I was quite happy to see last year what will be a very rare CC find in Australia or indeed almost everywhere, a Hillman Imp. This must be one of only a handful of ‘daily driver’ Imps in the country, and is owned by the same people as the 1951 Minx posted recently.
While I know the owners this is a genuine CC find, as it was photographed as I was driving down the street on my way to an appointment for work. I know they have had the car for around 30 years and it is essentially standard. To be fair it is not in actual daily use, and they have a more modern car in addition to the Imp and Minx.
Imps in Australia were sold from 1964-70, however didn’t see the same model evolution as in the UK, essentially they were all Mark 1 cars with local updates applied. In particular to the air intake and filtration given the disastrous results obtained from driving the original cars on unsealed roads that were very common then even within towns (roughly 15% of roads in the country were sealed); pistons could wear to the point of needing replacement before hitting 10,000 miles. Note the large cylindrical air cleaner fitted to the later Mark 2 car photographed above, with the convoluted hose to air intakes below the rear window (via the double-skinned body cavity), which was the first attempt to deal with this problem.
The radiator is mounted on the left side of the engine bay, with the water pump and powerful ducted fan there too. The engine is laid over at a 45-degree angle, to lower the centre of gravity as well as its height under the parcel tray behind the rear seats. The rear body crossmember panel un-bolts and is removed to allow easy engine removal.
Further improvement in dust avoidance was gained with the final air intake position within the door opening, being ahead of the rear wheels! Seen here missing the plastic covering grille; also this particular car was produced in New Zealand so I’m not sure it is exactly the same as Australian cars in terms of cutting the hole. On the GT model (equivalent to the Sport models in the UK) the intake was on the other side, because there was not enough room for the large air cleaner and the twin carburettors. The car sold well initially and was a poster child for Rootes’ CKD operations, but sales hit a brick wall once the problems became apparent.
While the Imp was sold in Australia until 1970, they retained the ‘binnacle’ dash to the end rather than updating to the full-width dashboard introduced in the UK in Oct 1968 most likely because they were still working through a stockpile of CKD kits hanging around since those optimistic early days!
The label transfers for the switches have worn away here, but the stalk controls operated the indicators (aka turn signals) on the right side (with electromagnetic self-cancelling rather than a pawl) and pulled to sound the horn, while the left stalk would activate (up) or flash (down) the high beam lights. The left toggle switch turned on the headlights and parking/side lights and the right toggle switch was for the wipers. There was a squeeze bulb for the washer on the left side of the binnacle and the ignition switch was on the right side (switched for LHD versions I assume), in those pre-steering lock days.
Just out of shot to the lower left is the lever that selected windscreen, cabin or no ventilation; wearing a non-retractable seat belt your foot is the best option for moving this lever! At the bottom of the picture the gear knob can be seen for the all-synchro four-speed transmission. Obviously the radio is a later addition.
However it is a car that I don’t think we’ve had an actual CC find before, which I don’t find surprising given it is probably only the third or fourth Imp I’ve seen on the road in 25 years, outside of shows or club events. The white car above is an Australian Mk3 version, wearing the grille used on Singer Chamois elsewhere.
Update: since taking this photo (last year) the car has been undergoing some restoration work including a repaint and retrim; I saw it again today.
Roger Carr’s comprehensive history of the Imp: Carshow Outtake: 1967 Commer Imp Van – In Need Of Some Gritty Determination
Paul’s CC article from the early days of the site: Curbside Classic: Sunbeam (Hillman) Imp – The British Corvair
Very sweet. I always found those cars fascinating, although I’ve yet to see one in the metal in the eastern US.
it would be interesting to know what kind of cars Muhammad Ali used to drive.
He definitely drove an Imp.
Not sure what I’d call this bodystyle…is it a hatchback? The type 3 VW had a rear engine wagon model, but I don’t think I’ve seen a rear engined hatchback if this is indeed the body style this is. Kind of reminds me of the rear “hatch” on a Gremlin, which I think was more of an opening rear window allowing you to put stuff inside.
I’ve heard a lot more about Hillman Imps that seen them (haven’t seen any). Other than the sedan vs hatchback, it kind of reminds me of my Father’s old Renault R10…rear watercooled engine…though the R10 was a 4 door sedan, and I’d guess a bit bigger than the Imp (though the R10 was not much bigger than a Beetle as I recall).
The normal Imp does have an opening rear window, hinged at the top. There was a van version too with a hatchback type door which was also made with windows and rear seats as an estate/station wagon.
You are correct, the first photo shows the hinges and handle for the opening rear window. I think the body style was regarded as a normal 2-door sedan, and the opening rear window was one of the clever ideas on the car to compensate for the fairly small front luggage compartment (about 3-4 cu.ft. I think).
Later they did a fastback coupe, and with a fixed rear window it had a split-fold rear seat instead.
Imp was a Mini competitor and is that size, BMC Mini though not the sad BMW version.
That is a NICE car. Looks more like 5 years old, not 50.
The air intake is a peculiar bit of factory jury-rigging. Can’t find a good enough mechanical filter, so let the passengers catch the dust with their clothes and lungs.
Hillman had several divisions in dusty countries …. seems like they could have worked together to find a better solution.
Passengers are just like any car, well pre-cabin air filters that is, cabin air is taken from the front grille. The engine air intake is outside the door seal.
The large air filter works well but the second change was to take in less dust so it needs cleaning or replacement less often.
Interesting car. Looks like a love child produced by a Rambler and a Corvair.
a testimonial to human perseverance, keeping this car still on the road
Other than the air intake the engine bay looks standard Imp, not sure about the B pillar intake I’ll look next time I see one, there was a daily Imp a couple of streets away but it got sold so a trip to the Te Awanga British car museum might be in order to see another. According to a facebook page I belong to there are still many Imps around but I suspect they are kept in sheds not at the curb these days.
The air intake photo is actually a NZ produced Sunbeam, the engine bay was similar although it was missing the duct leading to the air filter, which goes to a different spot than the engine bay shown.
The more numerous early cars won’t have this setup.
I dont know when Todds stopped assembling Imps here, Hunter sales took off in the late 60s then the Avenger hit the showrooms leaving the Imp as an also ran, I still see Avengers in daily use round here and plenty of Hunters are still on the road despite the issues people had with the alloy cylinder heads they were well made cars, I see the trim difference in the pic making that shot a Sunbeam Imp, there was a Stiletto in Pitt Town garage NSW for several years in that colour, Wandin Valley auto court in the popular TV series Country Practice.
A Stiletto is very rare in Australia as they were all private imports, there can’t be more than a handful here.
These are a most interesting alternative to the Mini. Very cool.
As a child at primary school, I remember seeing two of these in our area when they were new, but I never saw another one anywhere else. There was a Mobil Garage across the road from the school and a white Imp was nearly always parked there. I thought it belonged to someone who worked at the garage, apparently it was just there for service work……regularly! One day BOTH of the Imp’s were there, both requiring attention – and these were new cars.
Yet another example of what the English car industry used to impose on Australian consumers. They benefitted from advantageous tax and duty rates so they sent us plenty of cars, but hardly ever bothered to adapt any of them for our completely different road and weather conditions. Jags were famous for overheating, Austin/Morris/BMC cars were well known for terrible electrics (by Lucas, nicknamed ‘Prince of Darkness’ which is not good for a company that made headlights!) – they all had terrible maladies. Then there was the fact that every roadster or convertible from the UK had a leaking roof. How could cars from a country where it rains every day have leaking roofs? Then there were the legendary build-quality issues.
No wonder Australian consumers voted with their feet at the first sign of alternatives.
You Australians had it easy 🙂 at least you didn’t have -30C weather with salt on the roads, and a heating system designed for a touch of warming on a brisk English afternoon. So while the driver froze the car quickly turned into little brown flakes of rust.
On the other hand, maybe we Canadians actually had it better. Since British cars lived such short lives here that meant we suffered for a shorter duration?
Yes the main weakness of the Imp was the cooling system which was only just adequate. They did development testing in Kenya but I doubt much higher speed work due to road conditions, and Italy was probably regarded as hot weather too, but an Imp will be doing well not to get warm (ie above thermostat temperature, but not in danger of boiling) on a hot day on highway hills.
Years ago I drove mine to work on a 43°C day (109°F), it was fine on surface streets with traffic thanks to the powerful engine driven fan but as soon as I hit the freeway the temperature climbed and I got off at the next exit rather than going 3 or 4 more as usual.
If the radiator was partly blocked (inside or out), or you lost some water, or as happened to me that the water pump deteriorated, it would get warm on the highway due to the engine working harder but the radiator not really getting more air.
John, that looks to be a dead ringer, down to the colour, for my Mum’s 1965 Imp, which she bought in about 1970, though the seats in the feature car look to be either leather or at least a better quality and thicker vinyl than a UK car.
Fond memories! Thanks, and a great CC spot!
Do you mean the before (pale blue) or after (dark green)? The seats have been retrimmed so I imagine better quality material than Rootes would have given an Imp. Not sure if they are leather or vinyl but I imagine the latter.