When penning a few words on the wheels of the past, it is somewhat a boost to find a single ownership car that has been in the family from new. Even more encouraging is that this Minx looks the same as it was on the date of purchase which was 8th January 1958 .
This glorious “Foam over Charcoal Grey” Hillman Minx Mk III is registered to the ownership of Mrs. Hema P Dias of Panadura. And a good fifty years later, it is still in her tender care and ownership.
The word Hillman was so famous in Ceylon that it was somewhat like “Street Furniture” on our roads. There was everybody who knew somebody who owned a Hillman.
One would always recollect a Hillman with its famous Minx models and no wonder, as the name came into effect in 1932 and was used right up to 1970 with one type succeeding another. Created by Louis Coatalen and subsequently by the Rootes Brothers - ending-up with the US Chrysler Empire, Hillmans were highly reputed cars having created a distinguished following amongst owners worldwide. Later the Isuzu Motor Corporation of Japan also assembled Hillmans under license – how the tables have turned!
Hillman had a
tremendous following in Ceylon thanks to its proven track record with the many
models of Minx’s imported gaining its reputation for being reliable, and robust
and comfortable in every way. One of the firm favorites of the Minx range was
the postwar Minx Phase III that was made available from 1948 to 1953 which won
the hearts of many and put Hillman well on the map in Ceylon. The Phase III comprised
of an up to date revolutionary design inspired by the US with Coil Spring and
Wishbone Independent front Suspension, a Column gear shift with a front bench
seat which was in vogue at the time. Another notable advantage to most who
recall this model was the extra power that was available giving more
satisfaction to the driver. Hillman had the privilege of being backed by the
renowned Rowlands Group in Ceylon at the time giving the marque an additional
boost - thanks to the highest levels and standards of service maintained by the
With Hillman well established in Ceylon, the new generation monocoque bodied Minx made its entry in 1956 and this base model enjoyed eleven years of prosperity with eight different series being offered until 1967 with the introduction of the new Hunter and New Minx Series.
The Dias family of Panadura was one of the many who was bowled over by the looks of the Hillman. The first family car was a glorious Triumph Renown that was the pride and joy of her late husband. With the sudden demise of Mr. Dias in 1953, the Renown was sold and in 1954 Mrs. Dias purchased a Hillman Minx Phase VII which came to be known as the “Humber Back” Model in Ceylon . Three years down the line Mrs. Dias noticed a new Minx on the road and took an instant liking towards the car. In a matter of days a “trade-in” was negotiated with Rowlands and Mrs. Dias was a proud owner of a new generation Hillman Minx. The year was 1957 and Mrs. Dias considered taking to the wheel and obtained the professional services of Mrs. Murrel who was the wife of the famous “Tabby” Murrel who was one of the three eminent personalities who pioneered the “Old Crocks Rallies” in Ceylon. Mrs. Murrel noticed of a defect in the front suspension of the new Minx leading to a despicable wobble in the car which was immediately reported to the Agents, who were full of apology and offered to install a complete Rack and Pinion Kit free of charge to the car. At the same time Rowlands informed Mrs. Dias of a new shipment of an up-graded Minx was on its way and would be willing to do another “trade-in” with a difference of Three Thousand Rupees. Mrs. Dias jumped at the idea and on the 8th of January 1958, she took delivery of the two-tone Charcoal over Foam Grey Hillman Minx Saloon that since has been in her tender loving care for a good fifty years.
The Minx did yeoman service to the Dias family having to cart her son Kemalsri to school from Panadura to Colombo on a daily basis covering 17Miles each way. Then there was the “bi-weekly” drive to the family estates situated in Ratnapura - which carried on right upto 1991. With her son Kemalsri having entered the University of Peradeniya, the car would do the usual University drops and then with the family moving residence to Kandy, more travel to Ratnapura and Panadura. The family does not have any recollection of the car letting them down en-route even once!
Mrs. Dias recalls of a sudden Flash Flood that they encountered en-route to Colombo at Gampola with the water level almost reaching to the bonnet of the car. Fortunately the driver had the presence of mind to realize that a fallen tree trunk was the cause of the flood and managed to get it out of the way with the assistance of a pick axe and some bystanders who came to his assistance. She recalls that of the entire fifty years of ownership, only two drivers were employed. The first one for fifteen years and the second, a record eighteen years of loyal service. She also does recall of a simple letter that used to be addressed to a Mr. De Mel who was the then Service Manager of Rowlands which used to be sent along with the driver whenever a service or a repair was needed - and has no recollection whatsoever of facing any lack-lustre attention throughout the years of maintenance of the car. Her son Kemalsri also does recall traveling along with his mother to meet his partner in life in the Hillman Minx. Kemalsri also does recall the many trips his mother made from Panadura to Thulhiriya whilst he was the resident Engineer of the Thulhiriya Textile Mills and rose to the post of Chief Engineer prior to his retirement.
Interestingly, Kemalsri was a former owner of a delightful “Bug” Fiat that is presently owned by yours truly!
It is delightful to note that the Minx is in total original condition right down to the original upholstery, the original jack and wheel brace, and the paintwork! Another unique point in this car is the original Ignition key that came with it, which mentions “Patent Pending” on the top of the key fob!
The sound of the starter motor is uniquely Hillman and the engine settles to a very nostalgic hum at idle. Also beneath the bonnet is a fabulously well preserved engine bay with the typical “AC Type” air-Cleaner Unit behind the radiator, which was commonly used in many British Cars at the time. The duo-tone sound of the horn gives out a typical “fifties” feel. It is encouraging to note the tender loving care that has never been stinted upon during the fifty years of ownership by this family and is considered a heirloom.
Three generations of Dias’s have obtained their driving licences in this car, and undoubtedly the car would be preserved and kept in the family for a few more generations to come.
This article was first written and published in the April 2008 printed version of Motor. It is digitally published in December 2023. Hence circumstances of the people and the cars mentioned in this article may have changed.