The Imp Site

  * 1927  -  † 6 Oct. 2009, after fighting leukaemia for 5 years
    Ken Sharpe - 1963
in 1963
at the introduction
of the Imp
Kenneth Sharpe
in 2007

Kenneth Sharpe

From: Kenneth Sharpe
Subject: feedback
Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2005

I was very involved in the development of the Imp and have written some of my memories. Are you interested to have a copy.
Ken Sharpe

From: Kenneth Sharpe
Subject: Re: Sharpe memories
Date: Mon, 1 Aug 2005

Please find attachment with my memories. There should be more to come as the brain stirs through the murk.

Development of the Hillman Imp

Two important books have been published on the Hillman Imp and in both there are considerable details on the early stages of the Imp and on the later part of the story when the Imp was in production. The main development process seems to have missed being recorded in any detail, presumably due to lack of information. It is the intention of this note to:


Rootes Engineering Department
To allow readers to get an understanding of the Imps development, it is best to outline the set up of Rootes Engineering in Coventry.

Immediately after the war all car engineering was carried out at the Stoke Plant where in one block of buildings there were Styling, Engineering Body Design, Engineering Chassis and Engine Design and the Experimental Department where vehicle and engine testing and development took place, including Research. In the same block there was also the Planning, Jig and Tool design and Product cost offices. This therefore provided a close knit group of interdependent disciplines from the Engineering Director downwards.

At Ryton, when the production of aero engines ceased, the Wartime shadow factory became available for car production and the old aero engine test block was no longer required. To make more space for both Experimental and the Research Department the latter moved into the Ryton engine test block.
This was an interesting building made of strongly reinforced concrete and comprising of eight test cells arranged as four either side of a longitudinal two story corridor. Each test cell was a huge square sectioned 'U' tube with the top ends open to the sky, while the centre section was of circular shape to accommodate the radial aero engine and its test propeller. From the bottom corridor access to the test cell was through large doors either side of the test section. Immediately above the bottom corridor, which allowed engines to be taken for test, was the 'Top corridor'. Here, in line with the test section of each cell there was a thick plate glass window overlooking the test engine and a set of controls for the engine.

Research Department
At each end of the row of test cells was a workshop, the one nearer the Ryton Plant having a mezzanine floor. It was into this building that the Research Department moved.
On the ground floor there were, to the best of my memory, two lathes, a shaping machine, a horizontal miller, a band saw, a radial drill and a small pillar drill. There were also two large cast bed plates and two ramps. (When I moved from Stoke to Ryton in 1951 there was, tucked away, 'Little Jimmy' I believe it was a runner at the time but I never saw it move under its own power and one day it disappeared, I've no idea where to, but I presume it was scraped.) The staff members of the department moved into the offices on the mezzanine floor. At that stage the old test cells and the workshop at the other end of the building were not used.

Life in this very small Research Department was very interesting and busy. The following notes add little to the Imp story, but some may find it interesting and it does set the scene into which the Imp was born.
Work carried out and in progress in the 1950's included:

Craig Miller was Chief Engineer Research.

Advanced Design Department
While this was going on at Ryton an Advanced Design Department was set up at Stoke. This was run by Mervin Cutler (G. Mervin Cutler = GMC) who was Chief Engineer Advanced Design. At Ryton we were rather set-a-back when told that this department together with Mike Parkes and Tim Fry would be moving to join us at Ryton.
To create space for a small drawing office the centre of the Mezzanine floor was filled in and further space created in the 'Top corridor', and as the work load for the workshops increased two more ramps were installed in the workshops at the other end of the building. Earlier in the 1950's, in order to increase facilities for the whole group, a cold room that would accept a whole car was built in this same workshop. And serious consideration was given to constructing a wind tunnel at the rear of the test cells. This would have been very expensive, money was tight and in any case there was a much better one at M.I.R.A.

The Motor Industry Research Association's proving was about 20 miles from Ryton and even in the 1950's had a high speed track, pave & a steering pad, as well as the workshop test rigs. The only problem was security, since it was open to all members including manufactures and motoring press. Most manufacturers developed their own test tracks varying from the basic ones used by Rootes Wellesbourne and Bruntingthorpe (both disused airfields) to Vauxhalls Millbrook and British Leyland's Gaydon.

Advanced Design and Research
Just as this rearrangement was settling down, the Apex became a going project, Mervin Cutler left the group (fortunately leaving his secretary behind -I married her a year or two later), and Craig Miller took charge of the whole of Ryton Engineering.


List of all Apex Prototypes
Slug VVC 325  
Apex 1 WKV 552 rear swing axle 750cc Villiers gearbox
Apex 2 WWK 752 rear swing axle 750cc Villiers gearbox
Apex 3 YWK 877 short wheelbase
Apex 4 8781 HP short wheelbase
Apex 5 5847 RW grey RHD Pave car
Apex 6 5846 RW black LHD Spain '61, Canada '62
Apex 7 6139 RW grey RHD Kenya '62
Apex 8 ? body development
Apex 9 ? noise and vibration development
Apex 10 9704 RW dark blue/grey; management appraisal

The Apex
Now we eventually get to the Apex. The Slug was an interesting vehicle as will be gathered from reading the books mentioned earlier. I suppose with swing axle front and rear it was bound to be lively to put it mildly and eventually the inevitable happened and it was rolled. It served its purpose in convincing the Family that something bigger was required. Next came the two styled cars with Villers engines and gearboxes. These were known as Apex 1 and 2. I am not sure if the code name Apex had been coined when these cars were built, but they were known thus in latter days.

The first of what might be considered as approaching real Apex Imps were Apex 3 and 4 - the short wheelbase vehicles. Again Villiers 600 opposed twin engines were fitted and the Family now required more power and they certainly got it when Mike and Tim shoe-horned the 750cc Climax in place of the air-cooled twin. Inevitably more space was required for the bigger engine and its water cooling system, bigger wheels and larger saloon space.
Since these engines were mated to the Villiers gearbox reliability was not a strong point. Considering this gearbox was designed for the air cooled twin, it was unreasonable to expect more. In fact if we went to M.I.R.A. and returned under our own power it was a good day. Nevertheless a lot of work was done with these early cars, but always with many provisos regarding the specification - things like the shorter wheelbase; the 800cc engine; in the early days the Villiers gearbox and the incorrect weight and weight distribution

It was about this time that the Imp project became a production possibility and the full team of Advanced Design and Research staff became involved. The car was effectively redesigned with all the latest requirements and production features.

A routine day
The real development work started with the build of Apex 5. In many respects this was as production, but fitted with an 800cc engine. Many details had yet to be developed and with the date being around July? 1961 there was a lot of work to be done with production commencing before the May 1963 announcement and pre-production starting in Oct-Nov 62. Remember production drawings were required to be released at least 6 months prior to manufacture. Apex 5 was used as the pave test car.
These were long days - the car would be loaded on to the trailer and sheeted down ready to go to M.I.R.A. at the end of normal days work.
Then it was home for an evening meal and back to Ryton about 21.00 to take the tender car and Apex to the pave. The pave was run at 30 mph with the rear dampers getting hotter and hotter until it was necessary to pause to prevent the damper seals being burnt. Water cooling was later used to allow longer running periods. When the noise and suspected damage became evident the test was stopped and the car given a general inspection. Usually after a few hours testing an important failure would be found and the car loaded on the trailer and returned to Ryton and the vehicle left with a note of the problem so repairs could be started. Next morning the test team would arrive at about 09.00 and the whole routine started again.

At Ryton we had rather a different situation to our colleagues at Stoke. In the Experimental they had staff development engineers and fitter testers. The fitter testers were experienced in test procedures and did most of the driving and any spannerwork required on test, as well as major work in the workshop. And they were of course paid a suitably higher rate of pay for their skills.
At Ryton we had staff development engineers and fitters who -over the years- were gradually trained to become fitter testers but this meant that in the early stages nearly all testing was carrier out by staff engineers so the staff had the flexibility to do many things that could not have been done at Stoke. Hence while carrying out the pave test, we were able to co-opt body and chassis design draughtsman to take part in the testing, which I like to think they found interesting and I hope instructive.

Testing abroad
Test projects
1961 1st European test Prototype
1962 1st hot climate test ( Kenya) Prototype
1962 1st cold climate test (Canada) Prototype
1962 2nd European test Preproduction
1963 2nd hot climate test (Kenya) Preproduction
1963 2nd cold climate test (Scandinavia) Preproduction
1964 3rd hot climate test (Kenya) Production & development
1964 3rd cold climate test (Scandinavia) Production & development
1965 3rd European test (Spain) Development

First eurocontinental test (1961 - prototype)

While Apex 5 pave test was underway, Apex 6 was being built. And the flexibility we had at Ryton was immediately shown with the first continental test - being carried out by

On return to the U.K. in October the required investigations were made and the car was rebuilt to the latest specifications including a 875 cc engine.

North America
A little later in the year the car was fitted with instrumentation for heater and cold starting tests in Canada. Rootes normally did not send cars to Canada for tests, so I think part of the exercise was to allow Mr. J.T. Panks of Rootes New York and Mr. W.A. Paterson of Rootes Canada to assess the car. This was a difficult test to arrange, because in those days aircraft were not available that could fly a car to Canada and the St Lawrence Seaway is frozen over in the January test period, so the test team of David Lloyd and myself were booked on the Queen Elizabeth the day after Boxing day 1961 to start a 6 week test (including 5 days each way on the ship).
In case anyone should think we were traveling in luxury: we had been booked the lowest class of cabin down in the bowels of the ship. An urgent complaint to the Rootes dept that made travel arrangements achieved a 1 class up-grade - very slightly better... and remember the North Atlantic in December is not a nice place to be.

On arrival I remember receiving a note to report to Rootes' New York office. After finding the place we were greeted by Lord Rootes who told us to stay in New York until the weekend to allow John Panks to try the car. Feeling we could be pressed for test time I rather cheekily pointed out that we had a test programme to carry out. I got a rather old fashioned look and was asked "Sharpe, who's company is it ?" - Needless to say we spent the next few days driving around New York vastly over-shadowed by the huge American cars of that period and watching our hotel bills greatly depleting our allowances.

First cold climate test (Canada, 1962 - prototype)


Photo file first cold climate test

The test then proceeded as planned through Albany to Rochester and the following day on to Niagara, where we were due to meet the Rootes Canada people and do some filming. Then on to the Rootes depot in Toronto to collect the spares that had been sent in advance. Rootes Canada provided us with a tender car and a representative, George Blaine. A Solex Carburettor engineer Fred Howlett arrived by air to complete the test team.
Our test took us up to Kapuskasing, where we were able to test at -33°C. Cold starting, carburetion and heater tests proved that the Imp engine was a good starter, but the waste heat was insufficient to provide adequate heating to the interior. A heater giving at least 50% more heat was required.

Commuter tests
After completing this phase of the test work we went to Montreal to carry out low temperature commuter tests. Our base was several miles out of the city centre and the idea of the test was to check out the starting and traffic driveability with a typical week of driving to work and back on a daily basis.
There were no problems with the engine, but there was a major source of trouble with the battery. On these early prototypes the battery was mounted by the near-side front wing, this helped with weight distribution and accessibility (but being adjacent to the petrol tank was perhaps not such a good idea). The problem was that in a cold climate the battery was so cold, it would not accept a charge with the result - that after some 3 or 4 days 'commuting' - the engine just stopped due to a flat battery. This was under quite stiff test conditions of maximum electrical load (wipers on, radio on and of course heater on).

What happened to the reports
All reports issued by my development section went to about 20 people from Chief engineer down and, where appropriate, some went out of Imp engineering and a few out of the company, on things like tyre tests, dampers, brakes and maybe windtunnel (these last would be to M.I.R.A.).

M.I.R.A. also did wind tunnel tests on many production vehicles and circulated them to all their members. The Imp being rather different to the normal run of British cars may well have been the subject of one of their tests.

I am sure all the Development Dept reports were 'lost' because several years after leaving Imp I had reason to look something up and they had all been cleared out. There would have been the Technical Library copy retained.

The rest of the test was uneventful and we returned from New York on the Queen Mary busy writing reports and thinking of the installation of a combustion heater as on the Corvair.

First hot climate test (Kenya, 1962 - prototype)

While the Canadian test was underway, Apex 7 was under test in Kenya. Ron Dalton, the Engine Development Engineer at that time, was involved in a hot climate test with our colleagues from Stoke and Apex 7 went by air to join this test. Since I wasn't personally involved, I can't record what happened in detail, but I certainly remember that trouble was experience in many areas, as might be expected with a car which was really unsuited to that type of territory, particularly back in the 1960's. The results provided work for many months - in particular:

At Ryton the fitters were building further prototypes. Apex 8, 9 and 10 - the latter being completed about the time drawings were released for production in mid 1962.


Cooling at max speed
During 1962 many hours were spent driving at max speed down the M45 and M1 to Junction 14 and back to Ryton. This formed a very convenient cooling test run, the mean of the two runs giving a good indication as to whether the modification was an improvement or not. Remember in those days there was no speed limit on motorways and very little traffic. Many different fan and cowl designs, including a reversed flow set-up, were tried in the attempt to provide adequate cooling for high speed running without absorbing too much engine power. Low speed max torque cooling was no problem, but the heat soak after such a run could produce vapour locking. By accepting that an increased amount of power would be required to achieve satisfactory cooling the problem was solved, at least with a clean radiator.
On one never to be forgotten occasion after a max speed cooling test down the M45, M1 and back M1, M45 we were nearly back to the A45 when the gearbox seized and we had a few very rapid revolutions in the middle of the M45. Fortunately it was quite early on a Sunday morning and there was virtually no traffic. After allowing things to cool down for a while, we where able to proceed at a sedate pace back to Ryton.

Testing at Dunlop

Another persistent problem was brake squeal. Initial development was done with Don 202 linings, which gave us the required performance, but could make a nasty squeal. Many many linings were bedded and tested, but it seemed we could have either the performance we required or a nice quiet lining, but not both. This work was carried out with both Lockheed and Girling brakes - although the Girling brake was accepted for production.

Tyres and dampers
Tyre testing was mainly with Dunlop C41 and the suspension was really tuned to these tyres. Later we developed a suspension with radial ply tyres for the sports models, but we never found another tyre to suit the standard Imp as well as the C41. Damper settings were tricky to finalise - these things are always a compromise - with Woodheads putting in a considerable amount of work on our behalf. At a later stage more development work was carried out with Girling Monotube dampers, but the Monotubes were at an early stage of development and their fitment to production Imps was not proceeded with.

Apex 3 (?) at M.I.R.A.

Wind tunnel
Wind tunnel tests were another of those tests that had to be carried out during the evening. Apparently the electrical load caused by the 4 huge motors that drove the propellers resulted in a mains voltage drop in the area, so the wind tunnel could only be used 'off-peak'.
Most of these tests were in connection with the Imps known sensitivity to cross winds and of course the high-speed cooling problem. One of these tests brought the unexpected finding that the Imp van was less affected by crosswinds than the saloon.

While all this was going on at a fairly frantic pace, drawings were being released for production. Pre-production was due to start in December and this in most instances fixed the design. You may well understand our worries when we heard the Imp was to be built at Linwood by workers who had never been involved in car production, managed by people most of whom had little experience of the car industry. The engine castings were made at Linwood, transported to Coventry, taken back to Linwood to be fitted into cars, most of which were taken back south. All of this in a brand new factory, that had to be ready to be opened by H.R.H. Prince Philip the following May. It was a tremendous act of faith by the Rootes family and a nightmare for the Development Engineers and of course for Design and Production Departments.

The next stage was preproduction. We at Ryton were delighted to hear that Linwood were to make a terrific effort at proving these early cars, with 2 cars going to Europe, Sweden, and East Africa, as well as the intensive testing in this country. At the same time we were very worried, because we knew what to expect in the way of failures, as a result of the previous tests, and the sort of remedial action that had been possible in the few months between our tests and the release of drawings. With excellent co-operation between Linwood and Ryton it was arranged for Engineering to instrument one car to allow full benefit to be gained from the test and for two development engineers to accompany the cars.

Second eurocontinental test (1962 - preproduction)

The first of these tests was to Europe: Germany, Switzerland, France and Austria.
I can't remember who went on this test or any of the test results. It must have been reasonably satisfactory!!

Second cold climate test (Scandinavia, 1963 - preproduction)


Photo file second cold climate test

The next test was to Sweden. The two cars VHS 817 (L17) and VHS 818 (L18) were air freighted across the Channel then driven up through Germany, Denmark to Sweden. We paused in Stockholm to collect locally made studded tyres. These were of two types, those with the studs just flush with the surface of the tyre and the others with studs standing proud by 6-8mm. The latter gave fantastic grip while on ice but were not intended for use on roads where the ice was thawing. The other tyres were a drivers dream on icy roads , but were noisy and would only be appropriate for use in places where there is serious cold weather like Norway and Sweden.

On the whole this test went more or less as expected with good cold starts, no serious mechanical failures and insufficient heat output for -20°C in normal clothes (it was adequate when wearing suitable outdoor clothing). The car was also fitted with a temporary installation of a South Wind combustion heater and an exhaust heat recovery unit designed by Ricardo. The South Wind heater was excellent in every way, but it would impose installation problems and of course cost a significant amount of money. While the Ricardo unit recovered a useful amount of heat it did not help the slow warm up.

The excitement of the test was at Gallivare when we were pursued by some of the Swedish motoring press.
Link to Garret Walker:
Off to the Arctic... Jan 20 to Feb 22 1963
"Start of the cold weather test - at Ryton"
"Imp with a Norwegian train"
The Imp had not been announced so they were desperate to get this coup. Eventually we got the cars into the garage and the Linwood leader managed to persuade the press boys that it would be best for them to come back the next day when the cars would be cleaned and polished. We of course immediately packed up and drove to Kiruna to put the cars on the train over the mountains to Narvik.

Then followed the long drive down south by road, ferry and for one stretch where the road was blocked by snow, by train. Near Koppang we found a suitable test site for cold start test and general assessment with the lowest temperatures of the test.
Just as we were packing up to drive back to Ryton, I received a phone call from Craig Miller for me to get back to Ryton as soon as possible. The engineer who was due to lead the next Kenya test had moved to a different part of the company and I had to prepare the test. The test team dropped me off at a nearby railway station so I could get to Oslo and fly home while they drove the cars back.

Second hot climate test (Kenya, 1963 - preproduction)


Photo file second hot climate test


The test team was:

  • Ken W. Sharpe, Engineering Department - Ryton
  • Derek Sleath, Engineering Department - Ryton
  • Vic Gorman, Fitter - Engineering Department - Ryton
  • Garry Walker, Representing C.I.D. Linwood
  • Richard Puxted, Representing C.I.D. Linwood
  • W. (Bill) Mair, Woodhead Monroe Ltd. (Woodhead dampers)
  • J. Dodswell, Girling Ltd. (Brakes and test Monotube dampers)
  • S. Peck, Pressed Steel Co. Ltd.
  • The next overseas test was to Kenya (this was a year before their independence) and followed on closely after the Scandinavian test.

    Cars WHS 156 (L21) and WHS 157 (L22) were, with Linwood co-operation, instrumented and prepared for this test, which we knew would be a tough one. This time boxes of spares were dispatched in advance and engineers from Woodhead, Girling, Solex and Pressed Steel were invited to attend.

    Car time on pre-production cars is very valuable so the cars must have been flown to Nairobi, but I cannot remember collecting them - maybe the Linwood lads did.

    The first exercise was to check out the cars and their instrumentation.

    On higher ground
    Running round a road behind the Ngong Hills soon gave the warning that we would have trouble with the back end with frequent light grounding. Otherwise everything worked and we were ready to start determining settings for carburettor and dampers.
    At the height of Nairobi (6,000 ft) the shortage of oxygen in the air means the carburettor settings have to be revised. This brings about a drop in power, just at a time when more power would be desirable because of the surface of the roads. This has to be accepted, so with the engine running correctly, work can be started on the damper and spring settings.

    Rough roads
    Grounding the sump of both cars meant undershields had to be constructed immediately. Derek Sleath, Vic Gorman and the Linwood fitter set to with a will and, using facilities provided by Rootes Kenya, a sump protection undershield was constructed. These enabled some spring rates and damper settings to be determined and we had a good trip down to Hunters Lodge on the Mombassa Road.

    Engine temperatures kept rising as the day progressed. Investigation showed some of the fan blades were missing. Flying stones were hitting the inside of the rear cross member and bouncing forward into the fan. Derek, Vic and the Linwood fitter (I wish I could remember his name) spent another busy evening and morning extending the sump guard to include a mesh to keep out the stones.

    All the above did not happen in a couple of days as it might appear from this description, together with other problems (like bent track rods) it took the best part of 10 days.
    With the cars in reasonable condition we set off on a tour of north-east Kenya. Kisumu, Tororo, Mbale round the base of Mount Elgon and back through Eldoret. Apart from dust entry I can't remember any real problems.

    Back in Nairobi we had a days rest. On these tests I always tried to allow one days rest each week and in a place where we could swim or perhaps use one of the cars to visit a National Park. In this way we had two days in Amboseli N.P., one day dust testing and assessing various air cleaner elements, the other watching elephants, giraffes etc., with the night spent under canvas listening to the lions roar and wildlife noises. That was a good experience for all the test team and it refreshed us for the next spell of intensive work.
    Back in Nairobi we prepared for our next run down to Mombassa and on to Tanga. Two very different types of road. Nairobi to Mombassa was, as may be imagined, a busy road with about 60 miles of tarmac out of Nairobi and 30 Miles of tarmac going into Mombassa. The 200 miles of road between were muram. Muram is a surface remade with a snow plough after the rains and where streams crossed the road a 'donga' is formed. Until the heavy lorries cut up the surface it made a fast road with traps for the careless in the dongas, which by their nature formed in a dip in the road which concealed up to two feet of water or broken down cars or very probably both. If you didn't notice this, hard braking on muram was like braking on ball bearings - exciting! The road on to Tanga was very different, thick sand and there must have been sharp stones, because we had several tyre failures on this stretch. Another days drive back to Nariobi and it was time to pack up.

    The conclusions on this test? Well the Imp wasn't really suited to this territory, but we knew an awful lot more about the Imp and its limitations. It needs a sump guard and in some way the oil vapours and leaks must be kept from going in the radiator where they collect the dust and ruin the marginal cooling. With their roads, a bigger car is a better proposition. Needless to say I didn't put it in those words in my 1963 report.


    Back at Ryton and down to earth, it was necessary to persuade Design that at least some of our findings applied to all Imps. And while it was clearly senseless to make all Imps suitable for Kenya, many of the problems were investigated and where tooling permitted action was taken to correct.
    So most of the year 1963 was spent looking into production problems and proving the solutions. By this time, all drawings having been released and tools being made there was virtually a stop on alterations. Even if the solution to a particular problem was known, it could not be introduced, because it would delay production which had to be up and running for the opening of Linwood by Prince Phillip.
    I went to the opening day festivities, but I was wondering what the public would make of this underdeveloped car. All we could do in development was to investigate problems and hope to have changes made during the production run, as convenient or in Mk 2. Some of these were difficult, like water pumps. A lot of rig test work was put on in the construction of a multi pump test rig. Many problems of cars at that period were not found on test, because we pushed for mileage and the problems that appear when 'Granny takes the children to the sea for the day and then leaves the car standing for a week until she goes shopping again' are not found with intensive running. The fitter testers tend to drive hard, particularly with a car like the Imp which thrives on such treatment.


    Third hot climate test (Kenya, 1964 - Production & development)


    The test team this time was:

    • Ken Sharpe
    • Ron ?, fitter
    • Bill Mair, Woodhead Monroe
    • Harry Harris, Girling
    • I am sure we took another engineer from Ryton but I can't think who it was.

    The Imps were:

    • 4105 KV - Red Sports engine?
    • 4106 KV - Blue standard Imp

    By now the Imp was in production, so two cars were shipped to Mombassa. The first job on arrival in Nairobi was to fly down to the coast to collect the cars. Sump guards and suitable suspension had been fitted at Ryton, so when we got the cars out of customs, we were able to start the drive to Nairobi - well we would be when the road was opened. It was just after the rains and the snow ploughs were still at work.
    Then it was up to the big city, where we made ourselves at home in the Rootes Kenya workshops (these people were amazingly helpful - we must have upset the smooth running of their service department terribly).

    After the usual round of testing suspension settings for Woodheads and Girling monotubes, carburetion and cooling, we started the first proving run. This was a circuit of Eldoret, Tororo (were we where told that we must wear a tie), on to Soroti, Gulu (later to become the starting point for Idi Amin, and a days rest by the Murchison Falls National Park. After our fill of crocodiles and hippos we pressed on to Fort Portal, Mbarara, Kampala and back to Nairobi. We were pretty pleased with this run, which had taken about a week.

    The cars required a good check over, cleaning of the radiator, air filters etc., and inspection of suspension and associated parts for damage and cracks.

    We had intended to make a similar trip into Tanganyika, as it was then called, but we were advised that the political situation was not good, so we contented ourselves with a run down the Namanga Road and further trips down the Mombassa Road. After one of these drives we found the air cleaner element seal had been damaged and a considerable amount of dirt had entered the engine. While this was investigated, Harry Harris and I did some further work on the Girling monotubes and did a long days drive to Nyeri, across the Aberdare hills to Naivasha and back to Nairobi.

    With the end of the test time approaching, we tidied up and left the cars for Rootes Kenya to put some miles on and ship them back to Ryton. And boy!! did they put some miles on. They engaged drivers to drive down to Mombassa, hand the car over to another driver who drove back to Nairobi and so on. When they shipped the cars they had clocked up 10,000 miles in less than a month. Then we found that the drivers had been giving their friends a lift to the sea sometimes. They admitted to travelling 4up, but we cynics wondered if it had become a bus service. Still they had put the mileage on and quicker than we would have managed in this country in those days.

    The conclusions for this test were that the Imp had improved since the last test but that it could in no way be recommended for that territory. It was really a car for use on tarmac.


    Third cold climate test (Scandinavia, 1964 - Production & development)


    Photo file third cold climate test


    The cars involved were:

    • Singer Chamois
    • Imp Sport

    For details of this test I am really pushing my memory. We had so many balls in the air with Imp Sport, Imp Van, Singer variants and of course more importantly current production and service problems, that I cannot recall any one particular detail of the test, not even the test team. I hope somebody out there can fill in the details. I feel sure Mike Rushall would be there and there must have been a fitter/tester as well as an engine man.
    The route we took is more certain because I have some photos taken on the way.

    One car we took was a Singer Chamois and the other I think was an Imp Sport.

    We started out going to Rotterdam, then:

    The area is fine for carburetion tests: the temperature is (or was) reliably low and the traffic light. For controlled heater testing it is not so good, because there are masses of small hills to make it difficult to obtain consistent stabilization of interior temperatures. Bear in mind we were using a steady 30 mph and the total time to stabilize was about 30 minutes. Driving normally at normal speeds an overall assessment was easily made.

    The return trip was made via Copenhagen and Rotterdam.


    Third eurocontinental test (Spain, May 1965 - Development)


    Photo file third eurocontinental test


    The cars involved were:

    • Imp Van CPW540C ?
    • Imp Sports EDU 62C

    Apart from myself the people concerned were:

    • Bill Horn-Andrews, ...
    • Maurice Evans, Road test engineer
    • Clive Mann, Road test engineer
    • Arthur Parker, ...

    Because Spain was conveniently close to the UK for this test various staff travelled out for short periods depending on their responsibilities. The cars were driven down to Spain and I joined them in Seville.

    The May test time was chosen as the earliest we could expect hot weather. Testing was concerned with cooling (as ever) and driveability. After sufficient experience of heavy city traffic in high temperatures we moved on to Malaga and then up to Granada where, south of the city, we found basically smooth but loose surfaced roads. These produced lots of dust for further air cleaner and dust entry tests. We carried these tests out by driving the test car in the cloud of dust brought up by our transport vehicle in front. Obviously we allowed a safe distance between the vehicles and we weren't running at high speed. I don't think the local farmers were too keen, but nobody complained - perhaps they were used to the dust.

    Granada also gave convenient access to the hill road up the Sierra Nevada. This was a cracking road on the way up for cooling and on the way down for brake test (with care). Traffic was light, if there was any, and while the car heat soaked at the top there was a superb view over the mountains. I believe this road now has been improved and continues down the other side making it a through route, so I guess it is much busier.
    With the specific tests and the overall assessments completed the test moved on to Madrid. From here the test vehicles were driven back to Ryton, while I was due to visit a small privately owned factory near Oporto in Portugal.

    Portugese C.K.D. Imps
    Actually getting to Oporto was interesting - the national airline T.A.P. were still using Constellations for internal flights. The visit to the factory was an eye-opener. The main assembly building had two tracks, one assembling Triumph Heralds (I think) and the other C.K.D. Imps. They weren't breaking any records in terms of cars per day, but the quality of the Imps was superb. I had driven many many Imps between 1960 & 1966, probably hundreds, but those built in Portugal were the best.
    Why? They were doing nothing special on assembly just taking care to do the job properly. I think the difference occurred when they built the body shells. When the separate body panels were brought together and spot welded, the joint was filled with braze, with the result that the body shell was very rigid. We all know the scuttle and facia shudder the Imps have when you hit a sizable pothole, well these Imps just went thud - everything just moved together.
    After this visit it was back to Ryton to carry on problem sorting.


    A little later in 1965 somebody decided to reorganize Engineering with the result that the Imp team was broken up with its members going to Stoke Engineering, with their component colleagues and the short direct lines of communication between Design and Development lost. My particular job moved on to Development Planning of the Avenger and so I lost contact with Imp Development. The hectic and happy days were over and it was down to paperwork and systems.

    Meet up with the old team?
    It would seem that most people who worked at Ryton on the Imp look back on them as interesting and exciting days. How many of the old team are still around? It would be great if we could meet up - perhaps at one of the Imp club's events.

    Anybody out there ?


    From: Kenneth Sharpe
    Subject: Re: Sharpe memories
    Date: Mon, 8 Aug 2005

    Dear Franka

    Also attached is a 'Men responsible for the Imp'-file. I did this to help recollections. It may be of interest to you and the site.




    The Imp Site
       Imp History
       Testing the Imp
          Development of the Hillman Imp (this file)
          Test drivers
             Tested and Proven (Rootes booklet; p. 14)

    © Kenneth Sharpe
    15 Aug 2005:   I have completed my current memories of the Imp. I will give it a rest now, while I reread the two Imp books and the web site and see what ferments in my brain. (or see what connections can be remade). But please contact me if you have any queries, missing info on photos etc.
    I have enjoyed doing this exercise.

    Contact Ken Sharpe via me - Franka