Hillman Imp : Rootes Asp

The sporting version of the Imp looks as promising today as it did back during the 1960s. A lack of money would spell its end…

Rootes’ engineers knew that the Imp chassis was capable of handling more power, and decided to work on a sporting variant. Using the existing all alloy ohc engine (tuned somewhat), and allying it to a pretty (Tim Fry, along with Bob Saward and Ron Wisdom, styled) body, the engineers stirred the pot to produce the Asp.

Rootes approached Jensen Motors and asked them to study the feasibility of producing the Asp for them, at the rate of 500 units per week. The plans would have centred around a steel bodied car, which would have used the standard 875cc engine, with the option of a more highly tuned 998cc variant. The car certainly had potential, and cannily, Rootes planned for the fall-back of glass fibre construction, had steel proved too costly.

Sadly, the Asp project was dropped through lack of resources (this was at a time when Chrysler had yet to take a controlling stake in Rootes), allied to negative feedback from America… An ironic decision given the enormous number of MG Midgets and Austin-Healey Sprites BMC managed to shift Stateside.

Pictures supplied by Roy Axe


Pictures supplied by Gerry Ford




  1. Given the negative publicity rear engined American cars were attracting in the states, once Americans gained control of Rootes, any rear engined projects were doomed.

    • Even in Europe it was recognised that FWD was the future, VW was only saved by it’s water cooled front engine expertise brought in from NSU, Renault went front engined with the 4 and Fiat’s last rear engined car was the 127.

        • The 126 was not a Polish car, it was originally designed and built in Italy. That it was also produced in Poland was part of Fiat’s excellent strategy to expand behind the iron curtain. The last 126 were built in Poland though and – very late in its life – also received a hatchback that was designed in Poland.

      • Even in the mid 60s, it wasn’t as if rear engined cars were instantly old fashioned though. Such a layout would still be common right through the 60s and early 70s

        And in a sports coupe like this, the layout of course lives on in the 911, but also survived for a long time in the French Alpine sports cars.

  2. The yanks were dabbling with FWD then but they started at the wrong end of the market with the Toronado, the exact opposite of economical and practical.

  3. Wonder if this project was the reason why Rootes and Jensen both rejected an approach by TVR to develop the similar Imp-based TVR Tina?

    In the case of the TVR Tina, the proposed production models were to be fabricated out of fibreglass and bonded to the steel Imp subframe, yet not very practical it was believed a metal body would have been too heavy for the engine.

    If only Rootes were in a position to properly develop the Imp engine to make use of Linerless Alloy Blocks (along with taller blocks), allowing for increases in engine capacity beyond 998cc.

  4. Apparently with the experimental linerless 998cc engine, the Asp prototype had a top speed of around 105-106 mph.

    That is compared to the MG Midget 1275/1500 or the 1300/1500-engined Triumph Spitfire, which had a top speed of around 95-101 mph and 100-101 mph respectively.

  5. ‘the last fiat with a rear engine was the 126’
    Everybody forgets the italian masterpiece that wasnt the fiat X1/9 !
    It wasnt that bad, apart from rust. A friend had one and rain filled the doors with water, every corner the tide came in.

  6. Had the Asp been built, it would have been fascinating seeing it powered by the unbuilt 1148cc tall-block Imp unit (and carried over to the Imp as a Mini 1275GT/Cooper S rival) or even the 1250-1750cc+ Swallow engines (in the event a larger Swallow-based Asp model as a Sunbeam Alpine successor is not considered).

    As for the Fiat X1/9, it could have done with both the 1.3-1.4 Turbo used in the Uno/Punto (which was apparently considered at one point) as well as the 1.6 Fiat 128 engines.

Add to the debate: leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.