The One That Got Away

Radio 2’s ‘Sally Traffic’ on her love affair with Doris, the Hillman Imp

by Charlotte Vowden
22 February 2023 5 min read
Radio 2’s ‘Sally Traffic’ on her love affair with Doris, the Hillman Imp
Sally Boazman – or Sally Traffic to her listeners – owned an Imp like this. Photos:

“I learnt to drive in London when I was about 17, it was a real baptism of fire, and I had a driving instructor who was very odd. He told me he was learning to ride so had a horse whip with him in the car and used to hit me on the thigh with this thing every time I made a mistake. This was in the mid Seventies, he would never get away with that now, he’d be sacked. 

I passed my test first time and found this blue Hillman Imp for about £120 quid. I knew nothing about cars, it just happened to come into my life and I bought it and fell in love. It’s the most marvellous thing when you suddenly have the freedom to go wherever you want. I named her Doris and I don’t know why, but funnily enough I call everybody Doris now, it’s become a bit of a joke. At work, if Paul McCartney wanders in, I say ‘Hello Doris’.

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Doris was very nippy in the city. I lived in a bedsit in southwest London that cost me about £5 quid a week and used her to drive to work every day. At that time I worked at London Weekend Television on the South Bank and there was a big NCP car park opposite the studios. I got to know the guy who collected the money and he let me park there for 50 pence a day which was really, really cheap.  

Driving in one day I got stuck behind a small lorry which was delivering something in sacks and as we came towards a roundabout on a slight incline two of them fell off the back into the middle of the road. The lorry went off, so I stopped the car, got out, picked these two sacks up and stuck them in my car – everyone was honking at me. When I got to work I realised I had two ginormous bags of garlic so spent my whole day going round to the various programmes asking if anyone wanted any. Doris stank for about a week after that.

Sally Boazman, also know as Sally Traffic
Sally Boazman before she become ‘Sally Traffic’. Photo: Sally Boazman

There was an occasion when we bought the whole of Hyde Park Corner to a standstill, which was the most embarrassing thing ever. I was going out with this guy from work and he said I’ll follow you in my car – we were going back to my place – and when we got to Hyde Park Corner, which is a nightmare at the best of times, he went into the back of me. That was the end of that date, let me tell you!

I knew London’s road system quite well and the problems that came with them so found getting around quite easy, but once I got out of the city and had to look at signposts at the same time as driving I found it quite difficult. Back in the days before sat-nav you had to grasp which road to take quickly, which took a lot of concentration, and if you made a mistake you had no help getting out of it; people forget we used to have to do all that with maps. Doing the job that I do, I can’t understand it when radio stations employ someone as a traffic reporter to get their career off the ground if they’ve never passed a driving test. How can you possibly know about travel, the traffic and the frustrations involved if you’ve never driven?

Doris and I had so many adventures together all over the country. I used to drive down to Cornwall, park her up in Penzance and get on a ferry across to the Scilly islands. I once had a lovely romance on the way with someone I met on the boat. 

When you buy your first car you don’t have anything to compare it to so however it drives and whatever happens you think it’s normal; I learnt a lot from my experiences with Doris. I had a terrible accident when I pulled into a petrol station and undid the [radiator] cap to put some water in. It spurted out and I ended up in hospital with third degree burns all over my arms. They healed, but I was a bit upset with Doris that day. 

My grandfather worked for the Austin Motor Company as a master carpenter all his life, he was there in the thirties, so if you see any woodwork on an Austin car he probably made it. He used to say two things; never drive over cats eyes because it takes two years off your tyres, and don’t drive an automatic because it’s cheating. He felt that changing gear to match driving conditions was proper driving and that has always stuck in my head. Thankfully, Doris was proper, because she had three or four gears.

She wasn’t the most flash car in the world. She was kind of a square shape, she was quirky (putting suitcases where the engine would be in most cars was very strange) and I suppose she was a rubbish car in many ways. The interior was basic but it did have a radio, although at that age I never listened to BBC Radio, only Capital Radio, which was huge in London at the time. The seat in the back was almost impossible to fit in so I rarely had passengers, only the odd tambourine on the way home after a gig; I was the singer in a band for a while. Doris was a huge part of my life when I had no responsibility, which is so long ago now. I speak to people that say ‘I’ve been listening to you since I was a child’ and recently The Radio Times called me a national treasure, which actually just means you’re really, really old!

Doris was old even before I bought her. She rattled a bit because of the way the engine was fixed in the back, which kept going wrong the whole time, but this lovely local guy used to look after her for me; anything that needed doing, he would do it. I kept Doris for years but then came this awful day when so much needed fixing that he said it’s probably not worth hanging on to her. I have this vivid memory of sitting outside my bedsit where I used to park her, sitting in the drivers seat, crying and saying ‘I’m so sorry Doris but you have got to go to the knackers yard. I loved you very much.’ I was really, really, really sobbing. I couldn’t bear to be there when he took her away. 

I inherited a Morris Minor 1000 that my parents were getting rid of after that. I parked it in the same place outside my bedsit but one day when I went downstairs it wasn’t there. The police found it at the end of my road and whoever nicked it had tried to take the radio out, but couldn’t, so it was hanging off on many wires. The thieves had left a note inside saying ‘This car is crap.’ Charming! Talk about adding insult to injury. 

No other car ever meant as much to me as my little Hillman Imp, and probably never will, it was much like someone’s first love, I fell hard into its arms and I was terribly upset when the love affair came to an end. So that’s the story of Doris. If we could be reunited I’d go on a final road trip and cry again when I have to leave her. We never made it as far as Scotland together, I think some of the best and most beautiful roads in the world are up there, so that’s where we’d go.”

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  • John Davidson says:

    I just loved Sally’s tales about Doris! The only thing wrong with it was that it was too short. I
    guess she got most of what she wanted to say in her story, but I want More!
    I had a grey Imp, which was great, but eventually swapped it for a friend’s MK2 Ford Zephyr convertible…

  • Richard Claydon says:

    The blue Imp in the pictures was restored by me! I’ve still got Imps!!

  • Charlotte V says:

    It looks like a job well done Richard!

  • Charlotte Vowden says:

    Hi John, I’m sorry it left you wanting more but pleased that you enjoyed it so much. Perhaps I’ll ask if she’ll do a livestream so that she can tell a few more tales! Keep an eye out!

  • Roger Foord says:

    I learnt to drive in a Hillman Imp. Would love to own one now

  • Andrew Tapp says:

    A friend of mine had a Hillman as his first car, by jove it would shift, good old days!

  • Charles Everall says:

    My late wife owned a Singer Chamois for many years, which was the Vanden Plas version of the Hillman Imp ! She loved that car and was saddened when rust took its toll.

  • Stephen+Pye says:

    Great story on Sally’s Imp really enjoyed reading that. My first car back in 1981 was a 68 G reg Triumph Herald 13/60 in Valencia blue bought for £150. It was noisy rattled a lot but I loved it. Took me and 3 mates from Wigan to Tenby ..never missed a beat! Kept it for 2 years and sold it for £275 never made money on a car since!

  • david danfer says:

    Had lots of 50s & 60s cars in the day (whatever that means? ) but never an imp. i believe they had an over heating problem due to having a aluminium engine & the engine being in the back maybe lack of cooling? wonder if sally had over heating problems ( with her imp i mean!) I have .. a 1964 mk3 zephyr now .. I am a sally fan

  • Anthony Barnes says:

    Hi Sally, I remember it well. My dad rebuilt one in the early seventies, when I was a toddler. In fact it was a then legal ‘cut n shut’ of 2 maroon Singer Shamwa’s (we were obviously posh!😄). It was sadly written off in Bristol in 76 after a motorcycle carerred into it. My dad saved the guys life, but was demonised by the press after he refused to speak to them / take any credit. Oh well!


  • Steve C Derbysaab says:

    Lovely story from Sally, it’s great to hear early memories of first cars. I often listen to Sally on the radio so it’s good to learn a bit more about her love of cars!

  • John Lealand says:

    Love the story of Doris.we as a family had six Imps including a blue one like Doris.
    My daughter had two and I rebuilt them.
    They were great little cars.

  • Edward Beaber says:

    Love the story! I had the same feelings for my first car, a Fiat 128.
    Mechanically so reliable but it rusted in front of your eyes! Bolt on door mirrors, a floor mounted cassette player and go faster slip on head rests!
    Bought Fanny Fiat for £1000 in 1974 and sold it in 1978 with 45000 miles for £750!

  • Mike Gill says:

    I had an F reg Husky Estate version of the Imp. The heater never worked because a previous owner had blocked the heater tubes so water could not circulate. I dont recall it ever overheating which was a well known problem with Imps. However because it had a flat load floor, part of which was the engine cover, changing plugs was alot easier than on the saloon car. You could access all four! The steering was really light and was easy to drive. My friends nicknamed it the “mini hearse” and threatened to paint it black! Happy days!

  • Kelvin Gosling says:

    North Thames Gas used them as pool cars. PGF943E red. Went up Richmond Hill like a mountain goat. Great car.

  • Jeremy Edwards says:

    At one point I owned 3 Imps, but they all became history and I ended up with a new Vauxhall Nova in 1985. EHP700L, KOP17F and HLE826K, “Lucy”, “Chuggaboom” and “Flash”; you can tell they were teenagers cars.

  • Leslie says:

    Wonderful story!
    Learned to drive in one, same colour, in Canada.
    Loved the little car , except Rosemary Smith did a much better job in hers than I did in mine!
    ( especially in Canadian winters!)
    Next was a Sunbeam Alpine Series 1, another wonder in the snow!

  • Nick Bowers says:

    VMH954G was the reg of my Imp, red it was…that was 1978…where did that reg come from? I paid £ mum lent be the money…

  • Mark M says:

    The exploding header tank was a known fault back in the day.
    I can remember, my Dad, who was a mechanic at a Chrysler / Hillman site at the time, warning me about that when I was starting to mess about with one of our many Hillman Imps.

  • Mervyn George Williams says:

    I bought a ’65 Imp in 1977 for £30, and it was the same blue colour as Sally’s. The previous owners were nuns. As a youth leader, I used to carry young people around in it all the time, (probably not allowed these days!). I hand painted it purple, sprayed the bonnet, boot and side stripe gold. Inside I stuck in lots of sheepskin everywhere. I frequently visited the local scrapyard to keep her going, (not safety things like brakes or tyres). When she was finally scrapped, it felt like she was going home, as most her had come from there! I have never had so much fun, or known such personality in a car. Like for Sally, it was heartbreaking when she went, and I would love to have another one!

  • Bert says:

    Fancy an Imp again ? check out the Imp club they still have some for sale, parts en advice, great fun that club I joined in 1984 and never left

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