John Hope’s 1924 Humber 11.4HP All-Weather

David Milloy

There are two things that are remarkable about John Hope’s lovely 1924 Humber 11.4HP All-Weather: firstly, the fact that it’s 100 years old this year and, secondly, that it’s the only one of its kind left in the world.

Built at the Humber factory in Coventry by a company founded in 1887, John’s car was one of 190 examples of the 11.4HP series built as an All-Weather model, with a full-length leather roof which could be folded away when the weather permitted, thus allowing its occupants to enjoy al fresco motoring. Today, we’d call it a convertible.

It has spent all of its life in Scotland, being first registered to a Mr. Manclark from Leith. It remained in his ownership until his death in 1956, whereupon it was sold to a local scrapyard. It was saved from oblivion by George Oliver, a writer and vintage car enthusiast, who paid £14 for it and then spent a further £25 on a new hood and petrol tank for it.

Mr. Oliver used the car as his everyday vehicle for the next 18 months until it sustained a broken differential, a common fault with the model. The Humber’s next destination was the Sword Car Museum near Irvine. Mr. Oliver had hoped to loan it to the museum but his offer was declined on account of the museum’s strict ‘no Humbers’ policy. The reason for this policy seems to have been that the first car owned by the founder of the museum was a Humber which caught fire whilst he was driving it home. Following that experience, he vowed that he would never again own a Humber, and this policy was later extended to the museum!

Some measure of compromise was, however, reached, in that the museum allowed the Humber to be displayed outside. It remained there for a time, its condition deteriorating due to the twin ravages of the Ayrshire climate and curious visitors to the museum. In 1960, the MOT test was introduced for cars of 10 years and older, and it once again looked like the Humber’s days were numbered.

Salvation was, however, at hand. A young aircraft engineer from Prestwick, John Hope, first saw the car at the museum in 1960, and in September 1961 he purchased it from George Oliver for the sum of £20. As John explains, cars were cheap then!

After freeing its seized handbrake, the Humber was then towed to a friend’s house in Ayr, and what turned out to be a decades-long restoration commenced. The engine, gearbox, and differential were removed and the body/chassis unit was towed to Skeldon, where the chassis, axles and loose body parts were removed over time and taken to John’s home in Prestwick for storage in his garage.

A house move enabled John to build a new garage, one large enough to store the Humber in its state of disassembly. Indeed, the garage, which stands to this day, is just as interesting as the car it was built to house; its walls are built from bricks salvaged from the Miner’s Row at Glenburn, its roof is covered with slates salvaged from a defunct smithy, and its doors and window frames are fashioned from wood which had previously adorned the decks of the last British battleship to have been built, HMS Vanguard.

Family, work, and other projects meant that the restoration of the Humber was put on the back burner, and it wasn’t until 2003 that John was able to finally return it to the road. John did most of the work himself, fitting a new floorpan, bulkhead, and windscreen header rail, in addition to replacing worn parts and retrofitting safety glass and indicators. He left the brakes as standard, meaning that braking is to the rear wheels only – Humber didn’t fit front brakes to their cars, believing them to be dangerous! The only jobs that John didn’t tackle were re-grinding the crankshaft and big end bearings, these tasks being carried out by an engineering firm, and replacing the upholstery and the roof, both of which had taken something of a beating during the car’s time sitting outside the museum; a local vehicle upholsterer tackled these jobs.

In the 20-plus years since its return to the road, John has replaced the Humber’s gearbox pins and layshaft, the latter being a remanufactured item commissioned by the Humber Register. That apart, only routine servicing has been required, a task John undertakes himself.

John’s Humber has won many cups and trophies at classic car meetings, including the Scottish Vintage Vehicle Federation’s prestigious Champion of Champions trophy in 2009. Indeed, so lovingly is it cared for that it probably looks better today than when it rolled out of the Humber factory in 1924.

It’s no garage queen, though; it’s used every summer. And unlike some prize-winning cars, it’s driven to events rather than being trailered. It’s a much-loved member of John and his wife Pat’s family, but more than that it’s a living, breathing tribute to the people who built it and those who twice saved it from destruction.

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