I was at the Silverstone Classic in 2008 to take photos, but when I heard a TR7 V8 rally car was coming out to play, I decided to shoot video instead. I’m very glad I did! Driven by Steve Rockingham – VERY well.
Sometimes, you leap behind the wheel of a classic and quickly search for the door handle, wanting to escape as quickly as possible. Some classics are really not that pleasant to drive. Others take time to win you over – you need to travel at least 100 miles in most Citroëns before you get ‘it.’
The Imp was one of those classics that had me falling head over heels in love. Yes, I liked the Porsche 928 a great deal, and a day spent with a TVR Chimaera was utterly joyous, but then you expect a sports car to deliver. The downside is that they often have far too much power to use on the road – a 440bhp Lola T70 replica I once drove in the depths of winter was absolutely terrifying. And cold as it didn’t have a roof…
Where the Imp really delivered is that despite only a short time behind its tiny steering wheel, I could explore the perky engine on the public highway without risking the wrath of PC Plod. Sure, it had considerably more than a standard Imp, but we’re talking of only 39bhp to start with. Exact figures for this ‘hot’ Imp were not available, but I’d estimate it was somewhere around the 55bhp of the sporty Stiletto sibling. With my foot right down, the Coventry-Climax-inspired engine barked its desire to the world as we hurtled along – feeling much faster than the speedometer was telling me. Quick, communicative steering left me in no doubt about its cornering ability, and with that engine slung out at the back, once I’d steered into a bend, all I could do was balance the throttle to stop the pendulum effect from hurling me into the weeds.
Being a stripped out rally car, the experience was noisy but thoroughly dramatic, despite the lowly spec. The quick gearchange was a delight and time and again I’d ease off and drop a couple of cogs so I could begin the exciting rush of acceleration all over again. The ride was a revelation however – surprisingly comfortable, despite being firmed up over standard. Thankfully, it had not been lowered too much, in anticipation of forest rally stages.
Too soon, it was time to head back, but the car’s deed was done. I loved it. The Imp may have been something of a failed Mini rival when new, but right now? Sorry Mr Cooper but I’d rather take this cheeky little Imp.