David Allen
 Dave Allen at Imp 14, telling an anecdote

The Imp Site

My time with the Hillman Imp
at the Rootes Group and Chrysler UK

By David Allen
September 2014

1. The Beginnings

I joined Rootes in September 1960 as a Graduate Trainee. From a lifelong interest in cars and a degree from Cambridge University in Classics and Economics I felt I was the right man for a career selling cars.
I did my National Service before going to university, so I was 23 when I joined Rootes.

Harry Dearns was the Group Personnel Manager for Rootes and responsible for all personnel matters including recruitment. The Graduate Training Department was managed by Jock Wilson, a very imposing former army officer who was also at that time an Olympic boxing referee. Not a man to mess with.

Graduate Training
The 18 months training course consisted largely of being attached to several of the company's departments, both offices and shop floor. Here you were treated as cheap labour by the departmental management, so the only way to learn anything was to pester the manager with lots of questions on a Friday afternoon, when the assignment usually ended. This ensured, we hoped, that at least when writing his report he might remember you and give a glowing account.

I had some really good assignments; for example working a machine on the engine block line, while the operative was out attending a union meeting and talking to him about shop floor matters, and spending 3 months in London at the main Rootes Showroom in Devonshire House Piccadilly selling cars.
I also enjoyed very much a month in Market Research where the manager involved me much more in performing real work in the department. I also had many boring ones... and there was really little actual training given, so I requested that I be given a regular job before the first year was up.

2. A job and a company car

Luckily I was offered an interesting job in September 1961: running the Rootes Show Weeks organisation, which (with a pantechnicon of exhibits, a driver and two service engineers), had to put on a sales promotion show at Rootes Dealers (one per week). I had to travel to the dealers in advance in my Hillman Husky and set up arrangements for the Show Week. Customers were invited to bring their cars in for a free inspection and to see the exhibits and films in the show.


Pre-production mileage

Unfortunately my appointment to this Show Weeks job, which I loved, made me miss being seconded to the group of Rootes pupils and trainees who were recruited in 1962 to put miles on all the pre-production Hillman Imps already built, but still inadequately developed.
I am sure this programme has been written up elsewhere in books on Rootes and the Imp, but here is my slant on it as it reveals a lot about how cars were developed in those days.

The idea was initiated by Norman Garrad, the Rootes Competitions Manager, but was actually driven by time pressure to have the official opening of the Linwood Factory and the launch of the Imp before the engineers were really ready. A team of young pupils and a few trainees were given the task of putting miles on a group of pre-production Imps and of feeding back problems and issues to the development team. Of course the trainees had no experience of car development and were motivated mainly by the desire to put as many miles as possible on the cars by driving at high speed all day. Hence the little old lady shopping, the family doing short weekend trips to town, the infrequent use of a car in stop start driving and many other normal driving conditions were not included in the testing. The result was that later, when the cars were in the hands of the general public, it was in this type of driving where most of the reliability and service problems arose. (See also remarks below re the water pump failures)

Later on I was involved with the Hillman Hunter in 1966, the Hillman Avenger and the Chrysler 180 projects up to 1971. In those, the discipline of doing proper testing in a variety of driving environments, including harsh overseas climates, was well developed. I am sure it was the Imp experiences that conditioned much of this thinking for Rootes at least.


We did 50 shows in 52 weeks in the south and west of England. This was a great introduction to working with Rootes Dealers, as my main ambition was to be appointed as a Rootes Area Sales Representative.
There were 10 Sales Reps covering all the dealers in the British Isles and each Rep would have a large territory and lots of Main, Area and Retail Dealers to encourage, cajole and manage. This was seen as the key company job in Sales & Marketing below the management level.

Rootes Outlets

The Rootes brothers started as car salesmen and were so successful that they ended up buying the car manufacturers who supplied them. Hence Rootes, uniquely amongst UK car manufacturers, had a network of retail outlets from which cars were sold to the public and serviced.

  1. Rootes Manchester was one such and there were others in
  2. Birmingham,
  3. London and
  4. Maidstone.

These Rootes outlets operated exactly in the same way as a large independent Main Dealers would in other population centres. The Rootes family also owned a chain of Main Dealers in the south of England called the Robins & Day organisation. These were more like independent Main Dealers and were not part of the Rootes Group. By coincidence many of the Show Weeks I organised in 1962/63 were at Dealers owned by the Robins & Day organisation.

3. The Imp in production

When the Imp was actually launched in spring 1963, I was at Rootes Manchester as a Fleet Salesman, rounding off my sales training and experience before being appointed an Area Sales Rep.

Fleet Sales is the activity of selling cars to companies and businesses. A fleet was then defined as having more than 5 vehicles. Fleet sales were much more important in UK than in other European countries and therefore received more attention from the Manufacturers. Some models had nearly 50% of their sales to Fleet Companies. Each Main Dealer would have one or more Fleet Salesman who sold cars to the local businesses. This is the job I did in Rootes Manchester for one year 1963/64.

However very big fleets would be handled centrally by a Fleet Sales Manager and some Regional Fleet Salesman. The Rootes Central Fleet Sales Organisation with, I think, 4 regional Fleet Sales Representatives mirrored the regular Sales Organisation with the 10 Area Representatives, as I was, reporting to the General Sales Manager. Both Fleet and General Sales Manager reported to the Director of Sales and Marketing.

I remember having to organise the launch of the Imp in Manchester to staff and customers. We built a big ramp in our workshops, down which the Imp was to make a dramatic entrance by bursting through a paper covered frame with a large question mark painted on it. The car was driven by a Rootes Manchester manager wearing a kilt accompanied by an attractive secretary dressed to look a bit Scottish.
Sales Promotion was a simple matter in those days!

Later on I organised and wrote a direct mailing campaign to potential customers to get them to come and test & buy the Imp. The first two letters came from the Rootes Manchester Sales Manager at the time, Howard Birrell, but the third was written by the Imp itself, signed H. Imp Esq.
H. Imp claimed to have brilliant fuel consumption and said: "...I only sip one gallon of Petrol every fifty miles..." We got quite a few direct replies to that one.

4. My own sales territory

Finally in February 1964 I was appointed Area Sales representative for South Scotland; the territory where the Rootes Factories at Linwood were located. I was there three and a half years and quite a few things concerning the Imp are worthy of note from my experiences.

4.1 Sales in Scotland

The territory included Glasgow, Edinburgh, all of lowland Scotland down to the Borders as well as Argyllshire which stretched right up to Oban and down to the Mull of Kintyre, more than a days drive with the road conditions in those days. I recall that we had over 13% of the UK market in my patch and Mike Rowe, the Representative for the rest of the North of Scotland had about 17%.
In South Scotland there were

We used to get quarterly reports from Rootes Market Research, broken down by administrative areas of the number of registrations of each make and model, including all the competition. It was clear that in Scotland at least, the Imp was outselling the Mini and the Vauxhall Viva quite comfortably. The only weak places were the towns where for example BMC would have a really strong local dealer and of course we always tried to sign them up for Rootes.

4.2. Culture clash

One of my jobs as Rootes Rep. was to accompany groups of dealers from the rest of the country coming up to visit Linwood: our shiny new factory. On the first of these, as we walked round the assembly lines I remember, a Dealer asked me whether we gave overalls to the workforce. He had been to the Coventry factories and knew that everyone wore the dark blue Rootes overall with the Humber/ Hillman/ Sunbeam badge. I looked around and could see that he had a point: few of the assembly workers had overalls and many were dressed in tatty jeans and sweaters.

I asked the Foreman of the line why the men were not wearing overalls and was told that overalls were issued to everyone, but a lot of workers 'keep them for best'. Yes, he really said that.

This story is both amusing and sad. It is easy to imagine the man with an allotment or workshop in his garden thinking he needed a good pair of overalls to pursue his hobbies there and that the Rootes issue ones were far too good to go to proper work in. Many of the workers did come from the shipbuilding, and other Clyde heavy engineering industries, where the work would be dirty and so only the oldest clothes would be worn.

Linwood management challenge
The sad part of the story is that Rootes were obliged by the then Government's regional development policy to locate the new factory in an area of high unemployment. Here were workers, used to building ships at the rate of one per year, being asked to build cars at the rate of 1500 per week. The cultural clash revealed by this story showed what a major effort the company had to put in to get the factory going in the Linwood area with acceptable levels of output and, above all, of quality.

4.3. Teething trouble

The reliability problems mentioned earlier were a major issue for all the Sales Reps, because we were trying to drive up the level of sales and at the same time promise our dealers that Engineering and Service were working to overcome the problems. A particular issue with the nature of the Imp problems was that some of them forced the car to be off the road and into the dealer's workshop, whereas the Mini - which still at that time had a lot of teething problems - could keep running with such problems as water leaks and synchromesh failures.

Water pump failures
One major Imp issue that took up a lot of our time was the epidemic of water pump failures. The Imp water pump was an outrigger design, not built into the engine block as many other cars were. Water would leak beyond the seal from the 'wet' end of the pump and contaminate the bearing on the outrigger side. The bearing would then fail. When the cars were driven quickly all the time the problem never occurred. I had no problems with water pumps though driving about 12 different cars and thousands of miles. I know of few other Sales Reps who had problems either. I do not believe that Norman Garrad's test programme with the pre-production cars threw up any such problems either, because all the driving was done at high speed.

Paint dots
A series of modifications was presented over several months by Service Department, each one marked by a specific colour of paint dot on the water pump. We used to visit the factory regularly for sales meetings and always had a presentation from the Assistant Service Manager. He said each time that the problem had been 'put to bed' and gave us the latest paint dot colour. We would then return joyfully to our territories and say to dealers who were still complaining of failures "Make sure the car has the green spot, because those are now OK."
Inevitably the following month we would get calls to say that now the green spot pumps were failing. So back we go to the factory for another presentation and another paint spot colour!!

Water pump problem solved
The problem was finally resolved by the simple expedient of drilling a small hole in the water pump body on the 'dry' side, so that any water escaping the pump seal could drip away. This effectively replicated what happened when the cars were driven fast: the water could be dissipated so as not to affect the bearing.
This conclusion I make with hindsight, because in the field we were not experts on the actual design and all we were concerned about, was to solve the problems for our dealers. We had no real idea about the early development issue.

    a member of the Linwood PR staff
 All in a Day's work - Hillman Imp - 24 hours non-stop round Scotland David Allenmm Tony Charnell

4.4 Imp promotion in Scotland

One of the things we did to promote the Imp in Scotland was to undertake a campaign that involved four of the Scottish Reps driving an Imp around to visit each of our Main Dealers in 24 hours. The project was called "All in a Day's Work". The idea came, once again, from Norman Garrad, the Rootes Competitions Manager.

The four drivers were:

  1. Tony Charnell, the Commer Cars Rep for South Scotland
  2. Mike Rowe, the Sales Rep for North Scotland
  3. John Lefevre the North Scotland Service Rep
  4. and me.

The tour started in the North of Scotland and Tony and I took over in Aberdeen where we had 12 hours to do our part. The attached photo taken outside the Linwood Showroom shows me in the Pork Pie hat, Tony in the Deerstalker (smoking!) and a member of the Linwood PR staff in the sheepskin coat whose name I can't remember. You can just see the sticker in the rear window saying what we were doing. The main publicity however being gained by having the local press present at many of the dealers we visited. The car was John's and was coloured green; the front boot was filled with a heavy jack so that we could drive quickly round corners, which we loved to do and which helped on the twisty Scottish roads. Needless to say the assignment was easily fulfilled within the 24 hours.

4.5 Ingliston near Edinburgh

Tony Charnell
Finally I have to say a word or two about racing the Imp at Ingliston, a small race track set in the Royal Scottish Showground near Edinburgh. Tony Charnell was the driver and I an assistant and general mechanic. The car was a blue Rallye Imp provided by Hamilton Bros of Paisley who were both a Rootes Area Dealer and also a Commer Truck Main Dealer. Tony's wife Corinne also did a bit of racing there in their own Red Hillman Imp.

The racing in those days at Ingliston was very exciting and many good Scottish racing drivers, who went on to greater things, started there. In the Imp races there were also Morris Minors, Austin A40s, Ford Anglias, Minis of course and in particular a pair of Minis from the BMC Dealer in Dumfries and Galloway with the registration numbers BOX 1 and BOX 2. We never did manage to beat these cars, as they were properly race prepared and we weren't.

Alan Fraser Racing Imps
However, we did not take this lying down and one race day managed to get a team of two - I think Alan Fraser Racing Imps - to Ingliston who beat the living daylights out of all comers in the saloon car races. The Fraser Imp won many saloon car races and was the first saloon car to get round Brands Hatch in under 1 minute. Alan Fraser, a Rootes Dealer in Hildenborough, Kent, had at that time been appointed to run the official Imp racing team for the Rootes Group and the cars were superbly presented and very fast. The roof of the cars had the Scottish Saltire painted on it. The drivers were Ray Calcutt and possibly Nick Britain.

I left Scotland in 1966 to return to the factory, but Tony Charnell stayed in Scotland and became General Manager and Managing Director of several main Dealers both for Rootes/Singer and for Ford.
He went on to race cars widely in UK and on the continent with a series of sports racing cars, sponsored by his company, Mogil Motors of Dumfries. He drove Lolas and Chevrons. He competed several times at Le Mans with two other drivers and in 1979 they won the 'Index of Performance' with a Chevron B36 fitted with a Ford Cosworth engine, an amazing achievement for an essentially private entrant.

5. Product Planning

In November 1966 I was invited to join the relatively new Product Planning Function at the factory. This is a department that stands between Marketing and Engineering. It has the job of proposing and managing new product programmes and facelifts/ product improvements to meet cost, time and profit targets, as well as meeting customer needs and company strategy. Having been striving to sell cars for the last six years I was intrigued by the opportunity to influence their specification and design.

Initially I had responsibility for cars other than the Imp, such as the Hillman Hunter and Minx, the Sunbeam Rapier and the all new Hillman Avenger. Later, in 1969 I succeeded my boss Bill Papworth as Director of Product Planning and had all cars as well as Commer and Dodge Trucks in my portfolio.

I recall just two issues concerning the product planning progress on the Imp up to 1972, when I left Chrysler UK as it was then.

5.1. Imp styling

The first concerns the problems of regular product renewals. Rootes had a reputation for making several facelifts/ improvements to their car ranges over the years to give the salesmen something new to talk about and this could include exterior styling changes. Fortunately perhaps, the Imp exterior was a really classic, specific design which did not lend itself to fiddling with (as the Mini did later with that awful high front end). Hence the changes we could make were

The Imp classic shape and that of the Stiletto/ Californian models remained unchanged.

However, we had very little funding available for fundamental change to systems, such as a new engine, and we could all see that the Imp needed a bigger engine to keep up with competition.

5.2 Capacity increase

We asked engineering to see what they could do. The Rallye Imp had a 998cc engine, but this was achieved by special measures in a special workshop. At the time there was a tradition, almost an obsession, in the engineering department that a car engine had to be capable of several rebores to allow for engine reconditioning during a car's life - a practice much more suitable and relevant to cars built pre-war.
Because of this the best that engineering could offer us was an engine capacity increase to 903cc. We rejected the proposal and had to be content with the old 875cc. Later in the 1970s I believe an engine of 930cc was produced after some arm twisting, but 1000cc was out of reach.

I have subsequently seen a 1200cc Imp based engine at a Classic Car Show in Birmingham this century. This I was told is achieved by putting a block of aluminium on top of the existing block and boring it out to accommodate a much longer stroke. This is done for the really modern trials cars which presumably need light weight, high torque engines for their very specialised vehicle designs.


I left the Rootes Group/ Chrysler UK in March 1971 and joined Perkins Engines in Peterborough. I subsequently worked for a Swedish supplier of components and materials to the car industry and re-joined the Car Industry in 1988 with Volvo Car in Holland where I was Director of Product and Business Planning.

oo - 00 - OO - 00 - oo


David Allen, Stamford, Lincs. September 2014


From: David Allen
Date: Sep. 14, 2014

[...] I have chronicled all my time at Rootes/Chrysler but especially concerned with the Imp. I also attach an Imp related photo which I refer to in the text and one pinched from another website showing my friend Tony Charnell racing an Imp at Ingliston Scotland in 1965; also referred to in the text.

Finally I have some very rare video material of a saloon car race at Ingliston involving Tony and other Imps. This is at present included in a big DVD with all my early family Cine films, but if I manage to extract just the racing bit I will send you a video clip for your website. Sadly Tony died some years ago but I have also asked his wife if she has any Imp stuff from the time we were all together in Scotland; photos, cine film documents or whatever.


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File start: 13 Sept. 2014
File version: 13 Sept. 2014