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Pretty ressive ImpFace; HILLMAN OWNERS SSSS DRIVE IN FOR RALLY TO MARK ANNIVERSARY of famous Scots car goes back to her Rootes for 50th birthday.

Byline: David Taylor david.taylor@dailyrecord.co.uk

THE girl who was the face of the Hillman Imp went back to the site where the cars were made yesterday to mark 50 years since the first model rolled off the production line.

Mary Mclelland, whose dad Hugh Morgan worked at the factory, was born the same day the car was unveiled to the world.

She became Miss Hillman Imp and the face of the firm and was promised a car for her 18th birthday. But the company folded before she got her present.

Mary returned to the former factory site in Linwood, Renfrewshire, to see a plaque unveiled in honour of the car's 50th birthday and she was joined by Hillman owners showing off their prized cars.

The mother-of-two said: "It's been brilliant to be Miss Hillman Imp.

"I was here as a one-year-old to celebrate the first anniversary and had my photo taken on the bonnet of one of the cars with an Imp-shaped birthday cake.

"Then for the 10th anniversary, I got a gold watch and a Raleigh Chopper bike."

But Mary, 50, who lives in nearby Howwood, has never driven an Imp.

She added: "The company told me I would get an Imp on my 18th birthday but they were out of business by then.

"I didn't start driving until I was 25 but I was gutted that I wasn't going to get a free car."

Prince Philip opened the Rootes factory in Linwood, on May 2, 1963, creating more than 6000 jobs.

But the car failed to live up to the success of the rival Mini and the plant was bought by US firm Chrysler, which stopped production of the Imp in 1976.

The factory was sold off to Peugeot Talbot in 1978 and they struggled on with the Hunter, Sunbeam and Avenger models.

Three years later Peugeot shut the factory and it was later demolished.

Yesterday's event saw 40 owners turn up at the St James Business Centre in Linwood to show off their Imps.

They were led off by an original Imp police car, which used to belong to Norfolk Constabulary.

Mary added: "It's amazing to see all the cars back here. It brings back so many memories.

"Every time I see a Hillman Imp I have to tell people my story and there is a lot of love for the cars still around. It is nice to be a part of Scottish history."

Rob Dixon, 42, runs an Imp restoration firm in Canonbie, Dumfriesshire.

They have cars coming in from all over the world for repair and are always on the lookout for spare parts to help keep Imps on the road.

Rob says he has even beaten a Ferrari 360F1 in an Imp - but only up to 20mph.

He added: "The handling on them is superb and they are such powerful little cars you can embarrass a Ferrari which I was delighted to do one day.

"We also raced a Ferrari from the same era last year at the International Autoecosse and won. "It's a fun car to drive, it's a Scottish car, but also appeals to the whole of the UK." Joanne Gillespie, 31, and husband Richard, 34, of Londonderry, Northern Ireland, led the procession in their 1972 Police Imp, used on patrol in Norfolk.

It still boasts the original siren and single flashing blue light.

Joanne said: "It was restored seven years ago and we have the original service book. Imps have been popular in our family for decades and they are great fun to drive."

Graham Traxson, 48, from Derby, brought his 1966 Imp Deluxe.

He said: "It had been lying in a garage since 1997 but had only done 15,000 miles. They were quite innovative at the time.

"People stop and look whenever you are driving it down the road. I have had seven or eight Imps over the last 20 years but this is my favourite."

Coach driver Tom Kennedy, 63, of Shotts, Lanarkshire, turned up in his 1968 Imp Sunbeam Stiletto.

Tom said: "I had an old green metallic Imp Sunbeam Stiletto, which I sold to rally driver Jimmy McRae in 1972.

"It broke my heart to sell that car but I didn't have a choice at the time. HILLMAN PICTURES CO.

"I bought this one 18 months ago and it was a wreck. I have spent PS1500 on the paintwork and interior trim. It's not 100 per cent perfect but it will be when it's finished.

"Imps are such fun to drive and it's very fast. The Stiletto was basically a boy racer car and I would love to get it turned into a proper rally car."

Dave Charles, of Newport-on-Tay, Fife, has owned many Imps over the years.

His current Saltire model is a replica of the one Scots rally driver Alan Fraser drove in the 1960s.

Dave, 62, said: "All Alan's cars had Saltires on them. The Imps are Scottish and cute, which is what I love about them.

"They are also easy to tune to go fast and are brilliant to drive. It's like a go-kart with a big engine.

"In 1972, I was at the side of the road kicking lumps out of my Imp - in the way John Cleese does in Fawlty Towers - and telling my wife I would never buy another. That lasted only a few years and I couldn't resist buying another one."

63, of Shotts, 1968 Imp green MORE HILLMAN IMP PICTURES AT DAILYRECORD. CO.UK and cent finished.

CAPTION(S):

OLD-FASHIONED POLICING J Carrie-Ann McNab and Martin Love try out vintage car SALTIRE J Proud owner Dave Charles flies the flag for Scotland with his Imp POLISHED PERFORMER J Zach Stuart, four, adds sparkle to red Imp MEMORIES J Mary poses with baby on car bonnet. Top, Miss Hillman Imp with factory worker David Harper ROLLING BACK THE YEARS J Hillman owners put on a colourful display at old factory site

DEBUT P i rince Ph Ph Phil il il ilip ip ip ins ns nspe pe pe pe t ct ct ct cts DEBUT J Prince Philip inspects first Imp off production line
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 3, 2013
Words:1029
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