Home » The Hillman Imp Had One Of My Favorite Trunk Situations: Cold Start

The Hillman Imp Had One Of My Favorite Trunk Situations: Cold Start

Cs Imp Luggage 1
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The rise of EVs has meant a lot of things in the automotive world: heavier cars, less tailpipe emissions, more cars have fast off-the-line acceleration, there’s a weird combination of quiet hums and weird artificial noise, but this morning I’m interested in the dramatic popularization of the frunk/trunk combination, once a rarity limited to rear-engined cars like the Volkswagen Type 3. Now, lots of cars have both a front and rear luggage area, and today I want to talk about a car from long ago that did this very well: the Hillman Imp.

There’s plenty we could talk about regarding the Imp, which was the UK’s first mass-produced rear-engined car (well, I suppose if you don’t count the Trojan RE, of which only 250 were made, so maybe they shouldn’t be counted) and as such is deeply interesting. It was the Rootes Group’s Mini-fighter, and while it never was as successful as the Mini, I think this little shrunken-Corvair-looking brute had lots of potential that never got fully realized.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Anyway, this is just Cold Start, not a deep dive into the Imp, so I’m just going to focus on the aforementioned detail of the car: its two luggage areas.

Cs Imp Luggage 4

First, let’s look at this wonderfully tidy and very usable front trunk, which I think is one of the better-organized examples of small car front trunks:

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Cs Imp Luggage 2

The Imp, I think, pulled off its cargo-carrying aspect better than almost any other entry-level rear-engined economy car of the mid-century world. Like more famous rear-engined economy cars like the Beetle, the Imp had two luggage areas: an enclosed trunk up front and a luggage well at the rear, same as the Beetle. But what the Imp did that was so much better is that it had an opening rear window that acted as a hatch to the rear luggage area, which dramatically improved the usefulness of the car.

Cs Hillmanimp

I always wondered why the Beetle didn’t do this; I once even wrote a whole article about how it should have had an opening rear window. Other rear-engined cars with decent-sized rear luggage wells didn’t do this either, like the NSU Prinz, and when VW did it, it was in their more upmarket cars like the Type 3 or much later, as in the Brazilian Brasilia. The Imp’s rear seat even folded flat for more cargo area; it was a genuinely good design.

Cs Imp Luggage 3 Ads

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They even pushed the design to its logical cargo-carrying-extreme with the van/wagon/estate versions of the Imp, like the Commer Van and the Hillman Husky, which expanded the over-engine cargo room dramatically. Here, look at some blueprints:

Cs Imp Luggage 5

That’s a lot of space over that heavily-canted engine! That’s the Commer Van version, here it is in slightly more refined and window’d estate form:

Cs Imp Luggage 6

This is just good packaging, and decades ahead of its time if you want to compare it with modern EVs, which I suppose I am.

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The Imp I think is one of the more under-appreciated cars of the 20th century, and I want to do my part to remedy that. It’s a packaging truimph, and I’m told good fun to drive, too.

That said, I did just learn there is a play sort of about the Hillman Imp, called Linwood No More and is described as

“Hour-long monologue Linwood No More was written by Paul Coulter and starred Vincent Friell as a homeless alcoholic who spends New Year’s Day 2000 reminiscing about his life.”

So, maybe not the most upbeat tribute, but it’s something?

 

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Serg_skudnov
Serg_skudnov
5 days ago

What a beatiful two luggage areas.

Brynjaminjones
Brynjaminjones
16 days ago

I’d love to read more about the Hillman Imp.

My Dad owned one back in his university days (I think it was his first own car) and he always talks so fondly about it.
He taught my Mom to drive in it, and she loved the thing too.

It’s very rare to see one now in the UK outside of a car show. I don’t remember when I last saw one on the road.

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
16 days ago

Stupid piece of trivia: the southernmost Imp in the world is parked in the Harberton farm near Ushuaia. It ran when parked, I was said.

Edit: nope, it was a Triumph Herald. My wrong.

Last edited 16 days ago by Argentine Utop
Andy Individual
Andy Individual
16 days ago

“Brazilian Brasilia”

Wow, FANCY! A shave AND a wax.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
16 days ago

Cuter than the Corvair, which is what it was clearly designed after….

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
16 days ago

The Imp is a great little car, some might say the ultimate drift machine.

MiniDave
MiniDave
16 days ago

You should see the one a guy in New Zealand did – it took him 6 years but he put a 6 cyl Honda Goldwing motor in the back of his, and he did a beautiful job! Kinda like a 911 Imp!
Hillman Imp with Honda Goldwing flat six engine – first drive. (youtube.com)

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
16 days ago

This is definitely one of my favorite rare imports.

John Patson
John Patson
16 days ago

Unfortunately the seals on the rear window suffered from British manufacturing diseases, and did not work well.
Caused rust under the carpet from in side as well as outside, funny smells and wet shopping.
Think Renault’s Koleos had an opening back window for when opening the whole lid was too much bother…

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
16 days ago
Reply to  John Patson

The leaks were a very well known issue, and likely explains why VW never did that with the Beetle. Unlike the Beetle, the Imp’s rear window could’ve been enclosed in a hatch without changing the styling or the body shell very much. Opening the glass only is a much cheaper way to do it. A hatch was probably considered and rejected for raising the price too much.

Last edited 16 days ago by PaysOutAllNight
Albert Ferrer
Albert Ferrer
16 days ago
Reply to  John Patson

As did (do?) 911 Targas and some BMW estate cars.

Brynjaminjones
Brynjaminjones
16 days ago
Reply to  Albert Ferrer

This is very common on a lot of SUVs too.

Jon Benet
Jon Benet
16 days ago

I was greeted last night with a wonderful Hawk Tuah. Thanks for the warning. Tonight I will await the Hillman Husky. Kinda scared. Those have the engine in the rear? Right?

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
16 days ago
Reply to  Jon Benet

It’s like antimatter or something. Engine in the wrong end, steering wheel on the wrong side. Trunks willy-nilly everywhere. Imps and Huskies living together… Scary stuff.

Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
16 days ago

I love the Hillman Imp. However, as a result of growing up in the 90’s, I can’t help but associate “Imp” with Doom and it doesn’t line up with the image of this car.

Trevlington
Trevlington
16 days ago

I also love the Hillman Imp. However, as a result of growing up in the 80’s (in England), I can’t help but associate “Imp” with really rotten rusty cars that should have been scrapped a decade earlier…

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
16 days ago

After yesterday’s Cold Start I clicked on this one with some trepidation and was relieved to find my concerns to be unnecessary, at least in this case, ha.
“Anyway, this is just Cold Start, not a deep dive into the Imp”
Still quite informative and pretty fascinating. I daresay I’m not alone in having an interest in a future deep dive into the Imp, especially since we didn’t get it here in the U.S. (or if we did we didn’t get many; I’ve seen a few Imps in person but never knew about the opening rear window and didn’t realize they were rear-engined upon first encountering them.) Like, was the opening feature standard for all Imps or was it an optional feature and popular enough to be all but standard? And what are those two caps on the top of the grille, as it were, under the hood (bonnet, rather)? One is presumably for gas (petrol, rather) and the other one for coolant (as there’s what looks like an actual grille, for a radiator, under the front bumper and a quick look at Wikipedia shows that the Imp was indeed water-cooled)?

Last edited 16 days ago by Collegiate Autodidact
Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
16 days ago

We definitely did get the Imp in the US, just in pretty small numbers. Ran into a LHD one at a car show a few years ago, which was the first one I’d ever seen in person, and my dad mentioned that was the first he’d seen in many decades, but one of his high school classmates had had a brand new Imp in the ’60s, since the kids’ parents were both British expats who insisted on buying only British cars, he stood out as the weirdo in the student parking lot. Even weirder than his older brother with the Morris Minor

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
16 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Ha, yeah, that’s something, being weirder than a Morris Minor, as the Minor was looking pretty dated to American eyes in the 60s (and to think the Minor was still in production into the 70s!) Makes sense about the Imp being sold here in the U.S., as the number of Imps I’ve seen does suggest the Imp was indeed sold here and not just imported by American soldiers returning from being stationed overseas like with the MG T-series, especially since the Imp was an economy car and not a sports car.
A couple of decades ago I lived in a small college town in northern California and I would see the occasional Imp and the occasional Minor as befitting a community full of professors and students buying from unorthodox dealerships, past and present. One Minor in particular I noticed had been converted to automatic from manual and its automatic shifter and accoutrements were an exact match, down to the brown colors of the plastic, for the ones in the Datsun 210 automatic my family had when I was growing up. Later I found out that the engines in Datsun B210s and 210s were closely based on Morris’s A-series engines and that it was indeed a thing for people to install more-reliable Datsun engines and even automatic transmissions in Minors.
Yeah, deep dives into cars such as the Imp and the better-known Minor would indeed be of some interest.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
16 days ago

Great stuff Torch.

One small suggestion though. Size can be hard to discern from photos as is well known. Especially crap put out by auto manufactures.

Things like cubic feet or whatever mean little to me. So cut to the chase here.

How many 3 to 7 year olds can one stuff in to that frunk? Can it be hosed clean if need be? These are the important questions that should be asked my friend…adjustments are allowed for American kids vs Continental Kids.

Asking for a friend here.

Last edited 16 days ago by Col Lingus
Tbird
Tbird
16 days ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

Back in the day, C/D used to list exactly how many cases of beer could fit in in the the cargo area of an SUV or minivan, seats up and down. This was honestly a great visual metric because it discounts hard to use packaging. I don’t care about cubic feet – tell me how much USABLE space it has. This test penalizes sharply sloped hatches, the box is king. My boxy ’89 Cherokee could carry a lot within.

I think C/D is moving back to a similar standard now using carry-on luggage.

Last edited 16 days ago by Tbird
Col Lingus
Col Lingus
16 days ago
Reply to  Tbird

I remember those days.
Seem to recall that they used 12 oz long neck bottles in a card board case at some point too.

Last edited 16 days ago by Col Lingus
Tbird
Tbird
16 days ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

Exactly – cargo area needs to be actually usable. Paper numbers do not always translate to real world usability.

Tbird
Tbird
16 days ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

Yep – a comment on usable volume. Nooks and crannies don’t count. Many times cars with a lower overall volume number won due to better packaging.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
16 days ago
Reply to  Tbird

That’s why Motorweek used to test all cars with the same standard set of luggage

Tbird
Tbird
16 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Exactly: If I’m going to the airport I’m not filling nooks and crannies. Camping may be a different story.

Last edited 16 days ago by Tbird
Tbird
Tbird
16 days ago
Reply to  Tbird

I hauled too many cases of Girl Scout cookies over the years as my wife was a Troop leader. My boxy ’99 WJ Grand Cherokee was a champ at this, very little wasted space.

Last edited 16 days ago by Tbird
VanGuy
VanGuy
16 days ago

it was a genuinely good design

Might one even say….damn good design?

Rob Schneider
Rob Schneider
16 days ago

Torch, I love articles like this. Arcane automotive history that deserves to be remembered. You are a treasure.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
16 days ago

That pic of the Imp’s frunk makes me wonder why, with all the aftermarket bits and bobs sold for the Beetle, no one ever made a frunk lid replacement with a continental kit? That spare tire lying across the frunk took up a lot of valuable cargo space. A continental kit would allow the spare to be stood upright at the front, freeing up that space.

Chronometric
Chronometric
17 days ago

The demise of the Hillman Imp was often attributed to public confusion with the similarly named Pillman Pimp.

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
17 days ago

The Husky reminds me of our Gen One Honda CR-V.

Albert Ferrer
Albert Ferrer
17 days ago

The Imp won 3 times the BTCC (1970-1972) too.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BSCC_Hillman_Imp.jpg

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