Peter Harper
Chadwell, competition no. 44.
Peter Harper in the lead here, but did not finish. Blown engine? Broken drive shaft?

The Imp Site

Peter Harper

1921 - 19 September 2003
rallies, races and rallycross

Peter Harper officially retired from rallying in 1967. But when the Rootes concessionaire in Tenerife asked Alan Fraser to take a team of Imps and Tigers to enter the islands fourth Gran Premio; Harpers Tiger finished first.

He continued driving for the Fraser team, in Sunbeam Rallye Imps in the new sport of Rallycross, winning the World of Sport championship in 1969.
'World of Sport' was a sports programme in the sixties of a commercial broadcasting service: ITV. Their Rallycross championship was 'recognised by the RAC'. Robert Reed of 'World of Sport' seems to be the man who invented rallycross.

After rally development had stopped at Rootes, Peter Harper was using Imps for rallycross during the first couple of years. He achieved a fair amount of success, much of it on television.

His Imp was always bugged by the snapping of driveshafts or the disintegration of their associated couplings. The obvious solution was to replace the standard shafts with something a little more befittiny the arduous task in hand.
This Harper did, only to discover that, while it cured the driveshaft problem completely, it also transferred into the transaxle loads which had previously been absorbed by those driveshafts. The shafts could no longer break, but the gearbox was unable to take the new strains imposed on it. So the gearbox in turn became unreliable. The answer was a new transaxle and, as it needed to be suitable for the rear mounted Imp engine, the Hewland Mk8 box was selected. This is the box used in Formula Ford.

Peter Harper used to rallycross in a mid-engined Fraser-Imp, tuned by Andy Dawson.
RKV 408M was built as a 1000cc race engine by the Fraser team, originally with a deep cylinder head and long-stroke crankshaft. Next it was overbored to 1140cc for Peter Harper for use in rallycross. This car also ran a Hewland gearbox in a lengthened shell, but that didn't work. Then it was converted to mid-engine after it blew up on the Jim Clark in 1973. Maybe it subsequently went to Finland for ice racing.

At Croft, he won the '69 World of Sport Rallycross championship in his Sunbeam.
State of affairs before the final round:
Peter Harper: 28 pts.
John Rhodes: 26 pts.
Gerald Braithwaite: 23 pts.
John Boulder: 22 pts.
Pip Carrotte: 21 pts.

Peter Harper did his first rally in 1947. He became one of Britain's leading rally drivers.
Then he took to the circuits and made quite an impact there, too. The first time Harper drove for the Fraser team was in 1967. In the final qualifying event for the British Saloon Car Championship, he drove a Fraser Sunbeam Imp. Officially he was a Rootes' rally driver at the time.
Then he combined both these talents in rallycross to become the recognized ace in this Saturday afternoon telly sport.
He rallied Rapiers, then raced them, went on to massive American Ford Falcons, came back to rallying a Tiger (he would have won the Tulip in a Tiger if he hadn't been disqualified for using too small valves) and an Imp. And last, still with an Imp (in Group 5 trim), he became the rallycross hot-shoe.

photo supplied by Jaap ten Hoeve
Peter Harper
Peter Harper in a Fraser Imp (1969)

His Hillman Imp was an ex-works rally car, specially converted for rallycross. It had a front-mounted radiator - the bottom of the spare wheel well was cut out to provide a draught. The front compartment was stiffened up with cross struts running below and alongside the petrol tank. The basic suspension was lowered and set up rally style. The sump sat in a small cradle mounted in great chunks of foam rubber and the cradle formed a part of a sump guard/ skid plate. There were creases and kinks in the arches above each rear wheel, due to yumping. There were struts over the arches in the boot.
The twin Weber engine was a Fraser-tuned device. The rear chassis member was chopped and reshaped to provide room for the special exhaust manifold. The engine produced something over 100bhp, with not much happening under 5,000rpm. In soggy conditions a torquey engine that produces power at lower revs is much better.

Rally Imp at World of Sports rallycross
photo supplied by Jaap ten Hoeve
Hot Car, April 1969
Hot Car, April 1969: Peter Harper: most consistent rallycross ace

Darcy Maddock:
"I was fortunate to be in England in 1967 when the first Rallycross was run. It was because of foot and mouth disease that the RAC rally was cancelled. All those rally cars and no rally - so Rallycross was invented at Brands Hatch. I watched Peter Harper line up alongside Graham Hill in a works Lotus Cortina, Paddy Hopkirk in a works 1310cc Mini Cooper and Rauno Altonen in the same. Four laps and the first away by about two lengths was the Imp and at the end won by about half the length of the track. Imps reign supreme."



Rallycross of Old! / uploaded by MrRallycrossuk

The Rootes Group had Peter Harper and Eric Hassle in Hillman Imps.


Nick Cleak:
Peter Harper's rallycross Imp of the late 60's had solid driveshafts, but maybe he had a conventional type of sprung clutch plate...

Actually the Deep Heads were made to go onto experimental 998cc engines created by Rootes by increasing the stroke of the crank, necessitating a longer block. These heads were specially sand cast with a deeper head to claw back some of the incredibly high compression ratios involved.
I cannot remember how many exactly were cast, not many. Ian Carter had one of them in the workshop a few years ago, noticable by it's smooth appearance. These heads were also fitted to some of the late works Imps such as ALN 650H (engine by Peter Harper allegedly).

Andy MacFadyen:
the twincam head being used in the early days rally cross (by Peter Harper ?)

   Peter Harper in a Fraser Imp - sixties
photo taken from the Stevenage Imp Club site

Chris wrote (summer 1997):
Talking to Peter Harper last week, he told me he was given the task of testing out a Hillman Imp Rootes had converted to Fuel Injection, he was given it to run around in for several months, states he used to cause havoc on the motorways, waited for some high powered car to come past at speed, he waited until they were some distance in front then put his foot down, overtook the car like a bullet and left sufficient turbulence to cause a panic attack. The Imp developed 130 bhp in standard form? The Rapier that had been converted went like a dream, and could not believe it was not put into production. The system was being developed by Tecalemite [...]

Monte Carlo Rally 1967
GT cars to 1300cc
1st - Patrick Lier & Silvio Vaglio (Privateer)
2nd - Peter Harper & Robin Turvey

He retired officially from rallying in 1967. However, he was soon tempted back behind the wheel: the Rootes concessionaire in Tenerife asked Alan Fraser to take a team of Imps and Tigers to enter the islands fourth Gran Premio; Harpers Tiger finished first.

He continued driving for the Fraser team, in Sunbeam Rallye Imps in the new sport of Rallycross, winning the World of Sport championship in 1969.

Shaun Felstead, May 10, 2001
Subject: interesting trans-axle
just been and brought a modified transaxle from a person who said he used to work for harpers garage he said the transaxle was modified for some thing but cannot remember what, if it was for a 4wd or a specal. The bell housing has been carefully cut down and has modified input and output shafts i will try and get a picture or two put on the files area as i have not got the equipment.

Peter Harper demonstrating an Imp to a Rootes dealer
23 February 1966, Silverstone; Demonstrating the Hillman Imp to Rootes Dealers
Works Rally driver Peter Harper frightening a dealer. FHP 909C
Official Rootes PR photo R56403, H.R. Clayton Ltd. - supplied by Peter Brown

Peter Harper in a Sunbeam Tiger, Overall winner of 66 Tulip Rally GT class

Guards International

Brands Hatch, June 21/22 1969
European Touring Car Championship, Division 1: up-to-1000cc
Peter Harper in his 998 Sunbeam Imp did not finish because of engine trouble. Rob Mason in a Morris Mini Cooper won. Neither Mason nor Harper attended the other races of the championship.
It was the only time an Imp attended a race of the ETC in 1963-1969.

Car and Car Conversion, December 1970:
What of other works cars ?  If you see Des O'Dell of Chrysler UK hanging around Peter Harper's Imp, then don't be surprised.

Car and Car Conversion, December 1970:
In the 1st round of the BBC/TEAC Championship, Peter Harper finished 2nd. His Jack Knight 5-speed transaxle had to be swopped after the diff broke on the first run.


Profile of Peter Harper. - Motor 1965, January 27
Part of Rootes Owners' Supplement

Brittan, N.
What ho she yumps : Peter Harper - down to earth rallycrosser / by Nick Brittan; photographs by Maurice Rowe. - Motor 1966?67?. - Rootes Owners Supplement
Reprinted in Impressions 1984, May.

The Imp Site
   Competive Impers
      Alan Fraser Racing Team

© Franka

External sites:

The Times: Obituary Peter Harper, Rally and racing driver who survived a spectacular crash in the Dolomites to spend 30 years in the sport

Non-imp stuff:

In March 1958 Peter Harper & Dr Bill Deane won the RAC International Rally of Great Britain in a Sunbeam Rapier II.

In the 1961 Monte Carlo Rally, Peter Harper drove a Sunbeam Rapier Series 3 (registration YWK 4). It came first in its class in the Rally and it was the highest placed British car. Frank Wootton painted it in oil on canvas.

In the sixties his garage was in Stevenage. He then lived in a 300-year old house in a village.

Destination Monte / by Peter Harper ; with foreword by Raymond Baxter. - London : S. Paul, 1967 (1st ed. 1964). - 160 p., [8] p. of plates, ill. [With plates, including portraits.], 22cm
Autobiography: It tells the story of Peter Harper from his first Monte in 1950 through his works rallying and racing career in Sunbeam Rapiers up to 1964.
This book gives a very good account of rallying in what many people think of the golden age before the onset of the professional works driver.

Motorfilms Quarterly Volume 17 - DVD
Special Section (1965) Rootes Group (20:12)
Baxter excels in this ground-breaking coverage of the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally full-colour footage onboard Peter Harper/Ian Halls Sunbeam Tiger V8, complete with intercom audio

Motorfilms Quarterly Volume 3 - DVD
1964 Tigers at Le Mans The Rootes Group
Lovely period movie coverage of 'The other Cobra' - the works Sunbeam Tiger - strutting its stuff in the snows of the Geneva Rally, then - as modified by Lister - rumbling around Le Mans.