Brabham corners at speed. "The rack-and-pinion type steering system
enabled me to place the car exactly where I wanted it."
Jack Brabham, twice World Champion racing driver, tests the new Hillman Imp
Modern Motoring and Travel, May 1963
FEW CARS, I suppose, have been as eagerly awaited as the new Hillman Imp. After driving it and giving it a good going-over, I realised that though it is in the small car class, it is in fact a fair-sized vehicle with a man-size performance. It is an indication of automobile progress that the Imp has more interior space than the early Minxes, and yet the Imp's overall dimensions are less, and the fuel consumption is far, far better.
Good visibility all round
The Imp I took out on test was a red de-luxe model. There is no doubt at all that this is a good-looking car, with pleasant proportions, so that it does not look dumpy even though it is compact (an important factor when you are trying to park in these crowded sixties). What I most liked about the car when I first sat in it was the generous window area; I really did feel as though I was in an airy atmosphere, and of course large windows mean extremely good visibility all round. And I was happy to discover that I could sit far enough away from the wheel in the position which I like.
Even though I had the driving seat well back there was still plenty of room for rear passengers.
Another good feature is the provision of storage space in each door, and also alongside the rear seats. I don't know quite what to call these - they are not pockets, but in effect storage boxes, which hold a mountain of oddments. I give the Imp high marks for this, because so many cars fail to provide enough space of this kind.
I looked around for the choke button, and then discovered that there is an automatic choke, which operates while the engine is cold. It is items like this that made me realise that the Imp is not a car that has been built down to a price.
The day I tried the car was rather cold and humid, and it was noticeable that the interior did not steam up as I had expected it to. There is a good reason for this. Under the rear edge of the roof are extractor vents which draw air away from the interior. A clever idea, this, and an important feature in a small car.
|Jack Brabham takes a look|
"I was interested to see how Rootes had tackled the luggage problem"
"I was more than interested in the power unit"
I was interested to see how Rootes had tackled the question of luggage accommodation, for obviously it could be a problem with the power unit in the place occupied by the luggage boot on conventional cars. Well, there is a lot of useful space -and the emphasis is on the word 'useful', for it is no good claiming immense luggage capacity if the space is so awkwardly shaped that things will not fit in.
Opening rear window
There are two luggage compartments on the Imp - under the bonnet and behind the rear seats. This is where the design is really clever, for the low height of the engine allows for a deep well. This behind-the-seat space has been done before, of course, but in the case of the Imp you don't have to clamber into the car and contort yourself trying to pack bags inside. The rear window section is hinged, so that luggage can be put into the car with the greatest of ease.
But in my view quite the most exciting thing about the Imp is its mechanical specification. Anyone who knows anything at all about automobile engineering is going to gloat over the engine, which I regard as an important advance for a car in this class.
It is a fact that an overhead camshaft provides a more efficient way of opening and closing the valves. They are used on some expensive cars, and also on some sports engines, but the Imp is the only small family car I know which uses this mechanically efficient system.
I was more than interested in the power unit, because pretty well all my racing has been done in cars fitted with Coventry Climax engines (they powered the cars which gave me my two World Championships).
The Imp engine has been developed from the 750 c.c. four-cylinder Climax unit, which did so well at Le Mans in 1957, being fitted in the car which took the Index of Performance that year. But the engine in the Imp has been increased in capacity to 875 c.c., and in the interests of weight-saving both the power unit and the transmission casing have been produced in die-cast aluminium.
This is a fine piece of engineering, and the saving in weight has been most dramatic. The cylinder block weighs a mere one pounds, while the engine and transmission complete is only a little over two hundredweight. This is an important figure, because it means that the weight distribution of the car is good.
Centre of gravity
But the designers have gone still further by canting the engine over at an angle of 45 degrees. The advantages of this are obvious immediately one opens the engine compartment for, with the radiator sitting alongside the engine, the overall height is ridiculously low. It also means, of course, that the centre of gravity is kept down.
This compact design has not been achieved at the expense of accessibility. There is no problem at all about reaching any important part of the engine, and I'd say that changing the fan belt on the Imp is about as easy as on any car made.
The output of the delightful engine is 39 brake horsepower - and that is a nett figure. Now that is a very reasonable output for a car weighing only 13¼ cwt. dry, demonstrating the efficiency of the unit.
However, it is obvious that no attempt has been made to extract any enormous power from the engine, which is always working well within itself. The result is that the performance is never fussy, and petrol consumption is of a very high order. Though I drove the car very hard I would say I was getting over 40 miles to the gallon.
Using the gearbox smartly - and the gear linkage is extremely positive - I recorded acceleration figures that ranged from 0 to 30 m.p.h. in six seconds, to 0 to 60 m.p.h. in a fraction over 24 seconds. Along a section of M1 the Imp cruised perfectly happily at 70 miles an hour.
Many people think that a rear-engined car must oversteer, which means in effect that it is difficult to handle in a straight line, and particularly in side winds. The Imp in fact is an under-steerer. The steering system is of the rack-and-pinion type, which I have always regarded as the best. It proved light and delightfully precise, enabling me to place the car exactly where I wanted it.
The whole handling of the car should give any driver confidence - which makes for safe driving.
The Imp I am sure is going to impress the motoring world many ways, for its sound engineering and the many practical features of its design. This is a car with a sound future.
Here's a car with a future. - Modern Motoring and Travel vol. 33 , May. - p.22-23,25
Jack Brabham, twice World Champion racing driver, tests the new Hillman Imp, 7660 VC
Jack Brabham, twice world champion does a second test of the Hillman Imp. - Modern Motoring and Travel 1964, February