Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
With Singer becoming part of the Rootes Group in 1955 the marque was only used as an exercise in re-badging, the Singer name being used to identify more upmarket Hillman models. And so it was with the Singer Gazelle, which was simply an upmarket Hillman Minx, albeit with a few additional luxury appointments.
Launched in 1956
, the Gazelle was an reasonably attractive car, typical of the new look British built cars of the mid 1950's.
Both the Minx and Gazelle featured an entirely new body
, the style referred to during development as "Audax", which is Latin for "Bold". The designer, Raymond Loewy, had previously worked not only for Rootes, but also for Studebaker
, amongst others, having been responsible for the 1949 Starlight Coupe. As it turned out, neither the Singer Gazelle nor the Hillman Minx would be the first cars to use the new Audax body
style, that honour falling to the Sunbeam
Rapier (another re-badged Minx), first unveiled at the 1955
The Gazelle didn't deviate from standard mechanical specification, at a time when "tried and proven" was seen by manufacturers as a fail-safe marketing strategy. The Gazelle had an independent coil spring front, semi-elliptic leaf springs
rear and Lockheed hydraulic drum brakes. Thankfully though, Rootes had relaced their archaic sidevalve engine in 1954
, and so both the Minx and Gazelle were fitted with the new 1390cc engine.
Over the years the engine grew from 1390 cc (in the Series I and II) to 1725cc in the Series VI. A variety of manual transmissions
, with column or floor change, and automatic transmissions
were offered. For the automatic version, the Series I and II used a Lockheed Manumatic two pedal system (really only a semi-automatic), the Phase III a Smiths Easidrive and the V/VI a Borg Warner. Despite competitng with an almost identical Hillman
, the Gazelle managed to rack up just over 100,000 sales before it was replaced by an entirely new shaped car in 1967
Sturt Griffith's Road Test
A name synonymous with quality automotive journalism in the 1950s was Sturt Griffith. He would take all cars on offer in any particular year, then drive it over a punishing course to determine what was good, and bad, with a particular car. Obviously his yardstick was the best on offer in any particular year - and something we do not have the benefit of today. While we make every endeavour to judge a car on its contemporaries, sometimes it is very difficult. We refer to many of his road tests in compiling our own, but for the record, the Singer Gazelle review below remains as told in 1957
The Singer Gazelle is an interesting innovation from the Rootes Group, and one which in my opinion is successful. The Gazelle consists essentially of the respected Singer overhead camshaft engine, in a Hillman Minx body
shell and chassis. The result is clear proof of the advantages given by an engine of somewhat greater sizo (capacity), as compared with the smaller engine yielding much the same theoretical maximum power. The larger engine endows the car with really good accelerative and climbing ability, and it has the virtue of smooth and flexible operation at low speeds, which has always characterised this Singer motor. Incidentally, its pulling-power has not been achieved by low gearing, for the Gazelle is normally geared in top. Additionally, the Gazelle has larger brakes
than the Hillman, and these proved to be quite free from fade.
The aspect of this new car which most appeals to me is the easy way it does its work. In top gear there is really good response to the throttle from 30 to 50 mph, where much of our driving is done. No attempt has been made to extract the most power from the Singer engine, as docility has been rated higher than sheer performance. However, the engine gives a very lively account of itself, and it is pleasingly economical of fuel. The Gazelle interior has been finished nicely in polished walnut and other trimmings, and has a complete array of instruments, refinements which apparently bring it into another price class.
There are a few points about the new car which necessitate criticism. Engine noise at fast cruising is unusually pronounced; the radiator
grille extends downward from the front of the open bonnet in such a way as to seriously menace one's head; and foot ventilation for the front passenger is not provided. I would rate the Gazelle as a good climber in top, as evidenced by the clear ascent of the long and winding River Lett in that gear. In third gear the car will surmount any main-road mountain pass, such as the Scenic Hill. The gears used, and speeds achieved, on the regular test hills were:
- BODINGTON (average grade 1 in 11.5): Top gear at 50-52-48 mph.
- RIVER LETT (i in 12, maximum 1 in 8.5): A tenacious 1.5-mile climb in top gear at 40-30-43 mph.
- SCENIC HILL (1 in 10. maximum 1 in 8): Third sear at 50-25-41 mph.
- MOUNT TOMAH (1 in 12, maximum 1 in 9): Top gear at 50-37-43 mph.
- KURRAJONG WEST (1 in 12.5): Top gear at 50-51-51 mph.
The power laden weight ratio is fair at 44.2 gross horsepower per ton (load 3cwt). Overall top gearing yields a road speed of 15.3 mph at 1,000 engine revs. The Singer engine cruises quite effortlessly, if somewhat noisily, around 65 mph. It is a characteristic of this car that it will maintain high average speeds with ease, and over any period. Smoothness is retained down to 30 mph in top gear, and the car will amble at this speed without loss of prompt response. The average speed over the test route was 43.3 mph, achieved very easily. Weather was fine.
Another virtue of the Singer engine is the fact that it develops its best pulling power at 30 mph in top gear, so that it does its best at this useful speed. Maximum torque is 76.6 lb-ft. Prompt overtaking can be commenced from 20 mph if third gear is used, and from 30 mph in top gear. The following figures show that the car gives good acceleration in the useful driving ranges; acceleration from 20 to 40 mph; third gear, 5.1 seconds; top gear, 7.6 seconds. In top gear acceleration from 30 to 50 mph requires 8.2 seconds., and from 40 to 60 mph takes 10.6 seconds.
On the Road
The riding qualities of the Gazelle are good, and the rear seat is particularly comfortable. The car is not troubled by poor country roads, although the suspension
will bottom occasionally on vicious pot-holes hit fast. When cornering hard, the car shows commendable adhesion on dry bitumen. It is difficult indeed to induce a slide under these conditions, but if the rear wheels break away they are easily checked. The car is rated as very safe. Since only 43 per cent of the weight of the car is carried by the rear wheels, it is clear that on greasy bitumen roads the rear wheels will slide rather easily unless there is a load in the rear seat or boot. However, the directional stability of the car will minimise complications. The Burman worm-and-nut steering
mechanism is good and little in the way of reaction is felt in the hands over bad roads.
The gear is quick enough, with three turns from lock to lock, and it is light and pleasant to use under all circumstances. The turning circle is compact at 32 4 feet, so that " the car manoeuvres readily. Lockheed hydraulic brakes
are used and they have a large lining area of 121 sq. in. Two leading shoes are used in the front drums, and cooling fins are lilted to the drums. The result is that the brakes
are quite free from fade and will give long service without relining and with a minimum of adjustment. Pedal pressures are a little higher than one might have expected from such a specification, but reasonable response is obtainable with moderate effort. The handbrake is a pull-up lever located in a very convenient position to the right of the driver's seat. It effectively stopped the car from 30 mph down a gradient of 1 in 8.
On the Inside
The bench seat is reasonably comfortable, and the heavily raked steering
column brings the wheel into a satisfactory position. The wheel itself is of convenient size. The pedals are of the pendant type and they are all uncomfortably high above the floor. Hydraulic operation of the clutch gives a very light pedal and a nice control. Vision is good in ail directions, and the rear vision mirror is of ample size, although it vibrates into uselessness between 50 and 60 mph. The gearshift is on the column and it is positive in action and has a good synchromesh. Overall gear ratios are: Top 4.7. third 7.1, and second gear 11.8 to 1. The instruments are badly placed in the centre of the fascia. They comprise a goodly array of speedometer
, ammeter, and gauges for oil, water and fuel. The warning lights for high beam and turn indicators are sensibly located before the driver, but the ignition warning light is in the centre of the panel, in the speedometer
The foot dipswitch has been robbed of the overlying foot rest found in this car's stable-mate. Windscreen washers are an assistance to the self-parking wipers. The handbrake is easy to reach and the minor controls are sensibly located. Whether by accident or design, it was possible on the test car to produce an arresting warbling note from the dual horns, due to the fact that they were brought into action successively by the horn-ring. All engine ancillaries are very easy to reach in the wide engine compartment, In particular, the gearshift is fully exposed for service and lubrication. The well-known Singer engine has the refinement of an overhead camshaft, and it enjoys an enviable reputation for reliability. With a bore and stroke of 73 x 89.4 mm, it is of the older type long stroke engine, but is none the worse for that fact. With a moderate compression of 7.5 to 1. it has a reasonable specific power output of 35 bhp per litre.
Air to the Solex carburettor is fed through an oil-bath cleaner and engine oil is passed through an external filter. Front suspension
is by coils and wishbones damped by telescopic shock absorbers and an anti-roll bar
. The wheel carrying arms are swivelled to the bottom and ball jointed to the top wishbones, respectively. Rear suspension
is by semi-elliptic springs
damped by telescopic shock absorbers. Separator pads are used between the leaves. The front bench seat is 47 inches wide, but accommodation for a third person, other than a child, is quite precluded by the enormous hump over the gearbox. The rear seat has a width of 39 inches between wheel arches, hut a width of 48 inches overall. The intrusion of the front wheel arches into the front floor reduces available foot room to some extent, but there is in fact reasonable leg room in both seats. Head room is good all round.
The rear window is of the wraparound type and vent panels are provided in the front windows. The only floor ventilation is a mild air supply to the driver's feet, which is insufficient in our summer climate. The interior finish of the car is attractive and walnut panels are used on the fascia and along the window sills. Haircord carpet is used on both floors and the seat covering is synthetic material. The boot is an excellent feature and some may consider that its size is obtained at some expense to leg room within the car. However, I am of the opinion that the two have been nicely balanced. The boot floor is more or less flat and the spare wheel is carried vertically on one side. The back lid, which open upwards, is counter-balanced for ease of operation. The available luggage accommodation is approximately 131 cub. ft. There is a large closed glovebox. opposite the passenger, while the driver has a shelf beneath the fascia for his equipment.