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April 2018

Towards the tail end of last year and into 2018, there have been a number of smaller collections that have come onto the market for a variety of reason. One an enforced downsizing, one a trading up, another due to the sad demise of the collector and a couple through the necessity of having a ‘clear out’ or rationalisation. In all bar one of these, the seller or person acting on their behalf was displaying what we politely term ‘exceedingly unrealistic expectations’ in relation to the asking prices. That this is prevalent, and not just in the model world, can be judged by comments from established valuers and increasing restrictions being put in place by auction houses. It is sobering to see (if you were the vendor) that the estimates placed on a series of paintings sold in 2017 were in the order of several millions less for each than had been paid, and then there are the costs to be added as well. Unfortunately, anyone selling cars, boats or engines now will probably have to accept the same hit, although several magnitudes less, unless there is the element of rarity or exceptional desirability attached, how much an Amro 10?

Just for fun, we had a trawl of dealers, auctions and associates to gather some comparative prices for a typical, British, mass-produced motor, the ED Racer. The most expensive £245, twice as much as the NIB example and three times what a well respected dealer was asking, all for the same version. As avid watchers of ‘reality antiques’ programmes will know, there is often a large gulf between the ‘expectation’ of the vendor and what needs to be paid if there is to be a profit to be made. Dealers, auction houses or ebay, don’t do it for nothing, it can be anywhere between 20% and 40% of the total vanishing in costs, add on another 20-30% minimum for profit and suddenly the figures don’t add up. A real example we followed out of personal interest sold at auction for £250, with commission, lotting fees and a photo, the vendor got less than £200. Including premium, the buyer paid just on £300 and then put it on his table some weeks later at £420. So how much was it really worth, and in some cases we have found, the mark up is even more extreme? Auction houses are sometimes not avoidable, but to minimize the gap between what the purchaser pays and the vendor gets, a private sale is much more equitable. Mind you, when offered such a private sale at a realistic price, the owner demurred and allowed the item to go to auction and run its course, whereupon it sold for far less than he had been offered, plus he was lumbered for fees as well.

A final thought. The days of ‘money no object’ hooverers in the model world seems to be largely over, but there are still lots of more canny collectors willing and even eager to spend their hard earned. Price it right and it will sell, set unrealistic expectations and it is likely to be there for a very long while, unless of course the higher price persuades the less knowledgeable that it is a rarity???

The Album of ‘interesting engines’ continues, and by a strange coincidence has enabled us to dig out something we were working on prior to the establishment of OTW that we have now completed and put into an article. The photo was of a Craftsman Twin built by Harry Rae and the article explores this in more detail, while illustrating, quite graphically, the different attitudes that existed in tethered cars in the late 1940, which led to the decline of the sport. The Photo this month features probably the only person ever to have a steam railway track and a tethered car track in his garden (and understanding neighbours).

Pitbox this month is a wonderful illustration of just what is still out there, waiting to be discovered, just a question of being in the right place at the right time as this lucky correspondent found.

The weather firmly put the mockers on the planned day of registration and car inspection for the coming racing season although four members did manage to convene to get the bulk of the work done. The first stage of FEMA's intention to have everything online was the driver registration process that has rendered the pen redundant, whilst the complete list of car registrations is already online, an impressive amount of work from Secretary Christoph Rabenseifner. By a strange quirk of fate, Britain suffered from a second helping of the 'beast from the east' in two weeks that coincided with the season opening lunch for the tethered hydroplane group. Proving that they are made of sterner stuff, most made it down to deepest Essex for the event.

For a variety of reasons, a number of our Links and Contacts have vanished or changed recently, mostly new web addresses for existing sites that we have been able to update, but some companies and individuals have seemingly disappeared completely so have been removed. Not altogether sure that they are totally accurate as some of the URLs are a bit unusual, but we will persist until we have them right.

It was all looking a bit thin at the start of the month, but since then we have been delighted to receive details of new cars, projects on the go and works in progress, so thanks to Steve, Oliver, Dave and Hugh for the material that has made it a bumper edition on the constructional front.  Following on from Peter Hill’s Babb car last month we have details of more cars being built specifically for running at the Retro Club events. Two very different cars first of all, one a faithful reproduction of the Oliver’s ‘Busy’ and the other from Dave Cunliffe, a modern take on the ‘retro concept’. The third car is another example of superb workmanship from Steve Betney. It is neither a Retro style car or a reproduction of an existing tethered car model but an very near scale version of a Lotus 49 intended to run on the circular track. Probably one of the prettiest and most effective Formula one cars of all time, even as a plastic kit, until it vanished up the hoover that is? Thanks to Steve for all the hard work he puts into preparing these articles.

The new season of Retro Club track days starts on Saturday 14th April with the prospect of several new cars being given their maiden runs. There is also an event at the new BMFA HQ at Buckminster Lodge on the 15th, leading to a number of members making it a double header.

The latest edition of the Retro Club newsletter is now published, number 69 no less, and this also adds to the comments in the editorial regarding unrealistic expectations. Recently there has been a large number of cars, engines, tyres and other parts for sale on ebay, mostly from the Baltic states and the old eastern bloc countries. Whilst most of these are at eminently affordable prices, there are some, and we suspect here not the original vendors, putting quite outrageous starting prices. Complete RYTM motor with wheels and tyres from a vendor almost exactly one third of the price a bare motor from a dealer was offered at. 

We met up with Oliver Monk at the beginning of March to have a look at the FEMA cars being prepared for the new season and marvel at the workmanship of one of them in particular. Since then, Oliver has been cutting metal on new projects, which he describes and illustrates in his latest 'Workshop Ramblings', as well as updating us on work in progress. He also has a very useful tip for making bead grooves in wheels that does not require trepanning tools and a lot of lathe chatter, noted here for future projects, so thanks again to Oliver.

The greatest difficulty facing those wishing to run vintage and retro style cars is the lack of suitable tyres, especially for wheel driven cars. Many of those being marketed currently are for display only and not safe to run. Luckily there is a source of supply of a range of tyres here in the UK that we have added to the 'Spares Counter' page.


March 2018

During the winter there was an opportunity to peruse more closely much of the material that we had been sent over the last year, and with the new season of racing almost upon us reflect a little on some of the sea change moments in our respective sports. In a way, both tethered cars and hydroplanes have arrived at a point where there is little, if any, real change, development or innovation, but it was not always thus. As described in one of our major articles, George Stone, as the euphemism goes, moved the goal posts massively back in 1947 by using a commercial Dooling motor in a tiny twin hulled boat to shatter the outright record and change the direction of the sport entirely. From then on hulls and engines evolved through to the style of boat that has been the norm for nearly thirty years now.

In the car world, there was not quite the same defining moment in terms of performance and certainly not so early although the modern tethered car design arrived about the same time as that of the hydro, and largely down to the work of two people, Roger Theobold and Bill Wisnewski, who in the mid 60s developed the tuned pipe for use on model sized motors. We now have fairly comprehensive lists for car events going way back and it is fascinating how certain motors have dominated each era. It might surprise many to know that the bulk of the 10cc entries as late as 1971 were still using side exhaust Dooling motors and the YJ derivative. The 5cc class was the stronghold of the similar Super-Tigre, whilst the 1.5cc class was equally split between, of all motors, the Cox and various home builds. The 2.5 class by contrast included seven different commercial motors.  As an aside, the Dooling that dominated in cars for 20 years or so had a very short life span in hydros, with Hornets, McCoys and later Super Tigre and Rossi motors being much more suited to the water environment. However, the signs of what was to come were there in the early 70s with the arrival of Sarolli,  Picco and the OPS, also being run by Horst Denneler. Gualtiero Picco, had set up OPS in 1968 but it was a couple of years before the front exhaust versions of his motors brought about the change in car and boat designs we now recognise. Yes some did use the rear exhaust motors with pipes facing forwards or even more strangely curving back over the motor like a giant iron handle.

Just four years later, only the Russian entries and Celestin Duran were using anything other than the OPS in 10cc. The 5cc class saw eleven OPSs competing against a dozen home built motors with twenty Rossi 2.5s in the smaller class. Just two Cox motors still in 1.5cc compared with a vast array of one offs and home builds. Isn’t it remarkable, and a tribute to the man, that motors emanating from the drawing board of Gualtiero Picco have now held sway in the 10cc class of tethered hydroplanes and tethered cars for the thick end of fifty years. It is almost beyond belief that between the Dooling brothers and Picco they have defined 10cc tethered car racing for seventy years?

As a long-term project we would like to record the changes that happened to cars and hydros from the late 60s and through to around 1980 and the cars and boats as we know them now, but there seems an absolute dearth of printed material or photos. Can anyone help?

A new Album this month, courtesy of the Westbury Family, with a number of engines that illustrate the inventiveness and engineering skills exhibited by builders in the past. 

St Albans was also the venue when Ian Berne was suitably ‘baptised’ for his record breaking performance with his flash steam boat. Part II of our Flash Steam Gallery takes the story from 100mph to 118mph, the retirement of Ian, and on to the current 129mph record.

The Pitbox probably adds more confusion as it is yet another variation on packaging used by 1066 for the standard 5cc Falcon, or is there the possibility that this was actually for a factory built engine?

The Gt Carlton track dates published last month appear to be agreeable to most so will be the basis of the programme for the season. Peter Hill has also sent us a couple of photos of his latest project, an archetypal American design from the late 1930s.

In the latest edition of his Workshop Ramblings, Oliver Monk adds more detail and setups for machining pistons. Someone posed the question on Facebook as to why bother, but as the piston liner fit appears to be the heart of the engine producing power and the pistons do wear quickly this is the way to keep things at their optimum without the continued and considerable expense of buying new sets on a regular basis. Thanks to Oliver for continuing to record all this precision work. 

We are very conscious that the firms and individuals offering services and items of retro tethered car interest is declining all too rapidly, so any ventures of this nature are to be applauded and in our case, given publicity. To this end, we have put together a new page under the grand title of 'Spares Counter' where we will publish details of any items of interest. At present, we have just moved what we had from Tight Lines to the new page so they do not vanish with updating. If you have or know of any source of supply of items and services that may be useful, then please let us know. We cannot do commercial adverts or sales, but we can give publicity.

Empty Spaces: We have heard, via Oliver Monk,  the sad news that Stan Barrett has died after a period of ill health. Stan had been involved with racing model cars from the 1950s, originally with railcars where he won numerous events and championships with the North London Club. Later he joined the newly formed BTCA, becoming GB003, regularly running cars at meetings within Europe, predominantly in Sweden. Over a period of time he acquired quite a stable of Class 1 and Class 2 cars, establishing British records in both classes. His 1.5cc record lasted until  2014 when it was broken by Aaron Monk, using one of Stan's cars although extensively re-engineered. The 2.5cc record he set still stands. Stan's last trip to a FEMA meeting was at Lyon and his final visit to a car event was the 'Old Timer's' meeting at Orebro.


February 2018

It’s a funny old world at times? We are, and have been, members of numerous different organisations, clubs and groups over the years, and two things they all have shared in common is that firstly they are (usually) run by super enthusiasts who willingly give oodles of time and huge amounts of work for the good of the activity. More often than not, there was also an associated magazine, newsletter and even a yearbook. Only in the biggest national organisations were honoraria paid, most did it for free, often subsidising it all out of their own pockets. The second and less happy factor they share is that there are always individuals or groups within the organisations that are never happy with the way things are run, the content of the magazine, the conduct of the officers and so on. All too often there are also accusations of ‘taking advantage of positions’ to further their own activities, collections, get freebies and generally use the organisation to their own ends.

Pre twitter, this was restricted to ‘letters to the editor’ or person to person moaning, but one thing that has not changed is that few of the ‘complainers’ actively contribute anything other than their ‘subs’. Yes, organisations, magazines, events and the people involved do get stale for a variety of reason and those most intimately involved may not realise this or are happy with the ‘status quo’. Things do need to move on, but this is seldom achieved by ‘carping’. It is easy to make demands of volunteers or criticise, yet we relate two cases that illustrate this perfectly. The first was quite outspoken criticism of a couple running a national organisation by a number of members who thought far more should be done (by those running it) and that a new nationwide organisation be set up to oversee the same activity. It was inevitable that the prime mover of all this then pointed out that ‘he did not have the time to do it’. The second is closer to home and related by a long time officer faced with a number of proposals concerning what should be done within the association. Said officer stated that ‘he was in full agreement, and when was the person going to make a start’? ‘Ah well, I didn’t mean I was offering to do it?????

We are very lucky with material for the website, but numerous clubs to which we also belong are desperate for articles and contributions to enable magazines and newsletters to continue. It has also been pointed out to us at their events that there are those that do, but an equally large group that are prepared to sit there and let them. There are now fewer and fewer people, if any, willing to give up time to organise, administer and run events and clubs, even less if they are likely to get criticised or even sworn at. Why would they? Luckily in the world of tethered cars and hydroplanes, we still have those willing to take on the tasks, but it falls more and more to competitors to rally round and even compromise their own running to ensure meetings go ahead. A little help never goes amiss, criticism when a volunteer is seldom welcome.

For the ‘Pitbox’ this month there is a special offer, even better than a BOGOF, three for the price of one and three vintage designs by the ‘father of modern airscrew hydros’ Mike Drinkwater.

Readers will be aware of the occasional Flash Steam Gallery specials that have looked at some of the less well known exponents of the 'black art'. For some while we have been preparing an extended version that celebrates the battle royal that took place from 1988 to 1998 between two acknowledged masters, Bob Kirtley and Ian Berne, which raised the record from 75mph to 118mph.  Part one deals with the race to the magic 100mph mark.

Once the dust has settled from the festive shutdown thoughts turn to the new season and the work needed to get boats and cars ready for the off, and hopefully performing as well, or more preferably, better than previously. The OTW bench has been busy, but with minor work compared to the intricate engineering that Oliver Monk details in the first of his 2018 'Ramblings'. We consider it an achievement to make new bridles without a visit to A&E! As usual, there is a informative mix of tooling, techniques and tips on 'how to', so thank you to Oliver for sharing all this with us and for spending the time to put it all together for publication. The past five years of 'Ramblings' are such a valuable source of material that we maintain the pages on the site for reference.

Tight Lines takes a look at the Model Hydroplane Club stand at Alexandra Palace and those of the Victoria and Blackheath Clubs, both stalwarts of tethered hydroplanes over the years.

Hardly an 'empty space' as it had to be filled immediately, but the computer that published every edition of OTW up to now is no more, the hard drive was likened to 'sounding like a steam engine', and coal fired computers are apparently no longer available. Hopefully this all works, goodbye XP?

Peter Hill has canvassed members of the Retro Club to determine which dates for track days would be preferred and has now published a provisional calendar, available on the Retro Club page.


January 2018

New Year already, so time to reflect on the season gone by, along with the highs and lows and the march of technology. An electric boat, a tiny A1 at that, now holds the outright tethered hydroplane record whilst 200mph is quite possible with an electric tethered car. One tethered car and three hydroplane world records, numerous national records and a string of personal best performances in this country have made it a remarkable season. Andriy Yakimiv, Ando Rhotmets and Danielle Duran have been notching up the wins throughout the year in Europe. The Smolnikov family continue with their remarkable careers and probably creating some sort of record as, between the three of them, they compete with both cars and boats in multiple classes and win regularly.

The British tethered hydroplane scene has been blighted this last year by the paucity of runs recorded, reflecting what also happened in the World Championships where less than 20% of the starts resulted in timed runs in some classes. The gremlins have had an absolute field day wrecking motors, drive trains, props and even boats, but after several lean years, it has been the A1 and A2 classes that have been the most competitive and produced a record and some lifetime bests. The A3 class has been annexed again by Tony Collins, with the vast majority of the runs he completed well into the 130s and two at 138+. The Picco motor still manages to frustrate again with only around one in five of the starts resulting in completed runs. The only other entrant into the 130+ club with an A3 was our ‘fast lady’ Lynn Blowers who can now lay claim to that title in both A2 and A3 classes. Jim Free has been making a MDS go exceedingly fast in a B1 Sport, while the imported B1s and Profi motors should go if only they could cure the yips. If the evil little gremlins put paid to far too many runs, illness and injuries have had an equally deleterious effect on entries, so we wish all those who are struggling a speedy recovery and hope to see you back on the water this year.

The European forays with tethered cars have had mixed results with Oliver Monk’s Workshop Ramblings detailing the many engine rebuilds he has had to undertake during the year. For the rest, no major disasters, but not entirely the speeds hoped for either. Breakages are an integral part of racing, but it would be gratifying to see a greater degree of reliability from the hydros, both at home and abroad. Perhaps some fundamental rethinking is required?

The ‘one a month’ Pitbox has provided some fascinating items over the last year and continues to spring surprises. First off for 2018 is again something very different as it is a drawing of a flight of fancy that did come to fruition, as a supplementary photo shows. Thanks to Miles Patience for all the material that relates to this long forgotten project.

The first article of the New Year was brought about by our ‘Where are they now’ Album, which featured several of Carl Wainwright’s superbly built cars. In spite of pleas on the site and facebook there is still no indication of where the cars are, but they are such an important part of British tethered car history that we have put together a potted history of each.

With youtube and facebook there are now numerous clips of tethered cars and hydros, vintage and modern and even live streaming of events. What is unusual to find is a published video for a particular event. Hartmut Berhrendt from Germany filmed the 2010 European Championships at Kapfenhardt and then produced a DVD for the RGSV. He has now uploaded the entire two hour video to youtube and passed us the link. Thanks to Hartmut there is a very watchable and well produced record of this event.

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