My First Car: American styling turns Minx into Californian

Geoff Town's 1954 Hillman Californian was styled for the American market.

Geoff Town's 1954 Hillman Californian was styled for the American market. - Credit: supplied

Geoff Town started his motoring in style – Amercian style – with a Hillman Californian based on the Minx.

My first car was a 1954 Hillman Californian and I paid £80 for it.

This model was derived from the Hillman Minx, but had several notable differences. Firstly, there were only two doors. Secondly, this model was Hillman's attempt at creating an American-style model.

It didn't have the central door pillar in the frame, the one that usually separates the front door from the back door. The back side windows were unique in that they didn't wind straight down, but wound down in a sort of arc, rather like quarter of a circle.

The front split leather seat was extremely comfortable. The gearbox had three forward gears and was controlled by the remote gear lever on the steering column.


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The one thing I always felt was a little dangerous was the handbrake. This was to the right of the driver's seat, between the seat and the door. So, if the driver was suddenly taken ill for any reason, there was no way a passenger could get near the handbrake.

That aside, it was a lovely car, apart for the side-valve engine conking out every time it rained. I found that water was somehow getting into the distributor. I remember that to start it, you pressed a button in. Most cars were of the pull knob type. Remember, 1954 was way before the key-type starter.

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It didn't suffer from rust to any extent as I recall.

Well, I kept it for a while, until I started to hear this drilling kind of sound. Upon investigation, I found that the small ends had given up the ghost, so it was goodbye to a lovely car.

One good thing was that I sold it for £80 so didn't lose on the deal. I then bought my father's 1960 Ford Prefect 107e which was another lovely car, followed by a 1959 Ford Zodiac, but that's another story.

You never forget the adventures you had in your first car. It doesn't matter how old it is, just email your motoring memories with a picture of the car to motoring@archant.co.uk or post it to Andy Russell, motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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