My Beloved Hillman
By Mona Nath

The 1956 Hillman was the first family car I have memory of — BMU 5452 was the registration number — "BMU 5452", "BMU 5452", it rings in my heart like a chant even today — etched forever.

It is perhaps not easy to imagine the devastating sense of loss a seven-year-old can feel. My world went to pieces one afternoon in 1970 — I returned from school to find my beloved Hillman gone. Just like that. Sold for money. A stranger had driven it away. It would sleep someplace else now — people it didn't know would touch it, climb into it... but what clutched at my heart most was the vision of a big, surly man who now 'owned her'. I knew he didn't love my Hillman. Oh would he please, please be gentle on the bumps, over the pot holes... would he care to hose the dirt off the mudguards, my Hillman liked to feel clean...

I watched my father, the perpetuator of this heinous act, from my bedroom window as he walked up to the house from work that day. I wailed all evening, refusing food, water, comfort. How could these people have given the baby away.

That night I slept in my grandmother's bed holding her tight. I knew she felt my pain, though she didn't say a word, just rocked me as we lay together.

We lived in Bombay then (a city in India, now renamed Mumbai). My grandmother wasn't living with us yet. It was in the same house... in October of 1969, the telephone startled us late one night. My brothers and I were told that granddad was very ill and we would be driving out immediately to Pune, about five hours away.

Granddad had passed away. We drove back a few days later. My Hillman — though her gait was somber — was happy to carry Granny (we called her Biji) back with us on the return. My Hillman understood what had happened.

She used to be parked under a canopy, on one side of the kitchen garden. I remember it was a very happy sight to see the car surrounded by clumps of joyful green plants, swaying in the breeze, nodding at each other in a conversation that was only theirs. Maybe the Hillman told them about her adventures-of-the-day — where she had driven and what she had seen — maybe they all went off on secret drives in the middle of the night. Who knows. But I think, the lemon tree was my Hillman's best friend yet. When parked, the lemon tree would nudge at the driver's door. And with the window rolled down it could peep right inside; all but nearly take the wheel!

Biji and I spent the evenings together. We were regulars at a close-by childrens' park where she had made friends with other grannies in the area. And we always walked back home via the candy store. The goodies packet remained untouched until we got to the Hillman... we spent half-an-hour simply sitting inside it each evening (of course, with me in the driver's seat), taking in the tangy aroma from the friendly lemon tree, slowly savoring the goodies, and Biji would embark upon some fascinating tale or the other from her childhood. All the scenes from her stories would flash vividly across the windscreen. I knew the Hillman looked forward to these story sessions as much as I did, and I made sure she didn't miss out on any.

It was just before bedtime one evening when Biji asked if I would like to have a five-minute 'goodnight chat' with the Hillman. I jumped at the idea. This time Biji climbed in the back and bade me to sit beside her. She then bent down a bit and pointed out of the window to a bright star — "That's your papa, you know" (we used to call my grandfather 'papa'). "He followed us from Pune, to be with me. Your Hillman was kind to show him the way..."

So you see, my Hillman was not just 'a car'. She was special. She understood. She had really shared our lives.

Even as a child I was able to steel myself and block out all thoughts of my Hillman after she went away. It was too painful.

And it was much, much later that I allowed myself to think of her again. I looked in all the family albums for a glimpse, but amazingly there weren't any photos — not a single one. I wanted very much to share with my son, now 15, that part of my life.

After a long and arduous search, which culminated at McLellan's Automotive History, I was able to locate a likeness of my beloved Hillman that you see on this page. Being able to find the photograph and put a picture to my memories is how the literature collecting bug bit me — but I'm a one-car woman, so the 'Hillman' it will be always, that I will look out for.

For additional Hillman literature click here.
Updated on Nov 24, 2016
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