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Hillman Commer Husky

Buying A Commer Husky Published: 5th Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Hillman’s answer to one of the greatest cars of all time, the Mini, was arguably even more radical and in many was streets ahead of the famous brick – and yes that even includes the rare Husky light commercial van. Today the Commer makes a great workhorse that’s splendid to drive.

If you’re tired of Minis but want something that’s as practical, low cost and yet just as much fun, then have a look at an Imp. They are extremely usable and generally as simple to maintain as a Mini. As a cheap second car for running around in, this impish Commer takes some beating.

History

Built at Linwood, Glasgow, the hatch-backed Imp was powered by an advanced Coventry-Climax derived, all-alloy alloy overhead camshaft engine, driving the rear wheels via a four-speed, all-synchromesh gearbox (located within a transaxle unit in front of the engine) via drive-shafts incorporating composite metal/rubber Rotoflex couplings.

With a capacity of just 875cc, this extremely willing yet sewing machine-smooth motor produced a respectable 39bhp, endowing excellent performance for a small car of the time. A precise rack and pinion steering system was used, and suspension was independent all round, with coil springs at both front and rear (semi-trailing arms were employed at the rear).

Reviving an old Hillman name for a utility estate car, the Imp-based Husky estate arrived in the spring of 1967 along with the Commer van. The name had previously been used on Minx-derived commercials, but dropped once the ‘Arrow range‘ was launched although a Minx pick-up was offered in some Far East markets.

The Husky had rear seats and full-length rear side windows while the Commer was completely panelled in but both had a big advantage over the Mini with a higher roof.

Towards the end of 1968 the entire Imp range was revised, with smarter frontal styling, a new dashboard and updated interiors. October 1973 saw the standard-fitting of radial tyres, plus modifications to the engine and interior. Dynamos were replaced by alternators in late 1974, and reversing lamps became standard fittings during the following year.

Come spring of 1976 and the Imp was dropped by a cash-strapped Chrysler UK.

Driving

Even in standard form, Imps were always regarded as lively cars and the Husky commercial was no different. That engine, although not as powerful as the Lotus Elite which used a 1216cc version, remains a real honey and not half as frenzied at high revs like an A-Series although the Husky’s roadholding and handling can be a bit wayward, especially with a load on the back. Being rear-engined, there’s also a front boot that’s fine to house the tool box (added weight here helps handling and braking, too) and while the engine’s location results in a high loading sill there’s a fair amount of cargo room that’s at least as good as a Minivan.

If a standard Husky isn’t your thing you can improve one along the lines of the Imp such as a larger engine.

Being rear-located (like a Lotus Europa), a variety of alien lumps have been fitted although the stock unit can be taken to 998cc as per racing Imps. There’s a 930cc engine as found in the front-engined Sunbeam but the crankshaft needs modifying. Disc brakes conversions are also available along with 13 inch wheels which makes a world of difference.

Prices

Imps have never achieved Mini status and prices remain more than affordable, starting from £500 or so a rough example. Even show cars are worth no more than £4000 which considering what Minivans now sell for is real value!

What To Look For...

  • Bodywork rust can be a nightmare on these vehicles; ideally even they though are rare, avoid examples which require extensive welding because it is costly and awkward and may outweigh the van’s value.
  • In all cases examine the sills and body side panels but they are not as critical as the body’s structure such as the bulkheads, the scuttle panel that’s ahead of the windscreen, the main front floor pans, the front lower valance panel and all suspension mountings.
  • Other danger areas include the rear floor/cross-member, which takes the strain of the engine and transaxle. Look for welding and decay although a leaky unit that’s dropped oil (and many do) will have done the vicinity no harm at all…
  • Other important areas to check include the wheel arch lips, the extremities of all the wings, the leading edge of the front boot lid (bonnet to you!), the lower edges of the doors, and the rearmost sections of the engine cover.
  • Bear in mind that the Imp is a lot rarer than a Mini and the estate/van versions more exclusive still so obtaining some dedicated body parts isn’t going to be easy. Forward of the front doors it’s pure saloon Imp thankfully.
  • The Imp soon gained a reputation of being unreliable but what basically is a fire pump engine is a tough powerplant – it’s down to how the all alloy engine has been looked after, such as using quality anti-freeze, for example.
  • Check the power unit for signs of overheating/cylinder head gasket failure which sometimes is due to an ailing water pump – a known weak point. These days upgraded cooling system components are available, and can make an Imp a much more reliable proposition than the car’s reputation suggests. Valve clearances are checked and set with shims like a Jag XK unit incidentally.
  • But being alloy, overheating can warp the cylinder head. A pressure test may be required if it runs hot, has water dripping from the exhaust pipe or there’s signs of water marks on the inside of the engine cover.
  • In truth early problems with reliability (notably related to the carburettor and the cooling system) have, in most cases, been sorted out years ago. Also due to being launched in ‘67, all Husky’s gained improvements fitted to MK2 Imps.
  • Check for worn Rotoflex driveshaft couplings. Assess the transmission for weak synchromesh, noisy transmission bearings, and a worn-out clutch (although fitting a new unit is straightforward). Check too for worn king pins and bushes.
  • Note that removal of the engine, whenever required, is extremely easy; the lightweight unit can be wheeled out of the rear of the car on a trolley jack or suitable engine hoist. The engine needs to come out to change the clutch.
  • Dennis Allt of Transimp (01442 217610) is one of the UK’s leading Imp specialists and can provide all the expertise and parts to help ownership. Mechanical parts supply isn’t too bad he says plus has developed suitable modern modifications.


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