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View from the Pylon

June 07

View from the pylon does not usually include race or regatta reports, but over the weekend of 19/20th May a truly remarkable event took place. The tethered car meeting at Orebro in Sweden included and 'Old Timer' race (what an unfortunate term) and a team of three travelled from GB. John Goodall, Stan Barrett and John Oliver. Yes, John Oliver of J.A. Oliver engine and car fame. He did visit last year, but was unable to take his cars on the plane. This year he was there to compete. John Goodall had an original 1.5 and a 2.5 Oliver 'Bottoms Up' and John Oliver a 'Tiger 2.5' that he had put together specially. Showing that he had lost none of his tuning skill or competitive urge he needled the car perfectly to record runs of 134 and 138 kph. Over 85 mph, surely enough to win? Well yes, on speed alone, but as the competition was open to all classes it was the closest to the nominated speed, and for John this was 120k. He had well and truly blown that. The winner missed by just 0.9kph. The result was not important, but to see John Oliver racing again was an immense thrill to all concerned. Amazingly, it was 58 years since John's father had raced at Orebro as part of the first British team to visit Sweden. For a complete history of the Oliver concern, father and son, John Goodall's magnificent  book, 'The Oliver's and a Tiger' is essential reading, and is available from Barton Model Products.

Kent Lund, a regular contributor from the US provided a superb set of photo's of items in his collection. Collections are not necessarily about monetary value, although in this day and age it has become a very significant factor, but more to recognise the contribution made by those that have gone before. Acquiring commercial engines and cars is now a major business and several people will admit to having amassed huge collections, but in a way, they are just that, commercial. Built in a factory, by the hundreds or thousands, now with an almost precise value established; yet nothing that sets them apart from all the others from the same source. Could almost be likened to Clarice Cliff pottery, and that is certainly avidly sought, but where is there any ‘personal connection’? But with tethered hydroplanes and to a much lesser extent with cars, the object in question is often the result of years of designing, machining, testing, development, and alteration and so becomes a unique piece of the sports heritage and history. There is the personal involvement, the record of the successes, the failures, the photographs, and the provenance, yet in many cases this almost counts for nothing. Much like the art world, the ‘name’ is valued far more than what went into the creation of the boat, engine or car. This is brought into focus very clearly in the first of two articles to be published that reflect on the effort, skill and work that one man devoted to his hobby and in many ways reinforces the sentiments, that OTW wholeheartedly embraces. Part 1 of Doug Reynolds’ engineering legacy. Triton, an intriguing tale.

This month’s occupant of the OTW ‘who’s who’ interview chair is the second generation of the Lara hydroplane dynasty, Norman.


May 07

French influence with a ‘melange’ of items this month, as OTW has been checking out the cuisine adjacent to Amiens, in preparation for the hydroplane World Championships. Frogs legs OK, snails OK, fish wonderful, but run a mile if you see andouillette on the menu. Tripe or chitterling sausages in pigs intestines! Hopefully these related items are more palatable?

The ‘twins’ currently in pitbox are a reminder that it is all too easy to blame lack of facilities or resources for not ‘getting on with the job’. Jack Gascoigne, original builder of the ‘Red Arrow’, along with his wife Lucy competed right around the country with home built cars and engines. His workshop was a corner of the kitchenette in their flat. Any "Heavy sawing or hammering had to be done off the premises" As the chassis were formed welded steel they must have come under that category. Likewise Ian Moore and Ivy were flat dwellers and their success was in spite of the total lack of any workshop facilities. He recorded panel beating as being ‘a thoroughly antisocial activity’. Even that icon of tethered car racing Gerry Buck operated out of a spare bedroom throughout his racing career. All that is required, it seems, is sufficient enthusiasm and a VERY understanding wife? We take electricity for granted now, but many superb and successful engines have been produced on treadle lathes including the medal winning eighteen-cylinder radial engine built by Gerald Smith around 1930. A contributor, who was a keen racing cyclist in his youth, vividly recalls in the late 40s being coerced into pumping the lathe treadle furiously while his father was producing parts for a 1066 Falcon.

For your delectation this month there is a lovely story from Jim Hampton detailing his career with model boats and hydroplanes, and Stuart Robinson was forcibly sat in the OTW interview chair to talk about his very successful racing exploits.


April 07

For reference only as Mike retired in 2016 and is no longer taking on any work. Given that most of the boats, engines and cars that we are involved with are getting on a bit, nearly always used, and in many cases abused, a most ‘useful person to know’ is someone that can rebuild, restore and recreate our treasures. Luckily there is such a person currently able to take on all these aspects of our hobby. Mike Crisp, trading as Model Aero Services from a delightful country location near Woodbridge in Suffolk is able to offer a comprehensive and very high quality service.

Model Aero Services has been in existence for 14 years and is the result of Mike taking voluntary redundancy from BT in 1992. As a lifelong aeromodeller he had been making bits and pieces for his own engines and a friend suggested that there might be an opening for this type of service. Mike made up 2 dozen needle valve assemblies and took himself off to some swapmeets. Not only did these sell but soon he was being asked if he could take on repairs. The business took around a year to build up with help from the Suffolk Enterprise Scheme and Model Aero Services came into being in 1993 at Kesgrave and has gone from strength to strength. Swapmeet veterans will be well aware of Mike and his boards of reproduction parts and essential bits and pieces.

Mike is best known for his ability to rebore engines and lap pistons to give new life to the old and tired motors. The purchase of a Delapena hone has been the key to this reputation, and Mike reckons that he has completed between 1000 and 1200 rebores since he started. Mike will take on just about any engine building restoration, rebuild or recreation and has produced several ‘one offs’ from just an original casting that someone has obtained or brought engines back to life from bags of parts. The range of motors built extends from a Henry J Nicholls Dragonfly at a minute .15cc to a 15cc Westbury Atom and he is currently rebuilding the original 30cc motor from Ken Williams’ tethered hydro ‘Faro’. Mike calculates that he has built around 130 complete engines and the photographic record he keeps illustrates the high quality of every project he has undertaken.

Whilst engines are Mike’s core business he is happy to undertake most related projects and has built and completed several tethered cars and model aircraft. Indeed, he counts an ERA tethered car that he built for the late Miquel de Rancougne as his most fascinating and interesting project. With the exception of the motor, wheels and tyres everything else was produced from scratch. He is less happy with the motors he gets where the enthusiasm of the builder or repairer was not matched by their ability, especially evident on older ‘sparkies’. The quality of Mike’s work is of the highest standard and some of his restorations have been little short of miraculous.

 Offerings from OTW this month:- A fascinating glimpse into what makes a World Champion following an interview with Jim Free, current holder of the BI title. A plethora of flash steam and IC engines built by Jim Bamford during his career.


March 07.

Following on from January's look at the RRC, OTW can introduce you to another ‘a useful fellow to know’, plus some related items.

Back in October 1993 early retirement from the power industry gave John Goodall the time and opportunity to embark on two major ventures that have been of immense help to enthusiasts all over the world. In May 1994 the first edition of Model Engine World appeared. This magazine published innumerable articles from experts, enthusiasts, historians and those who had acquired valuable material and knowledge through involvement with all aspects of modelling. If you are not familiar with the magazine it provides an unequalled resource for the history, development, manufacture and general gossip relating to ‘model engines’. Every time you pick one up there is something new to learn. After 75 or so editions and a health scare, John passed the magazine on, but without his drive it eventually sank without trace.

Alongside the magazine John also built up a flourishing business buying and selling model engines. He transferred the initials of one of his earliest engines, BMP, into Barton Model Products and over the subsequent years has bought and sold thousands of engines, books and other model items. From the most rare, unusual and exotic motors to the more mundane, John has used his adverts, lists, stall at swapmeets and latterly the internet to relieve willing victims of their hard earned in order to acquire engines for collections and projects. Recently John has handed over the running of the company to his ever cheerful and enthusiastic son, Paul.

If running the magazine and business were not enough, John embarked upon the mammoth task of producing the most complete and definitive history of the Oliver concern. The resultant ‘The Olivers and a Tiger’, produced with the full cooperation of John Oliver is essential reading for all engine and car enthusiasts. The book was initially launched during another of John Goodall’s ventures, the Barton Swapmeet. See www.bamopro.co.uk for a comprehensive list of engines to whet your appetite.

Over the years John has been heavily involved with Arne Hende who has been responsible for the production of so many superb replica engines. Sadly, Arne died recently aged 74 and condolences go to his family. Could it be that ‘Hende’ replicas will now establish their own place in the collectors market?

From OTW this month are an article and some super pictures from David Giles describing his latest Class 3 competition car, and the first of a ‘who’s who’ series looking at current competitors and record holders.

Many people will have seen the E&M Maserati on Antiques Roadshow and will have their own views on the valuation given. See Pit Box Cars for more details.


February 07.

With the tethered car championships being a long haul trip to Russia an ideal opportunity to see top class racing is with the hydroplanes in Amiens. Just two hours down the autoroute from Calais or the tunnel to see the best in the world competing. Exactly 40 years ago the European Hydro Championships were also in Amiens and presented a somewhat more difficult and costly journey. A number of British competitors made the trip, but for Jim Hampton of the Portsmouth Club it was especially successful as he won the silver medal in the A1 (2.5cc) class with an exceedingly small boat called, appropriately, Tiny.

Travelling to and from France to compete in regattas was a well-established practice even before this meeting. In the late 40s and early 50s the Paris International would have a sizeable contingent of British boats despite the currency restrictions and difficulties of travel. No Ro-Ro ferries or cheap flights then. Boats and gear would often be sent ahead by carrier, with the owners following by train. George Stone and Ken Williams were amongst those that made the trip regularly. Much of the credit for the success of these excursions was down to Gems Suzor who had been making the journey in the opposite direction since 1925. His appearance at the Grand Regatta of that year caused quite a stir, not only because of his journey from Paris but the speed recorded by his IC engined boat Canard. This boat showed the possibilities of high revving two stroke motors for hydro’s.

Two years later three competitors from London Clubs trekked over to Paris for a double header meeting over a May weekend. Again, the organisation and hospitality of Gems Suzor made the trip the success it was. Ted Vanner took three boats which finished first, second and third in the steering event. Jack Gascoigne managed a 4th on the circular course whilst Mr Savage did not manage a run at all. He spent much of the time in Suzor’s workshop trying to breathe some life back in to his recalcitrant motor and finally managed a third place in the final event, with Gascoigne 4th.

This month’s offerings follow up the earlier story of ‘Evil Spirit’, the flash steam hydro from 1916, with OTW having a look at the life and modelling career of its builder, Fred Westmoreland.


January 07.

Whilst on the subject of happy new years and Christmas presents it must have been the happiest of times for the eBay vendor from Wolverhampton who put a tether car up for auction during December. Nothing unusual in that, and nothing unusual about the car on offer. Indeed he had little idea of what it was. It was a home built job with a channel aluminium chassis and rear wheel drive through a gearbox. A late RRV FROG 3.49 provided the power and a 1066 aluminium body finished it off. No provenance, no history, no identifiable components, in fact thoroughly unremarkable. Now this is where one has to question if the whole world has gone mad or just a certain trans Atlantic part of it? The bidding slowly reached what could be considered a realistic price and there it stayed until the last hours when it went mad. If you consider that two well documented and historic cars, the ‘Stubbs Austin’ and the ‘Rickard McCoy Special’ made £2050 and £1827 respectively, then how can a final price of £2,349.99 be in anyway justified? Assuming of course that the vendor received his money. The mind boggles on all cylinders!!!!

Many articles on this site quote the Retro Racing Club and even more of them owe their origins or content to the assistance of Peter Hill who runs the Club. So what is the Retro Racing Club? Several organisations have administered model car racing over the years, but as interest in tethered cars waned so did the clubs and organisations. There were attempts to regenerate the movement by Mike Beach in the 80s and Ivan Prior in the early 90s as a business venture, but all to no avail. In 1995 it was suggested that there would be support for a new ‘umbrella group’ and in 1996 Peter Hill created the Retro Racing Club. Peter is a lifelong tethered hydroplane enthusiast and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of that sport. He is also the historian for the MPBA and a regular contributor to Model Boats and other magazines. His involvement with cars does not go back quite as far but his knowledge is still considerable. He also has access to the most comprehensive archives on boats and cars that exist anywhere in the world.

When Ivan Prior gave up his involvement with the cars, Peter Hill bought the drawings, patterns and tyre moulds in order to offer a service to car builders everywhere. The Retro Club gave members, magazines, plans, a supply of castings including all the Oliver cars and a range of tyres. A major reference work he produced on ‘British Production Cars and Components’ is invaluable for any enthusiast. If this was not enough Peter then built the only functioning tethered car track in the Country at his home in Souldrop. With his move to Lincolnshire the track has gone, but a replacement is in progress and others have taken on the casting and tyre manufacture. The Club still flourishes however and is well worth the modest subscription. As well as the magazines, members have access to drawings for around 130 British and foreign tethered cars.  Probably even more for tethered hydroplanes plus the vast wealth of information that Peter has accumulated over the years.
Join the Retro Club as a new year present to yourself, you will not be disappointed.

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