Hillman Husky

Autocar Roadtest number 2152

Autocar, 5 October 1967
At a glance:
Estate car version of Hillman Imp.
Rear engine makes load floor high.
Good carrying capacity.
No loss of Imp performance.
Excellent steering.
Fade-free breaking.
Good all-synchromesh gearbox, but stiff gearchange.
Comfortable driving position.

   

Although it bears the name of the Hillman station wagon first made 13 years ago, the new Hillman Husky (first seen last April) is very different indeed. Based on the Hillman Imp, it is the only British rear-engined estate car, whereas the original car was an entirely conventional front engine, rearwheel drive design. It has an 875 c.c. overhead camshaft aluminium engine producing 39 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. instead of a 1,390 c.c., 40 b.h.p. pushrod iron unit. Being 3cwt lighter, it is appreciably faster. The new Husky in fact has no less performance than the Hillman Super Imp which we tested in Ocotber 1965 and it is in some instances a little quicker.

The 76 m.p.h. mean maximum speed and the 22.8 sec standing quartermile are identical with those of the saloon and the 0-60 time of 24.2sec is 1.2sec faster. Top gear acceleration is also better - 30 to 50 in 15.7 instead of 17.5sec - and fuel consumption only a little heavier at the higher speeds. The overall consumption figure of 33.8 m.p.g. as usual includes a large amount of traffic running, but is still very creditable; the average owner should achieve anything from 35 to 40 m.p.g. Remembering that the Rootes engineers have added considerably to the Imp's frontal area in order to gain load capacity, these figures are very good.

Once used to the car, one tends to drive it with some gusto, making the most of of an engine that feels (and sounds) so willing. It delights in being revved and the driver finds himself using the intermediate gear ratios freely. Maximum comfortable cruising speed up hill and down dale is about 65 m.p.h., though it will make 70 m.p.h. before too long if the going is flat. With a big load, performance is naturally reduced, but the Husky still gets along in a determined way.

During the warm weather of the test period, the car started and warmed up quickly with little use of the choke. Pulling is even through-out the speed range of the engine; any harshness caused by careless use of the clutch or accelerator is accompanied by some snatch from the rubber 'doughnut' couplings of the half shafts.
On the move, occupants are always aware of the rear engine despite the thick foam-backed rubber mat on the load floor over the engine compartment, but it is not excessively noisy. The transmission is relatively quiet and even flat out, there is not an objectionable amount of wind noise, provided all windows are closed.

Unlike the various Imps we have tried before, this Husky had a gearchange which was very stiff. It is impossible to beat the synchromesh, even on first, and the ratios are well chosen with a usefull high third gear. A grunt from the gearbox when changing gear reminds the driver that he has not pushed the clutch right out, a thing easily done, because of the awkward angle of the pedal. Clutch operation is smooth and ptogressive, but not as light now as it used to be.

Steering and Suspension

Understandably, in view of the job for which it is intended, the Husky has been given stiffer springs at the rear and suspension travel all round is less. The effect of these changes is felt with the car unladen, when there is a noticeable bobbing motion and a stiff ride.
Steering is excellent, being light, precise, 'live' and with a usefull tight, though not tyrescrubbing, lock which is much appreciated when parking. Steering ratios have been raised on all Imps lately and the Husky has only 2.3 turns from lock to lock; it is delightfully 'quick', enabling one to correct neatly any misbehaviour of the semi swing-axle rear suspension. This occurs if the car is cornered too briskly and the driver lifts his accelerator foot, whereupon forward weight transfer and roll increased by a relatively high centre of gravity combine to make the rear suspension 'jack up'. At high cornering speeds the tyres lose their grip and the back swings out sharply; this characteristic is accentuated when a load is carried on the necessarily high rear deck, increasing roll, but improving the ride.
Normally the Husky understeers safely with the power kept on throughout the bend, though its high body sides catch a lot of cross wind and fast progress dwon a blowy motorway calls for busy work at the wheel.

The all-drum braking system proved to be completely free from fade during 10 0.5g stops from just below 60 m.p.h., but locking of the front wheels occured before we could obtain more than 0.86g maximum retardation. There is little feel to the brake pedal, something common to all Imps, though foor pressures needed are not at all high. The handbrake held easily on the 1-in-3 test hill and re-starting was not difficult.

It is unusual to find radial-ply tyres fitted as standard on such a car; the Husky runs on Dunlop SP41s, because standard cross-ply tyres do not have a high enough load capacity. There is a noticeable lack of body boom, but marked 'bump-thump' over cat's eyes and some road rumble on poorer surfaces. Radial tyres, of course, add apprciably to the car's safety margin, especially in the wet.

Driving position is genrally excellent. All the controls that matter are easily within a belted-down driver's reach; only the heater and floor-mounted choke lever need any leaning forward. A newcomer to any Imp will notice how offset the pedals are, though this is forgotten as familiarity grows Seat movement is just enough to suit a tall driver, the seat itself tilting forward slightly as it is slid back. Curved squabs help to locate front occupants during cornering, but the cushions are too short to support thighs properly. There is a large amount of headroom as a result of the elevated roof line - one staff member most expert on churches commented that it was like 'driving a cathedral'. The effect is pleasing, the driver and front seat passenger not feeling hemmed in unduly as in some small cars.
Visibility is very good, because of the short bonnet and large areas of glass, but both the interior and legally required wing mirrors - each with flat glasses - are inadequate, not showing nearly enough road width behind.

Instruments are are kept down to a minimum, warning lights dealing with charging, oil pressure or water temperature and headlamp main beam. They are housed in the speedometer, which was accurate at 30 and 40 m.p.h, though not too easy to be read because, as with most of the 'flattened round' type, the figures are remoted from the needle. The top of the instrument nacelle is finished in black pvc, but reflects some glare on to the screen on sunny days.

Safety features include very floppy wire framed visors, a well-dished steering wheel on a not-too-steeply inclined column (which should nevertheless bend forwards in the event of a serious accident) and a roof which is well padded. The only shortcomings from this aspect might be the central interior (not courtesy) lampand the plastic-on-steel (and not padded as it first appears) top of the facia and edge of the parcel shelf. Seat belts for the front have their rear anchorages rather far back and can irritate back seat passengers.

Generous door openings make it very easy to get into the front and not at all difficult to the rear. Seated in the back with the front adjusted to suit a tall driver, there is little leg room and one has to splay knees apart to be comfortable. The bench is also somewhat high, putting passenger eye level a bit too near the top the pleasingly long sliding side windows.
If a radio is fitted, its loudspeaker addresses itself to the offside back passenger's right thigh - no disadvantage this, but rather unusual.

There are long parcel pockets in the doors with safely turned over edges which do not scratch, but there are no covered cubby-holes in which to hide valuables, though small things might be slipped under the seats. The facia shelf is full width and there are three ashtrays, once centrally placed in front and one small one each side behind.

Hot weather during the test did not allow us to try the heater properly, but showed that the ventilation is not as good as it might be. On a hot day the Husky becomes too warm inside, the pvc-covered seats not allowing body heat to escape without sweating. A slight smell of exhaust invades the driving compartment if one of the sliding rear side windows is partially opened, but not if the drivers window is down. It may be that the fumes enter via some part of the load floor and that the fault was peculiar to the test car only.

Luggage space

The big tailgate lifts up very easily and leaves the load opening well clear. The foam-backed rubber mat hides the hatch cover over the engine and a smaller one on the off-side over the battery, and the ribbed surface keeps loose articles in place reasonably well. One virtue of the height of the floor is its almost complete lack of any obstruction; only the very tops of the wheel arches intrude at all and these very little. COnverting the Husky into a two-seater load carrier is simple and rappid. Sliding bolts on each side engaging in rather thin looking sheet steel abutments are released and the back seat squab then folds forward. It is supported positively (without any of the usual springing of compressed cushion) on shelves each side which resemble armrests and has a 1 in. highledge to prevent goods flying forward into the front seats. With the back used thus, there is a large space between the front seats and the end of the load space, which is ideal for 'squashy bagage', such as pull-overs, small holdalls, and even campers sleeping bags.

Oil level inspection and topping-up without disturbing the load have been achieved by giving access to the dipstick (a long flexible one) and oil filler from a panel in the tailgate frame. This works well, though it is at first a little difficult to replace the rubber cap over the dipstick aperture. Spare wheel and jack are kept in the small front luggage compartment. The petrol filler and brake fluid reservoir are also under the 'boot' lid and it is necessary to warn some garage attendants to be careful to avoid pouring overflow fuel into the the luggage room. It is better to keep small items out of this end of the car, for they can easily be mislaid in the awkwardly shaped space around the spare.

At first sight the Husky's rather upright look appears to be a throwback, but as acquaintance grows, one appreciates its great economy and load carrying capabilities, the lusty little engine, excellent steering and its 'ready and willing' attitude to any work. It is not so easy to design an effective estate car on a rear engine layout, but Rootes have done the job in a practical sensible way.



Captions

There are many tables and graphics with this article

Photo 1 (nearly half page, showing KHP 850E):
no caption

Photo 2:
Having rolled back the foam-backed rubber mat, undoing two Dzus fasteners, releases the engine cover (removed). Accessibility to items needing routine maintenance is adequate. Dip stick and oil filler can be used without unloading, via the rubber cap and filler in the back door frame.

Photo 3:
Large door openings and the high roof make entry and exit easy.

Photo 4:
The lower unpleated part of the back seat squab is fixed.

Photo 5:
Rear load space is generous and hardly obstructed at all. Central hole in the bumper is for the starting handle, an extra.

Photo 6:
Three-quarter rear view of the Husky is neat if somewhat perpendicular.



Published in:
Autocar, 5 October 1967
Republished in:
Impressions vol. 3 (1983), no. 6 (July)



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