found out that it belonged to a pilot who was also an absentee owner of a local farm. He left the car at the hanger so he would have a way into town when he flew in to check out his farm, which wasn't too often. I also found out that the car was a 1957 Hillman Minx, a product of the Rootes Group in Great Britain. During the following summer, I managed to track the fellow down and, through prolonged negotiation interspersed with a good deal of whining on both sides, made the deal. I would give to him the princely sum of $50 American dollars and the 1948 Plymouth 4-door my uncle gave me because it had a rod knocking, in trade for The Hillman.
There were a number of weeks involved with learning to get along with The Hillman, which had no keys but could be started with a hidden toggle switch, and a 4 speed shifter on the steering column, which made it impossible for any of my friends to drive. It was an excellent example of an early anti-theft device. It took me three days to be able to reliably find reverse....
The Hillman took me through my last year of Kansas high school, and two years of military service in San Diego. The 53 raging horses under The Hillman's hood kept me on the road through rain and shine. My top end of 58 miles an hour let me keep up with almost any stock VW beetle on the flat, and I regularly passed old ladies on bicycles when climbing a grade, all the while constantly rowing that shift lever like a madman to keep what little forward momentum I had gained from slipping away. I carried a full repair kit for The Hillman with me at all times--a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, three old wire coathangers and a roll of duct tape. Nothing more was required.
The Hillman, like all older British cars, had an odor to it. Compounded of old vinyl smell, and dust, and horsehair from the stuffing in the seats, a bit of burning wire insulation courtesy of the Lucas electrics, the smell of mildewed carpeting and, yes, just a tiny hint of mouse pee, it is simply unforgettable. Not a bad odor, mind you, but very memorable. All old British cars have this odor, as owners of old Jags or Triumphs can readily attest. Even now, some forty years after The Hillman, I can bring this vivid smell to mind, which triggers other Hillman memories, some good, some not so good.
Through those forty years, I have owned over a hundred cars of all makes and models, but still The Hillman has a special place. It wasn't my first car or my best car, but it had more personality than all my other cars put together, and it is the most fondly remembered. I have owned eight other Rootes cars in those years, a Sunbeam Alpine, a Hillman Husky, and six more Hillman Minxes, but it seems your first love is always the best remembered. Nothing can take the place of The Hillman.
(c) Copyright 2008 - Robert M. DeWitt. All Rights Reserved Worldwide
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