For some reason one thinks of rally cars automatically as men's machines, stripped of all but the essentials and built to be brutal with. This works Imp used by Miss Rosemary Smith in the recent R.A.C. Rally therefore comes somewhat as a surprise. It feels like a lady's car, looks chic and is complete even to the point of carpets and underfelt.
To emphasize that Rootes now take competition seriously, all the works cars for this season are finished in a royal 'Quinck' blue with thin white sideflash and functional black interior trim. The engine is the 998 c.c. unit, available to customers from the factory with an output of about 70 b.h.p. at 6,500 r.p.m.
Apart from a bigger bore size, the changes from the standard Imp engine include a special 'hot' camshaft, bigger valves, two Stromberg carburettors and a compression ratio of 10.5 to 1.
First and second ratios of the all-indirect gearbox are unchanged, but third and top are both lower (6.19 and 4.48 in stead of 5.7 and 4.14 respectively) to close up the gaps and improve acceleration in the upper ranges. Drive shafts are fatter (1 in. instead of 7/8 in.) to withstand the torque, and competition suspension is fitted all round. Ferodo VG95/1 anti-fade linings run in the standard brake drums, with a pair of vacuum servos to lighten the load on the pedal.
As is the fashion, the front bonnet is literally plastered with iodine vapour auxiliary lamps (with pretty plastic covers advertising Lucas), so a 45 watt alternator replaces the standard dynamo. A Triplex heated windscreen was fitted on this car, although some of the others used those rather dated stick-on demister bars. There is a large plastic anti-mist panel on the back window that practically fills it.
Ex-R.A.C. car No. 9 came to us straight from Rootes showroom in Piccadilly, well scrubbed down after its filthy mud bath in the forests of Wales, except in the engine compartment, where there appeared to be half a hunderdwight of shale and earthworks, evenly applied over everything. It had come second in the Coupe des Dames and helped collect the team prize, and received no form of mechanical attention.
Two of those excellent reclining bucket seats from the Sunbeam Tiger are fitted in the front, with big pedal pads from the same stores bin for the clutch and brake and the standard brake pedal salvaged for the accelerator (is it really that small?). Maybe because this is a lady's car, or perhaps in anticipation of the new Group 3 regulations, the neat little rally instrument pack is not fitted. And some security minded official had removed the stop-watches and Halda to prevent theft. Otherwise 'Rosemary Smith', as we dubbed the car, like a speedboat, was all set to go rallying in.
It starts up easily on the key, but stumbles and trips when the throttles are opened and the engine cold. Looking at the carburettors we found a choke cable connected and finally traced it through a bonnet-release toggle under the back seat. With this pulled slightly out, we were able to drive off without warming up first. High on the scuttle in a little cowl is a rev counter with a faint yellow line at 6,900 and the needle behaves as though there is a magnet there to attract it - the aluminium o.h.c. engine loves to run at the peak, smoothly and healthily all the time given half a chance.
The gearbox on this car is quite the lightest and sweetest of all the Imps we have driven (and we've had one on the strength since it was announced). The lever is cranked back slightly halfway up and one can flick it around the gate like a four-throw electric switch.
Wheels are the wide ones from the Chamois, with Dunlop SP44 radial Weathermasters which run quitely and grip surprisingly well on the smooth, wet roads.
Getting back to speedboats, we had one very memorable run back late on a Sunday night after talking to the boys of Hurstpierpoint College. It was raining so hard that there seemed to be more water in the air than on the road, but 'Rosemary Smith' sliced through with wipers flapping frantically on their faster speed and the iodine vapours seeming to part the spray for miles ahead, long after the ordinary lamps had faded away to obscurity.
First through the quiet lanes in Sussex, up and down through that delightful little gearbox with the rise and fall of the throbbing exhaust playing tunes to us, and the SP's doing just what was asked - a tail flick here to save winding the steering and a full-blooded slide there (who needs a reason?). Then on the main Brighton Road, dual-carriage way some of the time and the odd late-night tourist to mix it with.
Cornering lamps on for the roundabouts and into the the Crawley Bypass. Wonder who laid out this piece of road? Must have been a motorist who liked his fun. Into the first: left, right and left again. Now there's a good idea, putting a footrest to brace one's left leg. Into the next roundabout: left, right - over-correct and no need for left again, that's the rhythm. Long right-hander (lift! there's an unlit bike) it must be the last, yes, Gatwick coming up ahead.
Under the terminal and a last burst to Reigate. Throttle back (me, not the car) and try to lose that flush and excitement. Easy on the noise, people are asleep.
Did I say this was a lady's car? Well, it does seem that way, but let's compromise: a ladies' car designed for a man's sport.
Tiger seats and pedals, passenger's footrest, rev counter and lots of switches prove the Rallye Imp is built for business. But the carpets and trim are all left in.
Photo 2 (more than ½ page):
Rosemary Smith at work on the R.A.C. Rally with Susan Reeves as co-driver.
Immaculate in blue and white livery, the Rallye Imp came to us scrubbed, but otherwise just as it finished its last special stage.
Photo 4 (almost ¼ page):
A dirty bottom inside the engine compartment for the Imp which had been trhough mud and flood. Note the special air filter, alternator and 'spare' ignition system.
Iodine and sticking plaster (to hide the competition numbers.
Autocar, 28 Januray 1966
Impressions vol. 3 (1983), no. 6 (July)
The Imp Site
The Imp family: Rallye Imp
Library: Magazine articles