Hillman Californian Ref.no. R61793
Hillman Californian Ref.no. R61793

The Imp Site

Hillman Imp Californian

January 1967 - April 1970

The Imp Californian model was introduced in late 1966 but didn't go on sale until 12 January 1967. It continued in production for only 3 years until February (or April ?) 1970. During that period approximately 6100 were sold to the public in Great Britain. It is difficult to say how many went abroad.
The homologation papers (F.I.A. Recognition No. 5160) for the Hillman Imp Californian and the Singer Chamois Coupé says that the manufacturing of this model started on 1st September 1966 and the minimum production of 5000 identical cars was reached on 28th April 1967

When the Californian first went on sale it could be bought for £650 (£71 more than the Super Imp), in 1970 it was fetching about £715.

It was well received. Motor Racing of February 1967 wrote (their very first item in 'Pit Patter'):

Rootes' sporting trend continues with the Hillman Imp Californian, with lowered roofline and markedly raked fastback body line. Curved side windows increase shoulder room, deep-slope windscreen and many other subtle refinements make this a most attractive 80 mph coupé.

Did they mean to say they thought it very pretty but way too slow?

Cally with yachts    
As fastback versions of saloons were uncommon in British motor industry, the arrival of the little coupé was news indeed and it did not really have any competitiors.

The styling (Bob Sayward's saloon modified by Ron Wisdom, who later moved on to the Rover styling dept.) was its only reason for existence. It was a sporty looking Imp, being a (single headlight) coupé. But it only had the standard engine, not the new Sport unit.
Said styling involved more than altering the rear roofline, though. The windscreen was less steep; the roof was 1½" lowered; the steering column was lowered a bit too. Michael Parkes, half of the Imp designing duo, had insured that there were enough means of adjustment for taller people (he himself being over 6ft tall). The rear window has been so angled that it stays free from road dirt. The opening rear window of saloon models was sacrificed. The roof is already sloping downwards a bit above the rear seats. The sealing trim is glued on the metal.

   Californian badge

The name was reused from the Hillman Minx Californian - which was the Minx coupé. Rootes hadn't used that name since 1953.

Positive camber on the front wheels was reduced by 1 degree, done by lowering the swing-axle pivot point by ¾". This resulted in a front suspension height reduction of half an inch, and it improved both the looks and the handling of the Imp. (Later this was made standard on all models.) It reduced final oversteer. If you take your foot of the throttle, when you're cornering fast, the Californian's attitude hardly changes. It made for throwaboutable Imps and confident drivers.
Another source (Autovisie, 27 Ja. 1967) states that rear camber was lessened with about 3ΒΌ degree, to reduce wear of tyres and for looks. Handling characteristics were barely changed by this alteration.

Topspeed is unchanged from the saloon model, even though the windtunnel showed a bit more resistance than the saloon. There is more sound from the wheels on the road.

Trimwise there were two distinct models, both adopting the same trim as fitted to the corresponding Mk2 and Mk3 Imp Supers. The front seats were reclining and it did have one innovation that has since then become quite common: a split rear seat. It was thought that this would compensate a bit the inconvenience of not having an opening rear window.

Singer Chamois coupé

After the Hillman Californian was introduced in January 1967, the Chamois coupé followed three months later in April. Mechanically is was the same, but the trim, inside and out, was up to Singer standards: it had the mock front grille, side flashes and overriders. It cost £665, like the Chamois Sport.
Its production ceased at the same time as the Californian: April 1970. Chrysler discontinued them because of their disappointing sales.

Sunbeam Imp Californian in proper lettering
Only outside the U.K. ?
On the European continent after 1967 there were no Imps sold other than Sunbeams. (I think...)
In the Netherlands the Sunbeam Californian costed 7675 guilders in 1967, 6190 in 1968 (as the pound sterling had devaluated) and 6994.40 in 1969

This is part of a photo taken in 1967 in the halls of RAI in Amsterdam.   photo: Leo Top Californian at the RAI in 1967

RDW (Rijksdienst Wegverkeer = Dutch State Service Road Traffic), Sunbeam Californian 14-Apr.-1969
Massa leeg voertuig: 710 kg (empty vehicle; no passengers or luggage)
Massa rijklaar: 810 kg (incl. a 90% full petrol tank and a driver of 75kg)

Dimensions and capacities

Wheelbase2082.8 mm.82 
Front track1221.7 mm. ± 12.7 mm. 48.1 ± 0.5 
Rear track1211.3 mm. ± 12.7 mm. 47.7 ± 0.5 
Overall length of the car353.1 cm.139.0 
Overall width of the car153.0 cm.60.25 
Overall height of the car133.3 cm.52.5 
Capacity of fuel tank (reserve included)27.276 ltrs.7.2 gall. U.S. 6 gall. Imp.
Seating Capacity.4  
Weight. Total weight of the car
with normal equipment, water, oil, and spare wheel
but without fuel or repair tools
697.17 kg.1537 lbs.13.723 cwts.

Chassis and coachwork

Chassis/body constructionunitary construction  
Unitary construction, material Steel  
Separate construction, material of chassis-  
Material(s) of coachworkSteel  
Number of doors2Material(s)Steel
Material(s) of bonnetSteel  
Material(s) of boot lidSteel  
Material(s) of rear-windowSafety Glass  
Material(s) of windscreenSafety Glass  
Material(s) of front-door windowsSafety Glass  
Material(s) of rear-door windowsSafety Glass  
Sliding system of door windowsVertical winding   
Material(s) of rear-quarter lightSafety Glass  

Accessories and upholstery

Interior heatingyes  
Air conditioningno  
Front seats,
type of seat and upholstery
Plastic foam underlay
Weight of front seat(s), complete with supports and rails,
out of the car
2 seats20 kg. 44 lbs.
Rear seats,
type of seat and upholstery
with plastic foam underlay
Front bumper, material(s)Steel2.5 kg.5.5 lbs.
Rear bumper, material(s)Steel2.324 kg.5.125 lbs.


TypePressed steel ventilated disc   
Weight (per wheel, without tyre)5.080 kg. 11.2 lbs. 
Method of attachment4 stud  
Rim diameter305 mm.12 ins.  
Rim width114.3 mm.4.4488 ins. 



Remarkable Californians

John Dawson's Californian and a half is a golden bronze Californian plus its two-wheeled trailer: the bonnet & front end, and the back of an Imp welded together. As far as I know both the boot lid and the engine lid open up. I think it isn't with its original owner anymore. It was sold together with the dinky toy version of the couple, equally golden brown.
The photo is a trailer at Imp 97, not in concours state, but cute anyway...
Nigel Turner also has an Imp trailer, ½ an Imp. His is a soft-top.

The red Californian of Jan van den Akker won the Concours d'Elegance of the English Car Ralley (a yearly event at the Valkenswaard circuit near Eindhoven, The Netherlands) for a few years in a row.


Hillman Imp Californian - 1986 Coronation Rally
Vanguards CGVA40002 / VA40002
Release: May 2000
Following the conversion of his 1967 Imp Californian into a rally car, Jack Salter chose to enter the 1986 Coronation Rally for historic cars in South Wales. In its most basic rally condition the car achieved a very creditable 47th overal and an excellent 4th in its class.
    Lledo: Hillman Imp Californian - 1986 Coronation Rally
Singer Chamois Coupe - Silver Metallic
Vanguards CGVA04006 / VA04006
Release: March 2005
    Singer Coupé - Silver Metallic
Singer Chamois Coupé - Black - 40th Anniversary
Vanguards CGVA04005 / VA04005
Release: February 2004
Limited Edition of 2,000
    Singer Chamois Coupé - Black

The Imp Site
   The Imp range
      The Californian (this file)
         Californian presentation - Notes for guidance for sales briefing
   Imp Gallery
      Hillman Imp Californian - press photos

See the Commer truck transporting Hillman Californians: it looks like two-tone Californians were available from the factory?

© Franka