From: Garret Walker, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Subject: paragraphs on the passes
Date: Wed, 6 Oct 2004
The Imp Continental Tests:
Off to France - Aug. 1962
We hadn't gone more than 15 miles from Calais when I noticed some thing white fall out of the back if the Imp in front. Both Imps pulled over, and one of the engineers peered at the engine for a moment. "It's the fan" he announced. " It's lost a blade. We'll have to send for another spare." This is a great start, I thought.
We were off on the first of the three scheduled Continental tests of the pre-production cars. I had spent the previous two months based at Linwood, either driving the Invergordon circuit in northern Scotland or looking at the routes and finding overnight stops for the French, Italian and Scandinavian tests.
My qualifications for this seemed to be the fact that I worked for the Export Dept at Devonshire house, I had covered a lot of the territory with Garth Vaughan in vehicles from a Series I Husky, Bedford Dormobile to a Healey 100, and I could speak a modicum of French and German. In truth I think everyone else had more important things to do.
Garry Walker in Italy, testing Imps, 1962
The team for the European tests consisted of a core group of drivers:
- Phil Brookes from Rootes Maidstone
- Stan Brooks from Ladbroke Hall
- Colin Mac from Manchester and
- plus engineers with various specialities, some of whom flew out to join us at different times for specific tests... braking, cooling, bodywork etc.
(Sadly, I can't recall any other names except
- Garth Vaughan
- Ken Sharpe
- Maurice Evans and
- Bill Dickson.
Richard Sozanski has a collection of photographs available if anyone feels they might be able to help put names to faces.)
Our two Imps had a Super Minx Estate as escort, filled to the brim with spares. We tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, with the Imps unbadged... but I still think we were lucky not to be spotted until the Italian test. I had spent many hours at Linwood trying to find out of the way places with lock ups for overnight stops, and routing us around major cities, but still...!
The route south passed through Luxembourg, and down into Austria to the Grossglockner for brake testing. (A couple of years ago I was staying overnight at the top of the pass while on a motorbike trip, and watched a Mercedes test team doing the same thing. Only there were twelve of them and it was in the dark.) We then headed west for the Umbrail/ Stelvio passes, then over the Splugen and across north Italy to the Col de Tende, just north of Monaco.
The pass procedure was basically to go as fast as we could on the way up, with an engineer making notes and taking readings, stop for discussion and inspections, and then do the same thing on the way down. The rear seat was always occupied for added weight. The top of the Grossglockner is about 7700 ft, approached by over 30 tight hairpins, but the Imps seemed to have no problem, either on the way up or down. The Stelvio is even higher with equally tight hairpins -practically zero inside radius- and even now barely one car wide in places. I don't remember brake fade being an issue. Perhaps the linings were re-specified in the production cars or perhaps we were 'babying' the precious cars... but it certainly didn't feel like it at the time.
Our 'base' camp was at Pelasque in the Gorges de Vesubie, where we linked up with the French cameramen hired to provide 'Imp footage'. They didn't seem to be really interested in the job and the filming wasn't a success. Neither we nor the camera crew really had any idea what was needed. We shot the cars going up and down hills, round hairpins, going from left to right, then right to left against a spectacular background. Then we did it again... and again... and then again somewhere else. I reviewed the footage when we returned to London.
Every thing looked pathetically slow, in spite of our best efforts. The only scene that captured the drama we had hoped to achieve was when we hung one of the cameramen out of the passenger's window to shoot a front wheel as it approached a guard rail free drop-off, on dirt. In their wisdom the editors did not include it in the "Young at Heart" film.
After the initial fan incident, I don't remember anything of consequence going wrong... with the Imps. We drove about 9 hours a day, with occasional stops while the engineers checked systems. Our long suffering Super Minx Estate shed a front wheel when the hub fatigued away.
By the time we reached Mt. Ventoux -chosen for its long 19 mile approach climb and the August heat- towards the end of the test, its front tyres were bald: Imp tyre wear was minimal. The discovery of a too long dipstick solved the loss of oil pressure on one of the Imps when going hard around hairpins.
The summit of Mont Ventoux [click to enlarge]
On Mont Ventoux [click to enlarge]
Looking over his shoulder into the lens: Garth Vaughan
Considering these Imps were among the first half dozen of the pre-production cars, the performance and reliability were remarkable. They were basically driven as fast as they could go -traffic allowing- for about 3800 miles. Rack rattle caused some headscratching, but we all loved the performance, roadholding and the apparent unburstability of the engines. At that point we had no throttle problems at all.
The first (French) test lasted from Aug. 16 to Sept. 16 1962. At its end, I went back to Scotland for more laps of the Invergordon circuit, and to get ready for the Italian test, scheduled for early November.
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