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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 the
Hillman Imp that led to the formation of Team Hartwell.



A
fter 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 'protégés', 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'.

Back to Current Features

 




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