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Mini Vs Imp

Small Wonders Published: 29th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

Dennis Allt of Transimp (01442 217610) is one of the UK’s leading Imp specialists and he thinks they are miles better than the equivalent Mini being faster, nicer handling, plus are more refi ned and versatle. He says the Rootes car remains grossly underrated on the road yet is still a hit on the tracks – as as a trails car. Dennis’ personal car is a modded Imp running on 13inch wheels. “I left it for a year while using my Hunter and when I got it out again I wondered why did I leave it so long,” he says.

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The Mini may well have revolutionised the small economy car scene, signaling the beginning of the end for those unstable ‘bubble’ cars. However, the often forgotten Hillman Imp, launched four years later, was just as revolutionary in its own way. With its advanced engine and a hatchback rear window, the Rootes effort took mini-car thinking a stage further, yet it always lived in the shadows of its more illustrious better selling Midlands rival. When the two ran in parallel, BMC sold ten Minis for every single Imp, although both manufacturers lost out heavily on the deal. Known as Project Apex, the Imp’s development was rushed through, and involved a government-subsidised move up to an all-new plant in Linwood, Scotland. With poor early build quality and reliability issues, the Imp effectively sunk The Rootes Group. American fi rm Chrysler bought the failing outfi t in 1964, just a year after the Imp’s launch. Perhaps if Imps, instead of Minis, were used in The Italian Job, the car may have gained more success and lived longer than its minimal 13-year production run? Comparing the two cars has always been intriguing because they are similar in size and purpose, but offer completely different mechanical layouts. As starter classics, both make great buys. They are sensible, individual bets for young learnerdrivers who don’t want to go down the modern Corsa/Fiesta road and who enjoy the benefi ts something different. Other benefi ts include classic car insurance andlowly running costs.  As with Spridgets and Spitfi res, therivalingMinis and Imps have their own loyal fan base. But, assuming you’re neutral, what side should you support? Read on!

Which one to buy?

A case of thinking ahead…

Or putting it all behind you! The chief difference between the pair is where the major mechanicals are located. On the Mini it’s all at the front, of course, a format that is now virtually mandatory on any new car design. Rootes, however, thought differently with the Imp, slotting the low-slung engine and transmission at the rear, VW Beetle-style (not surprising as Rootes passed up the chance to make the car after the war-ed). Both arrangements free up a lot of much-needed interior space, but the Imp is a lot more practical than the Mini, with its rear tailgate and fold-down rear seats – a blueprint for the supermini in fact (yes we know about the Austin A40-ed). Styling is subjective, but a lot more thought went into the Imp, which was designed to look like a mini Chevrolet Corvair and it even copied the American’s rear-engined layout – but handled a whole lot better! Today, the Imp looks a lot more airy and glassy than the Mini, even if it lacks the latter’s now timeless appearance. There’s a proliferation of body styles to choose from. With the Mini there’sthe saloon and estate (Traveller) in both conventional and squared off Clubmanstyles, plus the upmarket and booted Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet offerings, not to mention the van and pick-up commercials. Imps can also be found as a saloon, estate or van, plus there’s a cluster of rather nice fastbacks, the best being the cute, sporty Sunbeam Stiletto. Even by 1960s standards, both cars were pretty austere but the Imp, especially early versions, was the better trimmed. The Mini gained much ground in 1969, when the Clubman was introduced, with the luxury of wind up windows,etc. The Mini range was successively refi ned right up to its demise in 2000. The Imp received few upgrades during the 1970s, although the Sunbeam and Singer models were well appointed and pretty classy looking – something Rootes products were always good at. You buying decision may rest on the car’s age. You can get a thoroughly modern Mini that’s now just a decade old, still retaining that classic character and aura, plus benefi tting from useful modern refi nements. However, the Imp ducked out in 1976, making this tiddler considerably older and rarer.

What’s the best to drive?

Closer than you’d think

What’s the difference between a Mini and an Imp? Well, back in their boy-racer days, it was said that if you overdid it in a Mini then you’d go head fi rst into the scenery, while in an Imp you’d get rear-engined oversteer and be looking back out of the rear window for the inevitable! We’re exaggerating… of course! Both cars feel agile and safe when driven sensibly, as classics usually are, but the Mini is inherently the more foolproof as well as being more ‘chuckable’ plus it doesn’t suffer in crosswinds like the Imp, or feel light at the front end at speed. Undoubtedly, the Hillman has the nicer engine. The Coventry Climax ohc unit (also found in the Lotus Elite, remember) is a honey. The noise from it is well subdued in the back, making the Mini feel far coarser and noisier, which it is. Although just slightly larger than the 848cc Mini unit, the Imp’s 875cc engine feels far brisker and is faster than even 998cc Minis. In today’s terms, both are sedate and feel pushed at the legal limit, which is almost their maximum. Where the Mini does score is with the A-Series’ lusty low-rev pull, plus the fact that later models benefi ted with the 1098cc and 1275cc power packs (that can easily be retro-fi tted). With the Imp, the only easy-fi t alternative is the 930cc upgrade that was used in the Chrysler Sunbeam of the late 1970s (which needs mods to the crankshaft to fi t), or the 998cc big bore that was popular from tuners as well as the factory’s competition department. On the other hand it now is popular to fi t a variety of engine and ‘boxes. Imps only used drum brakes (although Viva and Fiesta ones can be made to fi t), whereas the Mini became disc as soon as the Cooper arrived. While we’re not looking at the sporting versions in this article, it’s worth mentioning that the Imp Sport engine is on par with the Cooper if not Cooper S and goes quite nicely.

Owning and running

Mini by a mile – or more a kilometre

There’s no contest here. Along with the MGB, few classics are as easy to run as a Mini. Everything you require, right down to a complete new bodyshell, is available. In addition, its simplicity makes DIY easy, if not exactly pleasurable. In contrast, Imps are only really served by a select specialist base and parts are becoming harder to source, although apart from trim they are available. Also, the mechanicals are inherently weaker, especially the all-alloy engine, which is well known for overheating and popping head gaskets but, like snag-prone Stags, this has largely been sorted. The MK1 Imp suffered numerous other maladies too. This doesn’t mean to say that Imp ownership is impossible, just harder work and probably more expensive. Also, as the newest Imp is almost 35 years old, it’s odds on that you’ll have your work cut out with bodywork issues. Both Mini and Imp suffer badly from corrosion, but the Mini is obviously much easier to get spare panels for – even a new body.

And The Winner Is...

Logically speaking it has to be the Mini. It’s been around the longest and enjoys a huge club and spares support that’s on par with any MG or Triumph. In terms of driver appeal, we don’t believe that there’s much in it and more down to personal taste. The Imp scores with its refi nement and hatchback facility and the style of the attractive fastback models. The Mini is a hit… for being a Mini!

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