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Motor Mouth articles 2011

The Zimp – an Imp with extra zip

Object of curiosity: a rare Hillman Zimp at the recent DVCA auction

MOST people of a certain vintage will remember the Hillman Imp. From its launch in 1963 until its demise 13 years later, the little rear-engined runabout was a common enough sight on British roads.

It was produced by what was then known as the Rootes Group and its principal role was to challenge the supremacy of the great automotive icon of the times, the BMC Mini.

Despite many advanced features, including all-independent suspension, and its distinctive appearance which gave it a certain appeal, the Imp failed mainly because it was rather a rubbish car.

But the workaday Imp, it transpires, actually had a very glamorous sister that very few people knew about. She was sent to the beauty salon of a top Italian designer, underwent some major cosmetic surgery and came back transformed into a scarlet woman known as the Zimp.

It was, by now, a low-slung sports coupé styled by Zagato and not even the most nerdy motoring anorak would have guessed that below the surface of this slinky bright red model lurked a fairly bog standard Hillman Imp.

The story is relevant now because one of these odd little Zimps went under the hammer at the latest classic car sale held by Dorset Vintage and Classic Auctions at Yenston, near Templecombe.

Zagato, based in Milan, is famous for styling such superstars as Aston Martins, Ferraris and Maseratis, and for some reason the company thought an Italian aluminium bodyshell mated to the mechanicals of a British Imp could prove a winner.

Rootes agreed a deal and in 1964 the Hillman Zimp Zagato was dazzling visitors to the British Motor Show at Earl’s Court. However, the great plan was scuppered when Rootes’ partner company Chrysler pulled the plug.

Only three were built and one of them, owned for more than 30 years by an Italian Zagato enthusiast, found its way to a marquee in a field near the Somerset-Dorset border where curious auction visitors looked at it and scratched their heads.

DVCA boss Brian Chant said the Zimp, understood to be the only one in the world in roadworthy condition, had been exercised on private roads and been lovingly cared for like a member of the owner’s family.

It had been estimated to make between £24,000 and £27,000 – but, rather sadly, didn’t find a buyer.

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