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A ‘Pit Box’ Special
Ted Harris

Pit Box is normally reserved for interesting items that have come to light after a number of years, and this is how a McCoy 10cc motor offered on eBay might have ended up had the story behind it not been so fascinating. The item description mentioned that the engine had been used in a tethered hydroplane in the 60s and regularly recorded speed around 70mph, so off went an email to see if we could find out more?

What was discovered was a complete racing career, memories, mementoes and hardware that have led to this Pit Box special edition.

Peter Lambert, Ken Hyder and Ted Harris Portsmouth Canoe Lake 1961.

By the mid 1950s tethered car racing had all but vanished but tethered hydroplanes were flourishing and had evolved into sophisticated racing boats that were running in the high 70mph bracket. This inspired a young engineer from Portsmouth to become involved in the sport, and Ted Harris joined a group of local enthusiasts that were racing at the Canoe Lake on Southsea Promenade and the Ornamental Lake on Southampton Common.

One of Ted’s fellow Portsmouth Club members was another young engineer, Jim Hampton, and the two of them formed a formidable partnership. Ted and Jim along with Don Careless were featured on the cover of the Model Engineer for 4th June 1959 where they were photographed at the Canoe Lake with their respective 10cc and 15cc boats. Jim also raced a 30cc A class boat which was restricted to home built engines whilst the 10cc class was dominated by the Dooling and McCoy motors imported form America.

Don Careless, Jim Hampton and Ted Harris

These were expensive and difficult to obtain and several stalwarts still manufactured their own motors, including Jimmy Jones and Dick Phillips who held the British record in 1955 at 76mph. Nothing daunted, Ted and Jim set about building their own Dooling style motors and produced a superb set of split patterns and core boxes. Cirrus aero engine pistons were melted in the fire grate at Jim’s parents house to produce sets of castings for the venture and all the subsequent machining was carried out on small lathes at home.

Ted completed his engine and raced it successfully whilst Jim’s was well on its way when he was called up for National Service. After demob Jim moved on to other projects and his motor has remained unfinished. Ted continued to compete while Jim was serving in Germany and often raced Jim’s boats by ‘proxy’. One notable occasion at Southampton in 1959 saw him win the Scott Payne trophy for Jim.

By the beginning of the 60s the McCoy was unbeatable and Ted had obtained two very quick versions of this engine. To utilise the power of these potent motors a new boat was required and with regular visits from the world record holder Menant and other competitors from across the Channel it was inevitable that these exceedingly fast French boats should provide the influence for this lightweight and slim boat. With fully adjustable sponsons of balsa and a hull devoid of stringers the result was a featherweight boat. A coat of fuel proofer rather than paint kept the finished weight to under 3lbs. The hull and engine combination proved very competitive and would run at 75-80mph and allowed Ted to hold his own at regattas all over the country.

Launching the McCoy powered 'eddy' at Southampton Ted, Jim, Pauline Husbands (in waders) and David Winter

Some 40 lakes around Britain were in use for racing tethered hydroplanes and Ted Harris regularly travelled as far as Bournville Lake in Birmingham and the Altrincham Club in Manchester as well as numerous trips to St Albans and Victoria Park in London to compete. Even more adventurous was a trip with one of Jim’s boats to the Paris International, a regular event for British competitors. It was quite usual for Ted and Jim to strap a hydro each to their backs and ride off to the local lakes on a Triumph Thunderbird whilst for the longer journeys a coach would be hired for a ‘club outing’ with an unusual outcome that the coach driver became a committed boat racer as well.

In the late 60s Ted’s racing career was brought to an end by increasing family commitments and the lightweight boat and various engines were consigned to the shed were they remained until he decided to part with the first of the McCoy motors on eBay, which is where this story began.

Right: In the best tradition of Pitbox, a true shed find.

OTW enjoyed a very pleasant visit to see Ted at his home and to hear about his racing exploits. He kindly sorted out a number of photos and records for us to look at, as well as offering an opportunity to see the engines and the one surviving boat. What was totally unexpected and even more exciting was that the 10cc racing engine built by Ted around 1960 was still in existence and as can be seen from the photo above is a very handsome and well made motor.

Later we were given a guided tour of Southampton Common and taken to the Ornamental Lake, with all the reminiscences of this delightful location and popular racing venue. The same afternoon we visited the home of the Portsmouth Club at Southsea and marvelled at the thought of hydroplanes running on a lake in such a built up area.

Ornamental Lake on Southampton Common

Canoe Lake at Southsea

Our thanks are due to Ted Harris for a fascinating day and for all the important material he made available to us as well as an introduction to Jim Hampton who has provided a storehouse of information for a future article.

Update 2008.

With the engine and hull reunited, it was decided to do no more than repair the water damage on the front half of the boat and clean the motor, to preserve the boat as it was raced. The plywood in the nose area had delaminated, so this was reglued and the outer layer of the sponsons cleaned up. The studding sponson bars had to be replaced as the steel originals had rusted badly. Just a coat of varnish to fuel proof the repaired wood and that was the renovation was complete. 

Thoughts then turned to Ted's home built engine. No plans for the boat existed, but the picture on the front of the Model Engineer gave enough details to make a replica feasible. Simple ply construction and solid balsa sponsons made this a very quick build with the longest task being the skeg, shaft and fuel 'knock off system. The motor had been despatched to Mike Crisp for a rebore and new piston, as the original had been destroyed, and luckily a new Dooling Piston was found. This only left the hull to be painted, and the question of colour. For some reason, the boat in the B&W photo just had the look of blue, and happily the shade chosen was not far out.  With a set of Portsmouth registration letters added, this was as close to an exact replica as it was going to be possible to build, some 50 years after the original.

'Eddy' preserved rather than restored. Replica boat with Ted's home built engine.