This text was sent to me
by Brian Bradshaw of ImpWerks NZ
on Wednesday, 7 Nov 2001.
Waiting at the first service point at the end of the first stage on the Targa prologue is always a nervous time for a service crew. Our thoughts wandered back to the last few days.
The enthusiastic note of a meticulously built Imp engine pulling plenty of revs is uncannily like a BDA motor and had brought a smile to our faces. The distinctive sound became a feature of our Targa. We knew the little car would come sweeping into view for its service and then roar off after a quick stop for fuel and a clean windscreen.
If the service crew had come to work on the car during the rally we were certainly disappointed. The driver often sounded the cars horn and drove by leaving the crew to wave and pack the tools before moving on to the next stop.
This little Hillman Imp was certainly going to turn a few heads and make some people eat their words. In New Zealand Imps never overcame the unreliable image that came with a faulty car released too soon to the market. With the exception of Jim Richards in the Sidchrome Imp, the cars never enjoyed the recognition on the track or in rallies as they did in the UK. To show our faith in these cars we were also using a rare Commer Imp van as a service vehicle. Gluttons for punishment or enthusiastic supporters of these under rated classics ? Time would tell.
Based on the successful 998cc Rallye car circa 1965 and painted in the period blue and white colours of the all conquering Fraser track cars, this race Imp was a very different beast.
The team represented a truly international effort. Andrew Bryson, a Scot now living in Australia had brought the car to compete in the Targa at the suggestion of Brian Bradshaw of Impwerks in Christchurch. Impwerks Ltd. being the only professional business in the southern hemisphere specialising in Hillman/ Sunbeam Imps. The rest of the crew was made up of an assortment of Kiwis and a Pom.
Andrews racing history in Imp powered machinery is extensive. He came to New Zealand with a track record of racing and rallying in the Far East and Australia. This including solid results in the Targa Tasmania where he has achieved a second in class.
For this rally Brian had built a wet liner 998cc Imp unit to run on 96 Octane road fuel. Not for us the cartage of vast quantities of Avgas on the back of trucks ! Brian has spent many years working on making the Imp powerful and reliable. This little unit represented one of the best so far. It was a testament to his engine building skills that our only problem was a worn clutch and release bearing. And this being a $2000.00 Us unit ! We should have expected that Andrew's racing starts would take their toll ! Still not one component was replaced on the car during the entire rally.
91 BHP was seen on the dyno at the rear wheels. Petrol heads out there may like to estimate what that is at the flywheel and then remember the car is 998cc.
Maximum power should come in somewhere around 8000 but it was not taken beyond 7000 rpm on the dyno as it was still being run in. Even on road fuel with a lower compression ratio power was not going to be a problem.
The R20 cam that Impwerks used is simply the best all round cam available. It retains a surprising amount of torque to make the car tractable from 2000 rpm while also being kind to the valve gear. Just to round off the unleaded engine Brian had sourced and fitted hardened value seats and special valves.
Targa Tasmania, 'The Ultimate Tarmac Rally' is the biggest motoring event in Tasmania and has been quoted as a 'seriously challenging international motorsport competition'. The event is staged across six legs and covers over 2000kms of bitumen roads in the Australian State of Tasmania. An exclusive field of Sports and Grand Touring Cars as well as other cars of distinction are brought together representing the evolution of sporting automobiles from 1900 to the present day.
Jim Richards and navigator Barry Oliver won the 2001 Targa Tasmania tarmac rally outright, Richards for th fifth time.
The engine may be the heart of a racecar, but as we watched the car through some of the early stages, it was clear that this car could handle. A few weeks earlier the man at Dunlop had described the tyre options as soft, sticky or jelly. We went for Jelly !
The excellent Dunlop tyres helped keep the car on the road and surprisingly for such a soft compound, were only partly worn by the end of the event. One reason for this is that even in standard form Imps are well balanced and handle better than some more expensive and exotic machinery.
There is simply little that needs to be done to make an Imp go round corners fast. This car was standard in all aspects other than the addition of period Koni shocks and factory supplied Monte Carlo Springs. There were no expensive suspension modifications for us.
One area however, where Andrew has made modifications from standard is in the braking department. The normal drum brakes are adequate for a fast road car and short sprint races if kept in top condition. For the longer rally stages Andrew (like many Imp racers) has fitted disc brakes. These brought the car to rest with eye-popping speed if required. Luckily Andrew's smooth driving style only saw them tested out on a few occasions.
None of this was in our minds when we quietly worked our way through the prologue, ironing out the bugs and allowing the driver and co-driver to settle in. At the end of the day we where happy to finish and relaxed about our steady but unIMPressive times. We knew the real race began the next day. Andrew had targeted the longest day on the Wednesday to make a push as he rightly surmised this was when the biggest gains would be made.
Each stage saw the little car going faster and faster. With 9000rpm used on a couple of occasions the team knew the car was going fast. Our thanks go to the driver of the Rx7 and Escort for allowing us to pass without incident. My only regret is not having a picture of the Imp coming out of a fast corner passing the Escort for the second time !
By the middle of the Targa, we were well placed behind the (Datsun powered ?) Anglia in the smaller of the two Historic Classes and held a respectable position overall.
The crew hardly got their hands dirty, but we made a point of being present at every available service stop just in case. We need not have worried. Apart from dropping the engine out at the final overnight stop in Tauranga to check the release bearing and clutch, the crew continued to enjoy watching the car run faultlessly.
The site of the engine being pulled out the back of the car drew a small crowd of onlookers who were amazed at how easily and quickly the engine came out. Not quite as simple as a VW Beetle but the principle is the same.
The last day was taken as conservatively as the first. By now we wanted to maintain our position and let the car in front make the mistakes. With the rain coming down in torrents we were optimistic that the Imp would have an advantage in the wet weather against the more powerful Anglia in front of us. Unfortunately this was not to be and the Anglia, to its team's credit, maintained its lead.
When we finished the final stage we still felt like winners. Andrew and Brian had brought the car home 2nd in the smaller Historic class. 61st overall and in the progress we had picked up the Diggers Trophy for the first Australian car home. On the index of performance based on capacity and age we had come a creditable 33rd overall.
The satisfaction for the crew was to be awarded the Trophy for the Best Period Service Vehicle and the knowledge that we had provided a professional crew. The rain and the unacceptable shortening of the prize giving ceremony could not dampen the spirit of the team. Despite the disparaging comments at the start from the organiser we had not only finished but also finished well. The whole team felt like winners.