View from the Pylon
December is customarily the time for reviews of the previous year and season of competition, and to reflect on the successes, near misses, failures and frustrations along the way. It is interesting to hear though what people regard as success or failure. To some success can only be achieving top speeds week in and week out, while to others a decent run with everything remaining in one piece is sufficient. There have been some noteworthy performances during the year, not least of which was Pierre Barbotin’s new B1 World Record. The airscrew boats are never easy to get right at the best of times, so this was a spectacular run. Jan Erik Falk has been pegging away at the Class 4 car record, breaking it twice this season. In common with some of the hydro records though, at least three class records have now remained unchallenged for over 3 years, and his Class 1 record has now stood for 6 years. Steve Turley has broken the British 5cc record on numerous occasions and now Olly Monk has broken the British 10cc record this season. On the hydro scene Ron Hankins has been nudging the A/B mark towards 130mph, which puts him in touch of the outright record, which has remained untroubled for 14 years, although Terry Everitt last year and Tony Collins this season have been headed in that direction, both winning the Speed Trophy for the fastest speed during the year, at over 130mph. For sheer perseverance though, the OTW award this year goes to Paul Windross for breaking the A/S record after something like 20 years of toil. In a recent interview Paul said that his target with the steamer was now 130mph, which would threaten John Hyder’s A Class record that has stood for 12 years. The B Class record has led a charmed life and might not make it to 20 years old, as there are now two people in pursuit of it and Ron Hankins gave it a real fright at Althorne in October. Our other award this year must go to Martin Broad for his A2E record. At 111mph. this was fast enough to impress everyone, and show that the class is a practical proposition. Just wish we understood all the ‘techie bits’.
It is now 20 years since the NAVIGA classes were adopted in this Country, so as an academic exercise we have had a look at some of the older class records, some of which must still be in existence and some, which because of rule changes are now ‘frozen’. There are also a few achievements which do not count as records, but are still worthy of mention. Apart from the Collier and Mears Trophies, none of the traditional long distance events are now held, either with cars or boats, so presumably some of these records must still be valid as well. Certainly this is the case with tethered cars where distances of up to 10 miles were run. The second part of our article on Ian and Ivy Moore details a few of the records that fell to this couple.
The ‘Pitboxes’ start with a record-breaking car, which may retain that title for some considerable time to come. The engine we are illustrating, is just a taster of something more important to follow. For most enthusiasts and collectors it might never happen, but just occasionally something turns up that comes into the 'Holy Grail' category. This seemingly common four stroke motor has a provenance and origin that is almost beyond belief and we are grateful to the owner for sharing it with us all. For the hydroplane we have again 'bumped' the planned item to bring news of flash steamer that has been around for a while, although we did not know where it was, or indeed if it was what we believed it to be. What no one could have anticipated was the incredible price it realised!
On the matter of incredible prices, following on from the Hobbs book last month, a vendor put a copy of Deason's book on ebay with a starting price of £150! Mmm. The results from the Gildings sale have no such shocks, but make interesting reading as to the trends within the model engine market.
Peter Hill recently revisited Isaac Newton's theories on gravity and, to his cost, found them to be sound! We wish him a speedy recovery. This has had a deleterious effect, not only on Peter, but on the publication of the Retro racing Club newsletter, delaying the next edition until early in the New Year.
Without getting too deeply into considering the reasons, most areas of modelling are dominated by men, except the other sort of modelling that is, where the females certainly hold sway. That is not to say that there have not been a number of very successful competitors in the world of tethered cars and hydroplanes throughout the ages, although they do tend to be in the minority. The level of participation can vary from the most tenuous, where a button being pressed to indicate the start of a timed run is the sole input, right through to a lovely Swedish lady we met who had entirely engineered her own car. At this level, she had far more mechanical involvement than a number of fellow competitors who had passed over large sums of Euros for a ready to run car. Of course, it does not end there, as all sorts of judgements have to be made along the way to maximise performance. More often, the involvement is through family, marriage or friendship, where the ladies participation can be anything from enthusiastic and enjoyed to ‘keep the old man happy’ and be endured. Over the years there have been a considerable number of couples actively pursuing racing careers, from the Rickards of the Pioneer Club, the Wainwrights, and Gascoignes also from the same era, through to more modern times with David Giles and June Heath, Jim and Sue Free and a couple from OTW. In terms of continued success though, it would be difficult to beat the careers of Ian and Ivy Moore during the late 40s and early 50s.
One of our early articles was a brief look at this couple, but with the advantage of time, and material that has become available subsequently, we are now able to present a far more detailed appraisal of their involvement with tethered cars. Over the next two months we will be featuring Ian and Ivy Moore, along with the cars they raced and their significant influence on the tethered car scene.
The ‘Pitboxes’ start with another car photographed during our trip to Lancashire. There is no doubt that it was commercially produced, but we are struggling to positively identify the manufacturer. The engine is something of a rarity, which could have been much more popular for hydroplanes had Bonds not decided to stop production. The only other example we have seen has suffered one of those ‘oops, oh ****’ moments while the head was being machined. The boat we do not have a clue about, other than that it was sold with a claimed connection to a well-known British record holder and is not quite as big as it first appears.
Another season has drawn to a close, which has been notable for a number of new British records, both with cars and hydroplanes. Olly Monk has been busy at the computer, continuing to keep us updated with activities on the tethered car scene, reporting from the final events of his season. Thanks to Olly for his reports and workshop notes throughout the year. Along with every other outdoor activity, the hydroplane season has also been at the mercy of the weather, and with problems at some of our usual venues, the opportunities for running boats have been more restricted than we would have liked. However, as Vanessa Williams signature song contains the recurring line 'Save the Best Till Last' so Althorne Lake and the final scheduled regatta of the year did just that.
Just to finish, a couple of ebay 'you can hardly believe it' items by courtesy of Peter Hill. An experimental car was auctioned by a member of the Retro Club, which made a modest price. It was then immediately put back on to ebay by the purchaser, with a somewhat more fanciful description and promptly made nearly four times the price! Now do you have a fortune in your bookcase? A 1914 copy of E.W. Hobbs' Model Power Boats just went for £255. Not a bad profit, as ours still has 10/- written inside the cover and they were going for not much more until a short while ago.
Dave Whelan has kindly sent us the following:- An interesting website that might be worth a mention in OTW, especially the linked page to Pathe News films. One clip in particular is identified as men with their boats in Tyne & Wear. I'm pretty convinced that Tom Clement's straight runner (Camilla) is featured. There are also a number of clips of tethered hydros at Victoria Park including Babs/BabsII go to http://www.vintagemodelpowerboatclub.co.uk
Well. Somehow or other, we find ourselves celebrating yet another anniversary. Not quite ’60 glorious years’, but a modest seven years of publishing OTW. During that time, the scope and content of the site has expanded far beyond anything we could have even begun to anticipate. Probably just as well, as the prospect may well have been too daunting to even make a start. We are slowly working our way through some of the earlier material as it clearly shows our naivety and lack of understanding of the programmes we were using. Happily, it is also the case that we are able to update many original articles as more information and material has become available. Producing a monthly edition can be time consuming and often nerve-wracking when we are faced with the realisation that there is very little more material in salt for us to use. It is then that the kindness and generosity of our regular viewers, contributors, newcomers to the site and acquaintances come to the fore. Thanks to the combined willingness of everyone out there, the articles, reports, photos, Pitbox items and albums, keep coming, making our job immeasurably easier. The influx of material does mean that several research projects and proposed articles are still just that, although there are probably ten or so ongoing at present. We will get them done and they will end up significantly more comprehensive for the extra time taken. It is to our regular contributors that we offer the biggest thanks, especially those that compile reports and take photos at meetings and regattas they are attending. We know how that intrudes into the reason for being there, but we are ever grateful for the support. Mark Mansell and Olly Monk deserve a special mention as they have continued to provide so much material on current tethered car activities and workshop projects. Sonia and Tony Collins for providing photos and reports from hydro meetings and Jim Free and Phil Abbott for access to their extensive albums of images. Always there with help, knowledge, and access to almost inexhaustible archives is Peter Hill, who also keeps his ear to the ground to alert us to obscure ‘goings on’ and keeping us on the ‘straight and narrow’.
A case in point are the images of the Noble family at the end of the 19th century sent to us recently by Pam Martin. These have been added to the article as the only original photographs we have of either of the brothers.
Apart from all the wonderful people we have met or made contact with, the other great pleasure comes through the trawling and delving we do. At the simplest level, that might be correlating and bringing together existing material from different sources into a publishable form, while at the other end of the spectrum it is a cross between detective work and archaeology, except in our case, the digging is metaphorical. The excitement is in never quite knowing where it is all going to lead. A case in point was a reply to a ‘catch all’ advert for tethered cars and material from a member of the Retro Club nearly five years ago. There was no clue as to what the car on offer was, and given the price being asked, it was questionable as to whether it was worth buying. As our major article this month reveals, not only was it worth buying, but probably comes as close to the ‘holy grail’ category of finds as possible, as it was a genuine ‘sleeper’ of the tethered car world.
There has been a flurry of competition activity in the last month, starting with a trip to Vilnius for Olly Monk and Steve Turley. Steve broke his British record yet again, leaving it tantalisingly close to 290 kph, while Olly had his first win with his 2.5cc car that he has been working on for a while. Congratulations to both of them.
All the Pitboxes this month continue with the 'anniversary theme' coming about through the generosity of fellow enthusiasts who have allowed us free access to their workshops, garages and lofts. We had a fascinating day up in Lancashire where we were treated to one of the finest and varied collections of models we have ever seen. There were some absolute gems including the Car this month, which was one of the very first M&Es to have left Exmouth. The Boat surpassed even this, as lurking in the corner of the loft was one of Ted Vanner's early tinplate hydro hulls, in absolutely immaculate condition (discounting the crude conversion to radio control sometime after Ted's death.) The Engine is another of our favourites, a home built 30cc hydro motor, not old, but a wonderful example of engineering, from the north-east this time.
Tethered car enthusiasts have had a torrid time this month with meetings every weekend, hardly leaving time to clean out cars before heading to the airport again. Olly Monk has been having some success with his 2.5cc car, while Steve Turley keeps knocking out runs in the 280s with his remarkably reliable 5cc car. News on the 10cc front is not so good as a number of seizures have hit wallets severely. A recent event featured a horsing competition, using a car with no engine, and the winner recorded a speed of over 150kph. Just over 90mph on human power alone. It is easy to see why whipping was banned! All results on the speedmodel car site as usual. Early this month was the first 'International' meeting at the Great Carlton Track, which played host to a group of Australian enthusiasts, over here primarily for the Goodwood revival but had taken the precaution of packing a couple of cars as well.
It seems that all technical sports experience periods when support falls away and numbers attending meetings dwindle, leading to the inevitable question as to whether the activity can survive. We have been involved, either directly, or by association with a number of these over the last 50 years or so and this question has risen in virtually all of them at one time or another. Somehow, most of them do manage to survive, either by having an entirely new lease of life or through a few very dedicated enthusiasts who refuse to give in. The model aircraft world and the market it enjoys is massive, yet even here there are disciplines that are struggling and have passed beyond minority sports. With tethered cars and hydroplanes it has been noticeable numbers have been dropping away, which is hardly surprising given the cost of travelling to events, as most of them represent ‘long haul’ for the vast majority of competitors. It also seems to be the case that the more sophisticated ‘speed’ events or those that are run on time trial basis only appeal to a certain section of the modelling community, many of whom would freely admit that they are not in their ‘first flush of youth’. Quite whether this is down to accessibility, availability of equipment, or the lack of person-to-person competition is difficult to asses, but there is no doubt that there has to be some concerted action in order to sustain interest. We have had numerous conversations with interested parties about ways that this might be achieved but one avenue that has had a major impact in the model aircraft world might just be a way forward. There is no doubting the impact that electric power has had, especially with the current (inadvertent humour) technology, most of which is double Dutch to us. Cheap it ‘aint, quiet it certainly ‘aint, but convenient, easy to operate and mess free it certainly is. Electrickery is proven in tethered hydros at International level, and Martin Broad has certainly shown the potential over here. Otto Stroebel has had a go with it in a tethered car with a simple conversion of an existing class 5 chassis. It may not appeal to the purists, but could this be a way to get new blood into our sports? It might also be a way or reducing the number of no-runs at regattas, which would not hurt on any number of counts. What is sometimes needed is a knowledgeable and keen person or group who can put together a package that gives others a ‘way in’. There will never be any money in it, but it could just keep alive the sport that you enjoy so much and have devoted so much time and money to.
This month sees the concluding part of the work on Nordec. The current 10cc motors are infinitely more powerful than those of 60 years ago, but the cost, supply situation and market is still just as difficult, and like North Downs Engineering all that while ago, building them is not going to keep anyone in beer tokens for long.
Our Pitboxes start with a car that defies all logical reason as to why it was built, other than, because someone wanted to. The hydroplane takes us back to the days of the Wico-Pacy trophy, when 10cc hydros were run in two classes categorised by those with home built engines and those with commercial motors. The engine is another ‘door stop’ from the 1930s, but unlike all the Grayson clones, can be tied down exactly.
Torrential downpours seem to be the order of the day this summer, so would Kingsbury be lucky again in the weather stakes? Well, yes, until round three when the heavens opened, but it was still a perfect day for running hydros as Paul Windross demonstrated so emphatically on his return to the fray. Althorne has not had the best of luck with weather recently, but that changed dramatically for the meeting on the 19th August. Not only was it hot, sunny and calm, but there was some notable action. Firstly congratulations to Martin Broad on establishing a British electric record at 111mph. We also witnessed an exceedingly quick A/BR run, quickly followed by by a severely damaged boat and engine, so commiserations to Ron Hankins, who missed out on a record and went home with a box of bits.
Interesting details emerging from the hydroplane event in Pazardzhik, not least a blistering new World B1 record of 176.98mph by Pierre Barbotin. Also notable was that the first 5 boats in A3 were all over 130mph, including Tony Collins. More remarkable was the wining speed by Alexandra Ogay was over 140mph. Some serious reappraisal to be done in this country methinks? However the A2s were not as fast as they were in GB some 10 years ago?
OTW has a pretty uncompromising attitude to deliberately misleading representations of items for sale, and there have been plenty of examples recently, although an alternative viewpoint put to us was, if it makes more money, what’s wrong with it? Well, that is one way of looking at it, which can certainly be the case in matters of antiques and vintage transport. Sadly it is not unknown in the world of models either, but what has emerged during our extensive trawl of magazines for the current Nordec article, is the proliferation of the ‘unintentional’ error. As we have said in the past, this could be through captioning errors, mistaken identity, writing and typographic clangers, or not taking the trouble to ensure that was is printed is accurate. Of course, mistakes are there for everyone to make, but it is the errors that become accepted fact or wisdom that cause most concern. Mike Clanford’s A-Z is an almost standard work for identification, often used by auction houses when lotting up sales. Any errors, and no blame is attached to Mike here, become accepted as the norm and continually repeated. The hoary old problem of the 1066 Hawk and Arrow being transposed appeared yet again at the Mellors and Kirk auction, and that was not the only one in evidence at that sale. Every modelling magazine can be the source of misidentification for any combination of the reasons mentioned above. This can be somewhat embarrassing, explaining to a highly respected valuer, expectant vendor, delighted purchaser or proud owner, that what they have got, isn’t. There then comes the questioning as to why they should be wrong and you right. Peter Hill instilled in us the need for caution before making absolute statements, so we do try to ensure what we publish is correct.
This brings us to the second part of the combined work of Adrian Duncan and OTW on the subject of Nordec. It has to be said that we have come across some very poorly researched and substantially incorrect material that has just trotted out the same false assumptions, which hopefully, the work of Adrian and ourselves will ‘knock on the head’ for once and all. Why then all the preamble? Well, what we have discovered and recorded makes some fundamental changes to the perceived wisdom about North Downs Engineering, and the Nordec motors in particular. This could well mean collectors having to reappraise the motors that they have, and some authors having to address what they have written. Between Adrian and ourselves, we think (and hope) we have got it right, but if anyone has any thoughts to the contrary, then please holler.
The ‘Pitboxes’ start with a boat that might seem a bit ‘left field’ as it is a straight runner rather than a hydroplane. It is not so much the boat, as the association with its builder that merits us including it. The cars, yes plural, this month are M&E Wasps, of which we have seen several over the years, but these are a bit different. They do include the mythical ‘barn find’. The motor is again commercial, but around 80 years old with an original induction system, which is unusual as these tend to get ‘binned’.
The European hydroplane championships take place in Bulgaria later this month and it is interesting to note the close relationship between the boats and tethered cars. There are several competitors that run both, including the Smolnikovs, Alexander Barbin and our own Steve Turley and Olly Monk, as well as a number of ex hydro men, now running the cars. It will be a busy time for all with the Car Championships in Poland having just finished. (Results on speedmodelcar site make interesting reading) After the torrential rain of the last few weeks, it was with a certain relief that water levels had dropped sufficiently at Kingsbury for the July regatta to take place. Happily, the sun was still shining for the July visit to Great Carlton for the second Retro Racing Club track day of the year.
Congratulations to Tony Collins, one of the British team headed out to Pazardzhick. At the Althorne meeting on July 1st he posted the fastest run seen in this country for a long while with his new Picco boat. The popular consensus was that had it not been so rough, the outright British record could well have been under threat. Jan Erik Falk has upped the 5cc Class 4 tethered car record to an incredible 311kph, which clearly illustrates the law of diminishing returns in capacity terms.
Olly Monk concluded his wonderful series of workshop reports with, "Now it's time to see if the work has paid off?" As we reported in June, a new British record showed that it had.
Last month we mentioned a car with a severely 'got at' Rytm motor posing as an Oliver twinshaft. Well, someone has made the vendor richer by over £900! Sad, when you could have bought a complete and original Oliver car and motor off eBay for £100 less. When we have stopped laughing (or shaking our heads with amazement) it will appear as a Pitbox item as another salutary lesson. Compare this with a complete and original M&E ERA that has just sold for £1600. More surprising perhaps was the late M&E Special with a Nordec motor that realised over £2300 and a selection of M&E spares plus a Stentor that came in at over £500. Does this indicate that there is now a lot of spare money chasing tethered cars?
There is an oft quoted proverb applied to many situations that roughly goes, ‘How do you make a small fortune from ---------------? (Fill in missing words). Answer invariably, ‘start off with a large one!’ What is certain is that no one ever made much money manufacturing engines, cars, or other model related equipment. Amazingly, there were untold individuals and companies, large and small, over the years that tried, and almost without exception, failed. There seemed to be two distinct routes into commercial production. Firstly there were existing companies that needed to diversify in the immediate post-war period in order to survive, and often had someone within the company that was in some way involved with cars, boats or planes who was the driving force. Secondly and quite commonly, especially in the US, individuals who ‘fell into it’ as a result of their own involvement in the hobbies. For many of these it really must have been a ‘labour of love’, although some did pass on manufacture to larger companies to free themselves from the tedium of production, or (if lucky) to meet demand. The companies that did survive for a while either had a large enough product range to generate sufficient income, or in a bizarre twist, diversified again, even to the extent of giving up the model side of their businesses completely. Nowhere was this more evident than in the production of 10cc racing engines in Britain. The potential market was limited, the selling price high and profit non-existent, given the relatively few motors that actually seem to have been produced. In the US the situation was somewhat different, with industrial levels of production in some cases, which can provide interesting comparisons in desirability and values in the modern world of collecting particularly with some of the motors that were produced in very limited numbers.
The British 10cc racing motor is a relatively rare item compared with Doolings, Hornets and McCoys. The work of Wilf Rowell and Geoffrey Hastings has been covered in detail on this site, but what of Nordec, the only member of this group that does not owe its existence to a named individual? Adrian Duncan produced an extremely detailed appraisal of the marque for Ron Chernich’s website some while ago, and then very kindly put together another article, specifically for OTW, looking at the history and development of this ‘other’ British 10cc racing motor. This piqued our interest though, simply for the fact that the origins of the engine and the people behind it were a mystery. Well, we can never resist a challenge, so after many months of research and digging we can now publish the combined efforts of Adrian and OTW with the first part of a ‘new look at Nordec’.
The above does not imply that these were the only motors being produced here, but they were the only ones that could be considered to be in commercial production. Paul Zere had development of his own 10cc motor well on the way for ZN, when the imposition of Purchase Tax convinced him that it was not commercially viable. Whether any prototypes of this engine exist or not is unknown, although quantities of spare components did come on the market some years ago. One motor that did get produced as a very limited run was the Speedwell, and given its extreme rarity, we are featuring it as our Pitbox Engine this month.
One of our regular contributors from the US, Ron Reiter, has an uncanny ability to sniff out early British cars and so our Pitbox Car for July is another of his remarkable finds. The Pitbox Hydroplane this month also comes under the category of remarkable finds as it is absolutely complete, in amazingly good order and has a name and club registration to boot. Does not get much better than this.
Congratulations to Olly Monk and Steve Turley, both having broken British records twice in their respective classes. The first full regatta of the year at Kingsbury found a weather window that offered almost perfect boating conditions and the first run of the year for most competitors. Unfortunately, health problems kept three of the regulars away, and we pass on our very best wishes to them.
One would love to be a fly on the wall at the Waddling Duck in Grunty Fen when R.T. Pole and Dennis have their weekly mardle over a pint of mild. Peter Hill has no doubt alerted Mr Pole, as well as ourselves, to the latest bit of commercial madness from ebay that should get the table thumping going in the snug. A modified M&E clutch unit sold for an unbelievable £225, followed by a replica Oliver Mercedes put together in the mid 1990s that went for a mind boggling £1200. If that doesn't produce some vociferous home spun philosophy from the two grumpy old Bs, then nothing will.
Paul ironmonger now has the full range of Oliver castings available and his details are now on the Contacts page. While we are on the subject of Oliver cars just be amazed at the latest example on ebay! Take one Russian Rytm motor, attack liberally with a drill, hacksaw and file, bolt down with two U bolts, then sit back and wait for the bids from the unwary or unknowing.
John Lorenz has recently spent a great deal of time updating his 'Mite Cars' website. There is a huge quantity of detailed information there about this category of car and is well worth a few hours of browsing time to immerse yourself in the equivalent of our B and C class cars.
Bit of technical stuff now. Several readers have commented that pages or photos are missing or not updated when they come to look at the site. This is down to existing pages being in your computer's cache, so you will see what was there, not what is there currently. If it is a new page then that will be OK. Otherwise, a finger applied gently to the refresh button should have all our pages back hunky dory.