A Brief History of the Hillman Imp
Following the oil problems of the Suez crisis in 1956, there was great enthusiasm to produce small cars which were more economical on fuel. The Coventry-based Rootes Group set up the Apex project led by Mike Parkes and Tim Fry developed such a new car with a number of unique features after discarding the 600cc flat twin Villiers for the Coventry Climax 875cc aluminium engine, positioned at the rear and angled at 45 degrees to improve the handling the Pneumatic throttle, the all independent suspension, the opening rear window, a completely new gearbox designed by Adrian West.
Rootes wanted to manufacture the new car in their English factories in Ryton on Dunsmore Coventry, their alternative was to extend the Commer Factory in Dunstable, but The Town and Country Planning Regulations in force in the 60s required that before any substantial development could take place an 'Industrial Development Certificate' had to be obtained, and neither of these options gained Board of Trade approval. The Board of Trade Identified Development Areas throughout the country including South Wales, North England and Scotland Rootes and the Prime minister favoured Scotland and after protracted and awkward negotiations the deal was concluded with the Government putting in £10m of the total £22m Costs. The factory in Linwood near Paisley and 14 miles west of Glasgow (across the road from a pressed-steel plant and not too far from the steel manufacturing plant at Ravenscraig in Lanarkshire) was built. It was the first car manufacturing plant in Scotland for over 30 years.R M Douglas the groundworks contractor soon found out that the site was in fact a floating bog and a few thousand Vibro Piles had to be driven 6m down to support the floor slab. Should this have been seen as an omen? The factory was actually built on time and was officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh on 2nd May 1963 when he drove the first production Hillman Imp (which is now in the Transport Museum in Glasgow). Initially the mainly Scottish work force had very goodindustrial relations with a few unofficial strikers being dismissed. The Rootes family did try to foster a good working environment including good amenities and even foreign holidays. The Quality Control set up was particularly difficult particularly with bought in parts. As well as problems with the pneumatic throttle and the coolant system and head gasket. There were problems with the IMP but there were also major problems in the rest of the Rootes empire and when in 1964 Chrysler came a calling they could not be resisted. Whilst improvements and expansions were being made to the Imp range the finances and Industrial relations declined terribly. Ultimately the press reported in January 1976 The End of the IMP. Between 1963 and 1976 Roots and subsequently Chrysler produced a little over 440,000 of the fantastic little cars. The fact remains, however, that the Imp can be hurled into corners at speeds which would be suicidal with most saloons and with very little roll and no tyre squeal it just motors round them. It is so close to being a neutral steering car that different driving techniques can tip the balance one way or the other. Transmission: The gearchange, is quite certainly one of the best. Performance: For an 875cc car, the performance is astonishingly lively and bears comparison with many family saloons up to 1600cc.