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
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,
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
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
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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