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View From The Pylon

Early last month the BMFA published a timetable for the reopening of the national centre at Buckminster, which includes the new tethered car track. As long as there are no major setbacks there will be a gradual relaxation of restrictions that should allow day visitors to enjoy the facilities from August 3rd. Until then it was season ticket holders only. This is encouraging as a look at the calendar for last month shows red lines through the Grand Regatta, the European tethered car Championships and a Retro Club track day, another 2,000+ miles and a not inconsiderable lightening of the exchequer along the way. These events would have provided the bulk of the material for this edition, a recurring theme unfortunately, so thanks again to all who have helped with articles.

August 2020

The unfortunate circumstances of the last few months have led to us delving deeper into digital and Freesat channels and in the process finding some fascinating programmes that have had a direct connection or struck a chord along the way. One was one of the many ‘find it, fix it and flog it’ shows that have become prevalent, but in this case the item dug out of obscurity was a real tethered car. The researchers had previously contacted OTW for our advice and thoughts as to what was needed to do to the car and where they could run it for the grand reveal. Having answered all their questions they then decided that the production schedule was too tight to do a decent job, hence we saw Henry Cole trying to run a very nice 5cc car from the early 50s, but with bodged up rear wheels and rubber rings that did not last the course. Could have been so much better presented but that is not what they are about, just refer to Henry’s wondrous accounting system on his forays around autojumbles and auctions. No idea what happened to the car after the show either and no chance to look at it closely to even identify its origins.

The other has been the father and son duo of History Hunters who deal in militaria. The clue is in the title as they spend a great deal of time, effort and not a little money in establishing the history of items and the provenance to go with them. They consider that these two elements will add immensely to the value and status of the item, but they are also fully aware of the pitfalls that can lurk along the way. There is a world of difference between could, might and was. As followers of OTW will know, we share this desire to attach and preserve history and provenance to an item, not for the value, as unlike War and Son we are entirely non commercial, but because we can share it, both with owners and the wider audience. Some would question whether it is important, and judging by the lengths that vendors will go to providing an entirely false history, then commercially it seems likely. On the other hand are those that don’t value or respect the provenance or integrity of an item at all such as the Wainwright car featured in June. Very recently though it has been pointed out in a different context that people may not even be aware, but how can you have something and not want to know its history? Along the way have collected something approaching a virtual ‘black museum’ of cars and boats that have had their history ruined by various means that we rail against privately and share with OTW readers when it will not cause offence.

The militaria programme has a more personal connection though as both paternal and maternal grandfathers fought in the Battle of the Somme, in the same area at the same time. One had a very pivotal role in a historic action that is recorded in numerous volumes, the other less so, but he did leave a daily diary of his entire wartime experience. Somewhere out there are the named medal groups for these two WW1 soldiers, but neither resides with the families. Both groups have history and provenance but the owner of the one group does not have a family connection and the owner of the other does not have the provenance.

It is always a pleasure when we are notified on an item that can be identified and even better when its builder or owner is also known and a full house if its history is continuous. Same with photos if we know or can find out names, locations and details. That was one of the problems facing the purchasers of all the albums and boxes of photos at the second of Miquel’s sales in 2004, thousands of images but exceedingly difficult to identify even a small proportion of them. Even now batches of these are turning up for sale awaiting some knowledgeable or keen purchaser to continue the task.

The Pitbox this month is one such item. We know what it is have a pretty good idea of its origins, but its precise history is unknown so it is definitely a ‘could be’. Our Photo is of two ‘cool’ hydro men casting their gaze over an Eastern European hydro when those were the ones to beat.

How often on the TV programmes we refer to above has the phrase, ‘I found it in a box of bits that I bought’ been heard. Well, here is the story of a tethered car that came via this route having passed through more than a few hands before the lucky discovery.

Long Lost Lakes returns with what was reckoned to be ‘the fastest lake in the country’, purpose built in the 70s but later reverting to nature after problems at the venue. Kevin Fleet has provided us with more recent photos of what remains of the Cotswold Club lake at South Cerney and the redevelopment that still has not happened. Thanks to Kevin for this update.

We have made numerous appeals for information concerning the whereabouts of the cars of Arthur Weaver and Carl Wainwright so we were delighted to receive an email from someone who believed he had Arthur's own, and very distinctive Cooper Bristol. Photos confirmed that it was this very car so we can now add some hard information to its more recent history, including details of an earlier sale at auction. Thankfully, the car is more or less as Arthur last saw it nearly fifty years ago and still missing its engine.

They are still at it, a Russian schools car for £650 and another for $1400, methinks a touch of realism is called for?

Gavle started the ball rolling with a post covid tethered car meeting and now there have been small scale events in several countries. With restrictions still in place the Swiss Club hosted a one day event at Witterswill, a stark contrast to the European Championship that they had been preparing for that week. Results for all meetings are available as usual on speedmodelcar but Philipp Meier and Christoph Zaugg have kindly sent brief notes of their experiences on the day, plus photos of a less happy outcome. There is a meeting scheduled for Hannover in August, again with strict CV restrictions in place.

Work has been on going at the Buckminster tethered car track and with the safety fence now erected and the grass infield and surround growing, it really does look superb and a tribute to all those who have been working on the project. There is still work to be done, but essentially the track is now ready for racing, with the first event scheduled for early this month. As with all events at the moment, numbers are strictly limited with CV precautions in place at all times. We hope to bring you a report from the weekend in next month's edition, the first time OTW will have been on the road since March. To give you all a taster, Oliver Monk has sent photos and a report from the latest 'running day' late in July, restricted to season ticket holders only. Thanks to Oliver and Steve Betney for keeping us up to date on the progress of this venture.  The technical regulations for running cars and use of the Buckminster track have now been formulated and have been added to the Buckminster page.


July 2020

At last positive and encouraging news. Tethered car races have been taking place in Sweden, the US and Hungary where a huge amount of work has been done to upgrade the track in Kaposvar. National meetings are being rescheduled and extra events put in for those starved of activity. For up to date details on the European tethered car calendar go the the speedmodelcar website. As can be seen later in Pylon, the new British track at Buckminster is now operational. CV restrictions have been lifted sufficiently to allow the first running of cars on this fantastic project but only with very limited access to the site. Less hopeful for tethered hydroplane racing in the UK as it is impossible to adhere to social distancing while starting and launching a boat meaning that the two day International meeting is officially cancelled for the second time in six years, last time due to Avian flu, is there a theme here?  Ironic that petrol is at its lowest price for many a year, yet we are still not able to take advantage. June was yet another month with a calendar full of events that are no more so a chance to dig out some different material for this edition. Thanks again to all who are stepping into the void left from the lack of event reports.

Spending time, as we do, trawling through archive material has led to a certain fascination with those builders of cars and engines that did not have the luxury of workshops that are now taken for granted. What is quite apparent is that this did not deter the people in question, but required an immense amount of dedication and ingenuity, not to mention help and assistance from friends and the occasional ‘homer’ that will be well known to many. Of course, many of them were highly skilled coming from an age of tool making and working in manufacturing industries. In addition, most would have gained a good background in using machines and hand tools during their schooldays, definitely a bygone age in all respects. We do have evidence of some extensive workshop facilities even from the turn of the last century but from material that has turned up, this was not the case for many.

Two of our early and successful competitors lived in flats with nowhere to work at all, relying on evening classes and their model engineering societies and club for access to tools and equipment. Others worked from spare rooms and bedrooms in their houses and must have had long suffering spouses to put up with the mess, smells, noise and the occasional conflagration when the bottom fell out of a ladle of molten aluminium in the lounge having been removed from the grate where it was melting. Yes, castings indoors, a lathe in the sons bedroom, treadled by elder son, any means necessary to get the engine, boat or car built.

Someone of our immediate acquaintance continued his entire modelling career until retirement through ‘homers’. For the unitiated this was using the firms tools, equipment (materials) and time if it could be wangled in order to do their own work. Sometimes this was even with the blessing of the management. At one local company they actually employed an ex foundryman who would do unofficial work for the company and ‘homers’ for the work force. What an enlightened attitude. Times have changed now though as there is little in the way of training in the practical skills, either in schools or further education. Apart from the growing number of ‘Men’s Sheds’ very few facilities now exist in private homes, manufacturing industries are very scarce and model engineering societies are finding it more difficult to function. It is difficult to comprehend nowadays how someone like William Blaney could set to and make a crude lathe before beginning to build his engines or how an award winning, multi cylinder, radial engine could be created from scratch with just a treadle lathe and hand tools?

New Album this month featuring ‘flash steam survivors’, a selection of tethered hydroplanes that have survived despite the perils of pressurised fuel tanks, raging blowlamps along with steam pressures and temperatures of almost unimaginable values, all working within the confines a thin plywood box.

The Pitbox is a bit of an oddball as it is a glass plate negative that turned up on ebay of an as yet unidentified tethered car but with some familiar features that helped correct the erroneous dating.

Something that has been a long time in the gestation as it is a little beyond our immediate remit is a gallery of railcars, the sport that took over in the UK from tethered cars when enthusiasts became disenchanted with the continual search for speed.

The great news for all tethered car enthusiasts is that the Buckminster track is now operational. The less good news is that until the relaxing of the CV restrictions and suitable health measures put in place, it will not be available to anyone other than Buckminster season ticket holders. From the original proposals we saw at Ally Pally for a shared track within a control line circle to a FEMA sized, dedicated car track is a tribute to all those who have put in countless hours of work on the planning, raising money, physical work on site, and sourcing the items required to run cars. Thanks also to all those who have donated items or cash to allow it all to progress. Unfortunately and entirely due to the current crisis the fund raising events and opportunities have not been able to go ahead so reports of the maiden runs on the track from Oliver Monk and Steve Betney does contain the inevitable plea for more donations. Our thanks to Oliver and Steve for their continued input and articles on this project.

Another effect of CV is that Alex Phin's car project is stalled as supplies of his kits, tyres and wheels are locked down in foreign parts. However, as John Goodall has now sent details of the completion of his Vanwall version of the prototype car, we have added a page dedicated to the Redfin Project where we have added all the material to hand on the engines, cars and components. More will be added as further details become available from Alex and we will also post photos of cars built from the kits or using the Redfin twinshaft motor.

News from Peter Hill that assuming the continued relaxation of restrictions, he is proposing the first Retro Club track day of the season could take place early in September. He is suggesting a convenient date between the 12th and 20th. There is a possibility that there may also be the first Old Warden that was originally scheduled for the 19/20th. If you have a preference for a date or any further information then please contact Peter. Everything is of course dependent on changes in the number of people that can gather in one place (legally that is).

With the prospect of a gathering interest in tethered car racing in the UK, retro, modern builds or FEMA style, sources of supplies for parts become ever more important. We have added to our Spares page a selection of tyres that have been moulded by our long time, but now retired 'Aussie corro' Mark Mansell. In addition there are a selection of useful parts for builder available from Lev Shprints. We have featured rear wheels, a gearbox casing and a fuel knock off. For wheels, tyres, kits and motors for the smaller twinshaft and other cars, Pavel Sarigins always has an interesting and useful selection available on ebay where he trades as P12man.

The entire collection of engines, spares, material and other items resulting from the loss of one of our long time competitors is currently being sold in batches on ebay. Search for items from hydroplane0 to see what is currently on offer. Starting prices are most realistic, unlike a couple of vendors, one of whom is asking a record £1,000+ for an incomplete 'schools car' and another who bought a listed item and then relisted it for over double the previous price.

Last January, Pylon talked about holding people to ransom for parts and the case of a missing gearbox worth a cool half million that the then owner refused to pass on. Well, after long and expensive proceedings, the court found in favour of the purchaser, so now he can have a completely original car, assuming the gearbox does not go missing again?

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