17 Jul 2013

It's a Hillman Imp

The Hillman Imp was a small British car produced by the British Rootes Group between 1963 and 1976.It was designed as a competitor to the BMC Mini which had been launched in 1959 but it never enjoyed the Mini's success.
The Imp was rear engined with the engine placed behind the rear axle and used semi-trailing arm independent rear suspension as the designers were very anxious to avoid the wayward handling characteristics associated with the rear engined VW Beetle and Chevrolet Corvair.The power unit was a sohc 875 cc alloy engine based on a Coventry Climax fire pump engine.It was a good power unit at a time when pushrods ,not overhead camshafts ,and cast iron,not alloy,blocks were the order of the day.Arguably the power unit was by far the best thing about the Imp.Indeed many would say that it was the only good thing about the Imp.
As was usual at the time the British Government had a hand in the Imp in that they incentivised Rootes Group to build the Imp factory on a green field site near Paisley in Scotland to employ displaced coal miners .From hewing coal underground to assembling Imps was a big call for the miners.
The Imp suffered from a poor reputation for reliability but that was not unusual for British cars at the time.The tendency was to always blame the assembly workers but most of the quality and reliability issues were usually down to "under-engineering" and poor design and poor quality components from suppliers such as the legendary supplier of electrics Lucas Industries (company motto"Get home before dark").For a complete list of Lucas jokes see Lucas jokes
There was a van version -which must have had a very limited load carrying capacity -and also Singer and Sunbeam versions which had a fastback sloping roof -for people with short friends -and luxury features.At that time luxury features usually consisted of a strip of walnut veneer on the glovebox lid,a leather covered gearlever knob and a wood rimmed steering wheel and a higher price tag. Bluetooth was something you got from sucking too many blue coloured winegums and of course there was no GPS because well people used maps and Russia had only just launched the Sputnik so there were no satellites to lock onto anyway.Oh happy days.
I must confess to a somewhat jaundiced opinion of the Imp as I came across the aftermath of an awful accident in the UK back in 1968 where both the occupants of an Imp were killed and the Imp was just a horrible mess.But it really could have been any car of that era as crashworthiness was just not on the agenda for car manufacturers then.
A very optimistic Rootes Group even tried to sell the Imp in the USA.It must have looked tiny parked alongside the prevailing American cars.
Over half a million Imps were made but few survive and it was never imported into Australia( note that since writing this I have been corrected -- it was indeed sold in Australia).Down here they are rarer than rocking horse droppings so I was very surprised to find one next to me at the local traffic lights recently.Photo from the window of my 911-a much more succesful and enduring rear engined car.


  1. Imp not sold in Australia? Of course it was, sorry John. I well remember road testing the original - car from Roots Group Port Melbourne HQ - and later a sports version in 1968 (could have been 1976. One early problem was the pneumatic throttle, but Wheels' magazine former technical editor Mike McCarthy drove one from new for decades.
    Peter Robinson

  2. Peter,great to hear from you.I hope that all is well wih you. My goodness I do feel privileged that you read my humble blog.If you say that it was sold in Australia then it was sold in Australia and I would be the last one to argue.All I can say is that they could not have sold many of them as I have never seen one here before.