From: Garret Walker, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Subject: More Imp testing
Date: Wed, 1 Dec 2004
The second Continental Test:
Off to sunny Italy - November 6-28 1962
At the end of the first 'French' test , we had a month to work out the Italian route, and make the necessary hotel bookings. It would be a chance to:
- maintain high speeds on the Autostrada at high ambient temperatures
- as well as fully test the suspensions, etc. on the rough southern country roads.
Another factor was the idea that security would be less of a problem, as we would be close to the toe of Italy in Calabria... a really remote area. We would cover approximately 4000 miles in the scheduled 3 weeks.The cars were L12 and L13 of the pre-production series. The final specifications were almost completed, and we were to do our best to see how the cars stood up to 'real world' treatment.Sapri, about 100 miles south of Salerno, was chosen as 'base camp' for the test. It was small and out of the way. With the summer season over, the town would be quiet. The hotel had the essential lock-up garages.After flying the cars to Ostend, we set briskly off down the Jabbeke motorway towards Brussels, Shortly afterwards our tender Super Minx Estate developed an ominous engine knock. We transferred as many spare parts as possible into the Imps and sent it off to Rootes, Paris for a new big end bearing. I was relieved when we managed to re-unite about four days later in Germany.
Tank vent tube
A new Imp problem emerged during the Alp crossing. Just after a fuelling stop I was braking hard for a steep tight hairpin when the car suddenly swerved to the right. I initially thought something in the steering had broken, but the actual cause was petrol overflowing down the tank vent tube, directly onto the left wheel tread. (I heard later that this problem persisted into production and Imps parked facing down on a steep hill with a full tank might find a quart or two of fuel on the road).
click to enlarge
Autostrada Milan - Venice.
Imps: VHS 772 & 771
Testing Imps in wet Italy
Doing miles in Italy
After arriving in Italy, we worked our way down to the west coast via Asti (of spumante fame), Forte dei Marmi, and around Rome to Castellammare di Stabia on the south side of the bay of Naples. The Michelin Guide's two star recommendation turned out to be an enormous and very damp old hotel. I think we were the only guests, but the Imps were safely tucked away in the underground stables... which still had graffiti from the US troops billeted there in WWII.
Once at Sapri we ran 'loops' through the mountains and along the marvelous and empty coast road to the south. One Imp seemed slower than the other, though there was a certain amount of driver denial involved in accepting that a problem existed. It turned out to be the pneumatic throttle. The system basically involved two cylinders... one at the carburetor, the other attached to the accelerator pedal... connected by a long tube. Displacing air at one end caused a corresponding movement at the other. The piston seal was a rolling diaphragm, which in theory kept the amount of air in the system constant. For some reason this didn't always happen, and if the throttle was held wide open, the car very gradually slowed down as the air leaked out. Pumping the throttle seemed to restore the system's efficiency for a while.
Mike Parkes on location
This, plus problems with the automatic choke, brought Mike Parkes and two other engineers out to get a first hand look. They also brought rain, and for the next few days the water sealing capabilities were truly tested.
At the end of their 'inspection' visit, I had to drive Mike and the Ryton engineers along an autostrada back to the airport in a torrential downpour. Four large people in an Imp, the windscreen misting up, the wipers barely coping, the road awash, and if we didn't average 60mph they would miss the plane. It was a 90 minute nightmare. So much for sunny Italy!The route home first led south to Catanzaro. At times the going was very slow. It must have been harvest time, as the roads were filled with tall wagons with wheels about seven feet tall, pulled by oxen. We eventually reached the south coast and headed across to Brindisi where I had managed to find a one star hotel... with a lock up garage!
Unexpectedly, we shared the placed with a portion of the US navy who were celebrating their leave. The fleet was in and they were ready to party! The other rooms seemed to have been reserved on a short term basis, and trade was brisk. I found out later that the girls knew the fleet's schedule in advance and traveled from port to port around the Mediterranean to welcome it. Unsurprisingly, they showed no interest in the Imps.
We drove back up the spine of Italy, via Modena(!) and Verona, heading for the Dolomites, and finally arrived at the spider's web of passes around Cortina. Winter had already set in, with 3' snowbanks cushioning the roadsides. The skiing season had yet to start, and the town was almost empty. This was our first chance to experiment on the passes in really slippery conditions. The tyres were standard... not the Dunlop SP41's used later..., but even so had remarkable grip on the packed snow.
Somebody must have seen us 'working', because the following morning we found our hotel's lock up garage broken into, the car covers pulled back and the engine compartments open. [see the photos in 'Die Stern', week 51 of 1962] It was obvious someone with press connections had seen an opportunity and made the most of it. There was nothing we could do except report the incident to Ryton and move on as fast as possible.
After that, the journey back from Cortina thankfully passed without further incident. After we had enjoyed some beautiful, long down hill curves leading toward the Brenner pass, Phil Brookes, following in the tender estate, remarked that it was great to watch the Imps sweeping together through the corners, each with a front wheel in the air. It wasn't all hard work!
More testing needed
Except for the carburetion problems, which would persist, there were no major headaches. The engineers were still concerned that sustained high speed in high ambient temperatures would cause problems. We were wrong in thinking southern Italy would be hot in November, and I don't think they got the data they were looking for.Once back at Linwood, it was time to prepare for the Scandinavian test and the search for -40 F (&C), scheduled for mid January.
Garry Walker, Cincinnati (17 Jan 2004) - some recollections from a very enjoyable time...
A pause after long-distance work through the mountainous country on the French/Italian borders.
The Imps are travel stained but trouble free.
Ref.No.: R.C. 2287
On the drawing board, the Hillman Imp represented a rugged, lively, comfortable family saloon with outstanding performance characteristics. But the proof came in the driving.
Imps were pounded through snowbound Canadian provinces, driven hard on murderous mountain roads in Scotland and Europe, given a baptism of dust and heat in Africa, and caked in snow and ice in the everlasting cold of the Arctic. Autobahns, sub-zero temperatures, jungles and sand - these were the proving ground.
In this searching process, prototypes suffered continuously month in and month out. Details were noted for modification, components were re-designed for perfection
The Imp has proved itself under trial. This is a car to take any test - and enjoy it.
With the Compliments of
Rootes Motors Ltd.
Piccadilly, London, W.1.
H.R. Clyton Ltd.
11 Grape St. W.C.2.
Temple Bar 2325
Ref.No. R.C 2287
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Imp Testdriving - Graham Roberts; Garret Walker
File version: 24 Apr. 2016