Gerry Buck continued
The effort in producing ‘Topsy’, the criticism that had surrounded him and the rise of the ‘buy it, race it’ style of competitor seemed to lessen Gerry’s enthusiasm and in something of a backlash he formed the Meteor Club. It was created in his ‘own image’, with him as Secretary. Membership was by invitation, you only got in if you built and ran your own cars and if you were not a continuously active member then you would soon be an ex member. Each meeting would start with a ceremonial run by ‘Old Number 1’ before the action would get under way.
With no major car projects on hand and having ‘done’ hydros and locomotives Gerry was drawn to the newly arrived sport of control line model aircraft. First he had to learn to fly the planes from the centre of a circle and what better place than the car track at his parent’s house. Soon he was able to fly confidently in stunt competitions and moved on quickly to the cut and thrust of team racing and inevitably to speed flying.
Not content just with control line flying, Gerry also built and flew free flight planes, and one of the earliest model helicopters seen in this country The foray into flying completed what must be a unique achievement in the world of modelling, winning speed contests with planes, boats and cars.
In the late spring of 1949 daughter Gillian was born, but the extra family responsibility did not seem to slow Gerry down. A trip to London for the second meeting of the Model Car Association resulted in a great deal of discussion about the regulation and definition of records, a subject very dear to Gerry’s heart.
He was firmly of the opinion that a British record should be just that. British car, British engine, British tyres etc, while a significant number of others, all with a vested interest it has to be said, reckoned that it was any record set in Britain wherever the car or competitor came from.
Gerry thought that this would sound the death knell for the inventive homebuilder and allow the sport to become chequebook based.
In the end a compromise was agreed, with all records being duplicated under British or Open categories. Of course, a completely British car such as ‘Topsy’ could take records in both. At the Austin trophy meeting at Eaton Bray in May ‘Topsy’ again excelled setting new British record for ¼ mile at 109.87mph, ½ mile at 102 and 1 mile at 105.5mph.
This very success was bringing Gerry a great deal of adverse criticism by those who suggested that his achievements were due to money rather than dedication and hard work and his fervent support for home building and ‘British’ records was to bring protracted correspondence, heated debate, a great deal of argument and one of the most amusing, or galling, if you were on the wrong side of it, episodes in Gerry’s competitive career.
Never one to shun a challenge and bearing in mind that he had never raced in other than the 10cc class Gerry reckoned that he could build a 2.5cc car that would be competitive and show that you did not have to spend a fortune or go the commercial route. In just a day Gerry had produced ‘Wee 2’, a 2.49cc Elfin engine bolted on to a crude frame and a driving wheel in place of a propellor. A simple body covered up the works and Gerry was in business.
Not only was ‘Wee 2’ soon competitive, but with a bit of tuning and extra work ended the season as the fastest 2.5cc car in the country, holding the ¼, ½, and 1 mile records in both the British and Open class. Gerry had proved his point in the most resounding manner possible.
In October 49, he joined a British Team for a trip to Sweden an in spite of consistent runs for ‘Topsy’ at 110 mph he was beaten on each occasion by American cars and engines. His only success was a class win with ‘Wee 2’. The season finished with Gerry still holding 6 British and 4 Open records, but he was becoming disenchanted with what was happening in the sport and the desire to see a competitive commercial British engine was not being realised.
In April 1950, Model Cars published a feature on Gerry in the ‘Man and His Models’ series. It did not reveal overly much about him but did go a long way to explaining the reasons and methods behind his continued success. The article also went to great lengths to show the true extent of the facilities available to Gerry and explode the myth of him having ‘bought’ his achievements.
Photographs show all the machine and hand tools plus ancillary equipment, not in some extensive workshop, but carefully and neatly arranged in a spare bedroom.
Gerry was at pains to point out that "He did not smoke or drink and that everything to be seen was collected over 20 years and represented saving and self denial."
The first major meeting of the season was again the Austin Trophy and to everyone’s amazement the first car from the Buck pit was a C&C ‘Curly Special’ from the US with a McCoy 61 engine. The first two runs with this car produced a speed of 115.39 mph, emphasising the superiority of the American equipment.
Anyone who suggested that Gerry did not have a sense of humour or an appreciation of the ridiculous should have been at Rists on the 27th August when ‘Wee 2’ completed no less than 400 laps in under 14 minutes to take the British and open 2.5cc records for 5 and 10 miles. In another sneaky tilt at his detractors he produced a 5cc car to take the open and British 5 and 10 mile record in that class as well.
Gerry made the short journey to Derby in September and showed that he was not going to give up without a struggle. ‘Topsy’ proved her pedigree with a phenomenal run of 114.64 for the ¼ mile continuing for the ½ mile at 113.56 setting British records for both distances. The MCA finals at the Worcester track in September signalled the effective end of the national and international competition career of Gerry Buck. A run of 115.53 mph was only good enough for second place in the 10cc class, but ‘Wee 2’ gave Gerry one last MCA title in the 2.5cc class.
|A. Austin Trophy.
B. Hastings Trophy
C. Percival Marshall
|D. Russell Trophy.
E. Dundee Speed Trophy.
F. Jaguar Trophy.
Photo montage of trophies and MCA Records awarded.
Now having to spend less time working on his cars, Gerry was beginning to suffer from the ‘collecting’ bug and began to acquire not only more cars and engines, but all sorts of mechanical objects including music boxes that he bought and renovated. During the autumn a seemingly innocuous event fired up Gerry’s interest again and set him off on another course entirely. Henri Baigent sent Gerry a calendar illustrated with pictures of rail racing cars. This was the ideal antidote to Round The Pole as there was car versus car competition rather than a time trial, the cars had to be modelled on existing full sized cars and a deal of ingenuity was required to make them behave in a ‘racing car fashion’ on the track. This was a new challenge indeed. Very soon a selection of model ‘Grand Prix’ racers were taking shape on the workbench. Gerry really enjoyed this version of racing and soon his designs and articles were being published to aid other competitors. The rail racing was intended to be fun, but as was normal, his cars were immaculate scale creations, beautifully engineered, as that was the only way he was prepared to work.
In 1951 Gerry Buck announced that he was retiring from racing ‘round the pole’. He had been at the top level of competition for seven years and held no less than 15 MCA records at that time.
With the ending of any active involvement with tethered racing cars Gerry was free to devote more time to the RC models he was working on. A Launch of impressive proportions was one of the first models to be built for RC and ‘Old Number 1’ soon had a set of radio gear fitted to it.
With a 2cc Movo engine, geared down to give about 6mph, the car could be happily steered around the front of the house at a sedate speed. Contemporary pictures show a suitable helmeted figure at the wheel.
The winter of 1953 saw the birth of a second daughter, Shirley, which meant that space at Beacon House was at a premium so a larger house was on the cards. After a bit of searching the family plus the workshop contents and the considerable collection made the move to ‘Bella Vista’ in Endon Village in 1955. Now, for the first time ever, Gerry had a proper workshop.
The collecting gathered momentum, with many notable engines, cars, clocks, locomotives, and much larger stationary engines being added to the list as well as huge quantities of spares from various commercial concerns.
Gerry’s father died in 1961 leaving the two brothers to run the Jewellery business until in 1967 Ron’s son Phillip joined them. Gerry carried on working until 1971 when he retired at the age of 55. Another family loss occurred in 1969 with the death of Joan, just 52 years old, compounded in 1977 when his youngest daughter Shirley fell ill and died. In eight years he had lost both his wife and youngest daughter and these events had a profound effect on Gerry. The elder of his two daughters, Gill, married in 1973 and he was delighted by the arrival of his granddaughters Debbie and Stephanie.
Now living alone, the extra space at Bella Vista was soon occupied by additions to the ever-growing collection that eventually filled every room and spare space in the house. A canal boat and a VW camper provided Gerry with the means to get out and about and he would enjoy cruises with friends and touring holidays in the VW. The workshop was not neglected as he was still building models including radio control gliders that he used to take up to Hen Cloud or the Roaches. In August 1981 he reached 65, but he showed no signs of slowing down. In September he jokingly suggested that ‘at least he had got one month’s pension’, but on a visit to Buxton later that month he suffered a massive heart attack. An ambulance was summoned, but sadly he did not survive the trip to hospital.
On 17th September 1981 Gerry Buck died on the way to the hospital, four weeks after his 65th birthday.
|Gerry Buck 1916 - 1981
Gerry with the 1933 hydroplane 'Betty'
The world of tethered car racing owed a great deal to the enthusiasm and skill of Gerry Buck and his willingness to share experiences and information. His name is still held in the highest regard, his cars have attained the status of icons and are synonymous with the popularity and success of the sport during its ‘golden era’.
It has been a privilege to have worked on this appreciation of Gerry Buck and OTW acknowledges that the venture would not have been possible without the enthusiastic help of his daughter Gill who has been unfailingly helpful in providing information, original photos, press cuttings as well as allowing access to the cars, which was an immense personal thrill. We would also like to thank Bob Gray, Jim Large, Mike Day and Bill Langley for their valuable contributions.
A fully illustrated and unabridged 28-page version of ‘A Man And His Models’ is available from OTW email@example.com