Imp Site logo - imps4ever!

The Imp Site

Test drivers

From: Garry Walker, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Date: Sat, 17 Jan 2004

Here are some recollections from a very enjoyable time. I can't vouch for total accuracy, and if some of your many Imp experts can add anything, so much the better. It's been a while!
I tried sending this to Graham Roberts, but it was returned as undeliverable.

     Gary Walker in Italy, testing Imps, 1962
Gary Walker in Italy, testing Imps, 1962

From: Garret Walker
To: Graham Roberts
Sent: Friday, January 09, 2004
Subject: Imping

Dear Graham,

I've just come across The Imp Site, and thought I'd throw a bit more history into the pot.

I was a Rootes pupil from 1955 thru 1958, finishing up at Devonshire House in export sales. In 1961, Garth Vaughan of Inspection... who I had known from my first Rootes days... asked me if I wanted to join the Apex test team, as he needed some one who could drive and organise the logistics of the test program. He and I had done a number of continental holidays together, and I had delivered a number of new cars to Geneva, Rome etc for the export dept, so I had an idea of the geography.

I moved up to Linwood and then to Invergordon to do laps of the Wick route for a while and then went back to the plant and laid out the routes for the French, Scandinavian and Italian tests. This mainly involved working out the routes, and making the hotel reservations... (finding lock up garages!) etc, etc. I was just a driver for the Kenya test, but was driver/spy for the export dept, logistician for the others.

I recognise some of the names from the testing site discussion. I agree about Phil Brook(e?)s. He mainly drove the Super Minx Estate backup car on the continental tests and actually drove it off its wheels. I was with him when a front wheel and hub parted company, due to fatigue, at about 80mph. Luckily it was on the inside of the curve, so we stopped without incident. Others I remember were... at various times... Stan Brooks of London, Colin Mack (Manchester) and Derrick Sleath from Engineering. One prickly character was Bill Dickson, who wanted to take me apart when he thought I was infringing on his (engineering) territory.

     Start of cold weather test at Ryton, 1962
At Ryton: start of coldweather test '62

We had some remarkable adventures... and I've still got the photos to prove it! I think my triumph was to book the team into the Hotel Jolly in Brindisi at the same time the US Fleet was in town. All the other rooms seemed to be sold on a hourly basis!

I think my year of testing Imps had more concentrated fun than any I've had since. To be paid to drive as fast as possible all over the continent with a side trip to Africa.... who could ask for anything more. Being sent to New York to sell airconditioners at the end of the test program was interesting and challenging,,, but just not the same.

If you think I could help fill in any more gaps in the Imp testing history, don't hesitiate to email me.

Imp Testing 1961-1963

I'm glad to add a little to the Imp history files.

I was involved in the pre-production testing, not the prototypes. When I was attached to the programme in late 61/early 62 -I'm not sure which- the Linwood factory was still being set up, so the cars must have been assembled somewhere else.


The Scottish testing was based in Invergordon, on the top of the NE coast. The object was to put as many miles on the cars as soon as possible over a course from the base up to Wick, then north to Roadside, south across the moors to Latheron and back to base, about 180-200 miles in all. If possible we did two laps/day. The roads were empty except for sheep. I don't remember much night driving, which is strange as the nights are long in the North of Scotland in winter. I do remember it being cold and wet.

     Garth Vaughan on Mont Ventoux
The summit of Mont Ventoux
[click to enlarge]
Garth Vaughan
   Garth Vaughan on Mont Ventoux
On Mont Ventoux [click to enlarge]
Looking over his shoulder into the lens: Garth Vaughan


The test in late summer of 1962 was to the south of France, with a filming programme on the schedule.
We came down through Germany, and did brake fade testing in the Alps. On one occasion I had just filled up and charged off down to a series of hairpins, braked hard for a RH corner and almost went straight on. The next LH corner was OK, but the problem reappeared on the following RH corner. The problem wasn't brake fade, but that the petrol tank overflow vent was located in the LH wheel well and ended just in front of the wheel. A full tank and the weight transference of hard braking overcame the spring pressure of the filler cap and squirted fuel onto the tread.

Once in France we based ourselves in a three habitation village called Pelasque, in the hills behind Nice. (One morning three hunters came past as were having breakfast, with a huge wild boar slung over a pole). We ran loops up towards the Italian border, over beautiful and (then) remote roads. The filming took up a great deal of time, and probably wasn't worth the effort. Again in retrospect, trying to get footage and accumulate mileage is difficult. You can't do both at the same time.

The program finished up with multiple climbs of Mont Ventoux in 90F heat, which proved to be no problem at all. We were puzzled by loss of oil pressure when driving really hard in mountains. This only occurred on one car and was eventually traced to the dipstick being too long! It was near Mt Ventoux that we lost a front wheel fatigue of the RH front hub... of the Minx Estate car, seconds after I had remarked to Phil Brookes that I had been in accidents, but had never had a wheel fall off. I must have been alarmed by his exuberant cornering.

The Imp Continental Tests: paragraphs on the passes
Off to France - Aug. 1962


     Resting Imps in Southern Italy
Southern Italy
   Autostrada Milan - Venice
Autostrada Milan - Venice


The fall 1962 test was based in Sapri, about 100 miles south of Salerno, with a route down the west coast, inland to Catanzaro, and back up the east coast. Garaged accommodation was almost impossible to find and the incident at the Hotel Jolly in Brindisi helped emphasise the problems of security which was a continuous worry.

Italy was the site of the throttle problems. Gradual loss of power on the full speed Autostrada and other sustained full throttle work was traced to the pneumatic accelerator system losing pressure. I don't know if this was the first time it was installed on the test cars, but the problem was big enough to cause Mike Parkes to fly out to see what was going on. Our vote was to use a cable system.

The second Continental Test:
Off to sunny Italy - November 6-28 1962



In January '63 we set off to try real cold weather (minus 40F & °C) in Scandinavia. The cars were flown over the Channel, I think from Lydd to Le Touquet, certainly on a Bristol Freighter. We worked our way up through Germany and Norway, through Stockholm and up the east coast to Lulea before heading north to Gallivare and Kiruna... base for filming and miscellaneous tests. North again over the Arctic Circle to Narvik and then south down the Norwegian coast. This was real slow going, full of ferries, and if we were delayed for repairs we could wait for hours till the one we missed returned.

We found -40F at Stoersjoen near Lillehammmer. Amazingly (to me), the cars started, although the plastic seat covers cracked when sat upon. I think I remember being able to drive away in neutral, though I wouldn't swear to it. What is clear is how bright the sun was and how still the air as we took photographs of ourselves in our shirtsleeves. No wind chill till we moved. (This featured in the Imp promotional film.)

Main problems were the fans, which regularly shed their blades, and the windshield washers, which froze, having no engine heat to help. The heaters were useless. The aim of the tests was to find out what would break and in retrospect, too little emphasis was placed on what would sell. We all had padded jackets and trousers... just in case we broke down somewhere in the middle of a Swedish nowhere... but it would probably have been better if we had been obliged to wear normal Swedish winter wear, which wasn't so extreme. Dressed as we were, the lack of heat didn't matter too much.

Once we left Stockholm, I don't think we were back to tarmac till we reached Oslo. I can't remember what make the tyres were but they were the regular low profile ones we used in Scotland and were marvelous on snow, ice or macadam. I think we took sets of studs, but don't remember using them.

The Imp Continental Tests: paragraphs on the passes
Off to the Arctic - Jan. 20 to Feb. 22 1963



The final test was early 1963 in Kenya.
     Masai warriors
Kenya, Masai warriors
The cars were flown out and we based ourselves in the Rootes facilities in Nairobi. This was really destruction testing, as the welds on the rear suspension wishbones broke on the washboard surfaces, and the carburetion filtration was totally inadequate for the dust, which covered everything and ruined engines. I was told that we needed a separate air filter, located anywhere but where it was. A VW booster explained that its system drew its air from the top and worked, whereas the Imp's drew it from below and didn't. I think that the VW's sealed engine compartment probably helped too.

One Sunday morning I decided to drive out to the end of the Nairobi tarmac on the Mombasa road and invited one of the UK engineers, who had just arrived, to come along. On the way we passed an Indian family stopped by the side of the road. My companion asked if we should stop, and I replied that I understood that you should always stop on the washboard (non tarred) surface to ask if help was needed, but not on the tar surface.

We turned round about five miles further on and were charging down a long hill when there was a bang and screeching noise from the right rear. I let the car slow down by itself as it seemed reasonably stable, and we eventually stopped about 30 yards from the Indian family... who came over and asked us if we needed help!

The large nut holding the hub to the splines on the axle had worked loose and the axle was now resting on the inside rim of the wheel, and semi supporting the car... hence the loud noise, and stability as we slowed.

The Imp Tests: paragraphs on the passes
The Kenya Test - March 1963


At the end of the preproduction tests I was sent over to the US to work on a another product, but I was there with the introduction of the Imp to the US market. It wasn't the right car for the market, but John Panks, Chief of Rootes Inc. certainly did everything to promote it. In Imp crossed the US coast to in just over 42 hours. A plan to drive from Miami to Fairbanks (5000 miles in 5 days) only just failed. The rear suspension collapsed within 200 miles of the finish line. Suitably customized 'Lord and Lady' Imps were featured at the NY motor show.

Customer complaints and service problems included insufficient heat and transmission failures when driven on long thruway journeys. This was apparently caused by the differential pumping the oil away from a bearing when driving at steady speeds... as found on thruways. Price was a factor. A new Mustang was only $300 or so more.


I know other problems arose after the introduction.
In retrospect I think the type of people chosen to drive the test cars should have been different. We were all young enthusiasts and good drivers and I think that unconsciously we adapted our style to the capabilities and needs of the cars, without even knowing it. We didn't ride clutches, we raised engine revs when changing down, we didn't let the engines slog, etc etc, We watched out for understeer on very slippery surfaces, and took great care in strong crosswinds!

Somewhere early in the testing program more cars should have been given to truly lousy drivers who would have found their weaknesses far quicker than we did. At one point a car was leant to a lady who parked it facing down a really steep slope. ( In the same circumstance I think we would have found a level patch) As with me, the fuel ran out of the filler cap.

In all the overseas tests we didn't have an accident. We were spotted in northern Sweden by some enthusiasts, and someone got into our garage in Cortina and took some photos which gave me heartburn, but that was all.

Prototype Imps

In October 1961 prototype no. 6 was taken to the south France and to Spain for a fortnight's test drive of 3,800 miles. It turned out that engine cooling was a weak point. Fast driving in a hot climate, on level roads was problematic: the radiator did not get enough cool air. On the contrary, the hot air that left the radiator was recirculated, and you can not cool an engine with hot air.
So high speed testing (on the M1, which was newly constructed) was given priority.

Test Routeto evaluateCars
France, Spain, Germany, Swiss-Alps, Austriacooling at high altitude, brakes,
transmission, carburation
35,000/car4 weeks
poorly made roads in the damp south-west of Ireland, a 100 mile circuitbody water-sealing, suspension, brakes410,000/car 10 weeks
North Scotland: Invergordon to Thurso and back, a 250 mile circuit 410,000/car 10 weeks
maximum traffic, central Briminghambrakes, clutch, transmission ventilation, cooling, noise levels21,000/car 3 weeks

An extensive test programme was set up to obtain actual on-the-road experience.
Pre-production Imps were coded with L for Linwood, starting with L1. While production lines were not ready, they were mostly handbuilt and they cost! L1 began testing in June 1962.
There's a picture of L1 in 'Apex' no. 48, but not a pretty one. The caption says it was written of in 1963 by a Manchester apprentice...
L4 and L6 were up and runing by October 1962.

Pre-production Imps were known as the L-series fleet, numbered L1 upwards. As they were test-driving in Scotland, they were registered locally.

L1 L1 began testing in June 1962.
a photo of L1 in 'Apex' with the caption 'written of in 1963 by a Manchester apprentice'
L2Graham Roberts reports driving L1 and L2 (message 08 May 1999)
L4L4 and L6 were up and runing by October 1962
L6L4 and L6 were up and runing by October 1962
L12VHS 771, black
L13VHS772, black
L17VHS 817, blue
L18VHS 818, maroon
L21WHS 156 (red? blue? - mid-tone in b/w photos)
L22WHS 157, white

Many of the later pre-production test Imps had the WHS plate series.

The red Imp of the promotion film 'Young in heart' has WHS 282, and is therefore a pre-production Imp registered in Jan/Feb 63.

A white Imp with crash test side markation was used for the official concrete block crash test. It had he VHS 771 number plate.

Scoop April 1963 - VHS 409Loch Blue VHS 409 on the cover of 'Small Car' April 63 - a scoop.

Blue WHS 168 was the 1st press publicity Imp - perhaps a succession of cars, rather than one

WHS 168 Hillman Imp
Ref.No. RL 790

Date: Sat, 08 May 1999
From: Graham Roberts
To: franka

Way back in August 1962 I was driving L2, a delightfully oversteering prototype Imp, up the North Eastern coast of Scotland. Came time to swap into L1, booted off down the road to a nasty left over a bridge, oh dear! straight on into the parapet! The bloody thing understeered, so I have the dubious honour of being the first person to prang an Imp. Luckily it only popped in a headlight and caused a little periferal damage to the front panel. Someone said at the time that the hand built prototypes cost 25 grand each!
Had a lot of fun in Imps, rolled one during the 48 hour endurance run: the Chamberlain Cup (at Snetterton, in February '64), complete roll, only a small scar on the roof to prove it. Happened at 8 o'clock at night on the right hander after the pits, taken flat out. By the way noticed on one of the site pages that Des O'Dell joined Rootes in 65, sorry but he was there in 63 and ran the Snetterton event.
Put another Imp on its side in an autocross in Norfolk, stuffed a door handle but got 2nd overall.
One lasting Impression, everyone driving an Imp seemed to have a smile on their face!
May one front wheel forever lift in fast corners!

Graham Roberts

Date: Sun, 09 May 1999
From: Graham Roberts
To: franka
Subject: Re: test driver Imp protos

Yes I read Apex a few years ago and I found that statement a bit puzzling. After my 'incident' I was kicked off testing by a person who knew nothing about driving or the differing characteristics of over- and understeer!! Some weeks later an Imp was written off by a friend of mine, he was quite badly hurt but recovered. He said that the Imp understeered into the path of a truck, but he was not based at Manchester; I was but I was not an apprentice, just a salesman.
Later that year I had a visit from the Rootes hierachy who effectively apologised to me and invited me back on to the test team. That lead to a lot of snow and ice driving in the severe winter of early 1963, but that's another story!

Happy Imping,

Date: Sun, 16 May 1999 20:45:56 +1200
From: Graham Roberts
To: franka
Subject: Another story

As I mentioned, early 1963 was a very severe winter, so we had ample opportunity to practice driving on snow and ice, and it was quite astonishing to us as to how well the Imp behaved in such conditions.
There were three of us who regularly averaged 60mph on snow and ice on what you would call give and take roads in south west Scotland, one, by the name of Phil Brookes from Maidstone in Kent, was the best driver I have ever been with, he had an uncanny feel for the car, the road, and an incredible sense of balance. In those severe conditions he put up some very fast averages, on roads he hardly new, with no heroics, always well ballanced and never sliding!! a joy to behold.
In the early stages of testing in the north of Scotland he once chased Mike Parkes in an Imp with a Husky tender car. The Husky could not foot it with the Imp, in theory, but Phil was up Parkes rear for over 120 miles and Mr Parkes was not impressed.
I wonder where Phil is now?

One picture that always comes to mind when I think of that very cold winter ,was the sight of the Imp in front of me, taking a long fast left hander with the tail hanging out, pinging a series of fence posts on the outside of the bend with snow flying everywhere!!!!

Of course it all came to an end too quickly when I was called south to Ryton to be appointed factory rep for Humber Hillman and Sunbeam in the East Midlands and East Anglia, that's how I got to know Snetterton.

One last anecdote: travelling such a large area required some fairly brisk motoring, and on one occasion I was rushing down a long straight towards a village in a green Imp, close to the 30mph restriction sign I overtook a slow moving Anglia, and at the same time saw a radar trap, hit the brakes very hard and sailed past the trap, looked in the mirror to see the Anglia being pulled up by the local Mr Plod!!!!

Yes Imps were and still are a lot of fun.
Keep in touch


Date: Tue, 18 May 1999 20:56:21 +1200
From: Graham Roberts
Subject: Another story

When I first started testing, in July/August 1962, there were only two prototypes: L1 and L2. Their test programme ran through till the end of that year, when the main pre-production testing started. Based at Linwood, it used the roads of south west Scotland rather than north of Invergordon. For this early testing period there were only about six drivers. In the new year of 63 this was increased as cars were built, until there would have been between 25 and 30 drivers - most of them pupils or apprentices
What I called 'give and take roads' were average roads where you would not really expect to average more than 60mph in the dry!!!
  WHS 171
  Hillman Imp WHS 171
  WHS 171 was the register number on test Imps
that were handed to magazines like Autocar and Practical Motorist
to test drive and base their Road Test reports on.


Date: Sun, 23 May 1999 20:55:45 +1200
From: Graham Roberts
Subject: More

I'm sorry, but I can only remember two names, Phil and Stan Brookes, no relation but another good driver, Stan always agreed with me, Phil was really good, we were about on a par.
Yes we picked the first car in the lot, and drove like hell!!!
The route to Thurso and back to Invergordon was near to 250 and we did it twice a day, starting at 7.30 am and finishing about 6pm. We were required to average over fifty miles per hour (including stops, mind you). It was possible to average eighty between Thurso and Wick!!!
You know I forgot Alec Wise (photo 52 in Apex), the nicest Scotsman I ever met, soft voice, and soft hands & soft feet at the controls, but sometimes he forgot to change into top. Once spent about fifteen miles in third, I did not want to mention it for a long time!!!! I was codriving at the time.

From: Alan Ramsay
To: Graham Roberts
Date: Fri, 28 May 1999 13:34:59 +0100
Subject: Testing Imps

[...] thought you might be interested to know that Jim Pollard is still alive and kicking, and living in Lochwinnoch.
I'm sure you must have known him, as he was also involved with early testing, and was the the driver of the famous Rootes publicity photo of the Imp throwing up snow going round a country-bend !


I was an apprentice at Morris in the early sixties and did some work on the development of the 1275 engine for Sebring. The Hillman Imp was still in pre-production development and I remember being very envious of the Rootes 'Pupils' (apprentices) because they were paid better than I was and, every weekend, they could take an Imp to 'test' by driving it up one coast to Scotland and back down to Coventry. However, they were all crazy and, after several Imps finished up inverted, Rootes stopped the practice.
Whatever happened to Pupils:



It was such an Imp / Michael Thornton. - Impressions 2011, December. - p.18-21. - 4 photos
Send in by Ed Rhys
5th photo on back cover
Well written bit of history. No names of other pupils are mentioned.

The Imp Site
   Imp History
   Testing the Imp
      (this file)
      Development of the Hillman Imp
© Franka
File version: 26 April 2016