I first mentioned William Towns (and his Minissima) earlier this year when the #bcotd spotlight was aimed at the Elswick Envoy. That's cool and everything, but now it's time to go FULL Towns.
(Never go full Towns.)
What I really like about Towns is that he understood that cars are expensive to purchase and maintain and that, similar to André Lefèbvre, he tried to use design and engineering to overcome problems that were more about the owner of a car and less about the car itself.
His career began at the Rootes Group in 1954, then to Rover nine years later—designing the body of the Rover-BRM gas turbine car that raced at Le Mans. The next step on the ladder, after some freelance work that included the Minissima, was with Aston Martin, contributing to the DBS but—really—what he's most known for is the Lagonda.
The square one. (And the cool one.)
As artists age they change. With a career that typically begins with realistic art often becomes more and more reductive, by the end often the purest, simplest, and most distilled expression possible. Even though Towns completed a few designs after his Hustler range, his slab-sided kit cars seem to represent his vision for what cars could become.
A Hustler had about a million variations (even though only 500 were made) and while I may, say, talk about one of the others, the Highlander is the only one with a V12 engine…
From Wikipedia, here's the Hustler range:
- Hustler 4: BL Mini-based original model.
- Hustler 6: Used two Mini rear subframes to give four rear wheels.
- Hustler Huntsman: Larger and more powerful BL 1100/1300 or Metro based model. 4 or 6 wheel versions.
- Hustler Hellcat: Stripped down Mini-based jeep version. Usually 4-wheeled but 6-wheel version available.
- Hustler Sport: Two-seat Mini-based drophead.
- Hustler Sprint: Two-seat Mini-based coupe.
- The Hustler in Wood: Designed to be built from plans in marine ply with a supplied alloy-framed glasshouse.
- Hustler Holiday: One-box MPV version. 4- or 6-wheel versions.
- Hustler Force: Conventional, full-depth doors instead of sliding glass. 4- or 6-wheel versions.
- Hustler Highlander: Imposing 6-wheeled Jaguar V12-powered luxury version.
- Hustler Harrier: High-roof version designed to take a wheelchair in the back.
- Hustler Rag Top: Canvas roof version. 4 wheeled Mini sub frame. Similar to Hellcat. Only one ever produced.
It's almost like looking at a list of special edition Veyrons, right? (Only difference is that Towns did real engineering changes to the car. Let's see a 6x6 Veyron Pur Grip, Bugatti!)
Importantly, the Hustler was designed to be even more simple than the Citroën 2CV—and modular. From the proven Mini steel subframe was built a series of flat fibreglass panels, large panes of glass, and a plywood roof covered in vinyl. Inside, plastic injection-moulded chairs, black rubber floor, and the glove box was a bag.
The doors were the side windows, which slide back like patio doors—actually, the whole concept is like putting wheels on a utility shed. For emerging markets, this could have been a revolutionary idea, but all indications were that, sadly, Towns stuck to the UK market.
As the small operation gained notoriety, however, customers started demanding more and more luxury. Leather interior trim, overhead consoles, different seats, and other changes eventually led to the creation of the Highlander 6.
Starting with a used Jaguar V12, Towns' team used the car's engine, plus front and rear subframes…plus a scavenged second rear subframe to complete the tubular steel chassis. Re-styled fibreglass panels were bolted on top, and a luxurious interior built to the owner's specifications was installed.
Yes, the sliding windoors were retained.
From a period road test, the reviewer says that Towns' idea for the car is rooted in a tradition of coachbuilding—and a kit car is simply that: getting the vehicle you really want.
With only eight completed, there's little to no performance date on the car. Some may have been produced with Rover V8s and subframes from different vehicles—the only way to know for sure is to get all eight together and compare.
The reviewer seemed to understand the appeal of the car, saying in closing: