Zagato press photo 1964
   Zimp side, Zagato PR, 1964
Zagato press photo 1964

The Imp Site

The sleek little Italian Imp with the shark eyes head lights

Hillman Zimp
The Imp styled by Zagato

Imp has the Italian job !

The Italian styling concern Zagato is famous for classics such as the Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo Zagatos. There are Ferraris and Maseratis with a Zagato body, and there is the Zimp.

Zagato (Milan) saw possibilities on the British market for a car with Imp mechanicals and an aluminium bodyshell, styled the Italian way. They intented to produce them, with the blessing of Rootes, within Britain (thus avoiding import duties imposed on foreign-built cars) and a Dorchester based company was formed, early autumn 1964, headed by Peter Thomas and Anthony Charles: British Zagato Ltd. in Kingston-on-Thames. British Zagato Ltd. was founded based on the gentlemen's agreement with Lord Rootes that Imps would be supplied.

The factory at Ryton evaluated the Zimp and declared that building costs would unlikely be less than £1000. (More expensive than the Mini Cooper S or the Sunbeam Stiletto of 1967). The target group would have been ladies with quite sufficient spending money, comparable to Lancia Fulva coupé's aim, which enjoyed immediate market success despite the high price.

Peter Thomas bought two Imps from a dealer in Oxfordshire: CUD 180B, a white Deluxe and CUD 181B, a red one. Peter and his wife drove these to the Zagato design studio in Milan. The studio was already working on another red Deluxe, 9053 PG, which had been bought second hand in the U.K. The cars were transformed into Zimps in just nine months, so Zagato could exhibit its Zimp on the 1964 Earl's Court Motor Show of 21st-31st Oct. Styling is by Ercole Spada, who gained fame for the Aston Martin DB4. He also did the Alfa Romeo Junior Zagato. Looking at the prototypes, you can see they were made in a rush - hammer marks on the aluminium. The bodywork construction in aluminium means it is 200lbs lighter than an Imp.

In 1964 Chrysler bought a portion of Rootes' voting and non-voting shares. (An interest of 30% ?). During October 1964 3 Chrysler directors joined the Rootes Motors Ltd. board. Chrysler's representatives appearantly were powerful enough to veto the Zimp project. (Lord Rootes died Christmas 1964.)

Autocar of October 2 in 1964 (p.669) made mention of a new company, British Zagato of Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey, which is going o market the Hillman Imp with bodywork styled and build by the Italian Gianni Zagato. The price had not been anounce yet.

4-seater coupé
instrument panel  Imp
steering wheelwood and aluminium; 2-spoke
weight630 kg

Both CUD 180B and CUD 181B: Oxfordshire C.C., 1964. 9053 PG: May 1963

All 3 Zimps live on, 2 of them are owned by Mike Hanna.

red Zimp, 9053 PG

9053 PG has its seams filled in, and the exhibited Zimp did not. The letter Z on the front wing is in a different place. And the exhibited car had bright side window surrounds, while PG 9053 does not.

What Zagato was famous for was making their versions of the body shells a good lot lower and lighter. The Zimp weighs 630 kg. It's height is 128 cm. (The Imp has 138 cm.). This and the better streamline means an increase in top speed to about 140 kph.

British Zagato Ltd. were planning to tune the Imp engine from 39 hp. to 46 hp.

When Chrysler heard about the co-operation between Rootes and Zagato they used their 50% (?) holding in the company to block the project. So, to the advantage of the later upmarket Imps, only the three prototypes were produced. The intended price would have been a bit under 1000, steep enough to put most people off.

9053 PG

9053 PG became victim to electrolytic corosion between the Imps steel floorpan and and the Zagato aluminium body panels. It is owned by Franco Macri (since 1982) who has the Zagato Register in the Alfa Romeo club.
Mr. Macri dedicated himself to its full restoration, and it has been fully restored and in perfect working order since Autumn 1997. *)   September 2000 it was featured on the cover of Impressions.

September 2011 it was for sale via DVCA Auctions at Somerset, England. The listing said it had been woith the same owner since 1978, who had restored it.

August 2014 had it for sale again on eBay, Monte Carlo.

February 2015 showed up on eBay. The first final bid was £8,865 (05-Feb.-2015), without reserve having been met.


In 1980 Peter Thomas bought CUD180B from Zagato. He passed it on to Anthony Charles in 1984, who sold it in 1987 to Mike Hanna.

It has hardly a sign of the other Zimp's bodywork problems, as the panels were only crimped to the Imp floorpan with a handful of rivets for good measure.
Starting 1988 it still had less than 30.000 miles on its counter. 1995 (?) it appeared at National Day, in excellent condition.

Mike Hanna visits club weekends and such with Zimp - CUD 180B.

CUD 181B

CUD 181B was rumoured to be in the U.K. and to now have double headlights and other modifications.

According to Practical Classics of March 2015 Mike Hanna owns it.

From: Mike Hughes
Subject: Zimp
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2001 08:41:11 +0100

I'm writing to tell you about the missing Zagato Zimp (CUD181B). It's been living in my village - Liphook, Hampshire, England - since I moved here about 2 years ago. About 6 months ago, I went and inspected the car. And finally identified it.
Since (I assumed) it should have the same construction as CUD180B (ie. crimped to an Imp) then I thought restoration (ie. transferring it to another Imp) should be straightforward. However, restoration is what is needed: the doors are both missing (though the owner may have stored them somewhere else), ditto a lot of the interior. The (maroon) paintwork is peeling heavily, though of course the aluminium body still looks pristine underneath.
I decided that as soon as the money became available I'd make an offer to the owner (the car has been parked outside a house). Sadly, on Sunday afternoon I saw the car being taken away on a trailer - I presume someone has beaten me to it. I'm really annoyed about this, but I figure I can at least tell you what happened to the car (I'd kept it quiet for fear of competition), particularly as I'd have been in a position to make that offer in about a month's time.
Incidentally, it does now have four headlamps, leaving it looking not unlike a Lancia Fulvia. The brightwork was missing from the car, though again this could be with the (new?) owner.

Impression of the Zimp

At first sight the Zimp has little in common with the Imp. The classic Italian lines totally disguise the Imp running gear. Only the hubcaps and the familiar position of the exhaust give away the game that this is an Imp pretending to be something else.
Though only a prototype, the degree of attention paid to designing this car show how serious the Milan based company must have been.

Zagato left the engine bay alone and concentrated on the looks: the exterior, interior and trims. Much thought went into making this a very attractive little coupe. Detail has even gone into polishing the kickplates on the leading edges of the doors.

The seats are deep and plush, the red vinyl is soft to the touch. The rear seat can be folded down as in the Imp. The steering wheel is smooth to handle and 100% Italian sports car with its wood rim decorated with aluminium rivets. The headlining is in black and hangs curiously loose, but in doing so, looks like that was the intention. The interior door handles look as if they belong on some huge Italian GT, but their action is smooth and efficient.

On the negative side

Even when the doors are wide open it requires some agility to get seated.
The luggage space in front is virtually non-existing.
The heating and demisting would have needed attention, if the car would have gone into production.
In the engineer's report that Rootes wrote, when the project was still under consideration, it is mentioned that it overheated badly. And apparently they found other failings as well.

Driving the Zimp

With a little help from the choke (mounted in the centre, beneath the back seat) the engine starts with ease. The motor sound is of course the reassuring Imp purr, coming from behind.
The first thing that you notice while riding in the Zimp, apart from the all-round visability, is the roar of the road noise eminating from the front wheels. Although shod in radial ply tyres on Chamois 4 1/2" rims, the Mark I front suspension was retained. Only the springs have been tampered with, to allow Zagato to keep the correct ride height with the light weight body.

Although sluggish to accelerate when cold, the untouched 1964 engine soon propels the car to speeds around 70mph. By this time engine and road noise are forgotten - travelling in a car with such light, nimble controlls. There is not as much as a tremble from the steering wheel. Nor is there any vibration from the gearstick seen on other Mark I cars. Cornering is precise with no tendency to oversteer.

Visability is very good. The flat bonnet slopes away - Only the wipers obstruct the view on the road. That is, unless the screen is steemed up. The natural circulation of air through the demisters enjoyed on the Imp is not apparent, as the air is scooped from under the car. The blower and opening rear windows must be employed to eliminate any condensation.

Classic and Sports magazine, December 1997 issue
Based mainly on the article by Derek Couldry
in Impressions vol. 8, no. 5, pp 15-19


Il 'Folletto' di Zagato
Società italo-inglese per una nuova vettura sportiva

Franco Lini
Franco Lini was the journalist who became the Ferari F1 team manager shortly after Ferrari engineer Mike Parkes was drafted in to replace John Surtees.

La 'Zimp' che conserva il pianale e le parti meccaniche della Hillman Imp, risulta più leggera rispetto alla piccola Rootes


Rispetto alla Hillman Imp di serie la Zimp presenta queste caratteristiche (tra parentesi sono indicate le cifre della macchina normale):
lunghezza totale 3720 (3720)
altezza 1230 (1380)
larghezza 1460 (1460)
peso Kg. 630 (680)
velocità max. Km/h 140 (128)
Tutto questo con una maggior comodità per i passeggeri i quali inoltre godono di una maggiore visibilità, grazie alle ampie finestrature che rendono la Zimp molto luminosa.

La produzione in Gran Bretagna, ad opera della British Zagato (nel cui consiglio è anche l'ing Gianni Zgato), avrà inizio tra poco tempo, nelle officine di Kingston-on-Thames, nel Surrey, dove ha sede la British Zagato Ltd. che è diretta dal signor Preston. Questa macchina, come abbiamo detto, è destinata al mercato britannico, ma è certo che troverà molti consensi anche in altri Paesi, ivi compresa l'Italia.

La carozzeria è in alluminio e ciò rappresenta un ulteriore motivo di interesse per il pubblico inglesse, il qualifino ad ora ha potuto acquistare vetture sportive o fuori serie soltanto con carrozzeria in materia plastica. Ed è appunto da questo, dal fatto cioè che spesso chi ha avunto una vettura carrozzata in plastica non ne vuole una seconda, che è partita l'idea di costruire in Gran Bretagna taluni modelli in aluminio. La Zimp è la prima della serie; tra non molto la British Zagato ne metterà in cantiere altre, che saranno anch'esse studiate a Milano dove saranno anche costruite le attrezzature, come è avvenuto per la Zimp.

Scarce ?    ;-)

scarce Zimp   scarce Zimp


Zagato Zimp. - 1963. - A5
promotional card (half an A4) printed on one side only

Zagato brochure / specifications sheet. - 1964
Single sided card

Small Car 1965 January: Rich Imp

Rich Imp. - Small Car 1965, January
Hillman Imp's rich relation, the Zimp, is profiled

Il 'Folletto' di Zagato : Società italo-inglese per una nuova vettura sportiva [The Imp of Zagato: Italian-English company making a new sports car] / Franco Lini. - ?title autocar journal? 1964?/1965?. - p.8-9
La 'Zimp' che conserva il pianale e le parti meccaniche della Hillman Imp, risulta più leggera rispetto alla piccola Rootes [The 'Zimp', that preserves the floor and the mechanical parts of Hillman Imp, is lighter than the small Rootes car]
With photos of 9053 PG.
Franco Lini was the journalist who became the Ferari F1 team manager shortly after Ferrari engineer Mike Parkes was drafted in to replace John Surtees.

Zimp. - Classic and Sportscar 1984, September. - p.16

Zimp : when Hillman met Zagato. - Classic and Sportscar 1997, December. - p.132-135
The Zimp. Zagato's boldest gambit?

Worthington - Rootes Zimp (Zagato Imp). - Auto Week 1990, January 29,
Williams, Michael;

What might have been... / Andrew Roberts. - Practical Classics 2015, March. - p.62-69. - [Potent Pototypes]
Andrew Roberts assesses the potential of 5 promising prototypes that never made in into production. 3 of those are experimental cars, like the Zagato Zimp.
Page 64-65 shows the white Zagato Zimp CUD 180B of Mike Hanna. 4 photos.

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File version: Jan. 9, 2022