Please note that the cars or exhibit items shown in this database are part of our collection but may not be on display when you visit.
The Imp was a small semi-hatchback, rear-engined car designed to go head-to-head with BMC’s Mini. It was Britain’s first car with an aluminum block and head. The new model demanded a new factory, built in an economically-depressed area of Scotland near Linville, commencing production in 1963. Wildly popular for the first three years of production, reliability concerns cooled demand, and the Imp ended production in 1976. During production, several Rootes divisions offered variants of the Imp – 20 Imp-based models were offered, and the drivetrain was also used by at least eight other manufacturers and race car fabricators.
The Imp was expensive to produce. While the new aluminum engine parts were cast in Scotland, the machining took place at Rootes’ main factory, 300 miles away in Ryton. The expense of shipping the engines back-and-forth by train eventually wore the company’s coffers down and was one of the factors leading to Rootes’ demise.
The Commer Imp Van seen here uses a detuned version of the Hillman/Sunbeam Imp/Singer Chamois’ Coventry Climax overhead-cam 55hp engine and was first offered as a very austere driver-only delivery van – one seat, one sun visor, one vent window, few gauges, and no sound-deadening. This example, a MkII, offered more creature comforts at the expense of interior room. In late 1968, the name changed to the Hillman Imp Van. With only 36 hp on tap, the Royal Mail tested it for postal duty. It passed with more than flying colors – drivers were observed speeding and cornering like a racecar, even with the carburetor restrictor in place, and no contract was forthcoming; the Commer Van was simply too good! In addition to the detuned engine, the Imp Van also featured wider, heavier wheels, stronger driveshafts and bumpers, and a thicker clutch lining. Even the exhaust tip was turned downward to avoid soiling the trousers of those who made deliveries.
Over 440,000 Imps were built or assembled during the 13-year run, but only 18,194 Vans were produced. 11 countries other than the home market assembled Imps from CKD (Completely Knocked-Down kits), but the Vans were sold mostly at home. Some efforts were made to market them in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg, but few, if any, were sold. Still popular among enthusiasts, a gathering of Imp Van and Hillman Husky (the civilian, windowed, station wagon version) owners continue to meet each May at Parkhurst Place, near Kent.
Manufacturer: Commer Cars, Ltd., a division of Rootes Group
Country of Origin: Scotland (assembly) and England
Drivetrain Configuration: Rear-engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine: Water-cooled inline-4, OHC, 875cc, 36bhp
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Top Speed: 72 mph
Years of Production: 1963-1976
Number Produced: 18,194
Original Cost: £441 (approx. $1050 USD)