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August 2018

Over a pint or three, a group of like-minded enthusiasts were having a moan about the impact on-line auctions have had on auctions in general and the collectors market in particular. Certainly, results from traditional auction houses would tend to suggest that prices realised are still significantly lower than might be achieved on eBay, with its international audience, particularly true with the Oliver auction. It is also very much easier to see what is on offer on eBay, rather than having to scour catalogues or use alerting services with their attendant costs. However, the rise of on-line bidding at auction houses has lead to a raft of grumbles about ‘not being able to get a bargain anymore’. No doubt, that means getting the item far cheaper than it should have been or that the purchaser was expecting to pay. We can give a prime example of this from the same auction house. Pre the days of on-line bidding, two complete tethered cars, one commercial and one home built, both with provenance, £230 for the two, including premium. A single example of the same commercial car now with on-line bidding, £980, and on eBay a similar car made £1200, far too much in our opinion for a mass produced, freely available, commercial, fun type car. Strangely though, the Electra 2A based car that was the subject of our first ever Pitbox sold at auction recently for a much more modest price, even if it was later on offer with a guide price of £10-£20,000, yes, that’s the right amount of noughts. That incidentally is the second tethered car the same company has put that value on, hopeful or what?

What does appear to have happened is that by attending in person one can examine any particular item closely and satisfy yourself as to its description and condition, whereas with a conventional auction that is also online there is often no more than a very brief description and one photograph on which to make a judgement and this has made a significant difference in prices realised. There is also the question of shipping that can add considerably to the cost. eBay and similar sites allow the opportunity for large numbers of photos of an item, often with a facility to zoom in, and in general shipping and postage costs are very much lower from private sellers than they are from the agents auction houses use. Of course, ‘auction fever’ can strike when bidding by paddle, on the phone or on-line, and we have seen examples of each of these that have beggared belief. On a personal level we prefer commission bids, then you either get it or you don’t, but at a price that you consider is realistic. It has to be said though, that the wider audience for on-line auctions can also see prices realigned in a distinctly downward direction, as the entire world can see what items do or don’t make and adjust their bidding accordingly. The plethora of commercial mite cars on offer has seen prices tumble quite dramatically, mirrored in the wider antique world with many items. In effect, auctions going on-line are bit like the ‘curates egg’. Closer to home though, a clock built by the company owned by Fred Lowne, the first person featured in our Flash Steam gallery was estimated at £70-£100. Worth a punt, given the connection, but not at the final hammer price of £3,200. Oh, the power of the internet?

Our Album featuring George Lines and his Sparky boats continues for another month and our thanks go to Peter Hill for the loan of what must be one of the last photos ever taken of George in competition after he migrated to the US.

The Photo is the first of two sent to us by John Innes and is notable for being one of the few we have ever seen of an entire club lineup on a tethered car track. It is also from the very early days of the sport in this country. Thanks to John for these super photos.

Someone we admire immensely for pursuing the art of ‘lateral thinking’ to the extreme in his engineering is Peter Rischer. We have featured some of his complex engines before, but the Pitbox this month is a most unusual tethered car that keeps appearing for sale on eBay, not from him we must add, but at a price that does seem to be frightening off prospective customers.

Sadly, the Grand Regatta scheduled for the first weekend of July fell victim to the weather. Sounds unlikely given what we have been experiencing throughout June, but with the exceedingly warm and dry spell has come the strong winds, which put the kybosh on the event.

In the mid 60s, before 'elf and safety' was invented, visitors to the ME Exhibition used to brave a heady atmosphere of steam and coal smoke from the live steam track inside the hall, spirit fumes from the smaller tracks and the overpowering pong of diesel fuel and ether from the railtrack. Most of the cars in use were of early 50s prototypes, but the little rear engined Coopers looked the business. The projects from Steve Betney's workshop are coming thick and fast, and this time it is a lovely little Cooper T60 railcar. Steve's productivity is putting the rest of us to shame, but nevertheless, thanks to him for another very detailed 'how to do it' article.

Once the weed was cleared at Kingsbury Water Park, the day produced successes and frustration in equal measure. Fastest runs ever at opposite ends of the size spectrum for two competitors and the fastest speed by an airscrew boat in this Country for many years, at last someone else has cracked the mystery of these machines.

A second sweltering regatta in succession and what looked to be a perfect day for racing at Althorne Lake. Well it was for three of the competitors who recorded new personal bests, but for most, utter frustration. The engine problems just seem to keep coming and the lack of rain is also having a worrying effect on the water levels in the lake.

Remarkably, the temperature gauge was hovering around the 30 mark for a third weekend in succession at the Old Warden aeromodelling event. Despite the car park being as full as ever, traders were commenting on the lack of sales, one well known engine dealer confiding that he had not sold a single engine all day. It was the engines that were not for sale that seemed to hold much of the interest, the Gnomes, Bentleys, my favourite the Anzani and a trio of lovely radials from Ron Hankins, including a double-row, fourteen cylinder. That is an awful lot of bits to make. They do make a lovely noise though.

Two European Championships at the end of this month, tethered hydros  at Pazardhik in Bulgaria and tethered cars in Hannover. We hope that all our competitors heading out have a successful time. It does appear that no other countries are likely to offer to host the hydro championships in the foreseeable future, which is sad. In that respect, the car contingent is luckier in that there are still a number of tracks around Europe, although unfortunately, a couple of them are under threat. With an entry list of over 200 cars the car meeting should be an amazing event?

We do check our Links pages on a fairly regular basis, but even in the last three months, at least three sites have vanished, one of them unfortunately relating to Henri Baigent, which was such a detailed account of his work and cars. If anyone can help us with the circumstances surrounding its disappearance then we would be very grateful.

Stop Press: A new, outright, tethered hydroplane record set in Bulgaria, and again by a tiny electric A1E. After several years of what might have been, Tony Dellazoppa from Switzerland is now the European A3 Champion, just tiny margins separating the top three though. Very thin on competitors and even thinner on completed runs than last year. Oh the mysteries of the tethered hydro? Hopefully, a more detailed report next month.

July 2018

What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to desirability or something for sale, a huge amount, as the right name can multiply the final price by untold amounts, even if the item may be worth no more in intrinsic terms than any other. In the model world certain manufacturers names and models carry considerable cache although often the manufacturer is the name and the product might be a standard, mass produced model from their company or factory. It is where the name indicates that the item is ‘out of the ordinary’ or has had attention that the standard product doesn’t that can create the interest, such as those magic letters TWA of which there are probably far more in existence than ever saw the hands of either T or W? Then there are the ‘tuners’, or those who undertake engine preparation that offers the customer something that the standard model does not. Almost impossible to track down when the first such person put their name to a model engine, but many are well know today, even if what they did to the motors might now be considered vandalism. Mention the name ‘Buskell’ and what the ED Racers will look like is well known and are often referred to as ‘Buskellised’ even if he had nothing to do with them. Another name that can divide opinion is George Copeman with the ‘Copeman Special’ Olivers, already a fine and carefully produced motor, so were his any better? There were ‘Eifflander Specials’ produced by PAW and then there were Specials by Gig Eifflander, not the same thing at all but carry the same name. Of course the one name held in most high regard in Britain, is that of Fred Carter who gained his reputation by extensively modifying existing motors to create record breaking and championship winning engines,which bear his name before that of the original manufacturer. There are not too many of these still in existence, but those that have survived and have provenance are highly prized.

This phenomenon is hardly ever seen in the world of tethered hydroplanes, but tethered cars are a different matter. Looking back through the records shows any number of engines identifiable by only a name, although they have commercial components as the basis, and then there are those where the manufacturer is recognised, such as the many MOPS motors in use from the late 70s, OPS motors modified by Adi Malik. We know who built the AFA or Kapu, but what was a Dino or the basis for a Novak? Currently, Peter Halman has the same status with the ‘Halman Specials’ that started life as modified Irvine 15Rs many years ago but have now morphed into carefully crafted, hi-tec and exceedingly fast motors bearing the logo HS15R. The only other person that we know of in Britain still actively preparing motors for others is Taff Bolen, who has breathed on many team race and speed motors over the years and is still the go to name for high quality engine work.

Footnote: A Rothwell R250 lasted a matter of minutes before it was snapped up off the BAMOPRO website early in June at a not insignificant price either.

Our Pitbox this month is more of a Gallery as it pays tribute to Fred Carter with some of the motors that he has been responsible for, including his first ever built for speed flying.

Our new Album takes us right back to one of the very earliest articles we ever published, and that was a ‘Historic Hydro’ contribution by Peter Hill. The subject was George Lines’ Sparky and the engine that inspired untold clones. Since then we have been lucky enough to receive numerous original images of George and his Sparky boats that we present for the next two months, and we are even more delighted that we should have been contacted recently by George’s granddaughter.

A perfect day for running boats at Althorne Lake at the beginning of June, even, in most cases, if the aforesaid boats did not respond to the conditions and cooperate.

A commercial conundrum, and not for the first time. A vendor puts a tethered car up for auction with a completely spurious description. Several people contact the vendor pointing this out, and provide the correct description, manufacturer, country of origin etc. The considered response was to inform said helpful correspondents that they were wrong and that the original description was correct, even though this at variance with the name stamped on various parts and the lettering on the tyres. How far does one go in a case like this if the vendor will not take heed of the correct information? Happened twice this month alone, and yes, someone has been bitten on each occasion.

Oliver Monk is proof positive that enthusiasts seldom restrict themselves to a single discipline, whether it be boats, cars, engines, planes or steam, as his past Ramblings have illustrated. The latest edition brings us up to date with one of his most fearsome projects so far and progress on a fascinating retro/modern build.

Back in the days when anything other than a Ford, Austin etc were just pipe dreams, there were always cars that we would drool over and one in particular was the Facel Vega, it looked so stylish. Not the first subject you would think of for a tethered car, yet Steve Betney has managed to produce a delightful model of this car, which he has kindly described for us. He is really on fire at present with the number projects that he is turning out, and there are more in the pipeline we believe? Thanks to Steve for putting these articles together for us.

Still on the 'retro theme', Club members enjoyed a 'grand day' at the June track meet, with a garden party atmosphere and some sparkling runs recorded, including a number of cars with best ever performances.

Empty Spaces:  John Ellis passed away on June 3, 2018 and the tether car racing community lost one of its most influential and respected members.

John’s father, Joe Ellis, was a respected tether car builder and racer, and John inherited his father’s love for the cars and the competition. Growing up in that environment, John maintained a healthy respect for the history of tether car racing and especially for the fellows who contributed to the hobby before him. John was a fierce competitor, whether on the track or in his heroic battle with the dreaded disease which ultimately took his life. Never one to compromise, John’s 10 cc Eagle engines and the open wheel tether cars which he designed and built were well engineered, beautifully executed, and fast…really fast! John will be sorely missed, but his legacy is preserved in the form of the engines and cars which he designed and built as they continue to compete on race tracks across the country.                                                Thanks to John Lorenz for providing this appreciation.