Ode to the Imp: Never Was So Much Done by So Little a Car with So Few CCs.

lead imp

Ah, the Hillman Imp – tiny, awesome, woefully underdeveloped, and with the awesome-est dorky greenhouse to grace a vehicle (including the BMW 2002). It looked like a demented fever-dream of Alec Issigonis, and it was powered by a fire pump engine. It should appeal to every hoon worth his or her salt.

<i>Singer Chamois variant.</i>
Singer Chamois variant.

The recipe was simple – compete with the Mini, but put the engine out back. The Rootes Group grabbed the excellent 875cc Coventry Climax FWMA engine out of a fire pump out of the parts bin, and dropped it into a tiny RWD “saloon” – out behind the rear wheels, and slanted over 45 degrees. The combination sort of worked, especially with the motor punched out to 998cc as in the Rally Imp. Weighing 1500lbs or so, and capable of belting out a full 80-90 HP in full race trim, the Imp could have been a giant killer.

racing imp

As much as it pains us to say it, Rootes really screwed the pooch on the little Imp. They decided to build a small car (of which they didn’t know anything), but then placed the engine assembly at a new and expensive plant near Glasgow staffed by militant left-wing shipbuilders (which is too good to make up, so it must be true!). But they made the rough motor castings near Coventry, almost 300 miles away. So you had to cast the motor, ship it to bloody Scotland, and then back to the Midlands to be put into the car. It made the assembly process on the future, higher margin Cadillac Allante almost look sensible.

<i>The Husky variant makes my loins tingle</i>
The Husky variant makes my loins tingle

So the car ended up with a few flaws (notably a penchant for overheating), and more importantly, having to fork out a huge amount for the Glasgow plant (actually the town on Linwood, in case you know where the hell that is) caused Rootes to go tits up and sell itself to Chrysler like a thru’penny hussy. Chrysler, the specter of death for other bastions of awesomeness like the Sunbeam Tiger, took the Imp out back and put it down in 1976.
<i>The questionably named Clan Crusader - like a TR7 on acid.</i>
The questionably named Clan Crusader - like a TR7 on acid.

However, the surviving Imps live on as completely kickass vintage racers with a large network of semi-rabid enthusiasts continually tinkering with them, and it also formed the basis for a long list of quirky but ridiculously great cars, like the Clan Crusader, Ginetta G15, Davrian Imp, Bond 875, Siva Llama, and Beach Mk4. And since design flaws only make a true hoon’s heart beat that much faster, the Imp earns our respect and admiration.



    1. Aye she's a bonny little runabout.
      It's like a Scottish Duke's of Hazzard with the flag on the roof like that. I would love to see the thing on track.

  1. To be fair, the government kind of forced the Rootes Group to build the assembly plant in Scotland by only allowing new factories in economically depressed areas. Rootes wanted to expand their existing plant, but the government wouldn't permit it.
    That being said, this is a crazy little car that really should have been more than it wound up being. It will go down in history as one of the more obscure, but more significant, lost opportunities in the automotive realm.

  2. I knew of (and dug) the ass-engined Allied slot car that is the Hillman Imp, but I'm not sure I've ever seen the Singer Chamois before, but I'm in love. Either way, I approve of the shrunken Corvair styling on both.

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