Rear Engined by Rootes: 1965 Hillman Imp

A few years ago, I visited a Vermont junkyard being cleaned out, with a whole section full of $500 project vehicles. We wrote about it more than once, and here’s my recounting of the day. One of the cars that caught the attention of fellow Barn Finds writer and editor Jamie was a Hillman Imp, a funky two door, rear-engined creation that is popular on the vintage rally and racing circuit. Not coincidentally, the seller has both a race version and highly original Imp for sale here on eBay as part of a large collection wind-down of British and European vehicles.

Like Jamie, I’ve always found the Imp highly intriguing. The squat proportions and rear engine design are the first things you notice, but then you find out this tiny economy car also utilized an all-aluminum engine design and clever packaging to provide impressive amounts of room despite being such a small car. They also look quite mean dropped a bit on some classic wheel like a set of Minilites or Cosmics. This example is said to be highly original with very little rust, says the seller.

The engine is missing its water pump, which the seller claims to have recently sourced from the U.K. The Imp was produced in a variety of body styles, including a truck-type design, but its racing pedigree is perhaps what surprised most onlookers. It had success in major rally events as well as the British Saloon Car Championship, but despite these achievements, quality woes still held back its success. Today, they’re a rare sight at most any events but loved by British car fans everywhere.

Though this example may be complete in the eyes of the seller, the interior looks fairly rough. Spares will be harder to come by than more conventional British cars like an MGB, but with enthusiasts like Jamie around, I’m fairly confident tracking down parts won’t be as hard as it seems. The seller has listed this Imp quite affordably, with bidding just over $1,500 and two days left in the auction. Be sure to check out the seller’s other listing for the race-prepped Imp if that’s more your speed.

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  1. Jamie Palmer Jamie Palmer Staff

    Jeff…oh my. And I’m headed on a trip to the Midwest next week…

    • Jeff Lavery Jeff Lavery Staff

      get it done, palmer



    Very zippy, underrated little motor cars fitted with an 875cc Coventry Climax engine belting out a whole 39 bhp.

  3. chad

    Beemer 2002 look-a-like?



      Where do you see the similarity????? I don’t see a resemblance anywhere.

  4. fish56

    Seller has 11 cars and a motor scooter for sale. Quite a collection of obscure vehicles. Unfortunately, many of them have no titles. I especially like the 1960 Goliath Tiger, looks a bit like a Volvo 1800S.

  5. King Brude

    Well supported international Imp club, with lots of parts available, including floor panels, fenders etc mean there are a lot of these wee Scottish cars still going, with prices, especially in the UK, rising. And it is the only car I know that features on a tapestry celebrating a nation’s history!

  6. King Brude

    This one is actually a Sunbeam, but they were seriously badge engineered, with Hillman, Sunbeam, Singer and Commer derivatives…

    • Manuel

      Sunbeam brand was for export : in the USA it was Sunbeam Imp, in France Sunbeam Chamois…

      • King Brude

        Sunbeam Imps in the UK too, as well as Singer Chamois…. Tad confusing I agree.

  7. Russ

    Had one as my first car when I lived in the UK. Paid £20.00 for it! It belonged to the father-in-law of a family friend and the son-in-law felt the roads would be safer if he gave up driving so he told him to do me a good turn and sell me the car so I could use it to learn to drive in. It was a fun little car – always felt you were going faster than you were… On my journey home with it after the purchase I stopped for gas and walked around it several times looking for the gas cap. An old guy came over and helped me out by pointing out it is under the ‘bonnet’ of the trunk (or ‘boot’) – at the front end of the car. He told me he used to have a brand new one in the sixties and he and his new bride had set off on their honeymoon in it. He had stopped for gas and opened the front trunk to fill the tank and managed to spill gas all over their luggage! He said he thought it was going to be the shortest marriage ever but I guess she forgave him as she was sitting in their current car, smiling and waving when she saw the Imp. One time I had the throttle cable break on me when I was coming home from a night out with some friends and I had to connect the manual choke cable to the throttle linkage to get a hand throttle working for the rest of the journey home. More tricky to drive like that than you would think as on an Imp the choke lever sits on the floor at the bottom of the gear stick! Luckily it is a small car so you can lean to the floor and still see out of the windshield… You could buy anti-camber kits for the front wheels so it would go round corners better – they worked well. Neat little Mini alternatives if you looked after the engines. Mine never overheated but a lot of them did.

  8. Martin Horrocks

    Sunbeam badging is normal on an export car, but wouldn´t have been available in UK in 1965. The green one here is a very early car, a colour that was used at the launch but went out of fashion.

    Imp is a great little car, engineered by Mike Parkes, who went on to race works F1 and P4 Ferraris, then developed the Lancia Stratos. Sadly killed in the early 70s misjudging an overtake in the rain (driving a Fulvia, I think).

    At the other end of the Imp scale, this Sunbeam Fraser Imp is not a replica, on offer in Madrid.

  9. Adam Clarke Adam T45 Staff

    Time for me to provide a useless fact. In all of its various guises there were more than 440,000 Imps built. In the UK there are now less than 1000 examples registered and on the road. Because they were seen as an economical daily driver, most succumbed to rust brought on by UK winters.

  10. Wayne

    Down here is Australia we have a racing category called Sports Sedans (a touring car with any sort of engine you can fit up to 6 litres). Back in the early 70’s one guy put a Ford Windsor V8 with about 450hp into an Imp. His trouble at the time was trying to keep the front wheels on the ground coming out of corners.

    • misterlou Member

      Should’ve called it the (P)Imp

  11. Dave

    Looks just like a Sunbeam Imp to me. Worked on these back in early 1970’s.

  12. scottymac

    Being a Corvair guy, these were always of interest to me. If I wasn’t knee deep in a BMW 700 coupe, I might be tempted. But if I was going to buy one, I’d probably hold out for a fastback Stiletto, or Californian, or Chamois. I think these are Dunlop wheels on this one, but love the Cosmics, too.

    Interestingly, (to me anyway), the Imp was the donor to a favorite kit car, the Davrian Mk. 5.

  13. Kevin Sellwood

    I’ve had a couple of these back in the day. They were meant to compete with the Mini but they never quite made it to the same dizzy heights. They were built at Rootes new purpose built plant at Linwood in Scotland which was a state of the art facility in 1963, after Peugeot took over Chysler UK the plant was closed in 1981 and finally demolished in 1996 or there abouts. They were quite good nippy little cars but never quite had the spark/charisma of the Mini. The one to have is the Sunbeam Stiletto, better looking, four headlamps and a the engine has been tweeked a little bit.

  14. Jonathan Spencer

    My father bought one of these in 1966. We lived in the Orkney Islands and he was intrigued by the fact that it was built in Scotland – and there was a financial incentive, no purchase tax if you were a resident of the country.

    He splurged on a heater, a £25-extra. I seem to remember that the car was a round £600 on the road.

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