We are going a little more rare and esoteric this week, though when they were new they weren’t that odd. Our Video of the Week returns again to the BBC series The Car’s the Star with an episode on the Hillman Imp. The Hillman Imp was also badged as the Sunbeam Imp, and there were other variations as well.
The Hillman Imp is a small economy car made by the Rootes Group and its successor Chrysler Europe from 1963 until 1976. It was the first mass-produced car with the engine block and cylinder head cast in aluminium.
Being a direct competitor to the BMC’s 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 used a unique opening rear hatch to allow luggage to be put into the back seat rest.
In addition to its 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 baulk-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.
It incorporated many design features which were uncommon in cars until the late 1970s such as; folding rear bench seat, automatic choke and gauges for temperature, voltage and oil pressure.
This unorthodox small/light car was designed for the conservative Rootes Group by Michael Parkes and Tim Fry. It was manufactured at the purpose-built Linwood plant in Scotland. Along with the Hillman marque was a series of variations including an estate car (Husky), a van and a coupé.
The Imp gained a reputation as a successful rally car when Rosemary Smith won the Tulip Rally in 1965. This led the Rootes Group to produce a special rally conversion of the Imp under both the Hillman and Singer marques known as the Imp Rallye. In 1966, Rosemary Smith after winning the Coupe des Dames, was disqualified under a controversial ruling regarding the headlamps of her Imp. The Imp was also successful in touring car racing when Bill McGovern won the British Saloon Car Championship in 1970, 1971 and 1972.
Arguably, it was considered advanced for the time with its various innovative features and technical advantages over other cars. But reliability problems hampered its reputation, which led to the Rootes Group being taken over by Chrysler Europe in 1967. The Imp continued production until 1976, selling just under half a million units in 13 years.