Buyers Guide for Imps and Variants

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Keith 'Supaimpy' Laming
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Joined: Tue Sep 09, 2003 11:07 am
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Car Model: Imps and Clans
Location: Proboards

Buyers Guide for Imps and Variants

Post by Keith 'Supaimpy' Laming »

Tim Morgan has written this buyers guide its set as an announcement here . We will all agree Tim has probably had more Imp's than any other member.

If you wish to comment on the content please either PM me or Tim .

Buyers Guide, buying an Imp is the easy bit!

Buying an Imp is the easy bit. Buying a good one is more tricky. The trouble with the Imp is that it was a complicated car in its day – and that goes for the design of the shell as well as the engine. When in good condition, it is immensely strong thanks to the box sections within it – however, if these box sections rust out and/or have been repaired poorly that strength is compromised.

This guide is designed to be an overview of what to look for when checking over a car – I’m sure there are other parts of the Imp that some folks have seen rot out or wear out, but I’m going to cover the common ones. It goes without saying that you should look at every single panel of any old car and that you should sight check it (and use your fingers to feel) for filler.

As a rule, the condition of the mechanicals and interior of an Imp come very much secondary to the condition of the bodywork. Indeed a car with shot mechanics and good bodywork is worth far more than the other way around. Missing engines etc can be replaced easily and cheaply – even by a complete novice.

The best advice I could give anyone considering buying an Imp is to join the club, and ask a knowledgeable local enthusiast to look over the car with you. Many people will help out in return for a beer or similar, and it could save you a fortune in the future. Whatever you do, do not buy via Ebay or similar without viewing the car first. If you do, you can get stung – plus you do have an obligation to buy the car. I know, I’ve been here…


The sills on an Imp are complex. There is an inner box section that can be seen inside the car – these contain the heater pipes and the wiring loom on the driver’s side. On the outside there are curved outer sills, which are two piece – see pic (pic 1) below.


If your potential purchase appears to have one piece outer sills, tread carefully as it has been fitted with cover sills that often have little behind them.

Between the inner box and the outer sills there is a vertical membrane sill which effectively makes up the box sections and gives the car its strength. This panel can rot out unseen and in fact many Imps pass many MOTs with corroded inner sills as the tester cannot see them. To test this you need to slide your fingers under the box section inside the car, between the bottom of the box and the floor pan (see pic below) (pic2)


– if you can feel a solid metal vertical panel closing off that gap, then all is well. If not, the structure of the car is compromised and to repair this properly costs quite a lot.

If your potential purchase has been fitted with cover sills, it is very likely that the rusted remains of the original outer sills are underneath. Rust breeds rust, and by trapping the corrosion, unseen the sills will rust from the inside out and it is likely to cause even more damage as the shell weakens. The pic below was of a once highly tuned Stiletto that had been fitted with cover sills (pic3)


– you can see the remains of the inner membrane and the extent to which this shell rusted out before it was seen on the outside.

Turn your attention to the wheelarches. Because of the nature of their design, they tend to trap moisture from the inside – they are double skinned at their edges. If the arches appear sound, run your fingers around the inside of the arch. Feel for lumps and bumps, indicating filler repairs. Again, because of the way an Imp is constructed, the wheelarches contribute massively to its strength, so ensure any repairs have been done well.

Whilst you are looking at the wheelarches, you need to check closely around the base of the front wheelarches. You should be able to see a plate with four captive nuts that retains the bottom of the door. Check very closely around this plate, as the bottom of the A-post can rot away around it. View any welded repairs carefully. See the pic for an example of the rot (pic4) .


You also need to check the top of the suspension mount at the front – these are known as the H-brackets (for the obvious reason). Due to the nature of the design, mud gets thrown up onto the top of this bracket and rots through it. Feel very carefully and shine your torch into this area to look for holes. The sides of the H-bracket can rust through too so spend a bit of time looking here. You also need to open the bonnet at this point and remove the cardboard under bonnet finishing panels, to look at the inside of the inner front wheelarch to see if the back of the H-bracket has been welded up. If it has, make sure that work has been done well and that the corrosion has been cut out, not merely covered up…

You may need to jack the back of the car up at this stage (a trolley jack carefully placed under the rear subframe/crossmember is a good place – support with an axle stand). Look into the inner wheel arch and check for corrosion around the rear spring turrets. Many Imps will have been plated badly around this area so check for plates, filler and bodges. I have seen brazed repairs using copper here on one horrific example, so again view any plates with caution..

While the car is in the air, check the back corners of the floor. Again, this is a favourite rot spot and many Imps sport plates here. Ensure that any repairs have been done properly – these plates MUST NOT be welded to the rear subframe/crossmember. Rectification of this sort of bodge is expensive. Check the edge of the floor where it meets the sill – again view any plates with caution. The floor pans themselves can get very thin if there have been continuous water leaks from the screens.

If you are viewing a Stiletto, or any other Imp bearing a vinyl roof you need to look carefully at the screen pillars. The vinyl traps moisture and rusts the screen pillars out. Have a good feel and push the bottoms of the front pillars with your thumbs to ensure they aren’t rotten. Look for tell tale signs of filler and fibreglass. See pics for examples (pic5 & pic6).



The rear lower corners of the rear wings are favourite rot spots and are often full of filler. See pic (pic7)


– this looked sound until the filler was poked through!

If you are viewing a Husky or Van, check the condition of the rear tailgate carefully – these can rust quite badly. You also need to check the condition of the roof gutters and the metalwork either side of them. Repairs here can be very expensive.

At the front of the car, the front valence is susceptible to stone chips and therefore rusting. Check carefully where it meets the floor. If the car you are viewing has had the radiator fitted at the front, ensure it has been adequately stiffened around the front floor – the heater box forms an important part of the front strength and as a result, if the work is poorly done the front floor cracks around the front wishbone mounting. This can even occur on cars that have been yumped… it happens!!

The bonnet, doors, engine lid and rear screen have their fair share of rot. All of these can be unbolted, so it isn’t quite so crucial. The bonnet leading edge can corrode from the inside out – most are getting poor now, but they can either have repair sections let in or complete replacement units are available in GRP that are strong enough and durable enough not to be noticeable even on everyday cars. The engine lids rot in the bottom corners by the handles. Unless the lid is Sport vented one, it is usually easier and cheaper to obtain a replacement secondhand. The rear hatch suffers along its bottom edge – check that the catch is still attached! Any evidence of the seams rusting is bad new and currently good replacements are hard to get hold of.

Chromework, badges and external trim aren’t exactly common, but they aren’t that hard to source. If anything is missing, it can usually be found so don’t worry here too much.


Much has already been said about the alleged fragility of the Imp engine – there are plenty of ‘stickies’ on the forum to tell you what to look for in the case of blown head gaskets etc.

All I will add to this is, listen to the engine – Imp engines should be smooth and relatively clatter-free. Worn engines aren’t! Take the car for a drive – try to do some town driving and try to take it on a dual carriage way. Check that the temperature gauge doesn’t keep climbing – especially when the engine is working hard. Ask the vendor about how old the radiator and water pump is – if they don’t know, or if they haven’t been replaced for a long time bank on replacing them. An Imp should be nippy and should pull well – if it doesn’t something may be amiss. Sound the vendor out.


The Imp’s gearbox is a jewel – it should be easy to use, allow very fast changes up and down and should not crunch. If this isn’t the case, something is wrong. It should also be very quiet – while stationary, with the engine running and the window wound down, put your foot on the clutch. If any loud whining noise disappears, then the gearbox has a worn input bearing. Rebuilding an Imp gearbox currently costs around £250 – pretty cheap, under the circumstances.

The clutch should be light and not snatchy. It’s a hydraulic self-adjusting unit, so any slop in the pedal is either wear or shoddy hydraulics. When pulling away, especially if a lot of revs are used, listen for a grinding noise – if its present, the spigot bush in the back end of the crank needs replacing. Not an expensive job, but it will require the engine out. Test the clutch by pulling the handbrake on fully, put the car in 3rd gear, give the engine a little revs and then lift the clutch pedal slowly. If the engine faulters and stalls, the clutch is not slipping – if it doesn’t… bank on a new clutch. You can further test this on the test drive, but slowing the car down to 20mph in top gear and then accelerating hard. This should make an iffy clutch show itself.

Imp brakes in standard, well adjusted form should pull the car up smartly in a straight line. Any deviance from this mean something isn’t right.

On cars with servo brakes, check for white/grey smoke on the test drive (especially when accelerating/decelerating) indicating that the seals have failed in the servo. Bank on fairly substantial costs if it has.

On cars with disc brake conversions, ask the vendor what the conversion is based on and where it was bought from, to ensure its not a poorly made home conversion and that you know what pads to order when they wear out!


Jack the front of the car up under the wishbone and wobble the wheels, both from side to side and up and down. As a rule of thumb any movement up and down denotes kingpin wear. Any side to side movement denotes trackrod end wear. Both are easily and relatively cheaply fixed, but budget for it!


With so many different trim options I haven’t got the space to go into depth here. As a rule of thumb, on the Rootes built cars (up to around 1968) the seats were stitched, and therefore if the seams have come apart, then they can be repaired fairly easily by a trimmer. On later cars, these seams are welded and therefore more tricky to fix. Later cars tend to suffer from the front seat lower squabs collapsing – there is a rubber diaphragm under the seat that perishes, meaning all the weight of the occupant is taken by the outer covering. Eventually this splits. Many folks fit replacement front seats – for example Ford XR3i seats can be made to fit onto the standard runners without too much fuss. If the car you are viewing has replacement front seats, check how they have been fitted as I’ve seen some real howlers…

Seatbelts – no Imp left the factory with inertia reel seat belts. And in the vast majority of cases, retrofitted ones are often not fitted correctly. View such conversions with extreme caution.

Lift the carpets and feel how damp they are. Likewise lift the rear mat behind the back seat and feel for damp here. This will give you an indication as to how good the window seals are. As you can imagine, eliminating leaks should be your number one priority as this will preserve the car. If there is a lot of damp, recheck the state of the floors etc from the *inside*.

On early cars, it is quite common for the speedo needle to wobble about – this is often a cable issue and easily fixed. On Stilettos, make sure the rev counter works – they often don’t and they are hard to get hold of in working order.


Look carefully, and ask questions. Do not just assume that the bodywork *is* good just because it is shiny (and conversely that it is bad because it is not). Take advice, and get a second opinion if you aren’t sure. And don’t buy the first one you see just because it’s available – they may be less common than a Mondeo, but there are still plenty about.