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Pitbox Special

 A little bit of Arthur Weaver

It is the intention and ambition of OTW to produce an article detailing the life and work of Arthur Weaver, who was one of the most prolific and accomplished engineers involved with tethered cars and hydroplanes. Arthur though was something of an enigmatic figure, and piecing together details of his very extensive modelling activities, along with some more personal material is turning out to be another of our ‘long term projects’. As a taster we have put together this ‘Pitbox Special’ to give a little background information and feature just a few of his vast output of models that have turned up recently.

The Rumour

It must have been nearly three years ago that Peter Hill first heard mention of an Arthur Weaver hydroplane having been found. This was not a complete surprise as he had been sent pictures of one several years earlier, but with no further details forthcoming it was not known if it was the same boat. In conversations we speculated whether it might be an early ‘Wizard of Oz’ or ‘Fleche D’Or’, but then all went very quiet for a long while and nothing more was heard of it.

Right: Wizard of Oz winner of the Willis Cup at the 1974 ME Exhibition

In the meantime, it transpired, that amongst a whole collection of Weaver material that John Goodall had obtained sometime previously was a motor that could possibly have been for a hydro and one with mounts and flywheel that definitely was intended for a boat. Could the mystery boat have been for either of these engines? It was academic as there was no further contact until earlier this year when the rumour became reality.

The hull was in Derbyshire and had a V33 registration but as yet no more info. This was exciting and frustrating at the same time, but eventually some photos were obtained, which opened up a whole new can or worms.

There was no doubt it was one of Arthur’s boats as it was an almost exact copy of the Willis Cup winning ‘Wizard Of Oz’. This would put it late in his racing career that started in the 40s but was brought to a premature end by illness. Searches of magazines revealed no further information and study of the pictures only served to indicate that the mounts were not intended to fit any of the engines in John’s possession. Peter Hill’s first thought was that it was intended for an ETA 29, which was the standard 5cc motor being used at the time. It was obvious that although very dirty, the hull was absolutely complete, even to the original flax bridles.

Several more months were to pass before Peter saw the boat in the flesh, which enabled him to solve the mystery in double quick time. There was a belief, and indicated by much of the material John Goodall had obtained, that Arthur Weaver had been working with AMCO after the establishment of the new company at Alperton. A quick measure of the engine mounts and the odd positioning of the fuel knock-off, still with tube attached, confirmed that the boat had been built for a standard AMCO 3.5 BB, something of an unusual choice for the 5cc class?

The hull had been stored somewhere very dry but exceedingly dirty so a great deal of elbow grease was required to get all the muck off and reveal the grey metalflake paint finish. The ‘Wizard’ is grey metallic, but this is definitely metalflake. This was certainly a case of case of conservation rather than restoration, as this finish would be impossible to replicate.

The joints that had opened up were reglued and then filled with evaporated metallic paint, as were the bare patches and major dings. Other than that, nothing more was done to the hull.

The other interesting item was the bulkhead-mounted fuel tank. This penetrated the front bulkhead and an attempt to remove it had more and more coming out until it fouled the engine mounts. Engine mounts were unbolted and still the tank kept coming, until two cut-outs in the bottom corner of the flange just cleared the engine mount screws. It was a monster at over 3" long and measured up at 115cc, almost enough for a seasons running? The cut-off was something of a necessity and a remarkable piece of engineering alone.

All that is needed is an AMCO 3.5 and some clue as to what the silencing arrangements were and this ‘rumour’ has become a distinct reality. Does beg the question as to whether there is yet another Weaver hydro out there though, as this is not the one in the photos sent to Peter all those years ago? See update below.

Update: Thanks to a correct 'Alperton' prototype AMCO BB by courtesy of Steve Betney and a lot of fiddling about with exhausts, the renovation is complete. No contemporary evidence about the silencers has yet come to light, so it was down to guesswork, TLAR and the existing holes to come up with the current arrangement.

Thanks to Bob Cheshire, Peter Hill and John Goodall for help, photos and information.

The Mystery

This started of with some photos that David Giles had been sent from Australia. He passed them on to see if we had any further ideas as to what the two cars might be. The first one was relatively simple as it was home built, using a selection of components from D.C. Howell of Eastbourne. It was the second car that was more interesting as it was a very close scale model of a Formula 2 Cooper Bristol, as raced by Mike Hawthorn amongst others. The front suspension and wheels were a very close copy of the original car, but someone had discarded the correct rear wheels for a pair of functional items. Apart from that piece of vandalism, it looked an extremely well made and accurate model and definitely something out of the ordinary.

It was the photo on the left, taken with the bonnet off that piqued my curiosity, as nestling in there between a pair of angle aluminium rails was an ETA 29 and a very familiar fuel tank. The whole layout was very reminiscent of a series of models built in 1952/3 by Rex Hays, Arthur Weaver and Henri Baigent, but was one of them responsible for this car? To me it looked like the work of Weaver, but without photos of the drive, suspension mounts, gearbox etc, it was impossible to confirm this. An email was despatched asking for more detailed photos, and in the meanwhile it was another session of magazine searching for the relevant articles.

Model Maker for April 1953 carried an article by Arthur Weaver describing how he was mass producing a number of externally correct Cooper Bristol models, but built to enable them to be run as tethered cars. He had been commissioned by the owners of the REDeX petrol treatment company to produce two models of their own full sized Cooper Bristol, which carried the name ‘REDeX Special’. In the article, Weaver mentions that there were hints that more models might be required, which was why he had set up to build six in one go. He adapted the design from his very successful railcars just enlarging it all round. The chassis was two sections of aluminium angle with an open bevel gearbox at one end, and a suspension mount at the other. The rear axle was solid, but still having the transverse leaf spring and lower wishbones, which were attached to false brake drums. The front suspension was scale and fully working with uprights and spring shock absorbers. Each of the wishbones was fabricated from twelve pieces of metal silver soldered together. The distinctive Cooper wheels were cast from a metal pattern fitted with tyres that Weaver made to suit.

When the extra photos arrived, it did not take long in comparing them with the originals to confirm that the mystery car was of Weaver origin. Every aspect of the chassis matched up with the pictures published in Model Maker, every screw, all the suspensions details, mountings, clutch and gearbox. Even the fuel cut-off bore a striking resemblance to the on in the hydro.

But, and it was a big but, the car discovered had a plastic or composite body of some sort, exact scale and superbly made, yet the two original REDeX cars had bodies from aluminium panels? (see update below)

There is no doubt that the entire chassis is one of Arthur Weaver’s, but whether the car is one of the others that he referred to in the article or a rebodied REDeX example, requires further research. It is unfortunate that the rear wheels and wishbones have gone missing, but these could be replicated to replace what has been fitted. Certainly it is an exciting find as there has always been conjecture as to whether one of these cars had survived. Happily, a smaller railcar version of the Cooper Bristol, also made by Weaver, was amongst the gems obtained by John Goodall and does bear a striking resemblance to its bigger brother.

Thanks to Rohan Cleary for all the photos and David Giles. (Photoshop for the new rear wheel)

Update:- Ever curious, Rohan had a pick at the paint and underneath the layers discovered an aluminium body shell and the original 'REDex' paint finish. This was the final confirmation that this was indeed one of the 'REDex' Cooper Bristols, making it a very important find indeed.

The Teaser

It would be impossible to calculate just how many engines, cars and boats Arthur Weaver built in his career and happily a few have surfaced, but a large number effectively have vanished, especially some of his earlier large scale cars. All that exist of these at present are photos in magazines. People have recollections of seeing them in Gerry Buck’s collection, but always the question is, where are they now? Weaver’s possible involvement with AMCO is another avenue that has opened for investigation, so OTW has a serious task ahead to try and make sense of all the material to hand, as well as getting a handle on the man responsible for it all. Here though is a taste of some of the items that are posing the questions we are trying to answer.

AMCO based hydroplane motor Cooper-Bristol rail car Serious racing motor, but for what?

Our continued thanks and gratitude to John Goodall for allowing OTW access to his unique collection of Weaver items and for all the help and information that he has provided during this long term project.

Update March 2012

Following the discovery and subsequent restoration of the hull intended for an AMCO 3.5 BB, the existence of a similar motor, complete with engine mounts (seen above) was intriguing. The bolt spacing in the mounts exactly matched those in Wizard Of Oz, but that hull was much wider. The hull that had been discovered had conventional mounts, so the question as posed earlier in the article was still ‘was there yet another Weaver hull out there'? As so often happens, it was again Peter Hill who provided the vital clue. In one of his regular articles in Model Boats back in 1990 he had published a photo of a hull, with a V33 registration number on the foredeck. We now know that the V33 number was Weaver's and yet the hull was significantly different from the one discovered more recently. There seemed little doubt that this was another of Weaver's hydros and through Peter, we were able to contact the then owner, who still had the boat, along with an ED Comp Special that he had fitted.

Studying the photos that the owner kindly sent to us, it looked very likely from the pattern of the mounting holes and position of the hole for the fuel cut off, that the AMCO on its mounts would fit straight in to the hull.

This thought was further strengthened when it was discovered that both boat and engine had originated from the collection of the late Gerry Buck, although some 15 years apart.

This posed an interesting challenge for OTW. We knew where both the hull and motor were, and knew both owners, so was there any possibility of reuniting the two items? When we first published the original article, it seemed unlikely. However, after publishing a photo of the boat in Pitbox and suggesting the possibility to him, the owner of the hull indicated that he might be willing to part with it. Halfway there! At the Midland Exhibition we outlined the situation to the owner of the motor John Goodall, for his thoughts. As far as OTW was concerned, the prime purpose was to get the engine and boat back together and two possible ways forward presented themselves.

After negotiation, it was agreed that John would purchase the hull and make arrangements to collect it. At that stage a degree of nervousness crept in, as someone else was now taking the risk that our observations and thoughts might not be correct. Eventually John travelled up to Lancashire, and to our relief, found that his engine fitted Alan’s hull perfectly. Alan remarked that it was almost like a 'Time Team revelation' with each bolt lining up, one after the other. The following week John Goodall brought the complete boat down to the Old Warden Swapmeet for our perusal and a photography session.

Weaver modified AMCO back in the hull Slight damage to the foredeck, but otherwise, perfect.

What is immediately obvious is that apart from the exhaust extensions, there seems to be no provision for silencing so was the boat ever run, or indeed completed? There might be a clue in the position of the hole for the fuel cut off? It is positioned perfectly for a standard AMCO BB, yet the motor has a modified and more conventional rear backplate with a straight venturi. Was the motor removed for these mods and never refitted, or was it another development motor to replace a standard BB?

Thanks to a good friend of Arthur Weaver's who kindly contacted us, we learnt that he had moved up to Staffordshire for a while after leaving London, and it may well have been there that Gerry Buck obtained the cars, engines and this hull. We are still trying to piece together the life and modelling exploits of AW, but to be instrumental in getting this hull and engine back together after 40 years or more of separation is immensely satisfying. It could not have happened though without the understanding and cooperation of Alan Whitehead and John Goodall, so thanks to them both.

The story of Arthur Weaver is still to come, but more pieces are being added.