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Hillman Imp

Hillman Imp
1973 Hillman Imp
Manufacturer: Rootes Group
Production: 1963-1976
440,032 made
Predecessor: none
Successor: none
Body style: 2-door saloon
Husky estate
Californian coupé
Engine: 874 cc Straight-4 Overhead camshaft
Transmission: 4 speed manual
Wheelbase: 2082 mm (82")
Length: 3581 mm (141")
Width: 1524 mm (60")
Curb weight: 725 kg (1600 lbs)
Hillman Imp, with the engine cover and the rear window lifted

The Hillman Imp was a compact, rear-engined saloon (US: sedan) automobile manufactured under the Hillman marque by the Rootes Group (later Chrysler Europe) from 1963 to 1976. An estate version known as the Hillman Husky was produced from 1967.


Known internally within Rootes as the "Apex", the Imp was intended as a rival to the Mini. The key difference between the two cars was the Imp's 875 cc all-aluminium, single-carburettor ex-Coventry Climax version of a fire pump engine which had appeared on the racing scene. This was mounted behind the rear wheels, slanted over at 45° to fit. In order to counteract the oversteer handling characteristics of a rear engined design, the Imp had a sophisticated front suspension. Through the use of an opening rear window on most models, the car was effectively a hatchback. In true Rootes (and British) tradition, there were also some badge-engineered derivatives, such as the pseudo-luxury Singer Chamois, and the sharp handling Sunbeam Sport (with a more powerful twin-carburettor engine). There were also less common derivatives with a more sloping, fixed rear window such as the Imp Californian.

The Imp was a massive and expensive leap of faith for Rootes. Not only did it not have any real experience in building small cars or indeed wholly aluminium engines, it was forced to build a new assembly plant on the outskirts of Glasgow, in the town of Linwood in which to assemble the Imp, since planning regulations banned it from further expanding its Ryton plant near Coventry. Government pressure was applied to bring jobs (approx 6000) to this unemployment blackspot. The investment also included an advanced die-casting plant to manufacture the aluminium engine casings, and a stake in the Pressed Steel Company which manufactured body panels. The problem was that Linwood was over 300 miles away from Ryton, and the engine castings although made in Linwood, would have to be sent to Ryton to be machined and assembled, and then sent back up to be put on the cars - a 600 mile round trip.

The Glaswegian workforce who were all recruited from the shipbuilding industry were also not versed in the intricacies of motor vehicle assembly, and Imp build quality and reliability suffered. They also brought with them their militant left-wing values, and as a result strike action and industrial disputes were a rule rather than an exception. In 1964 there were 31 stoppages and only a third of the plant capacity was realised - 50,000 rather than 150,000. On the other hand the Imp was seen as a "Scottish car" and was popular north of the border.

The daring design of the Imp was also somewhat underdeveloped, and mechanical problems were common. However the car itself was relatively popular, thanks to its competitive price, distinctive styling and cheap running costs.

The huge investment in both the Imp and the Linwood production plant proved to be the undoing of Rootes, and its commercial failure led to huge losses to the Coventry-based firm. By 1967 the company had fallen into the hands of Chrysler, to become part of Chrysler Europe, whose stewardship led to the death of the Imp in 1976, after fewer than 500,000 were built and the entire empire collapsed two years later, when it became part of Peugeot.

The Ryton assembly plant survives to this day manufacturing Peugeot models but will close in 2007. The Linwood plant was closed in 1981.


Approximately half a million, 50% of those in the first 3 years of production.


Unassembled cars were exported for assembly in Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal, Venezuela, Uruguay, Costa Rica, South Africa & Australia.

Imp Based Cars

  • Hillman Imp
  • Hillman Imp Mk I
  • Hillman Imp de Luxe Mk I, Mk II
  • Hillman Imp Super
  • Hillman Californian - coupe/fastback saloon version
  • Hillman Husky - estate version of the Imp
  • Commer Imp Van
  • Hillman Imp Van
  • Singer Chamois Mk I, Mk II , Sport, Coupe - upmarket, luxury versions of the Imp
  • Sunbeam Imp Sport
  • Sunbeam Sport
  • Sunbeam Chamois, Chamois Coupe -
  • Sunbeam Stiletto
  • Sunbeam Californian
  • Sunbeam Imp Basic (USA/N. America)
  • Sunbeam Imp De Luxe MkI, MkII (USA/N. America)

Cars using Imp mechanicals (engine and suspension)

  • Clan Crusader
  • Ginetta G15
  • Davrian Imp

The early Imps had a pneumatic throttle linkage. Although effective when new, it was problematic and replaced with a conventional cable linkage.

Imps in Motor Sport

The Imp enjoyed modest success in club rallying. Although engine modifications were relatively limited in scope, the overhead camshaft engine could be persuaded to run at high engine speeds. Useful improvements in power could be gained by replacing the standard silencer with one that impeded the exhaust gas flow less.

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