Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Hillman Imp

My car is 21 years old - a 1988 Saab 900. I've always liked the shape of old Saabs, and running an old-ish classic is a cheap - if time consuming - way of enjoying motoring. The underside is coated in tar, so hopefully rust will be kept at bay and it will keep running for a few years yet.

Oh go on then - the Saab in Glencoe:


Had I wanted to run a Scottish car, what could I have? Apart from the extremely rare Argyll Turbo GT, the only one I can think of is the Hillmap Imp, the youngest of which would be 33 this year!

In the late 1950s the government decided to stimulate industry in Scotland, and encouraged Coventry-based company Rootes to build a car factory at Linwood near Paisley. The UK had always concentrated motor manufacturing in the Midlands, but post-war governments were more socialist in character than modern ones, and opening a factory in Scotland was seen as a way of distributing the jobs around. A small car with some advanced and quirky features for the time was designed - full synchromesh, aluminium engine, fluid suspension - and went on sale between 1963-1976. Unfortunately it had a reputation for unreliability, and never reached the levels of sales of classic designs such as the Mini. The factory at Linwood, scarred by industrial disputes from the start, shut down. However, 440,000 Imps had been made, and it had a fuel consumption of 60mpg. In these environmentally conscious times, perhaps it is better to run old cars like the Imp, than waste resources manufacturing plasticky, characterless new ones?

A shiny new Hillman Imp:


Way back during Edwardian times, there was an explosion of car manufacturing in Scotland - Arrol-Johnson, Argyll, Albion, and Beardmore were successful for a time - but these manufacturers all disappeared before the Second World War due to poor sales and consolidation and specialisation of manufacturing in the Midlands. Thus there has been no auto industry in Scotland since the demise of the Imp, and the nearest car manufacturer is Blackpool's TVR - whose products are sadly out of my price range.

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