“It’ll go to nine thousand”, he says, as the needle on the rev counter rises. The car squats down and the push from the back get stronger as the engine clears its throat and breathes deeply. The noise gets louder, the pitch rises. The needle on the rev counter sweeps round, past six, seven, then eight, and keeps going… As nine approaches it feels as though it’ll just keep on revving upward forever, but mercy is granted as third is slotted through the chunky rose-jointed gear linkage and the revs drop, for it to all happen again. It’s completely addictive and if it were mine I’d be reaching for that nine every chance I could.
But sadly it’s not mine. This Hillman Imp belongs to Paul Harrison, and he’s planning on taking it hill climbing next year. It’s full of stripped-out competitive intent and it’s a great road weapon too.
That screaming power is provided by a 930cc motor, built by Paul himself using a Talbot Sunbeam B1 block, R21 full-race camshaft, Stage 6 big valve cylinder head, Cosworth lightweight steel tappets, double valve springs, ARP big end bolts, tuftrided crank, lightened and balanced conrods - everything you need for a really hot Imp motor. It’s kept cool by a Metro GTi 16v radiator and fan up front. To make sure it stops as well as it goes Paul has fitted Ford Fiesta front disc brakes with adjustable bias via a dash-mounted knob.
It was built from a clean, rust free and very straight ’66 shell. No welding was needed at all and any body restoration/repair required was minimal. The bonnet and bootlid have been replaced with fibreglass ones and the bumpers removed to help the power-to-weight ratio. The two tone paintwork is period-classic and looks superb, the blue being BL Pageant Blue from the 70s, and those gorgeous 6x13” Superlite wheels suit the car perfectly. The interior is race-car spartan - a painted metal roof, no carpets, no soundproofing and ally sheeting for door panels. There’s a full and substantial roll cage in there but that’s pretty much it apart from the bucket race seats and harnesses which keep you firmly located, and the minimal dashboard dominated by that rev counter with the magic nine on it.
The ride is surprisingly supple for a road racer, I kept bracing myself for the shock every time we went over speed humps or holes in the road but the car seemed to swallow them with ease. The Monte Carlo springs and Spax dampers might be a touch soft for competition reckons Paul, but they’re a great compromise for road use.
So what’s next? Fully mapped ignition and fuelling is in the pipeline, using throttle bodies and a Megasquirt ECU. That should smooth out the power delivery and make it a whole lot more tractable around town. One thing is for sure, this Imp is a little gem and it’ll be a joy to watch it screaming up hills in the future.