Sunday, July 01, 2007

Ranting Stan's Sunday Drive: Hillman Imp

Launched in 1963 as competition to the highly successful BMC Mini, the Hillman Imp was the Rootes Group foray into the small family car market and, in some ways, actually superior to the Mini.
Had it not been for the numerous problems the car suffered as a result of it's hurried development, it may have given the Mini much more of a run in that market.
Despite it's early problems, the Imp was a decent car. Agile and with a much slicker gearchange than the Mini the Imp was a good drive and production lasted for 13 years with more than 400,000 units produced. Along with the Hillman Imp were various badge engineered versions under the Singer or Sunbeam name - along with a neat little coupe/fastback version.
Around the time when I was passing my test the Imp was a favourite choice of newly qualified young male drivers who often considered the standard Mini 850 a bit "girly" and was often tweaked and tuned to improve performance, though I have to say I never came across one that matched my Cooper engined Elf - and they didn't have leather seats or wooden dashboards either!


Anonymous said...

Richard Bradford made the Imp really cool when he drove it in the cult 60's TV prog 'Man in a Suitcase'- as the ex-CIA agent McGill. Bradford, who for some reason never achieved super-stardom, could even make corduroy look sexy.

Of course, what buggered the Imp was not expanding production in Coventry. Instead, the government at that time persuaded Rootes to build in the unemployment black spot and socialist enclave of Linwood, in the West of Scotland.

Stan said...

Crikey! I'd forgotten all about "Man In A Suitcase", Harry - what a great series. I'll have to look out for that on DVD.

You're right about the Linwood plant, of course - although having separate fatories for engines and bodies is par for the course these days (often in different countries), but it's one of the reasons why the Imp sold so badly compared to, say, the Fiat 850 which was around for a similar length of time and was a very similar car (but inferior - except for the lovely coupe and spider) and went on to sell around 1 and three quarter million vehicles.

Two of the things you note are two of the three causes of the collapse of British industry in general and the British car industry in particular, in my opinion.

Mis-management caused by bureaucratic government meddling.

Beligerent and intransigent unions.

The third is the EU.

Anonymous said...

You can get the entire series on DVD. It's brill and hasn't dated one bit.

The poor old Imp didn't stand a chance once union leaders from the failing shipyards, got their feet under the table.