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Swedish Reminiscences

My first ever visit to Sweden occurred in 2005 after an invite from Kjell-Erik Odelius who, after my book on the Oliver marque was published, asked me to present it to those who visit the Brommakannan at Orebro, the 'Old Timer' and modern tether car event which takes place in early May each year. He further suggested he would pick me up from the nearest airport to Orebro, which was Vasteras roughly 100km from the municipal tether car track, and share accommodation with me at the Sanna Kroa Motel nearby.

He was true to his word and after a very cheap Ryanair flight we were soon on our way down to Orebro in Kjell’s car, a Volvo of course. We called at a friend of Kjell’s about half way, Martii Tavast who lived alone, but to me a kindred spirit who loved model engines, having a vast collection plus many other collectables including books, oil lamps, model planes, steam engines and several vintage motorcycles. He also had a fully equipped engineering workshop in the basement.

Needless to say we got on well and still do to this day, both men becoming very good friends. His bungalow was literally stuffed with artefacts making it almost impossible for us to sit, or for him to lie down in his bed. This is how, or possibly why he lived alone I later surmised?

The Sanna Kroa was a typical Swedish log cabin type of building and had two tiers of cabins one on top of the other, it was nice and warm with the usual facilities and a good restaurant plus, at that time, a petrol filling station and small shop. It was situated on E18 a main trunk road to be by-passed a few year’s later. It was then very busy.

After a good self-service breakfast we headed for the track and I was introduced to all the Swedes and one Norwegian, there were two other Brits Stan Barrett and Ken Willshire neither of whom I had met previously.

Right: 'Old timer' cars with Stan Barrett left and Mats Böhlin right

I had taken the ex Gerry Buck 'Bottoms Up' with disc valve induction, a very early Oliver Tiger twin shaft of which only seven were made. After recently making a replica of the lost original prototype Tiger I know why they soon changed to rotary valve, being much easier to productionise and replicate. My first run on the very hard original Raylite tyres caused the car to flip and in the next run to shed the body top half. My second run improved to 96kph from 86 kph on the first, not bad for this plain bearing engine on aged tyres. The Old Timer event winner event is determined by declaring the nominated speed and then achieving the nearest to it in the two, timed official runs. I only wanted to record a time, speed not being that important to me, as I had never run a tether car previously and this was my second only visit to a car track!! My first being the Derby Raynesway track when my father took me before I reached my teens in circa 1949.

Firing up the 55 year old Oliver John with sale items Janne Oberg's Dooling and Rossi cars

The modern cars simply blew my mind, they are impossible to track by eye and it becomes a noise spectacle with eyes clamped to the timing display to see the speed gradually climbing once on the pipe, to their maximum and then after shutting off, several laps to come to a stop. I was told the 1.5cc car engines ran up to almost 45 000 revs and even the 10cc at close to 38,000 mind boggling. Today they run to even higher speeds I understand?? (this was also the first outing for Mats Böhlin's new 10cc cars, one of which went on to win two European Championships)

Disc valve Bottom's Up. Tiger Two Five DV and MkII RV motors

I had taken a few engines to try and sell together with a few of my books as advised by KEO. The two books that did not sell, I gave as prizes on the final day, which ended with a meal provided by the host club and their ladies using the shared Club House as a venue. I had been made extremely welcome and they implored me to ask John S. Oliver to join me the next year and I agreed to approach him. Kjell took me back to Vasteras airport and an uneventful trip back home, refusing to accept any payment for my accommodation, or daily transport. A most enjoyable and enlightening experience, which was to be repeated in future years.

At the turn of the year John S. Oliver now aged 82 had agreed to the invitation and I booked four seats return with Ryanair from Stansted to Vasteras again and a suitable hire car a Volvo V50 to act as our transport. Stan Barrett and my son Paul joined us to share the costs. Lars-Olaf Johansson who had become a friend and customer kindly booked two rooms at the Sanna Kroa Motel for us and so all was arranged. We met at 04.30 in the morning at the booking in desk at Stansted and a problem soon arose?? A keen customs lady detected a smell she did not like in my luggage which turned out to be the paint on a Teardrop car I just built with a Jena twin cylinder engine, this was eventually let through. However John’s recently run Oliver cars were refused travel and had to be left in a safe deposit locker. John was very upset, but had been dropped off by his relation at the entrance, otherwise he said he would have gone back home, so not a good start.

Orebro Track

We travelled down safely and booked into the Sanna Kroa motel and went for an evening meal sharing a bottle of red stuff between us, John visibly relaxed, in fact even more so after breakfast and getting to the track and being lauded as Special Guest of Honour. I had taken an Oliver Tiger 'Two Five' car with a late Oliver twin shaft, one of the last ten JSO ever completed after his association with Ivan Prior ended. It had never been run before by me and John helped me get it set up and running reasonably well. The fastest speed recorded was 107.607 kph (67.25 mph) not a great speed, but as a novice I was happy to get the run.

John's tweaking the Tiger Apres race Paul, John O, John G, Stan, Stuart

Among the usual side stalls Ulf Ek had a set of Slabang castings with tyres and front suspension set up which I purchased and hoped to have it running the next time I went over. I took photos of Ulf’s car to help in the build of my own version, it would have a basically standard Oliver twin shaft engine. On the Saturday night after evening meals were taken we were invited to Rickard Helander’s room for a friendly drink. We took what we could obtain from the site shop, bags of peanuts and crisps and a bottle of red from the restaurant. A most enjoyable occasion even though we could not understand all of the conversation, John Oliver was quite talkative and even a little giggly before we retired and a lot more relaxed than when we left England. Prize giving on the final day ended with most of the English attendees receiving an award of some kind making it a most memorable occasion indeed. John was staggered at the speeds and sophistication of the modern cars.

John had managed to get over his previous disappointment and decided to join me again in 2007, this time taking his IP Pumpkin powered with an Oliver Battleaxe  twin shaft engine. I took the Slabang for it first run after running the engine on a 7" x 6" propeller to get a close setting. It is very difficult to get final settings good enough for the best speeds from my very limited track time with such a hectic Friday practise day filled with Old Timer and a lot more modern cars all requiring a different tether line, making the next chance to run a lottery of opportunity. Ulf Ek provided me with suitable diesel fuel the first year and I had brought him a bottle of Scots Malt Whisky in appreciation and in all subsequent years too. I had again taken the Slabang to run and after one good run in practise decided the needle needed a leaner setting, result was seizure just after it was getting near maximum speed, disaster. John kindly offered to rebore it for me after we got home, which he duly did. However I had manage to approach 150KPH and I thought a slightly leaner setting might help and optimistically declared 160KPH target speed. John had again helped me with settings and sound advice and enjoyed his own runs. That curtailed my activities to spectating and to helping others and strangely I have very little more recollection of the rest of the weekend. Looking back possibly the most pleasurable time was the evening meal taken with the Swedish enthusiasts and ourselves, all mixing well and enjoying the banter helped by sharing a kbottle of red each, as usual.

Stuart, John G, John O, Paul G John Oliver Battleaxe powered Pumpkin

Towards the end of the year I was approached by Tom Ridley who had attempted to persuade John S. Oliver to sell him the rights to the Oliver name and engine designs with no response from JSO. So I went over to his works at Clint Hill Engineering and met Tom and was shown his works and introduced to Works Manager Steve Fardon and Tom’s wife Julie who acted as Company Secretary. It came out in conversation Tom Had ridden Speedway for Coventry Bees at the time I used to go to Brandon Speedway near Coventry to watch the racing and recall Tom, so we got on well. I wrote a report on the facilities and Tom’s keenness to buy the Oliver brand name and sent this off to JSO and the outcome was that they then got together and John sold the rights and what tooling he wanted, but most importantly offered to show Tom how to hone and lap the cylinder assemblies to obtain the legendary Oliver Fits. In most of the early Clint Hill production JSO finished and assembled the cylinders I understand. So in late 2007 Tom Ridley started official Oliver Engine production again commencing engine numbering from where the last JSO built engines were made.

John and I had again agreed we would visit Orebro in May 2008 for the Old timer event and we decided it would be good if Tom joined us and he agreed. We thought it would give him a grounding of where Oliver engines emanated from and in addition be an interesting trip for him? I picked Tom up from his home near Coventry in my trusty Skoda Octavia estate and we headed off down to Stansted and met John there. I had taken my Slabang again and JSO a 'Bottom's Up' and promptly proved that he had lost none of his touch in fifty years with two almost identical runs at 107kph. The Slabang had a slow first run, but after tweaking settings recorded 141 in the second, but against a target speed of 135?  What was momentous however was that it would be the last time John S. Oliver would join me in visiting what had effectively become my home track. I know John thoroughly enjoyed his visits to Orebro where his father in 1949 had introduced their prototype engine to the world, which was to become possibly the most famous of British model engines ever, the "Oliver Tiger".

British cars and engines on display Oliver Tiger 'Two Five' with trophy John Oliver working on 'Bottom's Up'

Just myself making the trip in 2009, still with the target of 161kph, the magic 100mph. Ulf Ek had shown that the Slabang/twinshaft combination was more than capable, having achieved over 170kph previously. Could I finally break the 100mph barrier for the first time by a British competitor with a retro style car and engine? The timed runs on the Saturday went exceedingly well for me with the first being 161.749kph and the second 162.506kph just over 101mph in each case, but not close enough to my declared speed of 160 to figure in the results. This was the first time I had managed over 100 mph officially with a basically standard Oliver twin Shaft engine, and faster than the existing British MCA record, so I was very pleased. The Swedes build special narrow track engines, which save about a square inch in cross sectional area over standard and gain a lot more track time and hence experience and some 16kph faster than my standard car. Today I put the speed I achieved down to the superbly smooth, high grip track surface and a good slice of beginners luck, together with sound advice and help. 

100mph Slabang The 'works' Front suspension