View from the Pylon
Last year we touched on a difficulty facing many full size preservation organisations where the supply of projects and items far exceeded the space, time, or money to preserve, let alone conserve, restore or repair them. The instances of museums closing and collections being dispersed or even scrapped are becoming all too frequent, both at national and local levels. We experienced a similar situation when Pitsea closed and the extensive collection of tethered hydros and motors had to be broken up. This was brought to our attention again when Carl Wainwright’s car, which we believed to be in safe hands, turned up on ebay. It would appear that for whatever reason, the collection of Wainwright cars has now been broken up as well, so that now they will appear as single items and be absorbed by the market. To us there is an important distinction between a linked set of items such as these, Edgar Westbury’s prototype and development engines or Jack Morgan’s cars, and the numerous unconnected items that make up most collections. This would also apply to the archive material we referred to, saved from manufacturers, enthusiasts and clubs. Surely these should be kept together, but the ongoing problem is where?
Museums are not interested as they have more than enough, just visit the Science Museum’s collection at Wroughton, vast does not begin to describe it, like the storage depot in Raiders of The Lost Ark. Cars and boats might be possible in smaller locations, but engines, paperwork, artefacts and photos are a whole different kettle of fish. These represent very little in the way of monetary value, zero display potential, but in many ways, more important than the complete car or boat. In the end, it seems to be down to the private individual who does it more as an act of philanthropy than investment. It would be great to think that our national authorities took some interest in preserving the past, and we believe that both the BMFA and SMEE are active in this area and are to be commended. The MPBA by contrast does not seem to be interested, having done away with the post of historian after losing their entire archives twice in the last 85 years. The only records are now what exist in the filing cabinets of a couple of benevolent ‘caretakers’. Sadly, through advancing age, first hand knowledge is becoming ever more rare, leaving only the artefacts, written word, and images as a record of what went before, so it is vital that all this is preserved. Happily most of it does not rust, will not need hundreds of thousand of pounds spending to restore it, doesn’t require a hangar to store it in, but is most unlikely to qualify for a heritage Lottery Grant.
At present we are lucky that there are numerous such individuals who have taken on the responsibility of preservation. Phil Abbott with Blackheath and straight running, Keith Reynolds again with straight running and Victoria, Peter Hill’s more eclectic interest of cars, hydros and the MPBA, Tim Westcott looking after the Greenhalgh collection and John Lichnerowicz who has a wealth of material on his website relating to ETA. OTW is also doing its small bit in trying to keep things together and record anything and everything that comes to our notice.
The Pitboxes start with a M&E Special from Alan Jones, probably one of the the most common commercial cars to appear, but unusual in that the motor has been run, unlike most that are definitely ‘hangar queens’. The engine is a mystery four-stroke by courtesy of Robin Storey who seems to have an unnerving ability to unearth these finds. Sad to relate, that is it for hydro discoveries at present. If you have or know of anything suitable hiding away, please let us know.
Good news via Ken Smith is that the website set up in memory of Henri Baigent is now back online. This site is an incredibly detailed history of one of the very best builders of exceedingly accurate scale model cars. Beyond this though he was active in tethered car racing and was responsible for the ERE motor, the only other purpose built commercial twinshaft for cars besides the Oliver. In association with Walshaws there was also a RTR run car and kit for very nice looking BRMs and Ferraris.
For many tethered car enthusiasts, the move towards rail racing came as a direct result of the increasing cost and competitiveness of the RTP cars. Whilst rail cars are not our key interest, they are inexorably linked, so we are pleased to have another Work Bench submission from Steve Betney describing the renovation of one that he obtained via 'a well known online auction site'. Thanks to Steve for these articles.
The rain lashing against the windows has been a reminder that the domestic hydroplane season is underway, or should have been. Bad weather has so far precluded any running other than at Victoria last month. Some very frustrated hydro boys and girls around, especially in the Hampshire area. As seen in Glenn Bransby's report last month, a cyclone nearly put paid to the Sydney International meeting. Oliver Monk expanded his usual European reports to include the amazing trip to Australia that was the result of Aaron winning the Grand Slam prize last season. Congratulations to Oliver for setting another British record in Class 3 in Brisbane.
A technical bit now. Since we started publishing the site nearly ten years ago things have changed dramatically in terms of what systems it is viewed on. Standard 4:3 screens that were the norm are now a very small minority, having given way to tablets, widescreen monitors and TVs. This means that many of our pages do look a bit odd when viewed on these and over the next few months we will come to a reasonable compromise. True widescreen we cannot accommodate, but we should be able to present each page so that it looks OK. It does mean re-formatting and re-publishing every page on the site though, so it is going to be a long job.
More technical stuff, but a great deal more helpful. Any gathering at a car or hydro event will inevitably have people talking about exhaust timing, blowdown periods, inlet duration etc. Mostly it is guesswork, what it says on the packet, or what someone has stated. Two years ago, Oliver Monk came up with a superbly engineered electronic device for checking engine timing to precise standards so that there could be no question as to whether it was 192 or 196 degrees, or anything in between. The design has changed significantly from the original but now Oliver has sent us all the technical details of how to modify a freely available piece of kit to measure those engine timings exactly. Thanks to Oliver for details of his Digital Timer.
Footnote. We often comment about the sometimes unbelievable price that cars, engines and some hydro's realise in sales and on ebay, but we are in a different league. Imagine paying over $160 million for a painting, then another $30+ million buyers premium on top? Well someone just has, for a Picasso!
Is this the way forward? So asked George Sayell earlier this year, with the following comments.
‘Until recently tether car enthusiasts have either both built and run their models or run ‘historic’ examples. However, meetings this year at Great Carlton have shown a new interest in the use of Radio Control cars on the track. Surely this lacks the satisfaction and pleasure that can only be achieved with a model that took many hours of skill and patience in the workshop to build or restore. A commercial R/C car, well sorted for its intended use, is almost certain to perform in a circle. So, does this trend represent a way forward for tethered cars or is it a retrograde step when there are so many skilled engineers in the hobby?’
This is of course an argument that has been going on for forever and has caused great controversy along the way, and not just in modelling disciplines. On the one hand there is a desire to keep things as original as possible, but 65-year-old tyres and associated bits really aren’t up to the job, and do you want to risk a truly vintage model? In full sized racing people are happy to put several millions on the line and take the consequences of a blow up or accident, but there they have the advantage of a huge back-up industry that will build or supply anything, at a price. In the world of models we are not so well served. A parallel can be drawn with George’s question in the realms of model loco building and running. There is now a huge business in kit and ready to run steam locos, old and new, just add money and coal. It is a sad fact, and much of the blame must lay with a certain ‘Iron Lady’, that this country is woefully short of engineers and the toolmakers, machinists and fitters that were responsible for a multitude of tethered cars, hydroplanes and motors are almost all gone. It is also the case that practical skills and workshop experience that used to be a key part of secondary schooling went out the window at the same time. It must not be forgotten however that kits and parts contributed in a very large way to the popularity of tethered cars in the post war period and it is the remains of these that we depend on, but the supply is dwindling and becoming ever more valuable.
Here then is the dilemma that George refers to, build from scratch, either a look-alike or a true replica, if parts, workshop, tools and skills are available. Buy something appropriate that can be run, (several examples on eBay recently both new builds eminently runnable and relatively cheap and period cars at a price) or the modern equivalent of the M&E or 1066, a RC car. These are around from a tenner upwards, ready to run, with engines, often pull start, clutches and drive trains. Even if the bits are cannibalised for something more ‘retro’ the price and time advantage is enormous, and there is an almost infinite choice of bodywork, another stumbling block for the home constructor. In addition there is a plethora of spares available at give away prices. OK, it might not suit the purists amongst us, but then a vast number of ‘vintage’ cars, bikes and planes that appear regularly are anything but. Very few clubs and societies are in the position of being so popular that they can impose ‘fidelity’ restrictions. For the rest of the world it is about compromise. A final thought though, if RC cars were about in the 1940s, would tethered car racing ever have happened?
Regular readers of OTW will appreciate just what high regard we have for the modelling abilities of Steve Betney as demonstrated in all of the projects we have featured on the site and his two recent ED builds. We are delighted to be able to publish another of Steve's Work Bench articles, but this time a scale model of a full sized prototype rather than a replica of an existing tethered car. Thanks to Steve for showcasing his skills once again and displaying which side of the above discussion he pursues.
The Pitbox car this month is courtesy of a phone call out of the blue for which we must thank John DeMott for, as he passed on the original enquiry. Ultimately it provided another amazing series of coincidences as we were reading out details from an article in Model Car News, which Roger Webb on the other end of the phone was commenting on and providing more information as he had attended that very event back in November 1949. The engine is yet another flash steam motor from Rich Gorbutt, but this time a very different and more purposeful version. We have managed to find another hydro, although this one has been around for many years and was well ahead of its day in terms of design back in the 1970s. Recently it has been possible to re-unite it with its original motor, another ‘turned round’ Rossi, but this time a 40 year old modification.
Answer to last month’s trivia question as to who gallops round fastest, the horser or a F2A pilot? Well, there does not seem to be a lot in it after a day of calculations, but when they are on the job all day, the horsers are managing about 1.5 seconds per lap at top whack against the flyers 1.2s. However in horsing competitions, Lembit Vaher has got down to around 1.13s. No wonder the life expectancy for trainers is minimal in either discipline, or little surprise that Manu Finn wore out three pairs over one weekend.
Readers of OTW will know that we do like to keep an eye on what is happening commercially, if only to illustrate the 'how much', 'I don't believe it', 'you must be joking' and 'oh dear' moments. There have been a few of these lately, but this month's star example is another car that has cost someone a great deal in a short period of time. Sold back in 2013 for the not inconsiderable sum of £1,000 plus premium it recently appeared on ebay and promptly sold for just over £500, probably the top end of what it was worth. The question then is how many times it has changed hands in 18 months, who took the huge hit, and why? Another serial mover has come to light, and this time it is Leslie Hancox's lovely little MG, traded on yet again.
With the boat and car season staggering into life in the UK and the International meetings in Australia there should be plenty of racing material over the next few months. A few highlights from 'down under' though with congratulations to our newest member, Debby Monk, on winning the 1.5cc class in Brisbane at her first ever meeting. Oliver was not far behind with a new British record in 3.5cc. The family continued their success with Aaron winning 1.5cc at Sydney, with Debby second and Oliver 2nd in 2.5cc. Somewhat blitzy in the 10cc class at Brisbane with Rob Buckley and Otto Stroebel being separated by less than 1kph, both getting into the 339s. Something of a record breaking meeting with a new Class III 3.5cc world record set by Mart Sepp, a new Australian Class V record by Rob Buckley as well as Olly's British record. A little bit more low key was the practice day at Luddenham, where no one was risking their 10cc cars, but a few tales of woe with the smaller cars and a lot of workshop time required before the International meeting. Peter Hill took time out from his electioneering to relate some of the action at the first of the seasons Retro track days at Gt Carlton whilst the first hydro meeting at Victoria Park meant a lot of repair work for some.
Glenn Bransby really hammered the keyboard for a very detailed report from The Sydney International meeting that was so nearly scuppered by the weather. Thanks to Glenn for all the work he is putting in promoting the activities at Luddenham and for the fantastic job he did in getting the report and photos to us in such a short space of time.
A visitor to several of the meetings at Althorne last season was Dave Smith who is better known for running round a pylon at an incredible rate of knots whilst driving both vintage and modern speed planes. We have it easy by comparison when you consider how fast they have to trot. (begs the question as to who has to get round the pylon faster, a horser or F2A flyer, mathematics required) He, along with several others we have spoken to recently from a variety of disciplines, commented on the ever-increasing cost and burden of travelling to scheduled events (that was before the fuel prices fell, now ironically heading back up in time for the summer). If you include qualifying meetings and training events as well as competitions, for many it is just proving too much. Add on championship and international events and travelling for a season will account for a sizeable lump of money, and that is before accommodation and food is considered. There is no doubt that this is a key factor in the decline of attendance at some venues.
There were sixteen hydro regattas last season, compared with something over thirty a few years ago, but then they were spread over the whole country rather than the restricted venues we have now. Even some of the tethered car meetings abroad have struggled with entries, resulting in several cancellations, which can be understood, given the huge distances between venues in the different countries. It used to be the case that a local club was the basis of activities, most often allied to model engineering societies where there was a railway track and a local lake or pond for boating interests. Following the second war, many of them expanded to accommodate the new interest in tethered cars as well. There were even plans for several ‘model park’ type ventures proposed by societies, but these were as short lived as the tethered cars. Of course, many enthusiasts were more than happy to stay at a local level and we are aware of several car and hydro followers who never ran anywhere else, and even some who never entered a competitive event at all. There were also a number of clubs who never affiliated to the national bodies so that their members were restricted to the home events. A flourishing club does have the advantage of introducing people to the sports, or in the case of the old eastern block where it was the schools and youth clubs that served a similar purpose.
Inevitably though, there are always those who ‘want to see what is on the other side of the hill’ and decide to travel to other venues or even other countries to compete. This may be to prove themselves against other competitors or facilitate improvement or it might be purely for enjoyment. Almost from the first moment someone travelled with a boat, car or plane there will have been the highly parochial, ‘why do you want to go all that way’ comment or the more worrying thought that pervades all sports of ‘if you are not likely to win, why bother’. There is an even more sinister opinion that we have heard advanced too often that ‘you should not be competing unless you have a realistic chance of winning’. That would lead to some very thin fields in most sports. In the end it comes down to how you extract your enjoyment from participating. Happy to be there? Happy to get a run? Happy to get over 100mph? Extra happy when you have gone just that bit faster than before? Happy just to bring it home in one piece? Well, as the new season approaches, we hope you will all be happy just to be back in the swing of it all, because some times, it just don’t work out quite as expected!
Our Pitboxes start off with a double header, a car, rare in itself but with the addition of its motor, which is even rarer. This was spied under the bench at Gildings, and there was general agreement as to what it was, but the lucky buyer got the bargain of a lifetime, as he was completely unaware of quite what he was bidding on. The engine we are featuring is such a rarity that this is the first of its type that has come to our attention, which is slightly strange as it was a catalogued, commercial motor, available for many years. The slipper stern hydro is a complete mystery at present, as is the motor within.
Every time Phil Abbott appears at an exhibition he is mugged for the contents of the many photo albums that he keeps appearing with. Over the years we have built up a collection of prints from Phil and others that relate directly to activities at Blackheath. We live in hope that a history of Blackheath will still be forthcoming at some stage?
Just occasionally, a find of such importance turns up that it requires a Pitbox Extra Special to do it justice. This time it is the complete racing stable of a member of the British tethered car team at the 1958 European Championships. This collection of cars is probably the most significant find for many years and truly deserves the term ‘Special’.
Fascinating news from Kent is that the group responsible for the preservation of Mote Park in Maidstone is considering the feasibility of reinstituting the tethered car track. This was the last track in regular use in this country, running through to the 1970s and was part of the 'model park' concept mentioned above with railway track, boating lake and tethered cars.
As we head towards warmer weather (hopefully), the temperatures in Australia have moderated somewhat to make running cars more feasible and horsing a realistic possibility. With just a month to go before the two International meetings there, the practice day at Luddenham represented a last opportunity to check out cars and get some settings in more temperate conditions. Glenn Bransby provided details of the day at the track, that unfortunately provided too many low moments alongside the successes. Thanks to Glenn for putting this all down and reminding us that we don't have a monopoly on broken rods. Glenn has also been hard at work on the keyboard getting a report on their Open Day to us before the end of the month. His Class 5 car now looks superb in its new, blue paint finish, along with others that he has wielded a nifty spray gun on. The Sinclair memorial event is awarded on nominated speeds, and yet again the winner was within fractions of their nomination, uncanny.
At the beginning of last month OTW was delighted to have a conducted tour of Olly Monk's workshop and a close look at his current projects. Most of what he undertakes requires some serious engineering and we are full of admiration for what he is prepared to take on. In his latest Workshop Ramblings Olly shares many of these techniques as well as a look at another rebuilt 1.5cc car that should be a serious threat to the British record.
The appearance and sale on eBay of Carl Wainwright’s Alfetta last month has given rise to a great deal of correspondence and speculation. It has also called into question a distinct lack of ethics or consideration demonstrated by some collectors and dealers. Now we must accept that dealers are primarily concerned with the financial return on an item, but surely anyone that claims to be a collector should accept a degree of responsibility for the item in their care, even if that is only for a short period of time? It is not long ago in the grand scheme of things that motors, cars, tethered hydros and spares were there, almost for the asking. Certainly, as manufacturers closed down or changed tack and model shops fell by the wayside or moved into more modern pursuits there was any amount of material and items available that would otherwise have ended up in a big hole somewhere. A number of enthusiasts did take advantage of all this material that was available and they must be thanked for saving it. What was completely different then was the lack of any resale value. A complete tethered car could be had for the price of a drink, whilst Oliver Tigers and Rivers motors could be had for little more than a fiver. By the eighties however, the collecting trend was well underway and values rocketing, which gave rise to the ‘hooverers’ that bought anything and everything with little interest for the history or provenance of the item, only the return. We have a similar and even more devastating parallel now that with the scrap price of precious metals being so high most things gold or silver are destined for the melting pot, no matter what degree of craftsmanship or artistic pedigree it displays or its significance in a historical context. In the realms of cars, boats and engines we have not quite reached this level, although the engine in a boat can ironically command far more than the complete boat. It is more the element of ‘historical context’ that concerns us and several of our correspondents. If the item is commercial, ie an ETA 29 or MRC car then there is no context, several more of them about and a reasonably well established value. What about, however, the archives, drawings, tooling, and company memorabilia relating to them? These are unique, as was the Wainwright car. That, like the items just mentioned had been saved, but what then happens to them? In the case of the car, it was separated from its original motor and drive train, almost certainly never to be reunited, and that is without the battering it has received somewhere in the last 15 years. It is our belief that we all have a duty to ensure the preservation of the artefacts, items and material that has come from the 100+ years of tethered boats and 75+ of tethered cars. Happily there are still some of the ‘good guys’ out there that also adhere to this ideal, but for far too many others, it’s all about the money.
This month’s car Pitbox represents an OTW bogof, in that you get two cars for the price of one. We have seen cars that are built to similar designs before, but this is the first time that we have ever had two identical cars, built by the same person. Even more remarkable is that one is resident in California and the other in the UK, and they were obtained quite independently and at different times. We were able to identify exactly what they were, but as to who built them, that must remain a mystery, although there is a clue in where they were obtained. Once again Rich Gorbutt’s seam of wonderful discoveries has provided us with another gem of an engine, this time a very purposeful flash steam twin, obviously intended for serious work. Just in the nick of time, a beautifully built example of an A Class hydro from the period immediately prior to the second war has come to light and we are most grateful to Steven Theobold for passing on details of this boat.
The occasional Flash Steam Gallery series gains another page this month with an enthusiast who ran these boats for over 20 years from the late 1970s through to 1990s. The article sat there unfinished for a long while, until Kevin Fleet very kindly contacted us, with all the details that we had been struggling with. It is down to his unstinting help that we have put together something of the hydroplane career of the late Keith Norfor.
All too often, items which are sold on ebay or through auctions disappear without trace, so it is wonderful to catch up with with what we have featured in the past. We are grateful to Mike Hindell for passing on new photos of Fred Jone's XK120 Jaguar, which have been added to the original article from 2008.
We are lucky in regularly having material on building and running modern tethered cars as well as what is happening in the 'Retro Movement'. There is however a thriving branch of the sport, especially strong in Sweden, which involves running older style cars competitively. These vary from Dooling Arrows, down to 1.5cc and 2.5cc diesel cars from the 50s and later. Some while ago we published a report on one of these events attended by John Goodall. John is very active in building, restoring and running vintage style cars, and in particular those with twinshaft motors. John has now trawled through his photo album and put together a wonderful Retrospective Gallery of many of these projects. We are most grateful to John for the time and trouble he has taken to illustrate this area of tethered car racing. Perhaps he can provide some hints for us all at Gt Carlton on how to start these pesky little things, as we are singularly unsuccessful with anything that is not Russian in origin?
Something of a Swedish influence this month as Olly Monk has been back in the workshop after a break and has sent the first 'Workshop Ramblings' of the new season, which largely deals with the rebuilding of a stylish little 1.5cc car from that country. Lovely to have his contributions back as it gives a great insight into how much can be achieved with a lot of hard work, a great deal of enthusiasm and no little measure of workshop skills. Does help to have a welder that good close by as well.
Update 5th Feb. Empty Spaces: Peter Hill has just informed us of call he received telling him that Ken Bedford had died recently. Ken regularly competed in tethered car races but is better known the world over for his ETA engines. The ETA 29 powered many tethered cars and even more hydros throughout the 1950s and well into the 60s and the impact of his diesels in aero modelling is legend. Our condolences go to Lyndon and the rest of the Bedford family.
A number of posting have appeared of late offering new FEMA and WMCR style tethered cars for sale, and we have heard informally that others are available through personal contact, but one thing they all share in common is that they originate from Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. These countries now have something of a reputation for supplying cars and engines to the rest of the world, whereas at one stage it was America and England. If you include the school car kits and the Russian ‘machine it from scratch’ cars in their various forms there must have been untold thousands produced, many still in the state they left the factories, although now appreciating in value. Later, the likes of Edvard Stelling produced ready to run open wheel cars as seen in a recent Pitbox and we have seen several of these of late as well, although strangely, these do seem to be depreciating currently.
Apart from a brief period in the 90s when Ivan Prior was producing replicas there has been nothing made commercially in the UK since the 1950s, yet it was an industry that flourished in the post war period and then just as quickly died. Once you get beyond 1066, Oliver and M&E and judging by the quantities of unused items that turn up, there is a suspicion that little of what was made by all the other multitude of companies involved was ever sold. The sheer volume of new 1066 components that have come onto the market in the last few years indicates a level of production that exceeded demand several times over, and that does not include what went to landfill or is stashed away in the notorious shed ‘somewhere in Kent’. Aluminium body shells could be had by the stack, still with the tissue paper wrapping round them for what amounted to pence each.
Most cars and components are relatively easily to identify, but occasionally something will turn up that proves difficult to put as name to, such as the batch of components found in the US made by Precision Components in Cardiff. This is where the element of rarity comes to the fore, and with it the related and thorny subject of value. With the exception of M&E it is impossible to quantify what proportion of output from other manufacturers survives and even for them it is considerably less than 10%, but this represents a significant proportion of the cars that have come onto the market. The range of Oliver cars are probably the most numerous whilst 1066 MRCs, Masco Kittens and E&M Maseratis are also relatively common, but some cars are real rarities. Just two Rowell Rapiers along with one and a bit Sabres, except the complete one vanished in the 80s. The prototype and one other FRC survive as do a handful of ZN 5cc cars, along with a smattering of Howell and Wreford products and five or six Electra 2As. There are a few commercial cars though that seem to have vanished completely, such as the lovely hand beaten ZN MCN Special and Alfa type car and the ED Miles described by Steve Betney over the last two months, although he did find the Aerocar version on ebay. So what of all the rest of the hundreds of cars and parts produced over a ten year period from 1946?
Well, that is what the Pitboxes exist for with the hope that one of the ‘lost cars’ might turn up and happily, just such an occasion has arisen. The second of Des Cooke’s cars is the only example of a Replica Ltd Bugatti that has ever come to our attention and again has an impeccable provenance so that we know its origins precisely. Our engine by comparison is thoroughly modern but included as it illustrates a situation that many car and boat builders find themselves in. The supply of motors with the correct configuration for either is relatively limited, especially in the smaller capacity classes, so the only option is to ‘turn round’ an existing motor. This is another of the many Rossi engines that has been given the treatment over the years. Skin of the teeth yet again but we do have another hydro to feature, and this one is the very rarest of the rare, a C Class flash steamer from the modern era.
Quite by coincidence as the foregoing was being composed, an email arrived that told of the quite amazing discovery of an entire collection of tethered cars, spares and equipment that had been the property of one of the last British team members to race abroad during the 1950s. Once the true extent of this find has been explored and recorded it will appear as a ‘Pitbox Special’, such is the importance of what has been unearthed.
In the second of Steve Betney’s Workbench articles he details the construction of a lovely replica GP Austin inspired by the original model, once owned by the late Mike Beach. This must certainly be the first car built with a working four-cylinder motor since Eric Snelling’s similar example 60 plus years ago. Thanks to Steve for these two excellent articles. Now he has finished these, perhaps there will be a bit of spare bench time to finish the wonderful vintage hydro he has?
There is nothing quite so satisfying as rescuing a boat, car or engine from a sad demise, and it is remarkable what wonderful items have been discovered out there. We are always grateful when photos and details of these arrive to be shared on the site. Back in July, we featured an early 'Belvedere' motor that had been recovered from a scrap yard. Rich Gorbutt has very kindly taken his motor apart down to the last screw and photographed every component. What makes this so interesting is that the motor is of entirely different construction to Robin Storey's engine that was also photographed in pieces and added to the W.J. Smith page in December. With Rich's gallery of photos also added to this page, this probably represents the most detailed look at Smith's engines that exists, so thanks again to Rich and Robin.
George Sayell contacted us recently voicing his concerns over the incursion of RC cars into Retro events and commenting on an article in the Aeromodeller that endeavours to distinguish between builders and flyers. We have covered aspects of this argument before in various Pylons but will return to it later in the year as George does have a valid viewpoint, but is nevertheless a very thorny subject.
First trip of the year was to Alexandra Palace for the London Model Engineering Exhibition and in particular, the Model Hydroplane Club stand. Tony Collins as usual had done a fantastic job of gathering boats together and presenting a thoroughly informative display. Just a pity that the Exhibition plus Snooker exceeds available car parking space by 100%.
The 2015 season in Australia started as the previous one had finished with temperatures unpleasantly up in the high 30s. Sunday 25th is 'Australia Day' so Mark Osborne was playing mine host at his establishment with pub games that would not be amiss here, including wellie wanging, although 'thong' throwing would have entirely different connotations over here. It was therefore thanks to Glenn Bransby on this occasion for putting together the report and photos on the day's activities at Luddenham. Of particular interest were his thoughts on classes that would be attractive to newcomers. This should be high on the priority list of every club and official in the car, hydro and plane world.
The first of the year's 'how much' items also involves a strange coincidence. Last September we asked if anyone knew the whereabouts of Carl Wainwright's cars, last heard of in the US. They were photographed in the late 90s for Eric and Jerry's mammoth Spindizzy project, but since then, nothing. Until mid January that is when the large and lovely Alfa Romeo 'Alfetta' appeared on eBay. Normally this would be a warmly welcomed occurrence, but oh my goodness, just what had befallen that car since it was photographed? We find it difficult to believe that anyone in this modern day and age could have treated anything so badly. Wainwright was a superb craftsman and his cars were close to scale replicas yet fully functioning and regularly raced tether car. The Alfa had all the history, attributes and patina expected of a 50 year old car still evident in the 1998 photos, now it is a mess. Despite the extensive damage and obvious butchery, someone has shelled out $8,800 or a tad under £6,000, making it the most expensive British car ever sold. It may be restorable with a great deal of work and expense, but now, it will never be original!
Welcome to the New Year and all that holds in prospect for the coming season. The last two years have seen a series of performances and achievements unparalleled for a very long time, both with cars and hydros. Medals at World and European Championships, numerous national records, including some that have stood for well over a decade, and landmark speeds as well. It is often laid at the door of many motorised sports that the ‘person with the deepest pocket is going to win’. To some extent this is true as they are so expensive that you have to have exceedingly deep pockets to even compete and access to some even deeper ones to put together a season, and that is before any thoughts are harboured about success.
Happily, tethered cars and hydros are not in the same league, although cars are the somewhat more expensive of the two as they wear out bits more quickly, and do have an annoying habit of going bang in a most costly manner at times. It is however when we move beyond size of the wallet syndrome and start to appreciate the knowledge skill and engineering that has gone into some of these that our admiration knows no bounds. What is even more remarkable is the way those who produce these marvels dismiss the process as ‘easy’. Yes, it may be to them, but not to everyone. We have seen some quite disastrous attempts at machining, including a box of 1066 motors that are nothing more than scrap and a complex gearbox casting where the two bearing housings are not opposite each other. Fundamental and obvious, as were the pistons with the gudgeon pin holes machined across, rather than fore and aft. In case anyone thinks that this is solely the province of the enthusiastic but incapable amateur, we have also seen a batch of 400 car items produced commercially that had been cross drilled at all sorts of odd angles instead of 90 degrees.
It is no surprise then that we regularly marvel at the quality of workmanship we have experienced over the years. Everything Roger James produces is exquisite in the extreme and a tuned pipe he machined from the solid is a pure ‘work of art’. Olly Monk we admire for his willingness to take on any piece of machining required and we are regularly astounded while reading his ‘Ramblings’ about just what he has undertaken including more pipes that are just too nice to be used. Ron Hankins is not only highly skilled but exceedingly prolific, producing his A and B class hydro motors and all the other modifications and parts required, as well as an amazing catalogue of complex multi cylinder aircraft and other motors. His Bentley rotary is a joy to behold and listen to. For sheer artistry when it comes to hewing motors from the solid, Tug Wilson is a master. He is well known by reputation, but we recently had the pleasure of visiting him and seeing some of his incredible pieces of work. Milling a multitude of fins on 9 cylinder heads with a cutter no more than 1mm in diameter beggars belief, well, for us at least.
The car Pitboxes for the next two months are by courtesy of Des Cooke. He has sent details and photos of two cars that represent the most desirable of finds for us. We know who owned and built the cars, who ran them and where, and we also have contemporary photo evidence. Equally we now know exactly where they have been since they were built in the late 1940s, right through to the present day. Despite what we said last month there is another hydro on offer and this is one we have been trying to locate for a long time as it almost completes the line up of flash steamers from the modern era (of those that did not meet their fate on the bonfire that is). The engine by coincidence is all that remains of a boat that met its end in a very grisly and ironic manner.
Steve Betney concludes the build of his replica ED Miles car and illustrates the lengths he is prepared to go to in keeping as close to the original as possible.
Olly Monk's 'Ramblings' are a unique record of the work required to build and maintain modern tethered cars, and to continue to make this material available, we have again amalgamated the 'Ramblings' from this year into a single article. Similarly, the 2013 editions have a permanent place on the site.