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Imp history

Rootes' small car was designed by Micheal Parkes (a former development engineer for Ferrari) and Tim Fry more or less from 1955 on. It was made in the purposebuild Linwood factories in Scotland. Launched in 1963, it sported many new and untried ideas, like an aluminium alloy engine, and overhead camshaft; a pneumatic throttle and king-pins running in sealed plastic bearings. It was produced for more than 12 years, until 1976.

Once upon a time

In 1955 a small car project was begun, not so much to come up with an economy car in the Suez Crisis days (like the Mini), but to provide an idea of what sort of affordable car could be made and what its performance would be. Parkes and Fry proposed a 2 adults - 2 children car, that could do 60 mph and manage 60 mpg (which made aerodynamics a priority). Looking at the competition (Fiat 500, BMW 700, Citroen 2CV) and considering costs, they opted for a rear engine. Other aims of the team included that the small car be fun to drive.

No bubbles

After having been presented with two prototypes, the Rootes board members (used to Hillman or Humber solid, well-made quality cars) made it clear they were not interested in any bubble-car of sorts, nor in a design that cut costs at all costs. At the same time they appeared willing to go ahead with a Rootes small car, but it had to be a proper motor car with a.o. a water-cooled four-cylinder engine. It should be able to compete with the small Fords and BMCs, including the Mini.

Proper motor

At the time Coventry Climax were building an aluminium alloy engine that Tim Fry thought might fit, so he wrote them to get the installation drawings. Coventry Climax co-operated and Fry succeeded to fit both it (and a radiator) into the tiny engine compartment.
The 750cc Coventry Climax racing engine was tamed and just about every component was changed. But it remained unlike most car engines, being made of aluminium, with an overhead camshaft. The size was increased to 875cc, producing 39bhp.

More proper still

After a few visits to Bob Saward's styling department, the Apex was quite sophisticated by the end of the 1950s. The shape owed much to the Chevrolet Corvair.
And the refinement continued. The opening rear window was another innovation, unheard-of as hatchbacks were in those days. Together with the fold down rear seat, it improved (access to) luggage space.
A superior rear suspension was added, coupled with a basic front suspension to effectively neutralise the 'tail-happy' handling of a rear-engined car.

Praise the gear

A gearbox, cased in aluminium, was specially designed to match the lively engine, with synchromesh on all four gears (unlike the 1959 Mini). It had the third and fourth gear set rather high, to reduce noise and improve economy. The new transaxel was technically advanced. At that time, it may have been the best gearbox ever produced, and it still does not have too many equals.

One more for the road

It was launched on schedule: a neat, refined little four-seater for 508 (or 532 for the De Luxe).

The Team

By this time the team that was on the project consisted of

  • Harry White, Chief designer
  • Craig Miller, Chief engineer
  • Tim Fry, Co-ordinating engineer
  • 'Bill' West, Transmission Engineer
  • Ken Sharpe, Chief devlopment engineer
  • Leo Kuzmicki, Deputy chief engineer in charge of engine design
  • Bob Saward, body styling
  • Bob Crift, body engineering
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