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December 2013

Our October ‘birthday’ passed us by with hardly time to draw breath, such was the pace of events, and so the usual bout of reflection on that milestone had to wait a bit. Unfortunately, the year has seen far too many untimely deaths amongst the modelling community, including those of Tom Clement, Terry Everitt and Geoff Sheppard, all of whom have contributed so much to the website and assisted us immensely on a personal level as well. Their passing has also left very large holes in many clubs, societies and organisations far beyond our own immediate interests. Apart from the immediate effects of bereavement, there is also the entirely practical problem of disposing of a lifetime’s collection of models, items, material, equipment and all those odd bits we all acquire along the way. Ebay featured one such extensive collection of tethered and other car models from the estate of a member of the Retro Club, and a dealer local to us has a number of items from another deceased member. Both of these collections were comprised of relatively modern projects, using whatever components were to hand, and in most cases not following any published designs. The craftsmanship varied from the excellent to the diabolical, but in each case choice items and information had ‘gone missing’ between the time the deals were agreed and collection. We have had personal experience of this, along with Peter Hill, all of us being informed where precisely in the house one very important and historic, tethered car artefact was to be found. Only it wasn’t there any more and has never turned up? Was it spirited away or dumped? Where it all gets a bit more complicated is when the deceased person has had charge of club or other assets or has been loaned items. We well remember John Benson’s surprise on hearing that his original Orthon had been sold on ebay, as he never parted with any of his boats. He then recalled that he had lent it to Norman Hodges to copy, some time in the early 1950s. A number of trophies have also been discovered recently, and although they are named and their possible origins relatively easy to establish, who on earth is the owner? We have also been contacted by the family of the donor of one of our well-known trophies asking where it was, if only we, or anyone else for that matter knew, quelle embarrassment. Last year we were contacted by the grandson of a very important hydro figure who still has all his granddad’s boats, engines, equipment and archive material. Apart from one very famous hull that is, which appeared on ebay, so how did that get there? Just occasionally information comes to hand that can shed light on these situations, establishing a train of events or even a provenance for an item, which can be helpful or sometimes even embarrassing. Remember the old saying about not being the owners, merely the custodians, well, most of us have a foot in each camp, but sometimes distinguishing which is which can be something of a problem, especially when we are gorn???

Our article detailing the career of ‘Betty’ and the Innocents really came about through similar circumstances, which are outlined in the conclusion to the story of this 80-year-old boat.

The boat in this month’s Pitbox is not new, but having featured it in Tightlines a year ago it then went AWOL when that page was updated, so here it is again, although we do hope to have a longer article about it at some stage (another task on the board). The engine goes right back to the earliest days of commercial engine production, whilst the car is now something like the 35th example of this marque that we have been able to identify.

The Gildings auction was unusual in having a large number of hand built motors, both IC and steam and included versions of Gerald Smith’s radials and other multis of various configurations. Top price was £2300 for the five cylinder Buzzard built by Bill Linfield. Also unusual, which may have accounted for the considerable interest, was the vast number of new and virtually new engines, still in original boxes. Somewhat surprising though was how little NIB Olivers were making? The M&E ERA from the Arne Toy Museum sold for £1800 at Aston Toy Auctions, which was not out of the way, whilst a CIJ Alfa Romeo made no less than £5,200. Just shows what makes the money. Thanks to Nell Hilditch at Aston Auctions for alerting us to these cars and supplying all the details. Certainly was a case of 'buyer beware' at Lacey Scott's as the only original item amongst all the tethered car parts sold was an M&E axle. Not sure what the purchaser will make of the balsa wood replica of an E&M Maserati though? Coincidently, an original E&M Maserati appeared on ebay at the same time, although with a high starting price, but it failed to attract any interest, when others have sold for much more. The Victor Meldrew moment came with the 1066 catalogue on ebay though. £77, and it was not even the rare one?

Interesting news is coming from the US where Roger and George Phillips, aided by Nick Tucci,  are having significant success in developing their Vector electric powered WMRC style tethered car. Currently (what a pun) the car is the size of a 5cc class IV, but weighs in at 8 1/4lbs, which is 3lbs over the existing class limit, so has all sorts of implications for cables. What is remarkable and makes it newsworthy is that its best run is 324kph (201mph)  Rumour has it that the speed controllers are not radio controlled either, but this aspect is still on the secret list. There are numerous posts being received about the philosophy and desirability of using electrons instead of methanol and opinion is very divided at present. More news as soon as we have details.

Whilst we are on the subject of projects and car development, Oliver Monk has been putting in the workshop hours on his FEMA cars and a recreation of an Arne Zetterstrom 5cc car from the days when the exhaust still came out the side of engines. He has also succumbed to a Class I car, which have the reputation for driving strong men to drink due to their fickle nature and difficulty setting them up. Details of all these projects in another of Olly's highly regarded 'Workshop Ramblings'. We are extremely grateful to him for taking the time to photograph and write up all his projects as we know how eagerly they are anticipated around the world.

Fascinating breaking news in the latest, bumper edition of the Retro Club magazine. A car built by one of the 'pioneers' present at the roof top meeting in 1943 has been located after being 'lost' for a number of years. We hope to be able to publish further details in due course.

November 2013

Another couple of trips recently added to the disquiet we expressed last month about the excess of items compared with the money, time and manpower to restore them. With the best will in the world, the rows and rows of railway carriages and engines we passed will just decay until they are beyond salvation because none of them are of sufficient rarity or significance to ‘jump the queue’. It is also sad to see time being called on an ever-increasing number of well established, yet ultimately unsustainable collections and museums. Something we saw that did bring a wry chuckle was the renovation/restoration of an important veteran car from 1899, once owned by Mr Rolls of RR fame. This was another case where, despite documentation, photographs and a complete history, it was significantly different to at any stage in its previous life. This does happen so often nowadays, and frequently for financial gain, and while it can be acceptable if there is nothing other than a pile of unrelated bits to start with, then to radically change an original, car, plane, train or whatever does not seem to be playing the game. There is a wonderful tale told by Jenks, almost certainly apocryphal, of a Bugatti being restored where each original piece is replaced, being worn, damaged or possibly fatigued beyond safe use. Ultimately the owner ends up with an entirely brand new type 51, while his erstwhile assistant, who has scrounged every part as it has been discarded, ended up with a completely original type 51, but with no provenance. Amusing though this tale is, there is a degree of truth in it, as we discovered earlier this year, where the exact same process was followed, although in model form. We have some right royal discussions with a friend who is a professional restorer as to what is legitimate or desirable to do when faced with a rebuild. Put it back as it was when it was built, which means replacing parts and undoing alterations that may have taken place over many years? Retain it as it is now as far as possible, with repairs and renovation as necessary, or the third alternative, which gets us the most hot under the collar, are changes and additions solely to enhance the value. Our ire did have to be moderated somewhat by the fact that through this process we did end up with the discarded ‘original’ while the person paying the exceedingly large sum of money has a new and faux ‘replica’ of something that never was!!!

In a strange twist of fate, given what was written above, we have been contacted to let us know that the Arne Toy Museum in Dorset is another casualty and that Aston Toy Auctions have been tasked with the clearance and sale of all the items. Why this is of particular interest is that back in 2009 we featured a very nice M&E ERA that was in the collection and this will be in their auction on the 8th November. Also in the auction is a CIJ Alfa Romeo which is estimated at a cool £3,000-£5,000, and we thought tethered cars were expensive?

It is a while since we published a major article, so we are delighted that a couple of very long term research projects have now been completed. The first strangely was as a direct result of the ‘rationalisation’ process mentioned last month, when the Basildon Council decided to close the Pitsea Museum. A mammoth task for Julie, the curator, was returning all the exhibits to their owners, assuming they could be contacted, which was not always the case. ‘Betty’ and the Innocent Brothers is the story of one boat that was returned successfully, and subsequently passed on in a wonderfully generous gesture.

The Pitboxes kick off with the larger of the hydro motors built by Richard Dalby’s father. The car was intended as something of a plea for help as it was a bit of a mystery, both in the engine and body department, home built, yet exceedingly well engineered. Last month's car prompted Steve Betney to contact us, which has established the identity of the 'mystery' car and much of its recent history. Well, we had exhausted our supply of boats to feature although there are a few more in prospect, if we can persuade the current owners to dig them out, but thanks to Peter Hill do now have a bit more material and another original Mike Drinkwater airscrew boat. Are there anymore hydros or related items out there please?

Readers will be well aware of OTWs enthusiasm for high quality engineering and whilst there are some superb engineers currently producing anything from individual components to complete engines and cars, most of it is hidden away under cowlings and bodies. This is why Olly Monk's Workshop Ramblings have been so well received as it gives a good indication of the amount and quality of work that he undertakes and clearly illustrates how it is achieved. We are most grateful that Olly has found time in between all the machining to put together an October edition of his  fascinating 'Ramblings'.

Well, that is more or less the end of the season as we are now into conferences and exhibitions. Your roving (raving) reporter is now more of a gibbering wreck having driven something well over 5,000 miles this season to events. The gentle trip down to Althorne for the last regatta of the season was therefore something of a luxury, and what an event it turned out to be. The road trips were not over though as it was then off to Great Carlton for a gathering of the clans and a last blast on the track for this year, and despite what the weather was doing for most of the week, that's just what we managed.

 Having missed the London ME Exhibition through the snow and having a seriously long shopping list by now, a visit to the Midland Exhibition at Leamington was most welcome. By coincidence, the MPBA hydroplane conference was the same weekend and in the same hotel we used for the Exhibition, so for once our mileage to an event was zero, although still 100 of them home (and very wet they were too). A bit of rain however is nothing compared to the terrible bush fires that have been ranging in Australia. 

October 2013

October is always a significant month for OTW being the anniversary of the decision to ‘publish a few photos on the internet’. Well, we’ve moved on a bit since then, in no small part thanks to the untold numbers of people who have sent photos, articles or reports and provided leads for us to follow. We are most grateful to you all for every bit of help we have received in presenting the material on the site for public perusal. The years have also given us plenty of time to muse on what goes on in our hobby and related fields. On a recent trip up to Kingsbury we stopped off at the Imperial War Museum’s eastern outpost at Duxford Airfield for a ‘refresher’ visit. The salvage, recovery, restoration and display of aircraft is a huge business, with thousands of enthusiastic amateurs and commercial enterprises involved world wide. It has also spawned a number of specialist firms who can undertake just about anything, always assuming that the pockets are deep enough. At this end of the spectrum there seems no shortage of well-healed individuals ready to invest the odd million or so and pay someone else to do the work. At the other extreme there are dyed in the wool enthusiasts who devote untold amounts of their lives to restoration projects or raising the cash to keep things going. The aircraft world is similar to that of trains, cars, canals, and historic buildings though, the desire to save and restore, far exceeds the finances available to support the activities. In the long run this means that many projects fall by the wayside and get abandoned, even to the extent of the items being scrapped or being allowed to decay beyond any realistic hope of salvation. It is also quite obvious from visiting museums and associated stores around the country, that they are not immune from the ‘hoarding’ syndrome either, but usually on a much larger scale.

Unfortunately, at all levels, there inevitably comes the time when there has to be some ‘rationalization’, which means getting rid of something, an anathema to most, and an activity that both organisations and individuals are not usually very good at. It also introduces huge arguments as to the importance or desirability of saving whatever is under threat, and finding an appropriate home, not so easy when it is a full sized airliner or V bomber, hence the ‘recycling’ that has gone on, even at major national museums. Some will remember sacrificing aluminium pots and pans to make Spitfires during the war, now, in a bizarre reversal of fate; it is the aircraft that are being turned into woks. In short, there is far too much stuff and too many things and not enough money, places or people to save it all. Of course, this does not stop those with somewhat more enthusiasm than realism from having a go, and good luck to them.

The 1947 Model Engineering Exhibition featured a circular ‘canal’ for boats, surrounded by a track for tethered cars and control line aircraft. What has never been reported or seen before is the ‘trial run’ of this feature some time before the Exhibition, part of another wonderful series of images by courtesy of the Westbury family. The level of detail available from these large format plates and negatives is incredible, even if it does make the computer grunt somewhat when scanning them. M&E Models of Exmouth ran their cars on the track throughout the exhibition and images of these at the test session have been added to the M&E page. Images from the Westbury archive featuring the inaugural roof top tethered car meeting have been added to the the car history page.

Just in the nick of time, another hydro has come to light to kick off our Pitboxes, but this fine example of an original Mike Drinkwater boat really is it for a while, unless anyone can help us out? The car is another fascinating discovery by Ron Reiter and yet another and more rare variation on the use of Oliver diesels that dominated the 2.5cc and 1.5cc classes. It is also unusual in being documented and identifiable. The engine this month is the sort of discovery that we so enjoy, and is the first of a brace of home built hydro motors, still owned by the son of the builder. Now, an update on a Pitbox item and a ‘commercial conundrum’. Earlier this year, George Lines’ flash steam hydro ‘Blitz' appeared on ebay, selling for well over £3,000. In August it reappeared in the US as a ‘buy it now’ some £700 less, which it promptly was. Has someone already taken a substantial hit, or is all not quite as it seems? Still on the commercial front and in a similar vein, a collection of 50s and 60s style cars built relatively recently by a member of the Retro Club have appeared on ebay, all with fanciful descriptions and provenance and even more fancy prices. If you are reading this and bought one, contact us for more accurate details of their origins.

Oliver Monk has been scratching his head somewhat over his 2.5cc Class 2 car and brings us up to date with the latest developments in another of his fascinating Workshop Ramblings.

Your ‘roving’ reporter is definitely tending towards the ‘raving’ given the time that has been spent on the road in the last three months. After the mammoth vineyard tour a leisurely trip to Lincolnshire and no tolls for the Retro Club track day was something of a contrast before heading down the road to the International Regatta at St Albans, sadly now international in name only. We were otherwise engaged, but Victoria Park saw the first running of two very vintage boats at the hydro regatta before we all set off to the 10th anniversary regatta at the lovely Rowden Lake. Just a few days later it was back on the A14 and a dozen miles further down the road to the final regatta of the season at Kingsbury, phew. Unable to be in two places at once, we had to give the track day at Great Carlton a miss. 

Empty Spaces: We were saddened to hear of the death in August of Frank Jutton, another exponent from the golden age of flash steam who lived to a grand age. In 2010 Frank and his wife sent us a wonderful series of recollections of his long career in tethered hydroplane racing, which we published in July 2011. Our condolences go to Mary, Lorraine and the rest of his family. Thanks to Lorraine and Rob Bamford for passing on this news.

August/September 2013

It is now over fifty years since a group of tethered hydroplane enthusiasts gathered in Vienna for the inaugural European Championships, eight years after the tethered car fraternity had held their first European meeting in Geneva. World Championships for both followed later with the cars having their first event at Zurich in 1958, whilst the first official World event for boats was not until 1979 in Duisburg. Since then, the hydroplane events have alternated yearly, although now essentially confined to European competitors. The cars however work on a three to four year rotation, with seventeen World Championships held so far, although the car scene, by comparison, still has a strong following in Australasia and the US. This is born out by the fact that until mid June, the two highest speed of the season in Class 5 were down to David James and John Walker. Fellow Australian, the late Ron Bernhardt was a great enthusiast for cars and boats, running both whenever he had the chance.

Championship meetings have only ever come to Britain twice, the cars running at Woodside in 1954 and the boats at Welwyn Garden City in 1975, and as there is no possibility of them ever coming here again, opportunities to see the best in action are severely limited. We are great collectors of and believers in coincidences, which is how we came to be at Basel in 2004 and Lyon in 2005, so when the calendar showed the combined World and European car meeting in Basel following on immediately from the World boat event in Bordeaux, it was too good an opportunity to miss. It also explains the late arrival of this edition of OTW. The coincidences continue as Otto Stroebel, a competitor at the very first Hydro championship continues to run cars at the very highest level, whilst Jan Erik Falk who was running cars at the beginning of the 60s is still a double World Record Holder and a formidable competitor in several classes. The boat that Ron Bernhardt ran in Amiens in 1987 and set the Australian record with is still going strong and was entered for Bordeaux, while the Chief Judge Stuart Robinson has only missed one championship since 1979, a remarkable record.

OTWs tour of the great wine regions of France started in Bordeaux and the land of Petrus for the World hydroplane championships before moving on to Burgundy and the delightful whites of Mersault and Montrachet. At £1300+ a bottle, we did not bother with the Vogne Romanee Conti though. Finally it was off to Alsace and another favourite Gewurztraminer to take in the World and European car championships, and extending OTWs experience to running cars as well as boats. Whilst we were slowly baking in Basel, Kingsbury was suffering a day long deluge for their third regatta of the season, which dampened everyone's spirits as well as everything else! Some 3,000miles later we concluded the first part of the summer's activities at Althorne Lake and without experiencing any extremes of weather either, wonderful.

The Pitboxes start with another coincidence. It is now exactly three years since we thought we had run out of material for this feature. Thanks to an untold number of contributions from friends, correspondents, OTW readers and the scanning of eBay we have managed to present in excess of another 100 discoveries. Now we find ourselves with just one hydro left in the bank, so unless the guardians of the lofts, sheds and garages come to our rescue, this quirky little hydroplane seen at Old Warden will be the last for a while. Cars and engines are not quite so serious at present, but this month’s pairing will be closely related to July’s offerings. The engine is another fine example from the Arkell Brothers, although significantly more complex. The car almost represents a ‘before and after’ as it is another 1066 MRC, but this time, awaiting restoration.

July/Aug 2013

Updates 9th July:-In view of the length of time to the next edition, we have decided to republish the current month's offerings to include material that we have just received. We start though with an amazing achievement at Kingsbury last weekend when Paul Windross obliterated the A steam record. His first run of the day raised the record by some 6mph to over 128mph with the boat still accelerating. The last timed lap was in excess of 130mph, unprecedented for a steamer. Congratulations to Paul.

Olly Monk has been busy in the workshop as well as continuing his travels to European tethered car meetings. In his latest 'Workshop ramblings' he details some pretty radical surgery on a new motor. Thanks for this new material, we know how much it is appreciated around the world.

During our long association with the modelling world we have met, got to know and become friends with a large number of enthusiasts, many of whom could be termed ‘collectors’. Sometimes this is a term that can have derogatory connotations as in ‘unmitigated hooverer upper’ where anything any everything vanishes into a black hole, never to see the light of day again. At the other end of the spectrum there is the focussed enthusiast who has a clearly defined strategy and will be much more aware of what they have and its importance or provenance. The dealer and speculator have an entirely different purpose and tend to do little more than inflate prices to such a level that eventually the market collapses. There is a well-known British car that is currently going round the US changing hands for ever more money each time it is sold on. Conversely, one only has to look at what has happened to the prices of mass produced sparkies recently. It is somewhat frightening to see what an ED Pep or DC Bambi is currently commanding though. How can they be worth that much? Having wandered round Old Warden with an eye on the stalls one suspects that there is going to have to be a significant downward shift in prices before much of the stuff sells. Ultimately the question of supply and demand comes into the equation and currently the supply of engines vastly outstrips the available market. Cars and hydros are much more rare on the open market, or even the closed market for that matter, with the value of boats still staying at relatively low levels. This could be due to the fact that you can’t pack 50 of them in a box and put them in the loft, which is what has happened to thousands of engines over the years. Different people have widely differing philosophies but if you cannot see it and appreciate it, what is the point of having it? All too often one see items on the Antiques Roadshow that are normally locked away in vaults because of the value, which always seems sad in a way. Even sadder is when an interesting or quality piece is traded in for a family meal or holiday leaving nothing but indigestion and a credit card bill as a memory. Recently OTW had an invitation to trawl through a loft, one of the most enjoyable pursuits known, but the suggestion that we would have to crawl over and search through boxes and boxes of engines to find car and boat related items seems to be a far too daunting task. After our experiences with the Westbury collection, there is a physical limit to how much can be assimilated in a given time. Would still like to have a look though.

Our Pitboxes this month cover the entire range of model production from the unique engine, and we use the term correctly, built by one of the model boat racing pioneers, to a hydro design that became the standard hull for a while. By coincidence, the designer of the boat also appears in the Italian youtube film that Tony Collins discovered and we linked to last month. The car by comparison is a superbly restored version of an exceedingly well-known commercial car.

Strangely we have been very short of car related photographs although there must be vast numbers of cars, tracks and meetings out there, but they rarely seem to come our way. It was therefore a very pleasant surprise to be handed an envelope of prints taken at the Surrey Car Club's Chertsey Mead track in 195/2, which we featured in our Album over the last two months. These have now been added to the Surrey Club page, which is due to be revamped in the light of even more photos that have come to light recently.

Your roving (raving) reporter started this month with a tale of personal mechanical mayhem experienced at Althorne Lake. Just a week later and it was the first of this season’s meetings at Kingsbury, and the first chance for anyone to run on anything like flat water. Ron Hankins took full advantage of this opportunity, breaking the AB record by a considerable margin. Good news from Lincolnshire is that with the dry weather continuing, the concrete for the apron on the Gt Carlton track was poured on the 8th of June so should have gone off well in time for the meeting on the 23rd. Ah yes, the 23rd! Two events scheduled for that day, the Southern Area Championships at Althorne and the first meeting on the new track at Gt Carlton. Something of a dilemma over which way to head the car? Ultimately, the great British weather made the decision for us, with rain and gale force winds putting the kybosh on both events.