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View From The Pylon

June 2020

One of the delights of running the website is being informed of, or sent photos of, a car, boat or engine that featured in contemporary magazines of the day, but has then vanished, in some cases for nigh on a 100 years. In some instances, it is possible to piece together the entire intervening period, such as happened with Bert Groves’ Berti and Miniature flash steam hydros. Recently, it has been down to family bereavements where the father’s or even grandfather’s boats, cars or other memorabilia has been rediscovered after the inevitable attic, house or garage clearance. With these it is a matter of recording the circumstances for future reference and sometimes to dispel myths that have built up around the item. Although previously unseen items continue to appear, it is the ones that are known about, but then vanish from sight completely that can provide an interesting diversion.

It is now apparently possible to build a complete profile of a person, purely from studying and interpreting photos and posts on social media. We do not have the luxury of this facility, although appeals can produce some results, it is down to dogged research and a very large slice of luck that can start to fill in blanks. Carl Wainwright’s beautiful Alfa is a case in point. It appeared on ebay in 2014 in a very distressed and battered state having been photographed in track fresh condition for ‘Spindizzies’ in 1998, so where had it been between these dates, and who had wreaked the damage to it? A photo that arrived in 2017 gave a clue that it might have been in the collection of Miquel De Rancougne at some stage, but when? In 2019, and thanks to Steve Betney, dated confirmation came that Miquel certainly had it in 1994, but had he sold it to Eric and Jerry or a third party? Certainly it was not part of the sale in 2004. Similarly, Arthur Weaver’s own Cooper Bristol, sans motor, that was stolen from Stratford Upon Avon in 1990. It was later sold through Christies, Miquel owned it at some stage, but now it has vanished again.

A Denneler Class V with both a French and FEMA registration did go through Miguel’s sale in 2004 but 971 has never been seen again and has not been registered either, 970 and 972 are on the list but not that one, so where is it? Every piece of information that emerges can fill a gap in a timeline or recent history, yet we are still left with two important questions, if an item has appeared in modern times, where is it now, and if it has not been seen for decades, is it still in existence? Each time we are able to answer one of these, it can bring a bit of sunshine to an otherwise dull day, so for these and many other items, have you got it, do you know where it might be or have you any information that might pin it down further. We live in hope.

Quite remarkably though and by an amazing coincidence, a photo that we have had in the archives for many years of a very rare engine answered another of these questions. It was not until it was looked at closely just a few weeks ago that an item that had been send to us independently some 20 years after the photo was taken could be seen in the background. Now we know where it came from, but not the circuitous route it took to get to us?

The Pitboxes this month follow the above theme to extremes, as the original and modern photos of the two engines were taken over 100 years apart. We know where they were then and now, but in between?

With no apparent end to the ‘lockdown’, desperation set in for one Retro Club member who resorted to scouring the scrap box and loft for any parts that could be glued together to make something approximating to a tethered car. He has kindly sent us this slightly tongue in cheek article describing, not so much a build as a coming together of disparate parts.

The new Retro Reprint is from 2007 and is a longer and more detailed article, than the one we published a few years ago. It charts the rise and fall of the Rowell Company of Dundee, which lasted no longer than any of the others that tried to make a business in the tethered car and engine market in Britain. Remember that these articles will not be archived, so please download them if interested.

The British and American manufacturers of tethered cars, engines and associated parts are fairly extensively recorded, but as all the material that has arrived more recently shows, there were dozens of individuals and small companies across Europe also producing cars and engines, and often in the most difficult circumstances. These are often less well know as information is sparse in many cases but we have been lucky in receiving two contributions that delve into these more obscure  makes, which we have included on a new, 'Off the Beaten Track' page. The first is from  John Goodall, who can always be relied upon to come up with some very rare engines as we have featured previously. Along with renowned expert on Italian exotica, Salvi Angeloni, he has put together a fascinating insight into one of these engines that also has a direct and largely unknown tethered car connection. Steve Betney has also been working on a couple of cars that are equally rare and deserve inclusion on this page, especially as his interest has uncovered even rarer original items. Much closer to home is a railcar engine from the North London Club, one of the great proponents of this type of car racing.

In the same vein we have been aware for a while of the superb renovation, restoration and engine building activities of Alan Knight. He has recently built a batch of twinshaft motors based on PAW motors but his skills go far beyond these as the material he sent us shows. Thanks to Alan for sharing the superb and very rare Black Panther he has built as well as some of his other projects and the complete batch of twinshafts.

Late news from the BMFA is that Buckminster could be re-opening although only for season ticket holders initially. This means that we could be hearing a tethered car on the new track very shortly as Oliver Monk has noted in his latest Ramblings. In the second part of the article on building a 1.5cc E1 car he goes into detail of how to build a GRP body using a blue foam core. Always the thorny part of a project, but Oliver has given precise instructions to help us all along the way. Thank you Oliver for all your work in preparing these most helpful articles.

Good news at last for all of us that thought we had far too much 'stuff' and may even have been accused by some of hoarding? The World Health Organisation has officially declared hoarding as a recognisable disorder, so now we know, we can't help ourselves.
Perhaps we can have counselling???

And so it goes on. May would have been a very full month with a Retro track day, Old Warden, the official opening of the Buckminster track and our usual spring tour to Basel and Kapfenhardt, something approaching 3,000 miles on the road. The reality is more sobering but ironically, with nary a single mile travelled, the exchequer has not received its usual hammering. The continued lockdown has had an unfortunate knock-on effect for those tasked with disposing of collections from estates of relatives or friends, with almost no opportunity to carry out this onerous duty since early March. Unable to travel, no events, very limited postal service in some places and no opportunity to meet up to pass on items, most difficult and we are now aware of seven sizeable collections that are affected in this way. The June edition should have included event reports from each May weekend, including, of course Buckminster, an incredible achievement by all concerned and all those who have donated or helped in any way. With this marked lack of activity we are indebted to John, Oliver, Steve, Eric, Peter, Alan and Hugh for material that allows us to continue updating each month.


May 2020

Conversation overheard at a national conference. ‘I have just made a **** from the plans you published in your book’. ‘Did it work?’ ‘Yes, very well.’ ‘That’s a miracle, I’ve never got it to.’ Not withstanding the old adage of ‘measure twice, cut once’, working to published plans should provide a degree of confidence, but often they do not. Even worse if working from a commercial kit and bits don’t fit. Shouldn’t happen, but does, all too frequently. We have recounted previously the builders who ended up with motors of too small a capacity, or even worse, too large to be legal, but when something is drawn out, surely there cannot be room for errors, or can there? Well, on a set of published hydro plans that have been used by many, the sponson blades are different lengths in the plan view to the side view, so which is right?

Often measurements can be printed wrongly so a quick check on the plan or job can save a lot of time and scrap. We are all entreated to ‘read the instructions thoroughly’ but plans can be a bit more difficult to interpret, especially if an odd method of projection is used. The Russian kits can catch one out here when you can easily end up with a left-handed pan and a right-handed body. Best to use a marker pen first to make sure all the holes are in the right place. Castings and plans can also catch out the unwary when the plans show bits in one position but the supplied items are of different dimensions. Even worse is when parts supplied in a kit are cut to the dimensions shown on the plan, which in themselves are wrong. 1066 were prime culprits in this, engine plates that had the engine cut out that matched the plan but was far too big for their engines, and tank mounts that were drilled correctly but cut too short. Recently there have been instances where the C of G of the car is wildly out from the bridle position. In one case, the lug for the bridle is at a considerable angle, yet must be ignored and the bridle put on at right angles to the car and on the sosh on the lug. Even worse if the bridle position is fixed yet the attachment point is nigh on two inches out.

There were cases in the seventies in Model Engineer where the locos in published designs had not been built prior to publication and the constructional articles based on past experience and plans, not from the actual model. We have seen a wonderful example of an engineering catch 22 where major component B has to be attached with screws behind component A that had been put on previously with screws that are behind component B. Seemingly insoluble, even to this day, where the part finished project sits mocking the owner. Mind you, it is not restricted to models. A local timber supplier was giving away 10,000 door panels from kitchen units, as the numpty who ordered them had neglected to add on the extra all round for the panels to fit in the frames, so they just fell through. You could not make it up. The moral, measure, check, mark, trial, sketch, measure again, even mock it up, but don’t cut metal until you are sure, especially if it is the only one left in existence!!!!

With the news of the cancellation of the European Championships the Album was a retrospective on the two previous occasions that the event was held at the Basel track, the first leading directly to the creation of OTW. This year would have made a record eight times that the club has hosted the championships and nine times it has been in Switzerland. Our commiserations to all at SMCC having had to make this difficult decision after so much preparation.

Pitbox is an unusual and unexpected find, a message from Ken Bedford to the new owner of this ETA 29. We have however come across a similar statement from the Olivers that was more widely and publicly circulated.

Back to Long Lost Lakes and another series of photos from the southwest sent to us by Kevin Fleet. This time from Swindon, home of Mr Baxter’s aptly named hydro, Miss Swindon.

A couple of little titbits via ebay to make you smile, or gasp. A Bungay 600 motor appeared at a cool $2,500, which many may think to be more than wishful thinking? This was surpassed by leaps and bounds by a Hiller Comet car, without an engine mind you, for a mere $11,250, and yes, the comma is in the right place. Must have been several emails flying about though as the price was reduced by $10,000 a few days later. On the other hand, a repro Oliver casting with a Russian Rytm motor installed keeps reappearing with the price gradually reducing, a real Dutch auction, but is it cheap enough yet? A very nicely built up Russian School car has been going through the same process and is now available for much less than the kits are listed for?

In the latest 'Buckminster Blog', there is a lovely quote from Manny Williamson that resonates with many of us.  "On a personal note I didn’t know much about tethered cars other than it was very popular in the 40s and 50s (and still is in the States) but a search on Youtube soon revealed plenty of footage, both vintage (Pathe News) and also quite a bit of current American footage, also, having handled a selection of cars during the winter, they are fantastic things and I was rather taken with them, beautifully made and very tactile, I can’t wait to see them in action around the track." Pretty much sums up what we think of the modern, tethered car.

With the prospect of two tracks in operation in Britain in 2020 and one of them eminently suitable for exceedingly fast cars, there has been frenzied activity in workshops over the winter building and preparing cars for these venues. Although the 'lockdown' and subsequent restrictions  have put the mockers on running for a while it has given even more time to indulge in flights of fancy and car building. We feature a selection of these on the Retro page and thank the builders for sending us photos. 

In the same vein, Oliver Monk has been hard at work on a Russian E1 car. Unlike the more usual eastern European 'schools car' This comes as a complete kit of materials with a cast pan, meaning everything has to machined from scratch, including the gearbox. In his latest Workshop Ramblings Oliver describes the progress so far.

No doubt, by now, workshops are tidy, shelves and drawers have been cleared out and all the myriad of parts and bits collected over the years have been sorted into keep, pass on, or throw out, probably with a lot of heart searching along the way. The jars, tins and trays of odd nuts, bolts and washers have all been sorted and some, or indeed all of the 'roundtuits' will have found their way onto the bench. Assuming that there are enough materials parts and consumables in stock, then the list may have been whittled down somewhat, or even cleared completely. Mind you, one of our regular correspondents reckoned that even if the lockdown lasted another fifty years he would not make significant inroads into his list of projects. So we hope your benches are not entirely empty and that we may be able to feature some of the resulting projects in future editions. Even more time now that the 'Lockdown' has been extended another three weeks and even more events cancelled, so some serious head scratching going on. Stay healthy.


April 2020

Having been involved with full sized motor sport of all types all our lives and their model equivalents for an equally significant proportion, the collecting and vintage aspect of these holds a fascination for us that is reflected in this website. The monetary aspect is an inevitable consequence, but not our prime consideration, as OTW is entirely non-commercial. What does intrigue us is the relative pace of development in the various sports and the activities of the manufacturers and enthusiasts that support and participate. Producing a workable car, boat, engine or bike, that is freely available is not too difficult and dozens of companies managed to do this for years, often with little change in the basic product, which firstly led to their huge success and then ultimately to their downfall. For many years, the grids at any domestic motorcycle meeting would comprise of hundreds of single cylinder Norton, AJS and Matchless bikes. There were those that tried something different, but they were either not competitive, or if they were, banned. There was almost an ‘as it was in the beginning, so shall it be’ attitude and any attempt to upset this, not quite playing the game.

All worked quite well, until manufacturers in Germany, Italy, Spain and latterly Japan took an interest, and they were not constrained in their thinking, or seemingly by cost either as they developed the existing designs with increasing complexity. The immediate pre and post war periods were certainly ones of innovation, but seldom by the larger British companies and in the end it was not complexity, but a simple change in direction that sounded the death knell. If ‘video killed the radio star’ then the two-stroke eventually reigned supreme, until that itself was banned or frowned upon in many motorised sports. There were individuals of vision that did become market leaders, although seldom making much money at it, if at all, whilst the British industries slowly sank into obscurity, their products becoming museum pieces or part of the burgeoning ‘vintage movement’.

This in a way harks back to a previous pylon as many well established ‘vintage’ bike and car models are now being remanufactured for racing and sporting use, which can provide opportunities for many more people to own a ‘classic’, still expensive if you throw it down the road, but not as catastrophic as if it were an original. A philosophical question springs to mind though following activities in the retro model world as to whether Parra’s, K12s, KMDs or even more exotic hardware should be in use in ‘retro models’ or whether they should be restricted to engines of the period? The power race is on.

The Pitbox is a somewhat unusual item and harks back to the days when the collecting and wearing of enamel badges was commonplace amongst supporters, society and club members and before the collecting mania of the 90s and early 2000s set in. 

One of the last events before the lockdown was the annual inspection and registration of all British FEMA cars. This is a requirement for all drivers who intend to compete and for the cars that they intend to use. Current car registrations can be viewed on speedmodelcar.org Whether we will get to run any of these this season remains to be seen?

A plea to all Oliver twinshaft owners: The late John Oliver had the most detailed production records of any engine builder. Give him an engine number and he could tell you what model it was and who it was originally sold to. Unfortunately, following his death in 2016, these records were no longer available and their current whereabouts unknown so precise numbers of models produced and serial numbers can no longer be verified. In a joint venture with John Goodall, author of the very detailed Oliver and a Tiger book, we are asking if the owners of Oliver twinshaft motors could help to overcome this problem by taking part in a world wide survey of twinshaft engine numbers and types?

France had at least five tethered car tracks over the years, unfortunately they are now all just memories. We have featured Lyon and Dieppe and now we move to the second of the Paris tracks, Cachan that closed forty years ago. We are still looking for photos or information for Dunkirk, Dieppe and Choisy in Paris as well as Landikon in Switzerland, Stuttgart, Dorstfeld and Boelke in Germany, plus any others in western Europe (and Britain) that have escaped our notice.

Oliver Monk has been exceedingly busy, both in his workshop and at the computer producing the concluding part of the very detailed description of building a replica Oliver Mercedes car utilising a casting from Paul Ironmonger and engines/wheels from Alex Phin. We have seen the car and it really does look good, especially the superb finish, another tip from Oliver that could make all our lives easier when finishing aluminium bodies without resorting to the spray can. Although the article was entitled 'A Car for Buckminster' it will be some time before we are able to venture on to the track, which is now finished and looks superb. All the more time then to get a car of your own built for when the facility does reopen.

On the same theme, Steve Betney has just sent us photos of his treatment of a Redfin chassis, a lovely Ferrari T 500 F2 car from the early 50s.  From a Retro member comes this speedy looking model, again with a Redfin twinshaft, but a distinctly non scale look, built in haste to make the opening meeting but now languishing on the shelf for the time being.

The world is a very changed place since this edition of Pylon was first committed to the page.  Events are being cancelled thick and fast and there seems little likelihood of any activities, modelling or otherwise, taking place in the foreseeable future. It is nineteen years to the month since we last faced wholesale cancellation of so many events in this country, but there was no risk to public health on that occasion, restrictions were in place to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. We have amended our calendars as far as we are able, but in essence, that is it for the time being. NAVIGA, BMFA, MPBA, Old Warden and Retro Club events are all postponed and we are awaiting information regarding FEMA events. Inevitably this means that subsequent editions of OTW will be not be able to carry the event reports that normally grace the pages during the season. We are therefore very grateful to contributors who have already offered us additional material for the future to fill in some of the gaps.


March 2020

Lots of interesting comments resulting from last month’s Pylon regarding the status of ‘reproductions’. No one is going to be fooled by an Authentic Models Bantam or a Nylint McCoy are they, unless seduced by a false description, yet motors are a whole different question? For the inveterate builder and those that run vintage cars, boats or planes, they can be a godsend. There is a huge shortfall between the number of Oliver twinshafts and replicas ever produced and the current market for suitable motors to put into cars, both for the shelves and to run. Inevitably this has led to an escalation in values of what is available, with reproductions now commanding premium prices, far more than when they were freely available. Rytm motors regularly appear in Oliver style castings and are a good alternative, especially as they are unlikely to fool anyone as to the age and origins of the car.

We suspect that the arrival of Alex Phin’s new twinshaft motor at a very attractive price might change things somewhat. Mind you, it does seem that a number of these motors have already been subsumed into collections and will never see the inside of a car or appear on a track. It is however the situation regarding genuine Oliver aircraft motors and their numerous clones that has got us fascinated. There can be little argument if a reproduction is made of a very rare motor, such as the RVB seen at Gt Carlton, yet opinion is very divided as to whether it should ever form part of a collection. At the same meeting it was possible to buy original 2.5cc Oliver motors of differing Mks for significantly less than reproductions, legitimately produced or otherwise. If there is serious racing or flying to be done, then it is understandable to have a motor made from modern materials with internals that have benefited from years of development, but why then reproduce the Oliver shape and style? Is there still the desire to pretend that the motor is something that it isn’t? Yes, when an original was the thick end of £1,000 possibly, but now they can be had for as little as a tenth of that.

The waters then become muddied further when the reproductions are of limited availability or the builders decide not to continue, such as existed when CS ceased production or Steve Rothwell announced a while ago that he was not producing any more motors or internals. The loss of Tom Ridley and Arne Hende added a level of collectability to their motors so that these now command premium prices as have the Jaguar and Tiger replicas that Ian Russell produced a while ago. Happily, we are still in the realms of reproductions, not the fakes that blight the art and antiques market where there is a deliberate intention to deceive, but if the value of the repros continues to exceed that of the originals will that always be the case?

The Pitbox this month is an example of a common commercial car that appears in all states from a barn find to complete and original. What makes it stand out is the huge variation in prices that we have seen these cars sold for.

A while since we have had a ‘Work Bench’ item so we are delighted to feature a story of coincidences that have resulted in the rebuilding of a piece of ‘tethered car history’.

Lots of good news on the supply front this month. We have often lamented how the lack of commercially available equipment can restrict the growth of our sports and how it can prove a stumbling block to getting people involved. At times there have been batches of suitable motors and castings available but these have been sporadic in nature and mainly seemed to have ended up on shelves or in cabinets. With the Buckminster track now a reality it is vitally important that anyone interested can be directed to sources of parts. Yes, ebay can come up trumps, but is hit and miss. Paul ironmonger has now sorted out the supply problems with his Oliver castings and full details of these can be found on our Spares page.  We also understand that John Goodall has also commissioned a run of motors. So, with all the parts available, how do you set about building a car? To explain this Oliver Monk has produced a profusely illustrated article with precise instructions on how to build a 2.5cc tethered car, using these parts, but with minimal equipment, probably not table top as that might not sit well with the 'significant other' but certainly bench top. We are exceedingly grateful to Oliver for the huge amount of work involved in this venture. If that is not enough, we understand that there will be a follow up explaining how to do it with normal workshop equipment.  

Hand in hand with this article, John Goodall also tells us that he has produced another batch of pans and bodies for the Oliver 'Busy' replica. This car was the first to use the 'new' Oliver twinshaft that eventually became the all conquering MkII Tiger. These sets offer a very realistic alternative to castings and are available from John at BAMOPRO We have previously featured the building of a 'Busy'  from one of John's kits so that you can see exactly what is involved.  Now, in a very magnanimous gesture, John has offered to donate the the proceeds from the sale of one of these sets to the Buckminster track fund. Your chance to have one of these hand crafted replicas and contribute to the track fund as well. Somewhere for a chance to run it as well after a few sessions in the workshop. See February's Pylon below for more details of the fund raising efforts.

Stop Press and really exciting news on the same theme. Some while ago Alex Phin commissioned all the parts required to get a car onto the track with one of his Redfin twinshaft motors and now four of the pre production, prototype kits have arrived for appraisal. Oliver Monk has very kindly and quickly put his together to show exactly what it looks like and the ease of construction and previews it on the Redfin Project page. Not since the late 1940s has a complete kit for a tethered car been available that can be assembled without resort to workshop equipment other than a screw driver and some spanners. It does look an excellent route into running a tethered car at Buckminster or Gt Carlton and all credit to Alex for pursuing this venture. Final details and developments have yet to be confirmed before these they are generally available, which we look forward to with anticipation and a waiting twinshaft.

An addition to the site this month follows on from our look at tethered car tracks that have vanished over the years and extends to lakes. pools and ponds that were used for tethered hydroplane racing. Given that boats have been run for over 110 years there have been innumerable venues during that period. It would be difficult to calculate and list just how many, but for those where we have photographic or other evidence sent to us by correspondents Long Lost Lakes will be some sort of record. The first water to be featured is the Cotswold Club's lake at South Cerney for no other reason than Kevin Fleet has kindly sent us a number of photos of the current state of the 'lake' and that, for us, it was a stark illustration of the answer to the age old question 'how do you get to ***'? 'Well I wouldn't start from here'. Cerney was also the home of the British Outboard Racing Club and nearby Fairford for the Cotswold Power Boat Club so the cross country drag there and back was a regular experience now best forgotten.

With a certain degree of symmetry the 2,000th tethered car has been registered with FEMA in February 2020. We suspected that it would happen and the honour has gone to Danielle Duran. A remarkable number of cars since registration began some forty years ago, but how many are still in existence? There was initially a mass registration of cars but no idea just how many that involved at the time or when the first 'new car' was added to the list? A bit of a nightmare when it comes to research. 

The Kingsbury Club, which will be the only lake where all hydro classes can be run this season has a new website and webmaster. The site is currently under construction but should be more active than in the past.

Late news: Owing to overlap of events and other commitments, the Retro Club track day scheduled for Fri 3rd April has had to be cancelled. The first meeting of the season will now be Sun 3rd of May, which will also have a table top sale of the late Keith Bragg's tethered car and other modelling items, all proceeds going to his widow. Bring plenty of money! 9another event that fell foul of CV)

Empty Spaces: Barely six months after we featured his astonishing achievements in Pylon it was a shock to see the announcement of the death of Roger Phillips posted on facebook. We regularly reported on progress of the Vector project and hope that the 357kph he achieved in June 2019 will stand as a memorial to someone we never met, but admired. 

Just as we were publishing we received news from Urs Bach, via facebook, of the sad death of Jozsef Peto, one of the Hungarian competitors that dominated 2.5cc and 5cc tethered car racing for more than a decade from 1963 onward. Peto won six European Championships on the trot from 1968-73 in the 5cc class along with five silver and 2 bronze medals, as well as setting new European and World records. His last appearance was at the 2019 Championships in Pecs. Our condolences to his family.


February 2020

In the more idle moments between research, preparing the website, boats, cars and the more mundane household duties, we do keep a fairly close eye on what is happening commercially, both for personal interest and so we can offer some sort of realistic answer to those that ask us for approximate values of items, identities and provenance. Past Pylons have related many of the more remarkable sales and purchases that varied from the unbelievably cheap finds, through to the more ludicrous prices asked or paid. Most cars, boats or engines, like anything else offered for sale, have something approaching an established value from past results so paying less is a ‘good deal’ and more ‘over the top’. Sometimes luck, skill or being in the right place or ‘know’ can produce an absolute bargain like the complete and original M&E Special off ebay for £64 or the Stubbs Austin for less than two ten pound notes at a car boot sale, or the vintage hydro mentioned below that was bought at auction for not too much more.

There are two ready markets for cars and boats, the enthusiastic collector and for a while, the interior designer looking for ‘decorators pieces’. For decoration, history, originality and provenance were unimportant; appearance and condition were the vital elements. Manufacturers eventually cottoned on to this, much as they had been at the toy/model end of the market for years. There were the infamous tinplate Miller clockwork cars that retailed for less than £200 yet reached dizzying levels for a while before dropping back to more sensible values, but still showing a remarkable profit on their original purchase price. This was probably due to the arrival of a vast range of reproduction American tether, Indianapolis and midget style cars, Korns, and Bantams predominating. Many of these have a faux twin cylinder motor lurking under the bonnet (hood), some even supposedly supercharged. They are bright, shiny and look more real than most original cars and again at a little over a couple of hundred quid represent a considerable saving. Strange though how the price can treble when they appear in up market stores or on eBay, and it is little surprise that one offered for £500 at a car meeting did not attract any takers. Oddly, they have found a degree of favour amongst the collecting fraternity, with a view to conversion to runners no doubt, and to the initiated, the repro Bantam sitting alongside an original Speed Chief looks more the part. Of course, Nylint have been going down this route for years but there are still those vendors that try it on. Still, if it means that the decorators go to John Lewis for a car at £400 it does safeguard the real ones that appear, and has been shown over and over again recently, there are still some very nice cars and boats out there, and still at sensible prices.

The Photo this month was somewhat unusual and resulted from an advert in the now defunct Aviation Modeller. Someone was selling their life long engine collection and amongst them was one of the 30cc boat engines, all black and named after ‘Vincent’ motorcycles. The ‘Black Knight’ version had been sold to Miquel de Rancougne but ‘Black Prince’ was unsold and with the unexpected addition of most of a spare engine and all the patterns. Occasionally patterns do turn up that can be identified, but this was unusual by any standards. Talking of Vincents, the one we mentioned some while ago that had been taken apart in the 60s and put in boxes and then sold for over £90,000 has now reappeared and restored for a cool £141,000. As one notable car and hydro enthusiast remarked, 'wish I'd kept the one I bought for a tenner'.

The Pitbox item is not new to these pages, but the boat disappeared for several years after being sold and had defied all attempts to find where it was. Now it is safe in the hands of someone who is intent on replacing the missing parts and looking after it. Ties in nicely with the current ‘Retro Reprint on restoration.

One of the great names in tethered hydroplane racing was that of Mons Gems Suzor. In a career that spanned five decades he was a regular visitor to Britain for regattas and a great innovator. Modern hydroplanes still incorporate two of these to this day. We are grateful to Peter Hill for allowing us to use the bulk of his text from a major series of articles that were published in the 90s. For this abridged article we have concentrated on his tethered hydroplane activities, whilst the original goes into a great deal more technical detail about both his boats and engines.

The first person to respond to our plea for photos from the Dieppe track was none other than Phil Abbott who send us a super aerial image of the track from its operating days, showing its location near the town.

A bit later than usual this year, but we are now able to publish the dates for the principle European tethered car races this coming season. After very many years of sponsoring the Grand Slam events, Otto Stroebel announced that he would no longer be continuing with this extremely philanthropic gesture. After much discussion the Grand Slam has been replaced by a new European Trophy series to be run over five rounds as noted in the calendar.

It has been a while since we were able to enjoy an edition of Oliver Monk's Workshop Ramblings, but as he put it, 'most of what I have been doing recently is repeating what has already been published, so no point in writing about it again'. This month the 'Ramblings' are back, with news of new projects, some important work for the tethered car community as a whole and how to make lots of swarf with a CNC mill.

Important news comes via another article from Oliver and that is that the tethered car track at Buckminster is now a reality with the second pouring taking place in late January. A very big thank you to all who have been involved in this project, which has evolved over the last few years from cars sharing the control line circle when it was not being used to a purpose built car track built to current international standards. If all goes according to plan, cars should be running by May of this year, with an opening weekend planned for the 16th/17th. The entire cost of this venture has been met by contributions from individuals and groups plus a lot of volunteer labour, but the pot is getting very light. There is no doubt that it will be a superb facility, and we are now very lucky to have both that and Peter Hill's track at Gt Carlton in operation, but more funds are needed to complete the infrastructure, so please help realise the potential of this great venture. Cash is always welcome, but there is an alternative that has been operating for a while, and that is to donate items, parts, motors, castings, projects and even complete cars for sale or auction. If you can help in any way then please contact OTW, info@onthewire.co.uk   Oliver oliver.monk@btinternet.com  or Steve Betney steve.betney@aol.com  

Thanks to Miles Patience we have been alerted to the recent sale of E A Walker's  hydroplane 'Boxotrix'. This 1950s boat featured as one of our early 'Historic Hydros' and later when we were contacted by the new owner after it was sold at an auction in Cornwall. His collection has now been sold through the same auction house where 'Boxotrix' cost him less than two twenty pound notes. Vintage hydros are something of an unknown quantity, unless they are flash steamers so over £500 seemed about right. Sharp intake of breath when it appeared a week later on eBay at £2,950.

Finally a continued plea for help. We are still looking for material and photos from the Dieppe track, along with all the other tracks that have vanished over the years in western Europe. Amongst these, all the British tracks already listed plus Dieppe, Dunkirk Paris, Piste de la Porte and Cachan, Lyon Couzon and an as yet an unidentified track, Landikon in Zurich, Dorstfeld in Dortmund, along with Boelke and Stuttgart, also in Germany. There may be more, but these are the ones we are discovering as we wade through the car related material we received a while ago.  

Empty Spaces: December was indeed a bad month and ended with the loss of a highly successful tethered hydro enthusiast, whose modelling and collecting went far beyond the hydro's he was best known for.

Jim Free: Jim had the unique distinction of holding British tethered hydroplane records in five classes and four of them at the same time. The Novice and Super Novice class records, both held by him are now frozen, and the current B1 record is one of the longest standing, having been set by Jim in 2000 at 154.91mph. The B1R record was down to him as well, but he raised this several times when the class was renamed as B1S and it now stands at 128.48mph. His speciality with tethered hydros has been the airscrew classes, out and out racing, sport and vintage, but he was also dominant in the Novice Class, using the same boats to great effect in the A2 class at International meetings.

His high points were winning a gold medal at Payre and being awarded the Subbotin Trophy at Chatellerault. With his Slipper and Flash boats he was a regular competitor in vintage events as well, being a prolific trophy winner. Apart from the involvement with tethered hydros, Jim also spent a great deal of time building cars and boat using Jetex and Estes rocket motors and specialist vehicles for the Tecno Games and 'Rocket league'. With one of these he managed to achieve over 200mph. A long time member of the Blackheath Club and a regular at Victoria Park, he will be sadly missed. In a personal note, Jim was a great supporter of OTW throughout.  Our condolences to Sue. Jim Free

Bill Orr: Sometimes sad news comes via a roundabout route and we are not aware until later of another enthusiast that has passed on, and such was the case with Bill. A past member of the Retro Racing Club and like so many had a very wide range of interests that went far beyond tethered cars and engines. His collection reflected this and he taxed our identification skills somewhat with some really obscure and fascinating engines, including one of the oldest IC boat engines we have ever seen. Our condolences to his family, to add to the already long and sad list from 2019.

Derek Hart: January has not started off too well either as we have also been alerted to the passing of Derek Hart. For as long as can be remembered, Derek turned up at the St Alban's International regatta to help with the time keeping when stop watches were the order of the day and it was a task that required concentration and accuracy for a long period. Derek was a member of the St Alban's Society and supporter of tethered hydroplanes until illness precluded any further involvement, one of the few remaining from a generation who helped organise, rather than participate. No matter where the section conference was to be held, Derek was always there. Another sad loss to the community and our condolences to his family. Thanks to Sonia Collins for passing on the sad news.

Peter Revill: Word has also reached us of the death of the long time MPBA treasurer and Insurance Advisor. Peter was predominantly a scale enthusiast with an abiding passion for warship modelling. 


January 2020

OTW would like to wish all our readers and correspondents a happy, healthy and successful 2020. Two decades into the new century already and only just got over the millennium bug.

Recently, a number of photos have been posted of tethered cars that have been customised and finished to concours condition. An auction catalogue showed a collection of cars that all had fantastic paint jobs and graphics, plus chrome and other decoration that definitely put them in the showpiece or shelf queen category. We have commented on this trend before and it still rankles when a nice, genuine and original car receives this treatment, so losing any traces of patina, use or previous history. Of course, there will be some cases where extensive renovation or restoration is a necessity, but we believe a degree of caution should be exercised in these cases so as not to create something that ‘never was’. Our overriding mantra in renovations or restorations is ‘that if it does not have to be done, don’t do it’. Basically, this describes conservation, if that term can be applied to models? Between, the ‘do nothing’ scenario and the necessity of a ground up rebuild lay all manner of decisions and considerations. Restoring what is there is relatively easy, but it is when it is ‘not there’ that the head scratching starts, whether we know what it was in the first place and can get a replacement or is it a case of replicate what should be there if not, or even worse, have to guess what it might have been?

We were recently witness to an interesting case where a missing part had to be replicated, but a bit like a tethered car with three wheels, the fourth should be no problem as there were three to copy, except that is not what happened. Rather than study and copy the existing three examples, the decision was made to retain the correct external appearance, but make all the components differently, the method of fixing and attachment completely different and then add bits to disguise what had been done. Beggar’s belief really as it was not a matter of cost, ability to reproduce, or availability of information but an intellectual decision that will exist in perpetuity to confuse future generations. What we have yet to consider are the recreations that start off with just the minimum of original components that justify calling the finished product something it isn’t or the total replication, which is a whole different ball game. A very thorny subject with so much material coming onto the market at present is it original, partly original or effectively new, something that can affect the value dramatically, but that is an entirely different question.

The Pit Box is of a track fresh car, probably up to fifty years old but that has had numerous incarnations through its racing career and should remain as it is for a specific reason, rather than be retro restored to what it once may have been.

For the new year we are posting the first of a new and occasional series of Retro Reprints. Over the seventy issues of the Retro Club magazine Peter Hill published an amazing number of articles on various aspects of tethered car racing and associated history. With the demise of the magazine, Peter has kindly allowed us to re-publish some of these for a wider audience. Word of warning though, these will only appear for a couple of months each and will not be archived on the site, so if you want to keep them for future reference, download them.  These articles have had to be re edited to accommodate the landscape format of a website and because readable scans would use huge amounts of webspace. Thank goodness for character recognition software though, and as a bonus, most of the photos are now in colour.

The search for another hydro venue continues. Some years ago, Model Boats reported that the Cotswold Club had lost their water, leaving only six venues, plus Victoria Park. Now, sadly it is just the one, plus Victoria? Excellent news on the new car track at Buckminster, which was poured on the 16th of December. The horsing circle has to be finished and the apron poured but the track surface is reckoned to be flat to the mm.  The European tethered car championships return to western Europe this July with a contingent of British drivers and supporters already booked for the trip.

The last few seasons have been somewhat difficult for the Sydney Club, not least the weather, which is still making International headlines. Unfortunately, this meant we lost the regular updates from Luddenham, so we were delighted to receive news and photos from Glenn Bransby. To illustrate the extremes of weather they have been experiencing, the lake that they were hoping to run hydros on has gone from being far too deep to get a pylon in to bone dry. A somewhat dilapidated video cassette of the 1998 World Championships has been loaned to us, that features many vintage cars being run. A bit of technological jiggery pokkery has enabled it to be transferred to DVD for posterity and shows the lake bone dry in 1998 as well.

Although we have taken off the race an track day reports, there were so many interesting cars on display during 2019 at Gt Carlton that we have put together a gallery of some of the more exciting items that have appeared as well as some new and exciting cars for 2020. There is also a set of photos of the track taken from a drone.

A very public manifestation of the topic we discussed in Pylon in August last year regarding one party holding another to ransom over a part. Well, this one made the International press and concerned a gearbox. Having obtained a very rare and extremely valuable car sans original gearbox, the new owner tried to negotiate for said original item. Price, a cool half million dollars and you arrange collection, too much, then you don't get it, and so far, he hasn't. Mind you, what's an odd half million when the car cost thirty seven of them?

An addition to our occasional updates on tethered car track with more photos from Lyon and another French track that has now been demolished for good, Dieppe. Luckily OTW was able to photograph it before the diggers moved in. Does anyone have any photos from when the track was active please?

Empty Spaces: December did not start well with news of the sudden deaths of two very long standing tethered car enthusiasts.

Keith Bragg: From the early days at Souldrop through to the last meeting of the season at Gt Carlton, Keith was one of the most regular participants, even during the latter days of his declining health. He was a consummate modeller, especially in the area of model boats where he built display models on commission and restored untold numbers of boats and yachts of every description. His modelling skills extended to model railways, aircraft and tethered cars, which is how we first met him at a Halton exhibition, many years ago.

As well as building numerous aircars, including Redair in 1996 that exceeded 35mph with a PAW 1.5, Keith built superb bodies for vintage chassis that had come his way including an M&E Wasp and Challenger and an Electra 2A. Such was his skill that he was a competitor at International level with his scale boats, travelling to Poland in 1995 for the NAVIGA championships with a steam launch. He won numerous national championships, a bronze medal at European Championships and a silver at the World Championships. A member of several clubs, Keith was also the treasurer for the MPBA for a while. A lovely man and a superb modeller who will be sadly missed, our condolences to Barbara and the family.

Dieter Hecht: Dieter's involvement with tethered cars spans well over five decades. The first record is of him becoming DMMC Junior 2,5cc Champion in 1964 at just under 140kph, joining the Hannover Club in 1965? He travelled to many world and European championships including Anderson Indiana in 1974 where he came 3rd in the 2.5cc Class. He appears regularly in race reports from 1981, firstly with an Arlautzki car and Rossi motor, and then a Denneler car and Picco, which was much more successful, becoming the German Champion for the first time in 1983.

After a serious illness he returned to the sport, incorporating his own ideas, which netted him three more German Championships and a European Championship in 2012. His German 10cc record of 337.518kph still stands. Besides the tethered cars he became an official scrutineer at motor cycle races and was the race organiser for the 1976 EC at Hannover.  To honour his involvement in motor sport, the ADAC awarded him the Golden Ewald Kroth Medal with wreath and the ADAC badge of honor in silver.  Thanks to David Giles for his memories of Dieter.

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