Rootes Group - The Golden Years
Classic Car Buyer|November 20, 2019
The Rootes Group’s finest years commenced immediately after the end of the Second World War with the launch of a handful of brand-new models and lasted until the company was absorbed into the Chrysler empire in the middle of the following decade
Iain Wakefield

Although the 1950s and the early ’60s are generally regarded today as being the Rootes Group’sGolden Years, the company enjoyed its first global automotive success in 1932 with the introduction of the 1185cc body-on-frame Hillman Minx. Two years later the Rootes brothers, Billy and Reginald, took control of the Anglo-French Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq company and the next acquisition for the rapidly expanding group was the Huddersfield-based Karrier commercial vehicle builder. Although war clouds were starting to gather over Europe the Rootes Group was producing 50,000 vehicles by 1938, with tens of thousands being exported all over the world as complete knockdown kits (CKD).

A wartime ‘shadow’ factory had been built at Stoke Adermoor in Coventry to construct aero engines and with government help, another shadow manufacturing plant was completed in 1940 at Ryton-on-Dunsmore to produce vehicles, armaments, and equipment for the war effort (Rootes built 60 per cent of all the armored cars used by the British army during the Second World War). After the conflict, Billy Rootes managed to secure the Ryton factory for his own use and from the end of 1945, the workforce started to turn the plant’s production facilities over to the production of civilian motor cars.

From 1946 Rootes concentrated all its light vehicle production at the newly acquired Ryton plant and two years later the company was at the dawn of what is now regarded as the company’s true golden age with the launch of the 1185cc side-valve powered Phase 3, Hillman Minx,, the new Raymond Loewy styled 1944cc Humber Hawk and the Sunbeam-Talbot 80 and 90 saloon and four-seat drophead coupe. By the start of the next decade, over 70 per cent of all car production at Ryton was being exported, which meant Rootes easily surpassed the export target of 50 per cent set by the Government to qualify for an allocation of scarce post-war steel.

In 1950 Rootes expanded its empire by acquiring TillingStevens, a truck and bus manufacturer. Two years later a Bournemouth-based Sunbeam-Talbot dealer by the name of George Hartwell produced a one-off, two-seat drophead rally car based on a Talbot 90. The new two-seater went into production as the Alpine in 1953 to mark the success of the works Sunbeam Talbots in the Alpine Rally and was an instant success. This was a major year for the company, as it signed an important licensing agreement with Isuzu to start manufacturing cars in Japan based on a version of the 1948 introduced Minx.

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