VotW – Linwood and The Hillman Imp

Our video this week features a car you rarely see anymore, especially in the US, the Hillman Imp. The video takes a look at the production of the Hillman Imp at the plant in Linwood, Renfrewshire, Scotland. The program includes interviews with past members of the Linwood workforce. It also examines the wider workforce, trade union, management and government relationships which existed throughout much of UK manufacturing in the 1960’s and 70’s.

The Hillman Imp was a small economy car made by the Rootes Group and its successor Chrysler Europe from 1963 until 1976. It was made in many different forms and in addition to the Hillman marque was also marketed as both Sunbeam and Singer. Unveiled in 1963 after much advance publicity, it was the first British mass-produced car with the engine block and cylinder head cast in aluminum.The Imp was a direct competitor to the now much-more-famous Mini. It used a space-saving rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout to allow as much luggage and passenger capacity as possible in both the rear and the front of the car. It also used a unique opening rear hatch to allow luggage to be put in the back seat – very much a predecessor of today’s hatchback.

In addition to its all-aluminum engine, it was the first mass-produced British car to have an engine in the back and the first car to use a diaphragm spring clutch. The balk-ring synchromesh unit for the transaxle compensated for the speeds of gear and shaft before engagement, which the Mini had suffered from during its early production years.

For more on the Imp we can also watch this video from the show “The Car’s the Star”.

For more on the Impe, make sure to check out The Imp Club.  You can also read up on the Imp in “Our Imp: A Celebration” by Paul Coulter, “Rootes Cars of the 1950s, 1960s & 1970s – Hillman, Humber, Singer, Sunbeam & Talbot: A Pictorial History” by David Rowe, or “Hillman Imp: All models of the Hillman Imp, Sunbeam Stiletto, Singer Chamois, Hillman Husky & Commer Imp 1963 to 1976 (Essential Buyer’s Guide)” by Tim Morgan.

Our Hillman Imp - A Celebration

Michael Carnell
Editor at Just British
Michael Carnell is the editor and founder of the Just British Online Motoring Magazine. As a lifelong British car fan, he has owned or driven British cars of all ages from Austins and MGs to Jaguars and Triumphs. He currently owns a 1966 Vanden Plas Princess 1100, a 1977 MGB, and a 2002 Land Rover Discovery.

10 Comments

  1. First a minor point re the Just British intro, stating that the Riley name was applied to some Imp variants. Not so — of course Riley was BMC. What was meant was Sunbeam, not Riley. For the UK and other markets the Sunbeam brand name was applied to more sporty Imp models, but for the USA and Canada all Imps were branded Sunbeam, not Hillman.

    As one who was a Rootes employee, firstly in Coventry, then in Canada throughout the early Imp years, I cannot find much fault with the two videos. Sad but true. The BBC video, concentrating on the labour woes, underplayed the major problem of unreliability — because, as was made clear in the second video, the car went into production long before the detail shortcomings were recognized and fixed. Automatic choke and water-leak problems were only tips of the iceberg. As time went on the problems did get sorted out, but by that time the hope of threatening the Mini was just a dream.

    I had a bit of difficulty with the “The Car’s the Star” video, in the smart-ass, wise-after-event, style of presentation, particularly re the rear-engine layout. I’m being very argumentative here, but suppose the Imp had been reliable from the start and had been a sales-threat to the Mini. Would the world have been so quick to accept, without question, that FWD, east-west, was the only way to go for small cars, or would some manufacturers have stayed with rear engine/RWD. Provided that such RWD cars abandoned swing-axle rear suspension — Parkes and Fry made sure the Imp didn’t have it — could there have been a different outcome ? As the Imp showed, rear engine/RWD layout can be very compact, and in terms of handling look at the fact that on the race-track Imps trounced the Minis, winning the Briish Touring Car Championship three years in succession. And today Porsche seem to be muddling through pretty well with the 911.

    Okay, cue the outrage !

  2. Michael:

    Probably lurking in your subconscious was the knowledge that in pre-WWll, pre-Nuffield, Riley did in fact have a model called the Imp — 1934-1935, a very attractive 2-seat sports car.

    Peter

    • I think you are probably giving my subconscious a bit too much credit! Actually, I had two Sunbeam Imps given to me back in the early ’80s, but unfortunately, life interfered and I never got them back on the road. Marriage, job, moving and such got in the way. I do wonder whatever became of them though.

  3. Congratulations to those on the American Continent who were able to understand the accents of the Scottish workers!

      • When I am in the States, I usually get asked if I am Australian!

        Next Saturday it will be a great Brummie gathering at Cofton Park next to the old Austin Works

        Pride of Longbridge is held each year to mark the demise of the Plant in 2005, latterly known as MG Rover

        • Ian:

          Just springing to the defense of my former fellow Scots.

          Austin was my first love — the family car was an Austin 12, built in December 1945.

          In 1956 I was interviewed at Longbridge, for a student-apprenticeship, by a Mr. Stan Yeal — and got a tour of the part of the plant where Metropolitans were being assembled — but I ended up at Rootes instead.

          • Interesting! There is a photograph of Stan Yeal on page 68 of the book, “Men and Motors of The Austin” by Barney Sharratt. Published in 2000 by Haynes Publishing ISBN 1 85960 6717

            A great read if you can find a copy!

  4. Michael: Once again you’ve hit a nerve!! When I was into Sunbeams, I had an Imp. One of the greatest little cars I’ve ever driven. Trophied often. Won the Governor’s Cup in 1971. The Coventry Climax engine coupled to the specifically designed transaxle was a terrific combination. (Honestly, I do not remember an automatic choke.)
    Thanks again!

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