The Imp Site

George Hartwell Ltd

History - unsorted bits & nibbles

George Hartwell specialized in tuning Sunbeam-Talbots, and later Alpines, and campaigned them in rallies. He began cutting down Sunbeam-Talbot drophead coupes into two-seat roadsters and calling them Hartwell Coupes. He proposed this car to Lord Rootes.
In later years, George Hartwell was additionally elected the Chairman of the Harrington subsidiary of Robins and Day Group, a Rootes family owned dealership, while still producing tuning kits for the Sunbeam engines at his George Hartwell Ltd, Bournemouth holding.

In England, coachbuilders Thomas Harrington & Company, Hove, Sussex, were also building their own Sunbeams. These were Alpines converted into GTs with the addition of a fibreglass roof. Very few were built and many were tuned by George Hartwell. Just prior to the 1961 introduction of the Harrington Alpine as an 'Approved Rootes Car', the Harrington company was acquired by Robins and Day Group, a Rootes Dealership and a Rootes Family owned concern. George Hartwell, was named Chairman of the Harington Group, while still owning his Bournemoth facility to produce various stages of tuning to the Alpines. Thomas Harrington remained as Managing Director.

George Hartwell Ltd is one of the longest established family run motor dealerships in the country, more than 70 years, which today is owned and run by Andrew Hartwell, George Hartwell's youngest son.

The idea of an open two seat version of the open four seat Sunbeam originated in England with a Sunbeam-Talbot dealer and rallier named George Hartwell who apparently had made some of these conversions calling them Hartwell coupes.
The 1953 Alpine was a derivative of the Sunbeam-Talbot 90, meaning a 2267cc OHV four cylinder engine. It is said to have been inspired by a 90 cut down by George Hartwell.
With an active competitions department established, Rootes were anxious to introduce a more sporting model into their range. Thus, when George Hartwell suggested producing a two-seater version of the Sunbeam Talbot, Lord Rootes readily agreed, deciding to call the car Sunbeam Alpine in honour of the Rootes Rally Team successes on the Alpine Rally. Introduced in 1953, it featured the same mechanics as the saloon, but utilized an open two-door bodyshell.

Shortly before the official introduction of the Harrington Alpine the Thomas Harrington Company was bought by the Robins and Day Group. This group was a private company owned by the Rootes family and run by George Hartwell who now became Harrington's new chairman. His experience was to prove invaluable in the tuning workshops, for when the Harrington Alpine was announced, among the optional extras offered were three stages of engine tune (all of which complied with FIA regulations). These tuned cars were available only through the engineering division of George Hartwell Ltd in Bournemouth. It was during this period that Desmond Rootes joined the Harrington Company, to take over the sales division.

In order to fit this new glass fibre hard top, part of the original bodywork had to be removed and there were fears that this would cause the body to become weaker and thence to flex. A prototype was taken to the British Army's vehicle proving ground at Chobham, in Surrey and subject to extensive testing. No major weaknesses were revealed and, with this reassuring news, it was felt safe to go ahead with manufacture. The car also boasted the following refinements: Microcell seats, veneered dashboard, special wood-rimmed steering wheel, oil cooler, brake servo, competition clutch, and an engine tuned by George Hartwell to give 104 bhp at 6000 rpm. The result was a handsome, well equipped GT car, priced at £1495.

On these earlier Harrington Alpines the rear fin was retained. It was from this style that the LeMans car came. The production cars were further available with optional engine preparation in three stages from 83 to 100 brake horsepower. In addition, the complete interior was redesigned and available with numerous options and combinations to the customer. Harrington accomplished everything throughout the conversion with the exception of engine tune which was consigned to George Hartwell, Ltd. of nearby Bournemouth.

The George Hartwell-modified two door two-seater Alpine version (from early 1953 had twin Solex carburettors and the uprated engine produced 80bhp. The chassis and suspension were also altered to cope with the extra power. Improvements to the steering and the power output soon followed on the 90 saloon and four-seater coupe, and, from late 1953, the front number plate was hung below the (new) bumper, instead of an it,
In late 1954, when the name was-changed to 'Sunbeam', further modifications were made. A tachometer and over-drive were standard fittings on the Alpine and optional on the saloon and coupe. The new Mklll models-, distinguished by their slotted wheel 'discs, twin gri1les incorporating the sidelamps either side of the radiator grille and flashing indicators, continued until October, 1955 (coupe and Alpine) and December, 1956 (saloon).

Motor 1965, week ending 2 Oct.; p.110

Hartwell-tuned Hillman Imp, Group III, Registered March, 1965, 3,900 miles, safety straps, S.P. tyres, a very fast wolf in sheep's clothing, used for demonstration purposes only, white, red interior, £110 under cost at £615. Castle's Church Gate, Leicester. Phone 23831

Found at:

Archive 20

Team Hartwell Imps

In a previous edition we looked into the history of the George Hartwell dealership. Now we take the story to its conclusion by looking at the development of theHillman Imp that led to the formation of Team Hartwell.

After the re-organisation of the Rootes Group and the formation of the dealership network in which George Hartwell played a significant role, many new and important models, including the Sunbeam Alpine, were introduced with GH focusing on the 'sporting side'. A successful collaboration between Hartwell and Thomas Harrington Ltd. of Hove, who was also part of the Rootes organisation, led to the production of the 'Harrington Alpine' with Grand Touring (GT) bodywork. Time was also found to produce a small batch of special V8-engined Tigers.

But undoubtedly the most significant vehicle from Rootes in the early Sixties was the rear-engined Hillman Imp, a latecomer in the small car market dominated by BMC's Mini. Interestingly, the latter always outsold the Imps by something like a ten to one ratio.

Ray Payne, the engineer responsible for much of Hartwell's competition work at the Bournemouth garage, immediately spotted the Imp's potential on its introduction in 1963, so a 850cc racing model was built followed by a 998cc full race trim derivative. The legendary racing Imps were born.

Payne at first stuck to hill climbs and the occasional outing to circuits such as Silverstone where he competed in the 6hr Relay Race but, like so many of us, he was a frustrated racing driver who for the best part of 20 years had prepared race and rally machines for others. However, as his reputation grew along with Hartwells successes, he suggested running a car in the firm's name so Team Hartwell was established under the guidance of GH.

Ray had done his homework well and realised that some tangible return in the way of results would be expected, so he opted for the 850cc class in the British Automobile Racing Club (BARC) Saloon Car Championships. Consequently, the capacity was reduced on the 998cc engined derivative by some 148cc which involved shortening the stroke and incorporating other modifications, including the adoption of twin-choke Weber 38 DCOE carburettors to increase the power output to 65bhp. At the same time the radiator was moved to the front of the car for improve cooling. Interestingly, Ray built and prepared the Imps in the evenings to keep costs to a minimum.

Winning races was now the priority and this is where the 'gifted' engineer's attention to detail came into play. He had six circuits to learn, but his methods were simple. Arriving at a circuit the evening before the race, he could set up camp, walk the track and study all its little 'wrinkles'. This obviously worked for Ray, his thorough preparation resulted in 10 wins, one second and a non-finish. Not bad for a 38-year-old in his first season of racing. He went on to achieve nine lap records and the BARC Saloon Car Championship in his final season.

Remarkably, one complete season's racing was accomplished at the expense of a box of sparking plugs, set of brake linings, head gaskets and one damaged exhaust valve. The cylinder head came off three times and body damage was restricted to two shunts with Minis. Cost of repairs about 30, according to Ray.

Payne carried on racing Imps for several years and into the 1990s was still keeping an eye on his 'protgs', including competition Peugeots by this time. He celebrated half-a-century of service with George Hartwell Ltd., during the early Nineties.

George Hartwell died at the early age of 65 years In 1975 and with him much of the Hartwell enthusiasm for racing. Unfortunately, GH did not survive to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary in 1982, by which time Alan, his oldest son, was chairman.

Today racing Imps can still to be seen on the track, although by now they are producing over twice the power of the early cars. The engines have also been used in Formula 4, motorcycle-sidecar combination races and in power boats.

As for the original Hartwell franchise, Rootes were bought out by Chrysler in the late Sixties and, by 1982, Peugeot, Talbot, Renault and Citroen were associated with the company. Today George Hartwell's sons Andrew and Simon are still at the forefront in Dorset running successful Peugeot and Citroen dealerships.

We would like to thank the Hartwell family for their help in compiling this feature. Also to members of the Sunbeam-Talbot and Hillman Imp Clubs who supplied missing pieces of the 'jigsaw'.

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© Franka

George Hartwell Ltd. (Peugeot) George Hartwell, Peugeot dealer at Bournemouth
3 Oxford Road