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Hillman Imp

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Hillman Imp, Glasgow Museum of Transport
Hillman Imp

The Hillman Imp was Scotland's only volume car to be manufactured in a full-scale production facility.

The car pictured, IMP 1, is on display in Glasgow's Museum of Transport, and featured in the official opening of the Linwood car plant in October 1963, when HRH The Duke of Edinburgh drove the first production Hillman Imp.

The Imp was introduced in 1963 as Rootes' answer to the British Motor Corporation's (BMC) Mini, and was assembled in Rootes' Linwood facility - built specifically to manufacture the car and comply with Government requirements to expand in areas where industry was in decline, as was the case there, with the Clyde shipyards in decline even then. The location also qualified for grant aid towards the construction costs of the factory.

Production numbers were poor: 50,000 were produced in 1964, the production peak, but that number fell to 19,000 by 1975. The factory had been built with the capacity to produce up to 150,000 car per year, but industrial relations were never good, and stoppages frequent. The last Imp rolled off the production line in March 1975, with 440,013 produced.

Although the car featured a number of innovations, it was never able to capitalise on them. Pushed into production as soon as the new factory was complete, the car was underdeveloped, and customers soon began to find numerous flaws arising from poor build quality by the inexperienced workforce, and technical flaws in the car's design. Cooling was marginal thanks to the rear mounted radiator, and the pneumatic throttle and automatic choke were largely untested before production began. The result was an early reputation for poor reliability, which the car was never really able to shake off. Compounded by an ineffective dealer network, the Imp was associated with defective water pumps, water leaks and overheating, unreliable automatic chokes and pneumatic throttles, and a lack of performance.

It could also be argued that even after being rushed into production (having been conceived as far back as 1955), the Imp's arrival in 1963 was simply too late, having missed both the opportunity to capitalise on the new small car market, and the effects of the fuel crisis and petrol rationing rooted in the Suez Crisis of 1956.

The Hillman Imp name

Although the name of Hillman Imp may appear to be a fairly obvious choice for the car, given its production as a response to BMC's Mini, the name was already in use at the time Rootes' car was conceived. The name had been used by the Ailsa Craig Motor Company Ltd, and referred to a small paraffin engine for use in general industrial applications, which had entered production in the years just after World War I.

In 1962, financial difficulties led to the Ailsa Craig Motor Company Ltd being acquired by the Warsop Fram Group for a trivial price. The group had no interest in preserving the heritage or history of company in any way, and effectively bartered the Imp engine name to the Rootes Group in exchange for one brand new Humber Super Snipe motor car.


The Car's the Star. Quentin Willson looks at the Hillman Imp.

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