John's Humber 12 Sports Tourer rebuild.
In 1994, John got to hear about an unusual pre-war tourer while he was displaying his own classic, a 1934 Hillman Minx. Here is the story of how he heard about this rare 12hp Humber car, and the story of it's restoration to date.
'HESPERUS', a 1934 HUMBER 12 Sports Tourer.
It was during the 1994 rally season that my wife Carol and I were
waiting with our then current old motor car, a 1934 Hillman Minx; at the
start of a charity road run. You know the sort of thing - vintage cars,
motorcycles, tractors, and some steam traction engines and even a
Sentinel steam lorry chug off on an organised trip around the local
villages, and then the participants pile into a chosen local hostelry at
lunchtime, for some ‘Nosh, Noggin, and a Natter’.
Out of the crowd of onlookers a man approaches “Is this Hillman yours?” He asks. “Yes it
is.” I reply. “I own a car like this. A bigger brother actually. It’s
not a saloon it’s a tourer”. At this point my brain fully engages. A
Hillman 14 tourer ? Is that what he means? Trying not to seem over
interested, I ask a few tentative questions, and make a few suggestions
as to type. Eventually my guesses are dismissed as he finally announces
“It’s a 12 horsepower 4 seater Sports Tourer. One of six produced by
Humber in 1934”. Did he say a Humber Sports? ....Sports? What does a
Humber Sports Tourer look like for goodness sake?
Trying to hide my growing curiosity and a bout of over enthusiasm, we
eventually swap our addresses and went on our separate ways. A year or
so later I met the gentleman again. This time I persuaded him to let my
wife Carol and I, visit him at his home to view the mystery motor. This
we duly did, and when the garage doors were finally swung open, the car
was there, but camouflaged under a pile of cardboard boxes and other
The Humber sees the light of day.
With the non motoring contents of the garage now piled
onto the driveway we saw the car for the first time in all its “glory”.
A 1934 Humber Sports Tourer. Hand painted and rust stained white
coachwork dotted with random small areas of grey aerosol primer, a saggy
black hood, and two enormous headlamps from some other car acting as
supposed driving or fog lamps mounted on a bumper with sawn off ends.
Dashboard removed. A badly cracked laminated windscreen. Faded dark blue
leather upholstery that was as crisp as a pork scratching. The whole
sorry looking tub was standing forlornly on rusty wire wheels all
complete with flat and perished tyres. I stood, stared at, and examined
as much of the car as possible. Very interesting, I thought. Then my
imagination ran riot. Mentally I put on my rose tinted restorers
spectacles and slipped into a state of optimistic euphoria, the curse of
many, if not all old car nuts. A restoration project………two years……….
maybe three. Having calmed the grey matter, once again we said our
farewells to Jack and returned home.
I eventually bought the Humber in 1996, the 28th of December to be
exact. My good friend Paul and his son Will helped me to haul the car
out of its resting place of twenty five plus years. Fortunately the
Humber’s two thousand or so resident wood worm all held hands and the
cars extraction took place without further damage to the half eaten ash
framed body. We then trailered the motor back to a barn on Paul's farm
and closely examined in the cold light of a very cold day what I had
A two or three year restoration……. 1997 was spent removing non original
parts while constantly soaking the remains of the ash frame and every
other piece of wood with copious amounts of paraffin, an inexpensive
form of wood worm killer. Next all of the electrical system was removed
including the notorious Lucas ‘Startix’ self starting system. A non
original Zenith carburettor and its manifold adaptor were also removed.
An extensive list of “spares wanted” was put together for auto jumble
Health woes intervene.
It was during November of ’97 when I first began to feel unwell. Carol
and I had just returned from an excellent holiday to Kenya. From then on
things unfortunately went down hill. I just got so very tired during my
waking hours. I didn’t want to do anything and the Christmas holiday was
spent watching television or sleeping for most of the time. My get up
and go, had got up and gone/…/….overtired? Well that’s what I thought
the problem was.
The New Year duly arrived and in those days we were
always involved in a local school pantomime that was organised by a
family friend. The pantomime was always performed in late January. The
Panto Drama group were a great crowd of people, comprising friends,
parents, and people just happy to be part of the team. The annual
productions have made considerable sums of money to reinvest into new
equipment for the school. Carol both acted on stage and helped out with
the make up for the production, and I helped out backstage. I had really
felt unwell from the Tuesday evening through until the following
Saturday morning. On the morning of the 10th January 1998 was the day I
suffered a major heart attack. My family drove to 'A and E' at
Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge. I was then rushed into the coronary
care unit where I was stabilised and drugged up to the hilt.
“The show must go on” they say, and it did ………..without me. No words can
express the debt of gratitude that I owe to the unsung heroes of our
national health service, who have given me another chance, on more than
one occasion as it transpired. At this point I have to admit that I had
been a smoker for many years and fooled myself that smoking low tar
cigarettes gave me some kind of immunity to smoking related illnesses.
There’s no fool like an old fool, I hear you say. Despite losing the use
of around twenty percent of my heart muscle, the Doctors had got my
heart to function somewhere near normal once again. I returned home in
the late January under strict medical supervision. Late in February, I
was admitted back into the same hospital this time by ambulance, with
the siren wailing and blue lights flashing. I had suffered a second but
milder heart attack. Once again I was hospitalised. The Humber project
was of course, at a complete standstill. The whole year was spent going
to and from the very excellent Addenbrookes and Papworth Hospitals (the
ultimate restoration specialists). Once again the long recovery process
The pace of the Humber restoration settled down to slow, slow, oh so
slow. The timings of the various high points of the restoration have
become muddled over the years and despite me having a lot more hospital
treatment, the car restoration has actually progressed.
Most of the Humber’s plated metal parts have been rechromed, the seats
have been re-upholstered, and the windscreen glass replaced. The head
lamp shells were badly dented and scratched, and the reflectors were
tarnished. These were sent of to a specialist in the restoration of
Lucas lamps, he returned them to me beautifully restored and as good as
new. A new wiring loom was purchased and installed. I rigged up a small
petrol tank and eventually the engine was started and successfully
tested. Most of the ash frame and other wood work was replaced. New
metal inner rear wheel arches were fabricated. The wheels were blasted
and stove enamelled black and shod with a new set of Dunlop tyres. The
two doors, the scuttle and then the bonnet were painted March blue as
per the cars original factory specification.
And so it goes on. The original Luvax shock absorbers were sent away and completely overhauled.
A DWS triple scissor jack system was fitted. (One jack is fitted in the
middle of the front axle and two more jacks were fitted on either side
of the rear axle). A new set of 5 hub caps were made up by a local metal
spinning company. I made up a vintage looking high level stop light to
give the back end extra protection in modern traffic. Countless minor
jobs were attended to by friends Paul and William, without whose help I
would have probably given up. They eventually moved the Humber into my
garage at home and the Hillman went to be garaged barn on their farm.
The 1934 Hillman goes to a new home.
Throughout this period my finances were taking a hell of a pounding and
in order to fund the completion of the Humber’s restoration, the
decision was taken to sell the Hillman. This very reliable car, that had
served us so well was sold and went to a couple in Nottinghamshire who I
am told still regularly rally the Minx (2008). These days my every day
runabout is a 1963 short wheelbase Land Rover. A 'Forth Bridge' on
wheels (you never quite get them finished), I had purchased the Landie
locally as an 88” pick-up but eventually transformed her into a station
wagon. The Humber project now moves along steadily and the running
boards and rear wings are latest parts under restoration. One day a
friend inquired about the Humber. "Have you still got that old wreck of
the Hesperus". I was about to tell him where to go, when I suddenly
thought aha! Now at last I have a name for her*…………….
(*Hesperus is the
name of a Greek god..........but never mind).
Thanks for the story John!! if anyone else out there would be interested in having their classic or vintage car story told here, even if like John's car it isn't yet finished, please drop me a line. Further owner-stories can be found in the Your Classic Cars section here at oldclassiccar.