History of Hillman Cars

The Ryton works in Coventry, England, photographed in 1982. Much investment was put into this plant following the Chrysler takeover of 1967, but previously to this, the Rootes Group had been refused permission by the government to expand the factory in the early 1960s; this led to the company setting-up the ill-starred Linwood operation... (Picture: "Cars of the Rootes Group", Graham Robson.)

The Early Years of Hillman Cars

The car producer Hillman, like Rover and Humber, originated in Coventry in the 1880s, on the crest of a wave of cycle builders, which were set up predominently in the Coventry area. William Hillman was a qualified engineer, and he joined John Kemp Starley (who later formed Rover) to find his feet in in the cycle business. Once established, he soon decided to form his own bicycle building company. Hillman's new company, Auto Machinery, soon established itself, and before the turn of the twentieth century, Hillman was a millionaire.

With wealth came the means to fulfill Hillman's next ambition: to become a car producer. Hillman had moved into Abingdon House in Stoke Aldermoor (near Coventry, not Oxford, despite its name) and decided that a sensible plan would be to set-up a car factory in its grounds.

In 1907, Hillman entered the entered the industry in style, launching the 24HP Hillman-Coatalen (named after its designer), which was entered into that year's Tourist Trophy. The car was put out the race by a crash, but it had made a splash.

The Breton, Coatalen, left Hillman for Singer, leaving Hillman to produce a succession of conventional models in tiny quantities, which included a 6.4-litre four-cylinder model and a 9.7-litre six.

Hillman then achieved its first success with the 1913 9HP, which survived the war and went on to sell into the 1920s. The model gradually evolved during its life, but it remained essentially the same, and it was not until 1926 and the launch of the 14HP that Hillman seemed to move forwards. Although the Hillman family remained in control of the company, William Hillman had withdrawn from the running of the company, handing the day-to-day decision making to John Black and Spencer Wilks. Both men would go on to much greater things in later years.

For 1928, Hillman previewed the enormously expensive 2.6-litre Straight Eight model. It was new from the ground up, and pitched at the luxury end of the market. However, delays getting it into production resulted in its launch being put back to 1929 - just as the Great Depression had started.

In the depth of the Depression, the Rootes brothers bought out Hillman; it became the dominant marque in the Rootes Group, and Hillmans were sold under other marques, so that the company was one of the few to survive and perhaps even benefit from acquisition by Rootes.

Hillman Minx

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