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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 is 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.

By way of a bit of extra help this season, we have added a calendar to the retro page that lists the events in Britain that could be of interest. We will add others as they become available. This includes all the Retro Racing Club track days for the season.

Alexandra Palace was again the meeting point for fans of darts and snooker along with many modellers who make the annual trek. The Model Hydroplane Club was again on hand with a stand full of boats and information, including two flash steam record holders. Thanks to all those who set up and looked after the stand.

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. See Oliver's update from the BMFA Centre for photos and details. 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 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.

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.

This month’s edition is very much on a theme as the new Album presents some of the restorations by Retro Club members that represent varying levels of the questions posed above. 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. The first is one member’s personal view on restoration and their philosophy, illustrated with contemporary examples. 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. His page is now up and running again with a selection of photos from the track and the recent World Championships in Brisbane. 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.

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.