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Posted by Glenn Rowswell on 19th February 2017

To say that Rootes group’s all-new rival to the Mini went against the latest trends of the time would be an understatement. In fact, when the square and boxy Hillman Imp was unveiled in 1963, its rear-engined lay- out surprised many, although the engine itself was a joy. This all-alloy 875cc unit developed 37bhp in standard form and up to 51bhp in subsequent twin- carb guises, linked to a pretty slick four-speed manual gearbox.

Britain’s amateur race and rally fans soon got to hear how easily this competitive engine could be tuned and uprated, giving the Imp quite a reputation in
competitive circles. Meanwhile, Rootes focused on expanding the Imp range via the art of badge-engineering, hence the arrival of Hillman, Singer and Sunbeam versions of the Imp saloon, followed by coupé, estate and van derivatives.

The most desirable members of the Imp family for sporting motorists were the Sunbeam Imp Sport and Sunbeam Stiletto, the latter combining the coupé’s fastback styling with the Sport’s twin-carb motor.

Imp reliability and build quality went through various ups and downs during the model’s 13 years in production, but these were generally pretty well sorted in the end. Keep any Imp engine well maintained and regularly serviced and you should have few problems these days. In addition, your Imp will prove to be a highly entertaining classic, whether purely for summer show work or even as everyday transport; this is a small car with big capabilities.

The Imp was always overshadowed by the Mini, but that didn’t stop it remaining in production right through to 1976, by which time more than 440,000 had found buyers. And these days any Imp (or Imp-derived model) makes a great buy, offering plenty of entertainment value for the money, with excellent back-up from various specialists and The Imp Club. Prices are rising, but the Imp still looks great value compared with the equivalent classic Mini; and that makes 2017 the perfect time to grab one, while excellent examples are still relatively affordable.

Hillman Imp Buying Guide

Hillman Imp Buying Tips
1. As with any ’Sixties offering, you need to check an Imp (or derivative) carefully for signs of structural rot and previous poor repairs.
2. Panels are also rust-prone, so check the inner and outer sills, front wings, rear ‘arches and door bottoms for rust and bubbling.
3. The 875cc all-alloy engine requires careful maintenance, so check carefully for signs of previous overheating issues and general neglect.
4. Like any alloy engine, the Imp’s can suffer from stripped threads. It’s also prone to head gasket failure, so look for signs of this.
5. Some Imp derivatives are now quite rare, including the Sunbeam Sport, Stiletto and Singer Chamois; you may need to pay more for a good example.
6. Original trim (both interior and exterior) is now hard to find in good condition, so it pays to buy the best- preserved car you can afford.

Hillman Imp saloon – from £1000 (condition 3) to £5000 (condition 1)
Sunbeam Stiletto – from £1500 (condition 3) to £7000 (condition 1)