Friday February 14, 2020
A select group of cars are instantly likeable – cars such as the Sunbeam Imp Sport and the Singer Chamois Sport.
Their combination of looks, performance and charm, are quite formidable – ‘Sparkling sports performance with luxury saloon comfort’, as the Rootes Group put it.
The original Chamois debuted in 1964 as Linwood’s answer to the Riley Elf/Wolseley Hornet, with its Singer badging, a walnut veneered fascia, improved sound damping, extra instruments and Dunlop SP41 radial-ply tyres.
The great John Surtees wrote in his Sunday Mirror column that ‘Women will like this chic car’ and that ‘Although it is small, parkable, and good for negotiating town traffic, it has a big car appearance’.
Two years later the Rootes Group unveiled a high-performance version of the Imp; the Sunbeam and the more luxurious Singer Chamois Sport.
The familiar 875cc engine now featured twin Stromberg CD125 carburettors and a new cylinder head, special pistons and a modified exhaust system.
Motor magazine regarded the Singer as ‘a tractable and untemperamental conversion at a very reasonable cost’, and £695 4s 9d (the Sunbeam was £30 cheaper) represented excellent value for money for a car with standard equipment that included reclining front seats.
The Sport models were distinguished from the standard Imp and Chamois via the extra louvres on the rear valance and discrete badging, with Rootes promising ‘In the race and rally-winning tradition that has made Sunbeam famous, comes the new Sunbeam Imp Sport - with a roar that tells you this is a big little car!’.
The top speed was 90 mph, which was on a par with the Mini Cooper, with 0-60 in 16.3 seconds, and power boosted from 39 bhp to 51 bhp.
When Autocar evaluated the Sunbeam, they regarded it as ‘one of the most pleasing small cars on the road today’, further praising the outstanding ‘performance and handling’ and how ‘the all-synchromesh gearbox…really comes into its own with the Sport engine’.
Car tested the Sunbeam opposite the Morris Cooper in December 1966, and their conclusion is worth quoting in full:
‘On the figures, the Cooper is the car for every enthusiast who cares above all for low-cost performance.
In the showroom, the Imp Sport scores hands down for looks, finish and above all comfort. A combination of the two would be the finest small car the world has ever known.
As things are, the Cooper remains the ideal knock-down, drag-out, sports runabout. The challenging Imp Sport may cost more and perform rather less well against the clock, but it offers a hell of a lot extra to the sort of man for whom the journey grows longer, the family more demanding and the pulse rate perhaps just a trifle less urgent with the passing years.’
Leaving aside the very late 1960s assumption that the Imp Sport buyer would be male – and the inference that he resembled a hen-pecked Terry Scott or Lionel Jeffries – it was obvious that the Sunbeam and the Singer were very desirable machines.
A Signal Red or Lincoln Green Metallic was certainly the ideal vehicle which with to cut a dash on that daily A27 commute from Fareham to Southampton.
And of course, such a fine car merited only the best in Rootes aftermarket accessories. A badge bar (just £1 16s) was essential for displaying your various club memberships, and a “Streamlined Wing Mirror” (a mere £2 2s 6d) would lend your Imp the faint air of a Sunbeam Tiger.
A driver could also benefit from the “Adjustable Armrest” (£ 1 19s 6d) mounted on the door while a Motorola radio would give you the finest BBC Light Programme music on the journey home from the office.
The Mk. II versions of 1968 boasted a modified interior and the Chamois Sport gained rather dramatic-looking quad headlamps.
The Singer ceases production, together with all other cars bearing the famous marque, in 1970 but the Sunbeam remained (as the “Sunbeam Sport”) until the demise of the Imp in 1976.
Their following today is more than well-deserved for, as the advertisements stated, they are ‘the grown-up’s answer to Scalextric’. Plus, they did star in one of the grooviest television commercials of all time.