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Hillman Imp 50th Anniversary

Imps are ideal for anyone thinking about their first classic car, being cheap to buy and maintain.

At the time it was seen as a very technological advanced, stylish, small car, yet has always been overshadowed by the front wheel drive Mini, its main competitor, and to a lesser extent, the very conventional Ford Anglia. Maybe it was just too innovative for most car buyers.

Indeed, the Imp was a big change of direction for Hillman. They'd won their reputation building well engineered, mid-sized, front-engined cars like the Minx. Their new small car was a 180 degree turnaround, both in styling and mechanical design, literally.

The Imp boasted a rear mounted 875cc aluminium alloy engine, with overhead camshaft, sourced from Formula 1 builders, Coventry Climax. Hillman's engineers tweaked the motor by laying it over on a 45 degree angle and increasing the compression ratio to 10:1, quite high for the day.

What really had everyone taking notice was the light weight motor, just 77kgs. This gave the car a superior level of performance and with some tuning and exhaust system fettling the standard power output of 41kw could be raised to over 80kw. That's a lot of horsepower for a small car.

The cute shape was inspired by the 1960 Chevrolet Corvair. The front end is almost a direct copy. In fact, during the development of the Imp, Hillman engineers test drove Corvairs seeking to understand how Chevrolet had solved the "tail happy" tendencies, so typical of rear engine designs.

After putting one on its roof, the Hillman folk realised Chevrolet had not solved the problem at all, and thus opted for a sophisticated multi link rear suspension, rather than the Corvair's simpler, cheaper swing axles. And the rest of that story you would know only too well.

Over 500,000 Imps were sold across the world during its 13 year production run. Hillman's parent company, Rootes, badge-engineered it into the Singer Chamois and Sunbeam Sport. 

In Australia the Imp was sold through dedicated Hillman dealerships and after Rootes was acquired by Chrysler, it ended up sitting beside Valiants on showroom floors.

Imps have a very strong fan base in the classic car world. Parts and panels are readily available in Australia, New Zealand and in the UK. They are ideal for anyone thinking about their first classic car, being cheap to buy and maintain.

Unique to Australia was a convertible called the Hillman Stiletto. It was factory sanctioned and built by Melbourne firm EiffelTower Motors. The convertible could be ordered with a removable hard top. This is a very rare and much sought after Imp.