Of course Rootes was no stranger to badge engineering and like BMC it had a whole catalogue of brands it could slap onto the Imp. The first was a Singer version and as was expected from the Singer marque this was a significantly more luxurious model with a polished walnut dashboard, larger and more padded seats and more instruments. On the outside a fancy dummy grille spruced up the Imp’s featureless front end, as well as things like polished aluminium wheel trims and a Singer-only choice of colours with a side stripe. With the Singer Gazelle saloon already popular, Rootes named the upmarket Imp the Chamois after the small, agile and surefooted Alpine mountain goat whose skin was often used on luxury items like gloves and jackets.
A new bodystyle was introduced to the Imp range in 1967 – the Coupé with a more rakish rearscreen, which was fixed (unlike the standard model’s ‘hatchback’ window). A Chamois coupé was introduced later in the same year. The Imp range was facelifted and rationalised (i.e. cost-cutted) in 1968 when the walnut dash was replaced by wood-effect plastic and the square instruments were changed for round dials. The Chamois also gained quad headlamps, previously exclusive to the sporting Sunbeam Stilleto.
This Chamois coupé is one of the last, being built just before Chrysler began trimming back the Imp range and culled the Chamois in 1970. With 43,000 very pampered miles on the clock since then this Singer still wears its original paint and is spotless inside and out, top to bottom. The bright red bodywork is set off nicely by the chrome bumpers, Minilite alloys and the white stripe down each of its flanks.
The interior is in equally good condition – the seats (all the trim, in fact) are free of wear, rips or tears and still have their full complement of stuffing. That fake wood trim is still there in all its glory, as are the likes of the easily worn-out rubber floor mats. The original placards from the selling dealer in Eastbourne are still on the sills.
ON THE ROAD
Despite its coupé bodywork the Chamois has the same 875cc engine in the same state of tune, breathing through the same tiny Solex carburettor, as a standard Imp. This means that it’s not particularly fast but very willing. The engine fires up easily after juggling the floor-mounted choke lever and once it’s warmed up (and I’d adjusted to the Imp’s rather lazy throttle response) it pulls smoothly at all speeds. The added padding in the Chamois makes it even more refined than the Imp (which has previously impressed me with its ‘big car made small’ ambience) and the Chamois clips along easily at main-road speeds.
This car has recently had its suspension rebuilt (amongst other mechanical work that includes fresh radiator hoses) so once I turn off the main road and onto some lanes the car proves that the Chamois name is well earned. The responsive and accurate steering, excellent grip and a taut (but never uncomfortable) ride, coupled to that rev-happy little engine in the back, make the Chamois a delight to thread along a back road. The gearchange was – just like it was during my previous Imp experience – a bit of a let-down. It lacks positive engagement and the positions are rather strange, but the ‘box itself shifted speeds smoothly and quietly up and down, so this is obviously just the nature of the beast.
Put simple, the Chamois drove as flawlessly as it looks. The care and upkeep lavished on the car has clearly paid huge dividends with such a presentable and usable classic. The Singer specification adds a welcome dash of style and comfort to the quirky but austere Imp. I can’t conceive of how you could find an Imp in better condition than this without it being a highly original museum piece that you’d be scared of driving.
As ever with Imps, I can’t help but look at the prices and think what it would buy you in the world of Minis. Suffice to say, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as nice as this!
TOP SPEED: 82mph
0-60mph: 23 secs
GEARBOX: 4-spd man