|The Hillman Imp de Luxe which our motoring correspondent believes will justify the confidence of itsmakers. The de Luxe model, incorporating many extras, costs £532 4s. 7d. inc. tax, while the basic model can be had for £508 ls. 3d.|
|A view into the engine compartment of the Imp de Luxe. The engine is inclined at an angle of 45 degrees in order to save space. It has a high compression ration of 10 : 1. The engine has 875 C.C. and produces 42 B.H.P. Aluminium is extensively used for lightness.|
The Illustrated London News, June 1, 1963
THE arrival of the Hillman Imp a month ago hardly came as a surprise. It had been talked about in motoring circles for a year or more and some details had leaked out before the official announcement. However, some of the guesses as to its design proved to be very wrong and others nearly correct, but the Imp itself is not any less interesting because of all the conjecture. In fact, it is in many ways one of the most interesting new cars we have had put before us for several years. For one thing, it opens up quite a new market and potential clientele for Rootes and it will be interesting to follow its progress amongst the small, lower-priced cars on the British market, not to mention overseas as well.
The placing of the Imp engine at the rear was a major decision obviously taken after very detailed study and Mr Peter Ware, the Rootes Group Chief Executive Engineer, told me that there were many reasons. He stressed:
The engine itself is most interesting. The extensive use of aluminium has reduced its weight considerably - the Rootes figures say only half that of a comparable cast-iron unit. The original design studies were made in conjunction with Coventry Climax, who have so much successful work behind them in designing racing engines of light weight. The Imp has 875 c.c. and employs a compression ratio of 10 : 1, high even by modern standards but obviously linked with the use of the aluminium cylinder head. The unit produces 42 b.h.p. and it is inclined in its mounting to save space.
Independent suspension for all four wheels is a noteworthy feature, as is the use of synchromesh for all four forward speeds, which permits a certain and easy change into bottom gear at any speed below 10 m.p.h. The change is by a centre floor-mounted gear lever, by the way. The clutch is especially light in operation.
The placing of the engine at the rear often makes a complex business of controls, but Rootes designers have overcome these possible difficulties by using a pneumatic accelerator control and a fully automatic choke. The accelerator pedal is very light and responsive, the use of it merely causing an air line to repeat the movement at the carburetter end. The automatic choke worked perfectly well during my trial and while I viewed such things with suspicion years ago, they are now of course quite commonplace on both American and German cars and found to be trouble free.
The suspension uses coil springs with telescopic shock absorbers on all four wheels and all greasing points have been eliminated. The steering, light and positive, is a rack and pinion unit, again oil sealed in production and needing no maintenance at all. The brakes are 8-inch diameter drum, it not being thought necessary to employ discs.
The outward appearance of the Hillman Imp is neat and tidy, and of course the rear engine placing eliminates the need for a front grill, there being only a small one, at the bottom, for ventilation purposes. Twin individual front seats are fitted and these tip to allow access to the rear seat, which is wide and roomy.
A feature that will appeal to many is that the back of the rear seat folds downwards, so that a luggage-carrying space of considerable size becomes available. And access to it is simple, as the back window opens similarly to those found in Estate cars. Even when the rear seat is in use, the space behind it can carry an amount of luggage or parcels and, of course, the luggage compartment at the front, under what we would normally call the bonnet, helps to add up to an unusually large total of space for one's goods. There is a full width parcel tray beneath the fascia and, on the de luxe model, pockets of some size in the doors and at either end of the rear seat. The interior trim is neat and simple, the floor carpeted on the de luxe model.
The instruments follow current fashion by being grouped so that they are c1early seen through the two-spoke wheel and are minimal in number. There is a three position stalk-type switch for the headlamps, giving main beam, dipping or flashing position. And the other stalk operates the flasher indicators as well as forming the horn button. I am rather of the opinion that one control should have one job and on my trial I flashed when I merely wanted to blow and also performed the opposite combination, which upset an innocent pedestrian on the corner.
The heating and ventilating system seemed to me to work very well, with quite a good degree of control. There are some built-in extractor vents over the back window which cut out draughts and will help combat that scourge of the misted-up window.
The Imp took me out on my first test run with considerable verve. The lightness of the clutch and the smoothness of the gear change struck me in the first few minutes and you cannot beat the synchromesh in the gearbox. The pneumatic accelerator felt a little odd for a few minutes, but as with so many new things, like a pair of shoes, the strangeness wears off very quickly. It was hard to realise that this was a small car with only an 875 c.c. engine. Second gear produces a perfectly happy 50 m.p.h., third gave me around 75 without a murmur, and top indicated well over 80 m.p.h.
Now those may seem to be high figures and not represent the style in which one would normally drive such a car Well, that may be, but the complete lack of fuss from the engine has nothing to do with the fact that it is behind you and very unobtrusive, merely that it seems to thrive on such treatment. Later on, I changed style and hung on to higher gears, with pleasing results and no complaint.
Understeer / oversteer
The suspension certainly justifies its makers' claims for a smooth and easy ride combined with firmness and lack of roll. The steering interested me and one has to be very careful in trying to describe the feel. There is built in a very small understeer characteristic. A rear-engined car usually has a tendency to react rather fiercely to sudden steering movement and one should make slowish, deliberate changes of direction. With the Imp, this is certainly far less noticeable and only when one has been constantly driving a front-drive front-engined car and makes a changeover does one feel it. I think the Rootes team have done very well indeed to produce a feeling of security and stability of a high order. Steering a car used to be merely a matter of turning the wheel. In these days of new and advanced designs, the driver has much more to do with the completely successful negotiation of bends and corners, and the escape from sudden emergencies which dictate a rapid change of course when least expected. Thus, any driver of more or less any degree of skill or experience quickly adapts to a particular design, and I know that an Imp driver will soon appreciate its own particular qualities. And please do not take that as a criticism, merely an effort to say that cars are now sophisticated and individual in handling characteristics, and it is up to the driver to know them.
I shared some of my trial of the Imp with another driver who was of very different size and shape from myself, and we both agreed that the driving seat was fine, suitably adjusted for individual taste. And the back seat, too, proved unusually comfortabie. One feature I did like was the really good vision both fore and aft, always a valuable point and a safety factor.
On the subject of petrol consumption, figures available seem to indicate that with the Imp even more than with most cars, the miles per gallon will depend upon the driver and bis mood. Shall we say you could do 50 to the gallon with gentle running about and that it could drop down to perhaps half that if you dashed about town. Perhaps something like 40 would be a normal average.
Generally speaking the finish on this car is quite good, although I thought the ash tray mounted above the fascia was but a poor thing. The exterior paint looked very good, I thought. And there is a good range of colours from which to make your selection, from white through grey, red, blue, green, to black, with suitable interior colours to tone.
The price is interesting. The basic figure is £420 (£508 1s. 3d. inc. tax) and £440 (£532 4s. 7d. inc. tax) for the de luxe model. This de luxe inc1udes the carpets and heater/ventilation system I have mentioned, plus twin sun visors, screen washers, the stowage pockets inside, and swivelling front quarter lights. The inc1usive price of the Imp places it between the B.M.C. Mini and the Ford Anglia, and it is some £60 more than the Mini but £6 less than the Anglia. In de luxe versions, the differences are £39 and £6 respectively. Of course, what is basic and what is de luxe varies from make to make and, indeed, from model to model, but the price bracket I have outlined produces a very interesting situation within the industry and one that we shall watch carefully. I am quite convinced that the Imp will find a corner of its own, however, and already the orders reported confirm this, as do the numbers one is already beginning to see on the roads. One important point about the Imp is that it is so very free of routine maintenance requirements, this being needed only at 5,000-mile intervaIs, thus making operating costs low.
To sum up, let me say that the five years' study and development of the Rootes team has produced a fine little car, very interesting technically and very enterprising in many ways, anel one that will justify their confidence.