If you attended Mondello Park back in the 1970’s, the “Hallspeed Imp” will need no introduction. David Hall raced Imps successfully from the late ’60s. In fact, he raced at the opening meeting at Mondello Park back in 1968.
By 1975 though, the Modified Minis dominated the “Modsaloon” class at Mondello, their 1300cc A series engines, often with 8 port heads, producing some 20bhp more than the very best that top UK tuners could extract from the Imp’s 998 Coventry climax devived output. Hall however, at the time a rep for Chrysler, formed a plan to fight back. He met with Imp based sports car manufacturer Davrian and top UK Imp racer John Homewood and they agreed to build a fully fibreglass Imp for modified saloon racing. Hall recalls that they “sketched the design for the car on the back of a fag packet” initially!
While Homewood stayed with the 998 route, Hall had bigger fish to fry, namely Steve Griffin, Fintan Cunningham and a few others, who were running at the front of the “up to 1350cc” class in Ireland. To this end, he sourced an ex works large capacity engine block, one of five in existance apparently, bored it out to 1220cc and had Imp specialist Ian Carter build it, with one of his demon cylinder heads. Having been bench tested to 10,000rpm, the engine apparently produced somewhere around 145bhp. When the car arrived at Mondello in 1976, it took everyone’s breath away. Backed by Gulf Oils and PR Reilly, Mondello Park had seen nothing like it before. It was considerably wider than any other race Imp and instead of the usual flared or box arches, the car had a step on each side, running the entire length, almost forming an F1 style sidepod, ensuring the wheels were covered in while the silhouette of the car remained Imp shaped, as per the regs. In a stroke, the other cars in the paddock were obsolete. Michael Cullen, whose father Des was racing on the day remembers “It was like an F1 car landing in the paddock, everyone was crowded around it.”
Predictably, Hall decimated the opposition. When the UK Superloons visited Mondello, Hall managed to run at the front for a few laps before losing out to the V8 and BDA engined monsters but incredibly, he set a new class record that day of 1:03.0. To put that into perspective, the FF1600 lap record at the time was 1:02.2! Hall won pretty much everything in the car before putting it up for sale, with a view to having a go at Formula Atlantic. The Hallspeed Imp changed hands. Vivian Candy, who along with Eddie Jordan, had set up Marlboro Team Ireland wanted to win the Sexton Trophy- badly. The trophy was then awarded to the driver with the most points, regardless of class. (A bit like the Hawthorn Trophy now, but far easier to understand!) The Imp was the ideal weapon to grab maximum points everytime out, so the Candyman pounced and the deal was done. The car was reliveried in Marlboro Captain America colours, running number 253, a nod to the Radio Dublin 253 sponsorship deal they had brokered.
Famously, at the Phoenix Park races in 1979, the other drivers protested the car, claiming that it was a “Superloon” as opposed to a Modsaloon. After a standoff, during which the other cars remained on the grid and Candy did a solo lap(!), an agreement was reached and the race was run on the Sunday. Predictably, Candy blitzed the opposition, this time including some of the quickest Modsport MG Midgets too. For 1980, some of the UK’s quickest saloon cars were invited to run at the ‘Park. Viv Wallace’s Maguire Mini, Basil Dagg’s Imp and Ian Higgins’ Ginetta were all entered, as was Candy in the Imp. The famous car never showed though and soon after was sold to the UK. This history of the car becomes cloudy after this, although David Hall told me that he had heard it had road car plates on it and was being driven on the road occasionally at one stage.
Fast forward a few years… well ok, a lot of years, and I decided I wanted to own the car I had watched as a small kid. I spoke to a few people, did a bit of digging and found that there were 14 or 15 of these cars subsequently built by Davrian and at least 3 of them had been comprehensively written off, the Homewood one at Lydden Hill, apparently. Colin Rooney, son of legendary Irish Imp racer Dan, gave me a number for a guy who had one in France. I rang the guy and he would not sell but whilst chatting to him, he mentioned to me that he had driven it on the road a few times, notably to the Imp National Meeting at one stage! Needless to say, my heart skipped a beat! Fast forward another year or so and I was walking up Naas main street on a Saturday morning when my Nokia rang. (You always remember where you were when you get a call like this!) I answered and it was the owner, explaining that he had to sell the car, and as promised, he would give me first option. The bad news was that he wanted £6,000 sterling, even though it needed quite a bit of work. I bought the car over the phone and set about booking a ferry to collect it. I collected the car and reboarded the same ferry as happy as the proverbial Laurence chappie. On arrival back in the country I headed straight to Alan Kessie’s ASK Racing workshops in North Dublin. Having spoken with Colin Rooney, we discovered that it was unlikely that this was the Hall car, as the cage looked slightly different. There was no chassis plate and the Davrian records are sketchy at best. In the meantime, another Davrian Imp I had been chasing came up in the UK and after a quick discussion with Alan, I decided to buy that one too. It was complete as a shell, but was sans engine/box, windscreen, windows and suspension. We got that one back too and sent it to Steve Griffins for a new cage to be fitted and then off to the fibreglass man to bond the cage into the shell, factory style. Ironically enough, Col Rooney reckons that car might actually be the ex Hall machine!
Meanwhile, Alan had been working hard on getting the first Imp ready. Having done a few slow laps on a test day, we descovered that the engine was well past its best. We got in contact with a UK company and ordered a new full spec 998 engine. We got the car up and running. (I say we, but Alan and the team did all the work, I just drank tea!) and thankfully, it was as much fun to drove as I had expected. The engine was only ok though, so we gave it to Dan Rooney for a rebuild and it came back as a proper 998 screamer! I had a few class wins at Mondello as the car was a lot quicker than the Modsport Midgets, but I had my eye on the big one- an overall HRCA win. I had sniffs at the front but the little 998 was no match for the 4.0 MGBGT V8, the Twin Cam Lotus lumps etc. I still knew though, that if the cards fell in my favour, it might just be on. We went to Anglesey and despite the long back straight (8,750 in 5th coming into the hairpin!), the car was quick enough through the twisty buts for me to qualify on the second row. The clutch was slipping off the line for some reason and this dropped me back into the pack. The Imp was flying though and by 2/3 distance I was battling with Clive Brandon’s Lotus for the lead. Long story short, we were neck and neck for lap after lap and when Clive got out of shape on the final corner, I was through for a hugely emotional win. In the unlikely event Autosport magazine ever ask me for the “Race of my life”, I won’t have to hesitate.
Huge thanks to Col and Dan Rooney and especially Alan Kessie for allowing me to play out my schoolboy’s dream.
Images courtesy of Bob Montgomery.