From: Garret Walker, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 2004
Off to the arctic circle
- looks like it's cold in England, too
|Imps reached the Arctic Circle|
... and back again
The third Continental test:
Off to the Arctic... Jan 20 to Feb 22 1963
Imps at cold temperatures
Immediately after the end of the Italian test, we started preparing for our trip to Lapland. The cars were still based at Ryton, but I was in Scotland, looking at maps and thinking about cold weather gear. One of our targets was to experience -40 °F (equals -40 °C), and no one blinked when I suggested down filled jackets and trousers just in case we broke down in the middle of a freezing nowhere. There were parts on the route with 60 miles between crossroads.
The '63 winter was the worst in decades. It was snowing when we loaded the Imps and the Super Minx estate car tender into the air ferry at Southend, and the weather didn't improve much during the next month.
The route, the road, the grip
Once in Belgium we worked our way through Germany to Hamburg, and then crossed into Denmark to Gedser, by a ferry which became stuck in the ice for several hours, adding some spice to the rather gloomy journey.
From Copenhagen we drove cross country to Stockholm, and then headed north on snow covered roads along the coast to Lulea... about 1000 miles in all.
We had brought studded tyres, but hardly used them. I was really surprised by the grip of the Dunlop SP41 (?) tyres, allowing us to cruise between 60-70mph without any trouble at all, even on cambered surfaces. The roads were basically straight, lined by fir trees, and with very little to mark the edges.
From Lulea the route pointed northwest, across the Arctic Circle into Lapland, a very, very sparsely populated area. The days were markedly shorter, there was hardly any other traffic and the sense of isolation was increased by the ever present cloud cover and snow.
David Low, our cine photographer, took one marvelous sequence of the two Imps approaching from out of a barren landscape and sweeping past the camera, which then focused on a burnt out Volvo, lying on its side in the foreground. The shot didn't appear in the Imp movie.
Amongst his other skills David Low was a hypnotist, and was retained by Glasgow hospitals to help expectant mothers deal with childbirth pains through self hypnosis. One evening, not having much else to do, he showed his ability by 'putting me under' while he was in another room. He followed up with a regression, where he took me back in stages to when I was five years old, showing the variations in my handwriting. Amazing!
We checked everything each day, logging fuel, oil and water as well as driving impressions. The ultra light clutch felt strange at first, but worked well. The synchromesh was unbeatable, and overall the cars were a real pleasure to drive, whatever the conditions.
The Swedish Job
Gallivare was the scene of our encounter with Swedish journalists. They started following us through the town which was laid out like a chessboard. The snow banks were fairly high, restricting visibility, and we kept on making 'castle' moves while they tried to cut us off with 'knights'. In the end we chatted to them for a short while before moving on but without identifying ourselves. There was not much else we could do, and the Super Minx estate gave them a clue as to who we were.
We stayed for a few days filming near Kiruna, an industrial town where most of the work places seemed to be underground to preserve warmth. Apparently some of the Lapp women abandoned their reindeer and husbands for the winter to make handicrafts for the summer tourists. It was odd to see them in their traditional multi-colour garb, bent over worktables and engraving knives.
Making a scene
Garth Vaughan, the leader of the program, flew out to assess our progress. I had noted that all the local drivers seemed to manage very well in ordinary clothes, and that our down filled gear probably wasn't necessary if we had decent heaters. (I'm not sure whether heaters were actually fitted to the cars. If we had them they didn't work very well.)
At the end of the meeting we were ready to drive him to the airport through the heavy snow, when he realized he had not adjusted his watch to local time, and we had one hour less to get him there. The planes only came about once a week. We made it, but only by finally driving down the runway, while the pilot who was in the process of taking off, was held by the control tower. It was like a scene from a WW2 spy film... in the dark with blowing snow, engines revving, propeller blades flashing, and Garth being bundled through a hatch.
After Kiruna, we headed for Narvik and the south. After the comparatively easy drive up from Stockholm, the Norwegian coast south to Trondheim was 600 miles of tight curves, ferries, occasional rail transits, and tunnels... all in continuous snow. It was really slow going, and I was glad when we were able to finally point inland to Lillehammer and Lake Storsjoen ... allegedly the coldest place in Norway.
The weather was clear, and the lack of cloud cover finally allowed the temperature to drop to -40°F. The cars were left outside overnight to cold soak, and started without difficulty. The gearboxes were stiff and the vinyl upholstery cracked and broke when sat on, but those seemed to be the only problems.
The air was absolutely still, and as long as we didn't move too much, the cold was bearable without multiple layers of clothes. We were tempted to let off steam with a bit of spontaneous ice racing on the lake, but common sense prevailed.
There and back again
After that we set off for home. Stops at the Rootes dealers in Oslo and Copenhagen gave them a chance to see the cars they would be able to sell in six months or so. We crossed back into Germany on Feb 20th, and were back in England two days later, after driving over 4000 miles, 2,500 of which were on snow or ice. The cars had come through with very few problems and the damp cold of snow covered London was infinitely worse than anything I'd felt during the previous month.
Now there's a suggestion for an anniversary run!
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