Hillman Imp : The prototypes

The Hillman Imp came about as a direct response to the Suez-crisis induced petrol shortages of 1956/57, even though Rootes had started small car investigations long before this.

The first small Rootes car was Little Jim, but this was followed by the Slug in the mid-1950s. The Imp came from Project Apex, which was a development of the Slug. The car was soon well defined at Coventry, but not before a few blind alleys had been explored…

The Slug

Immediate response to the challenge of producing an ultra-economical saloon, was to mimic many of the design cues first seen in the infamous “bubble cars”. This particular design study sported a 2-cylinder  Villiers engine and Goggomobile-inspired styling, and was passed over by Rootes management. The Rootes board felt that the small car needed to maintain the quality associated with its larger cousins.

Project Apex

Imp proposal

Later during the Imp’s life, ways of increasing versatility and accommodations were investigated by the design team. One such idea was this hatchbacked version … It was passed over, and eventually replaced by the Chrysler Sunbeam.

Apex pictures supplied by Graham Arnold


  1. Having read Apex: The inside story of the Imp, it seems Rootes also looked into building an Imp-based Fiat 900-inspired minivan/bus that funny enough, has only now made me realise how much the Imp has in common with the Fiat 850 as well as giving a vague idea of how the Imp replacement could have potentially evolved had things been different via the Fiat 133 (and possibly even the Fiat 127).

  2. according to “Imp the complete story” the villiers engine was not ready and a 2cv aircooled motor was fitted

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