From: Garret Walker, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Date: 21 Dec 2004
Kenya 1963: WHS 156 & WHS 157 [click to enlarge]
Stuck in a mud hole [click to enlarge]
in the Imp: Derek Sleath
Imp testing 1963
The Kenya Test... March 1 - , 1963
We got back to England from the Scandinavian 'cold weather' test on Feb 22nd. By March 1st I was in Nairobi, looking at the two Imps we were to drive around Kenya for the next month, and being briefed on local driving conditions.
Once outside the Nairobi suburbs, all the roads were dirt, or 'murram'. Sometimes they were graded, and sometimes they developed a wavy 'washboard' surface with a trough to crest height of up to 10", and a distance between crests around two feet. We were told that the correct way to drive was to go fast enough so that the wheels bounced from crest to crest, while the car itself 'floated' along quite smoothly. The actual speed at which everything calmed down varied from car to car, dependent on the natural frequency of the suspension system. Starting on washboard was rather like getting a flat bottomed boat on to the plane in a chop... incredible bumps and jolts to start with, and then everything would smooth out. Local drivers preferred Peugeots, which were considered the only cars that would last.
During the three previous tests, the cars had been basically trouble free, with minor problems with the fans and carburetors. The engineers had complained of rack rattle and scuttle shake in their reports, but I don't remember the drivers feeling they were an issue. The Kenyan program proved to be very different.
Our test program involved driving to Mombasa on the coast to via the Amboselli/ Tsavo game parks, returning to Nairobi and then heading north over the equator (photo) and back around Mt. Kenya. In between we were to drive daily circuits on local roads, the rougher and dustier the better, and bringing the cars back to the Rootes 'godown' -a compound of sheds- every night for checking.
Soon after we arrived, I took an Imp for a short drive just past the outskirts of Nairobi, and drove about 100ft off the road to take some photographs. I walked a short way, admired the view, and turned around to face a rhinoceros looking at me from the other side of the car. I had read somewhere that rhinos had poor eyesight but good hearing, so I slowly bent down, picked up a stone and lobbed it off to one side. It worked. The rhino went one way, and I hopped into the Imp and went the other.
The local staff made sure we saw all the wild life close up. We photographed elephants, hippos, giraffes, lions and antelope by the hundred. At Amboselli we stayed overnight in a tent camp, and after dinner sat in a semi-circle around a white hunter who regaled us with tales of his adventures, accompanied by a tape of Swinging Safari!
The cars really took a battering. On two occasions we blew a rear tyre, but didn't realize it for a couple of miles. We had complete front and rear suspension assemblies as spares, and a Woodhead Monroe engineer had joined us to check shock performance. We needed both, as welds on the rear trailing arms failed, probably due to the shock absorbers being unable to cope (photo).
Dust covered the inside of the cars as we spent most of the time with the windows down, due to the heat. It also covered the engine compartment, being sucked in by both the fan and the general shape of the car.
The air cleaner became dislodged on one Imp, and the engine quickly inhaled too much dust to run properly from then on. It was obvious some sort of snorkel and/or sealing of the engine compartment was needed for the cars to work properly in really dusty conditions.
On one 'day off' I invited a new arrival out for a drive to the end of the tarmac just to put miles on a car. We passed an Indian family parked on the side of the road with the bonnet up, and I explained that the local custom was only to stop to ask if help was needed on dirt roads. On tarmac, it was normal to keep going unless flagged down. We turned round about five miles further on and halfway down a long grade there was loud bang followed by a screeching noise.
I let the car stop without braking, as it seemed quite stable. The large nut holding on the RH hub had come off and the end of the driveshaft was now resting on the inside of the wheel rim, supporting the car and making all the noise. (I couldn't work out what was meant to lock the nut in position in the first place.)
Ironically, the Indians came along and asked if we needed help, but we replaced the hub and nut... which had remained in the wheel... and drove back to Nairobi!
At the end of the test, I had very mixed feelings about the future of the Imp in primitive conditions. If the test was designed to find weaknesses it certainly succeeded. If these were fixed, could Imps realistically be sold as reliable transport in conditions similar to Kenya? That was another problem altogether, but I imagine our experiences must have been helpful in the development of the rally Imps.
I never saw the final engineers report... does it still exist in the Imp archives? I know that the Imp which was prepared for the Miami- Alaska run (5000 miles in 5 days - with 900 miles of dirt on the Trans-Alaskan Highway section), was fitted with a skid plate protecting the gearbox and sump. Its rear suspension collapsed about 180 miles short of Fairbanks.
The Kenyan test was the last of the pre-production program. When we got back, production cars were already coming off the line at Linwood in preparation for the May 2 launch, so presumably the engineers' suggestions would be evaluated at some later date.
I had barely had time to unpack, when I was asked if I would like transfer to Rootes Inc. in New York to try and sell the Tempair portable air conditioner. I knew nothing about air conditioners, but it all seemed logical at the time, so off to America I went.
The Imp Site|