Hella Sweet Lemons Car of the Week: Flaming A-Holes’ 1964 Sunbeam Imp

The East Bay speech patterns of the region around the 24 Hours of Lemons’ headquarters have colonized our minds like an unstoppable virus, and so the term “Hella Sweet” has become the Lemons HQ term for a car we like. We’ll be sharing a Hella Sweet Lemons car with you each week, and today’s high-performance racing thoroughbred is the Hillman Imp campaigned by the Flaming A-Holes on the West Coast.

The Imp was the affordable little rear-engined econobox designed by the Rootes Group to compete with the innovative Austin Mini. It was extremely cheap and proved to be a fairly successful rally car, but build-quality and reliability problems (bad even by 1960s/1970s British standards, which is saying something) gave the car a bad reputation on the streets of its native Europe. The Imp was badged as a Sunbeam in the United States, and the Flaming A-Holes couldn’t resist making this ’64 Imp a companion for the stately Jaguar XJ12 already in their stable.

The Imp proved surprisingly enjoyable to drive at Sears Point and Thunderhill Raceway, and the A-Holes took the Index of Effluency with it at the 2013 Sears Pointless race. This means that 100% of Rootes Group Lemons cars (including two Humbers; we’re not counting the Rootes-derived Omnirizon as a Full Rootes car here) have won the IOE.

The Imp is a genuine momentum car, capable of dealing with most corners at Sears Point aka Sonoma Raceway with zero braking needed. As you can see in the video above, it’s very easy for a skilled racer to drift an Imp at the limit.

Of course, “the limit” on an Imp comes courtesy of the Coventry Climax four-cylinder engine, originally designed in the 1920s for use in forklifts and fire-engine water pumps. The 875cc Climax powering the A-Holes’ Imp was rated at 39 horsepower in 1964, but some of those British ponies had escaped by the time the car began its racing career.

The main problem the Flaming A-Holes had with their Imp turned out to be engine reliability; the duty cycle on a race track tends to be a bit more harsh than that of a forklift driven in a 1929 London warehouse. After throwing connecting rods in three engines, the A-Holes decided to put the Imp on a racing sabbatical.

The Imp still gets some street use today, and the team has plans to swap in a BMW motorcycle engine for future Lemons adventures. We’ll let you know when it makes its glorious return to the race track.

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