River Wissey Lovell Fuller


July 2016

Regular readers will know that I have an interest in cars, as I think I have said before, June says obsessed. If ever I can’t find anything else to write about I can usually say something about cars. I suppose, because of my age at the time, I have always found cars of the 1950s, 60s and 70s the most interesting. A much loved old uncle of mine bought a new rear engined Hillman Imp in 1965, it was to replace his Standard 8, I quite liked both cars although I did not get to drive the Imp at that stage. Regardless of whether I liked them or not, there was always some banter, so I would pour scorn on them, claiming that they were not as good as the A35 and Mini. Some years later in 1983 my old uncle decided that it was time to hang up his driving gloves, for a while he hesitated over the decision and the Imp sat snugly in his garage. At about this time our daughter started driving lessons and uncle offered the Imp to her, although the car was 18years old by then it had always been garaged and regularly serviced, the mileage was only about 34,000. Unfortunately it was down in Somerset and we were near Duxford. I went down to see him and the car and discovered that the clutch had stuck. My usual technique of getting the engine warm, taking the plugs out, sticking it in top gear, putting the handbrake on then hitting the starter wasn’t going to work, the rotoflex couplings in the transmission were taking the shock out of the process and continuing was going to ruin them. I went home, managed to borrow a trailer with a winch, and went back, my towing vehicle at the time was a Maxi. Getting it home was accomplished with relative ease. The next step required some thought but the easiest option appeared to be to remove the engine, a task aided by its low weight due to the all aluminium construction. Everything was relatively straight forward and I took the opportunity to do one or two other jobs. The body had never suffered any accident damage and the interior was perfect, there was, however, a number of scratches and some stone damage around the wheel arches that had succumbed to rust, it was only surface rust but, because the car was white, it did show up and spoiled the overall impression. The top of the car was unblemished. I treated the rust spots and decided to paint the easier bottom half of the car only, I managed to convince my daughter that black was the most practical colour to use since it would not show up any future rust spots in the way that white had. I have to admit that the result did not suit the Imp, but there we were, we had a unique black and white Imp. When I got it on the road and drove it I was amazed, driving it was a delight, as soon as I moved off it brought a smile to my face in a way that no other car has done before or since. (Driving an Imp again many years later produced exactly the same result.) The steering was light and positive, the gear change with its short gear lever and short movements across the gate was a delight, the Coventry Climax designed 875cc overhead camshaft engine was almost turbine smooth, willing to rev and encouraged making full use of it. The interior was light and airy and roomy with no problem for 6ft drivers, visibility was excellent, access was good through the relatively large doors. The use of an all aluminium engine and clever suspension design had offset the disadvantage of the rear engine weight distribution. Luggage accommodation was rather limited under the ‘bonnet’, although possibly as good as the Mini, but the hinged rear window provided considerable flexibility in carrying goods. I liked the Imp so much more than the Mini. It might not have been quite so competent as a rally car, although that is debatable, but for every day family use I would have said it was a far better buy. Daughter went on to learn to drive in the Imp but the sad end to this tale is that within three weeks of passing her test the Imp was involved in a head on, corner to corner, collision with a Ford escort van. With no seat belts it was a miracle that nobody was seriously hurt, but the car was a complete right off. There is very little at the front of an Imp, apart from the body structure, there is the petrol tank, a spare wheel and not much else. It folded up in spectacular fashion, no doubt that was a factor that helped to prevent injury. The petrol tank adopted a most peculiar shape but did not leak any significant quantity of petrol. Although I never heard of any serious fires arising from an accident involving an Imp the potential for a major fire in an accident is obvious and must be regarded as something of a black mark against the car, I don’t think it would have put me off having one, but I worried for our daughter and so her next car was an old Marina. The Imp was a new venture for Rootes, who had never entered the small car market before. Because of high unemployment in Scotland at the time, government pressure resulted in the new factory for building the Imp being sited at Linwood. This presented a number of difficulties including logistical problems being sited 300 miles from their headquarters in Ryton and a new workforce with no experience of this type of industry. As usual for the British industry at the time, the car was rushed into production, there were some teething problems with the first production models, partly due to production difficulties and partly due to minor shortcomings, these were largely overcome but it damaged the public perception. The Imp was in production in various forms from 1963 to 1976, it was a brilliant design, brilliantly engineered, it was intended to compete with the Mini and on performance and economy it was a match for the basic Mini. Had it reached the market before the Mini motoring history could have been very different. Ron Watts

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