The Imp Site

Sunbeam Imp Sport, PLN 59E

This 1967 Sunbeam Imp Sport got converted by Rootes to continue its life as a Rallye Imp.

From: Les Cookson
Sent: Aug. 09, 2011
Subject: Details of my Rally Imp

Hi Franka,
[...] I have attached files of what appeared in Impressions in August 2010. The original article was in the May 2010 with the next being by Tony Todd in June.
Hope this is of some use to you [...].
Best regards,
    Imp Rallye
Outside my bungalow in Billingham
  Rally Imp
Auto test at Croft autodrome (can just see auxiliary light socket between Sunbeam badge and N/S headlight). Photographer Tony Todd
  Rallye Imp
Autotest at Croft. Photographer Tony Todd
  Rallye Imp
Me and car in Keighley
  Rally Imp
Camping in Cornwall with Jean

Final Years of PLN 59E

Les Cookson (aka husky-hound) North Yorkshire

As Tony Todd said I bought PLN 59E from his friend John and owned it until it was written off by the insurance company after it had been stolen, but more of that later. I was at the time becoming more and more involved with Alex Clacher and his quick Special Saloon 998cc Hillman Imp. Consequently my knowledge of this type of car was growing week by week.

First I feel that I should give the spec of the car, as far as I can remember - a lot of beer has been re-cycled since I owned this car - as over the few years the engine was changed slightly.

Based on the Sunbeam Sport Imp, Rootes had carried-out various modifications.

The interior was kept pretty much standard except for the rally dash and the leather front reclining seats, which I believe came from the Sunbeam Tiger.

Under the front was the brake servo in the N/S front corner, but the largest noticeable change was the fuel tank, this was like a large barrel and held 11 gallons. Only room for a jack, various tools, container of oil and spare water just in case!!

The suspension was Monte Carlo springs all round together with standard shock absorber. The front wishbones had strengthening plates welded to where the lower bolts of the shockers were fixed.

The engine was a 998cc dry-linered block with a standard sport head and cam and exhaust system. The carbs were 150 Strombergs. All this was kept cool by an up-rated radiator.

The car was used as my every day transport to and from work together with going on holidays and travelling to the various race circuits where Alex was racing.

Unfortunately one day coming off a roundabout in Billingham, I put my foot down only to experience a loud bang, started to slow very quickly leaving a large cloud of steam behind me!

On removal of the head we discovered that one of the dry liners had slipped and was completely destroyed along with the piston. Further dismantling revealed that the head was intact as was the bottom end apart from 1 piston.

Alex came to the rescue and sold me a block which he had just got back from Chessman's. It was a wet liner block complete with the strengthening plate kit for the bottom end.

Over the next few weeks the engine was assembled in Alex's garage where all his racing engines were built. The crank, flywheel and clutch were all balanced by an engine builder friend of Alex. The rods were polished and balanced by Alex and myself and then new Hepolite Powermax pistons fitted. These parts were then all screwed together using copious amounts of oil and careful use of a good torque wrench.

The head was sent down to Chessman's to have the grooves machined in it for Wills rings.

Once the head was returned, the ports were opened out and polished by Alex, we then fitted new valve guides. The standard sport valves were ground in and the double valve springs fitted. The cam carrier was modified to give extra clearance for the cam as I was fitting an R17 together with a multi-holed sprocket. We also drilled extra holes in the carrier so that the oil was fed under pressure to each cam follower.

All this was then bolted together and fitted back into the car along with a small bore Janspeed manifold and silencer, Weber 28/36 carb and manifold and a competition distributor.

I was then told by Alex that I could run it in as per book and have a quick quiet engine OR take it steady for the first couple of hundred miles and start to open it up a little more after that. He said that this would give me a noisier engine but it would be slightly quicker. I will let you guess which option I chose!! Clue: I was in my mid twenties at the time.
The engine was a nice unit after being run-in and where I had had problems keeping up with the car before in my 998cc Mini Cooper, 1275 'S' drivers now had the same problem! I used to use 6000rpm for normal driving but 8000 rpm for fast driving. (Don't know how accurate the rev counter was in those days.)

One or two other modifications were that I fitted was a glass fibre bonnet to reduce the weight, Cibie halogen headlights and - because I was anticipating doing some local road rallies - a socket into which I could plug the auxillary fog/spot lights which were on a bar that I could remove after any such event. These were of course wired via relays.

I did enter various local competitions in the car. These included a production car trial somewhere in the Yorkshire Dales. One or two road rallies; Tony was my navigator in the first one, but after visiting a ditch he decided that navigating for me (or anyone else – Tony) was not for him. I did try another navigator, but after half an hour of quick driving I ended back at the start!

Darlington Motor Club used to run Auto Tests and I did a couple of them with reasonable success. Alex (in his wife's 998cc Stiletto) and I entered as a team and competed for the club in a Middlesbrough event, can't remember how we did.

Once or twice, when at events with Alex, it was rather wet! As he only had slick tyres for the racing car, we removed the wheels and tyres from PLN and fitted them to his racing car. Please be aware that most of the time my tyres were 155x12x55 M&S Michelin! He used to finish the race and score points!!

During one Summer, my girlfriend Jean and I went down to Cornwall camping. Everything was fine, until I noticed the water temperature was going up and down on the journey from St. Ives to Newquay. Yes, a Wills ring was leaking. I had the tools to replace the gasket, but no Wills rings or water jacket gasket. Phoned Hartwell's, who said they would send me one set immediately COD. After waiting for 10 days, I phoned Tony in Darlington and asked if he had a spare set he could send me. It arrived the following day.

After that, in addition to carrying my tools, I also carried a spare Wills ring set. I used to find that I needed to replace the Wills rings about every 12 months. At the time I could get them from Wylam Garage in Northumberland. (Wylam garage was the base of Alan Conley – famous for Imps, Sunbeams and most probably most famously the CCC Rally Clan Crusader – Tony)

Now for the sad part.

In 1976 we were in Middlesbrough shopping for things for my bungalow, which I had bought the year before.
When Jean and I returned with our arms full to where I had parked the car, it was no longer there. It had been stolen.

The police found it a few weeks later abandoned on the A177. The head gasket had blown and the car stopped. It was a sad sight. It had been hand painted orange, the dash had been removed as had the front seats and even the little Rootes 998 badge from the rear.

It turned out that the guy who stole it had 'ringed' it to look like his Imp. He was eventually caught and locked away for stealing 76 cars. Later after his release he committed suicide.

It had blow the head gasket, because he had removed it for whatever reason and had used orange gasket goo when re-fitting it. That was the last thing it needed, because I had just rebuilt it, as it was only doing about 40 miles to the pint of oil!!

As mentioned above, the insurance company wrote the car off, but I managed to buy the salvage. By now I had a Ginetta G15 and was going to rebuild the engine yet again - the head was warped - and then fit it into the car. I did send the head down to Chessman's yet again and refitted it, but never put it in the Ginetta as I couldn't keep the 875cc Sport engine already fitted cool, so there was no chance with the 998.

Never did see the dash, seats or badge again. Sold various bits off the car and the remainder of the shell was taken away by a local scrap man. Advertised the engine in Motoring News and someone from Newcastle area bought it. I gave them the Janspeed and Weber when they came to collect the engine. The price I sold the engine for £250. It was 1980 and I had just bought my first new car Renault 5 Gordini and thought I would never have an old car again, little did I know!!

I would like to thank Tony who checked this article for me and added one or two additions.



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