Home     Updates     Pylon Archives                    Page 12     ←Previous     Next→           Contact On The Wire

View from the Pylon

June 2012

A while ago, OTW was contacted by that august and long established journal Motor Sport, asking if we could provide some illustrations for a special feature they were preparing on model car racing and Eaton Bray. It was to be one of the last articles by Bill Boddy who had been Editor of the magazine for an amazing 55 years and an extremely knowledgeable and erudite contributor for some 75 years, until his death in July 2011 at the grand age of 98. Readers of the magazine would be well aware of his strongly held and oft-expounded views on all things motoring related. A proviso he made when accepting the position of editor was that ‘he would only include things that he was interested in’, which happily included model car racing. It is probably not appreciated just how closely connected he was with tethered car racing, being one of those involved in the formation of the Model Car Association in 1947. Sadly, in the event, the article in Motor Sport was shortened considerably and did not reflect the views that Bill Boddy used to express so stridently in the articles he wrote for various modelling magazines, He was a great believer in upholding the traditions of the sport and was most concerned that ‘model car’ racing should continue to be just that. He was insistent that the cars raced should reflect full sized examples, a view equally forcibly reinforced by a number of other contributors as well. That there was a fairly sizeable split occurring within tethered car racing fraternity was quite obvious, as perusal of Model Cars, Model Car News and later Model Engineer would confirm. In the end, it all fell apart, and with this in mind, and given David Giles’ superb article on tethered car racing worldwide, it was clearly time to re-vamp our very basic introduction.  With David having done such a marvellous job, we decided to concentrate on the British scene and review the Brief History of model car racing in this country. It does not pretend to be a blow-by-blow account of speeds, cars and personalities, but give a taste of what was happening here.

Don’t know if it was the onset of spring, but there has been a flurry of activity recently, with numerous items appearing for sale or otherwise coming to our attention. Many of these have been additional examples of commercial products that we have featured before, but amongst them have been some gems and some that are downright curious. The Pitbox hydroplane this month has appeared on the site before, photographed back in 1962, so it was not difficult to identify it when it was offered for sale in Model Boats. The engine is a wonderful oddity that needed a second careful look and a bit of guesswork to determine precisely what it was.

On the commercial front, after a period when prices seemed to be headed downwards, the last month has provided some real surprises. Whether it was the end of the tax year and people wanting to spend money or making alternative investments one does not know, but there have certainly been some eyebrow raising results. A car with a spur mounted Oliver engine took everyone by surprise, but that could have been the rarity of the motor which was one of just three of this type that John ‘O’ recalled building. The real shocker was a home built car that used some M&E components, including a Challenger body that was showing its age. A Nordec coupled to an ED clutch (that would have been interesting) finished the thing off. At £550 with 3 hours to go, it seemed about right. A final bid of £1696 takes a bit of believing. The Oliver is featured as this month's Pitbox car, whilst the home build will appear at a later date. This brings us on to the 'department of wishful thinking'. At the recent Sandown model fair, another Oliver was priced up at a cool £3,200. Needless to say, it went back home with the dealer!

The rain has been relentless for weeks, yet the forecast reckoned that Bank Holiday Sunday would be dry, so it was with some anticipation that we set off for the first track day of 2012 at Great Carlton, but was our anticipation well founded, well, no, it rained? Coincidently, Peter Hill has just published the 50th edition of the Retro Racing Club magazine and he is to be congratulated on reaching this milestone. Slightly ironic in a way in the month that Aeromodeller ceased publication (again).

On the international front, Steve Turley and Olly Monk have just returned from Hannover, and it is congratulations to Steve, who broke his own British record twice. Olly had his three best timed runs so far, justifying all the work he has been doing over the winter. After all the water problems (or lack of), Victoria held an impromptu hydroplane get together at the end of April, prior to the official opening of the refurbished park (and lake).  Otherwise it has been a very thin time for the hydroplane contingent, with Hull still not available because of the wildlife, and Althorne falling victim to the unseasonable or do we mean unreasonable weather.  By a strange quirk of fate, the only fine weekend for ages coincided with the Mayfly event at Old Warden which gave us a chance to catch-up with the gossip and what has been happening on the engineering front.

Stop Press: Empty Spaces

It was a shock to us all just a few days after having seen John Maddaford at the Mayfly event at Old Warden to hear that he had died suddenly. John was an absolute fund of information on vintage style motors and had built dozens of replicas, many of which he flew in similarly vintage free flight models here and abroad. Another sad loss to the modelling world. Our condolences go to his widow and family.

Stop Press II: Another new record

Congratulations to Olly Monk who broke the long standing British Class 5 10cc car record with his first run at Kapfenhardt this last weekend. The record did not last for long as he went even faster on his final run to leave the new record at 322.465kph. Now he is getting to grips with the car he extensively modified over the winter, we suspect this figure will not last too long either. Olly also had a couple of runs within 1kph of each other with his new 2.5cc car but this smaller car will no doubt be headed for some serious development work.

May 2012

Hidden away in the odd items of news recently was a report of a somewhat unfortunate householder who laid undiscovered for some eleven hours, pinned to his bed. The significant part was that his predicament came about through the collapse of his bedroom ceiling, due to the weight of magazines stored in his loft! There is no record of what subject his magazines covered, but many of us that have extensive collections of ‘back issues’ know what sort of bulk and weight is involved. The report will strike a chord with at least one of our regular readers and contributors who saw his ceiling joists sagging ominously, requiring a rapid clearing out of, books magazines and assorted ephemera before a similar fate befell him. There are numerous instances, past and present, of modeller’s lofts, houses, sheds and garages filled almost to bursting point, and begs the question as to where collecting and hoarding cross over? OTW recently had the privilege of an unrestricted ‘trawl’ round a loft that was an absolute treasure house. It also brought us back to our old favourite the ‘round tuit’ as most of the items we looked at were ‘awaiting attention’. It was suggested by one well known engine enthusiast that a collection comprises items that are complete, whilst hoarding involves the bits and pieces, the incomplete, the vaguely associated and all those projects that will not get finished, even in the proverbial three lifetimes. At a recent auction in Suffolk, almost the entire length of one wall was taken up with boxes of ‘bits’, comprising part finished projects, materials, plans, castings, fittings and other commercial items, all from the workshop of a recently expired model engineer. The only problem was that it would have taken a week and a great deal of knowledge and experience to re-lot everything so that each box contained all the available items from the same project. The only alternative was a massive’ swap-meet’ in the car park after the sale as bidding was far too much of a lottery! Why anyone would have so many part-finished projects is also something of a mystery as the financial investment must have been huge, with very little return, and nothing to play with either. Hoarding does seem infectious, and only the most strong willed and focussed have any immunity to it, and they are few and far between.

Following a request for images to illustrate articles, the line ups of engines we were able to photograph exceeded the brief somewhat, yet demonstrated clearly just what two enthusiastic collectors can have ‘tucked away’. Of course, neither would consider themselves hoarders!!!! One of the sessions involved was to photograph a couple of engines to complete David Giles’ comprehensive article on tethered car history, and this month sees the second part of this highly informative and fascinating ‘treatise’.

The Pitboxes continue on the ‘mystery’ theme with another car that should be identifiable yet, like last months, is still playing ‘hard to get’. The engine turned up at a swapmeet and was quickly identified (and snapped up) by a very knowledgeable competitor who recognised it as the very earliest version of a motor that ‘launched a thousand tethered cars and hydros’. Ebay provided the hydro, which again was quickly identified (but not snapped up) as import duty and VAT would have made it a very expensive proposition. Incidentally, OTW was asked to give an approximate value, and on this very rare occasion we got it right to within a fiver (phew!).

It is always gratifying  to have Pitbox items identified, and even more so if some or all of their history is revealed. You can imagine the pleasure then of one recent phone conversation, when we given detail of two cars and an engine we had featured. This was not all, as a previous owner, Sam Alexander was also able to furnish information about a number of other cars and engines that we are aware of. We will be passing on this information to the current owners in due course. Thanks to Sam for the update on the 'home brewed mystery' motor and two tethered cars

Now that we are headed towards summer, (that's a larf', with what's been happening this last month) we would normally anticipate being able to include some reports of activities here, but with wildlife intruding at Hull and gale force winds at Althorne, not a lot has happened.

April 2012

As we have discovered on many levels, there is always more than one way to achieve a desired outcome. Unfortunately there are also nearly as many ways to not quite achieve the intended end, as a few observations over the years would illustrate. We have commented before about the relative order, tidiness and cleanliness of workshops we have been privileged to visit, and these trends can also be observed in the products of the workshops, yet there is not necessarily the correlation one might expect from the end result. At a tethered car World Championship, one competitor set out his area with clinical precision and the cleanliness and order expected from an operating theatre. Twice a day, his car was reduced to the stage where no two components remained attached. Each item was meticulously cleaned, checked, lubricated and then reassembled. The complete car was an absolute gem of gleaming attention to detail. Only problem was that for all the work, he languished at the bottom of the charts, as the car failed to perform. By contrast, the fastest car would not have won any concours prizes as it was unpainted, had bits stuck on here and there, and needed a good clean. It received the most rudimentary maintenance between rounds, primarily tipping out the old fuel, a squirt of oil on the gears and a new plug, but still managed near world record speeds. As one of the sages at our local model engineering club says "If you build it right, it’ll go right". Begs the question as to what constitutes right? By way of introduction to our major article, we extend this concept beyond engineering. How many people saw Professor Brian Cox delivering his Christmas lecture? Thought provoking, yes. Well illustrated, certainly, with a few ‘audience participation’ experiments and a bit of humour thrown in. At the conclusion, there was no doubt that everyone had learned something, but as to what he was talking about and the actual subject of his lecture, was anyone much the wiser, or was there still general head scratching? Compare this with a lecture attended by one half of the OTW team that was not really about anything in particular, but wonderfully delivered by Wolf Ohlins of the advertising agency that carried his name. The audience was huge, but he started with the disadvantage that everyone was there because they had to be and were probably more interested in lunch or the next chance for a fag. He took the place by storm though, and soon had the entire hall enthralled and hanging on every word and graphic he presented. It was an object lesson to one and all.

All this went through our minds as we read through the text and started to assemble material sent to us by David Giles. David is a long time member of the Bristol Society of Model Engineers and agreed to make a presentation to club members on the history of tethered car racing. What a ‘tour de force’ in the ‘Ohlins’ style it turned out to be, with Power Point illustrations, video clips, a 16 minute video and a great deal of hardware for the assembled members to get close to. Unfortunately, OTW cannot reproduce the dynamics of the ‘live performance’, restricted as we are to words and pictures, but we hope that we have been able to convey what we consider must have been an ‘evening to remember’ for the Society members. We found the detail and range of the talk absolutely fascinating and informative and hope that readers will find the history of ‘Tethered Car Racing, 1937 to the present day’ equally enjoyable. Such was the extent of the material that we are publishing it in two parts. We are most grateful to David for allowing us to present the results of all his hours of labour.

Our ‘Pitbox’ items all presented the same problem, and that was identification. The hydro, which appeared on eBay took little more than a leap of faith and a phone call to establish its history, while the unusual flat twin engine still has us scratching our heads many months later. The car is representative of several enquiries lately where we should be able to pin the origins down but have yet to have the ‘light bulb’ moment, or had the obvious pointed out.

On the commercial front there have been a number of interesting items turn up that will appear in future 'Pitboxes', but it is what they have realised that has provided food for thought. The very early M&E Special from the collection of the late Miquel de Rancougne has just been resold for $1,000 less than it cost in 2004, while a supposedly very rare Curly Glover railcar only attracted very modest bids. M&Es have been coming out of the woodwork recently, with three and a bit Wasps on eBay, and a viewing of a chassis from what must have been almost the first week of production. Two more E&M Maseratis have emerged making this once rare model now one of the most common. A set of castings for an Oliver Mercedes, along with a replica Oliver Jaguar motor and a set of tyres has just sold for a price that will make the vendor down Bristol way a very happy chappy. The total was nearly what an original and complete car could be bought for. Figure that one out? 

Congratulations to Ken Morrisey on being awarded the Royal Aero Club Gold Medal for his record breaking  achievement in F2A that we reported on in February. He joins a list of the most august and illustrious names in aviation history. Good job we don't have to run round the pylon at those speeds though. Not sure many of us would make it!

Opening the OTW 'mailbox' is always interesting, and once the Russian 'young ladies', numerous requests for confirmation of non existent bank account details and the offers of little pills that do all sorts of things too fierce to mention are deleted, the serious items can be digested. Earlier this month, it was an absolute gem. Richard Riding used to visit Eaton Bray regularly, as his father Eddie Riding was part of the Russell organisation, and would we be interested in some of his father's photos, and his own reminiscences? Although these were primarily concerned with full sized flying, so closely were all the activities linked at the Sportsdrome that we have had great delight in adding a new page to the Eaton Bray article for Richard's wonderful contribution. The material also provided one of those 'spooky' coincidences that we so enjoy, with a photo of Geoffrey Hastings', 1066 Company aeroplane. We have been searching for an image of this for years with no luck, and there it was in the 'inbox'. Magic! We were not done with these slightly surreal coincidences either, as a rare and unusual aircraft that Richard described was featured in last month's Aviation Modeller, including a Rupert Moore painting of the very aeroplane. Quite remarkable!

March 2012

Given the inevitable commercial element of cars, boat and engines, we are often asked to come up with valuations on items, or give our opinion about prices being asked, which we normally find easy to say no to, as it is a minefield. It gets even more onerous if both sides of a potential deal seek out our thoughts. Commercial valuers put their reputations on the line, we try to avoid it if possible, but sometimes it can become necessary to ‘help out’ or provide a bit of guidance. However, if you quote the best price you have seen, then that can lead to unrealistic expectations and recriminations if it is not met, yet if you go for the lower end, then you are equally in trouble, hence an ‘estimate’ that gives a margin of error. Ebay exists to make mugs of us all though, giving wildly differing results for the same items. There seems to be a factor of about 6 between the lowest and highest prices paid for similar items and there would be laughter all round if an auction house was to use such wide variations in its estimates. After the initial rush of Gilbow Miller cars at around the £3-4,000 mark, they now seem to have settled down to a more realistic £4-600ish. Still not a bad return on the less than £200 they cost. There is some element of established value with commercial items to give a guide, though home builds can be an absolute nightmare, and adding in elements of age and history muddies the waters even more. How much is time worth? OTW has recently become aware of three relatively modern boats that could come onto the market, and use them to illustrate the difference between value and ‘what they are worth’. In each case, the builders are looking to get a return on the time and money spent, but if you do the figures, how realistic is this. One suspects that what they might make, and ‘what they are worth’ to the builder could well be out by a factor of ten or more. Hardly compares with the factor of 1000 between what it cost and what it was valued at for the Rolf Harris painting of Bonnie Tyler seen on the Antiques Roadshow. Not a situation found too often in the model world.

In the car and boat world, competition is the motivation, not profit, which is why countless hours have been spent in sheds and workshops, sawing, filing, cutting, gluing, machining and painting, with no thought as to the real cost, except possibly to family life in a few cases? The output of many of the enthusiasts we have become aware of was staggering, none more so than the subject of our current articles, George Noble. To build twenty or more boats and a similar number of engines, all from scratch and without recourse to commercial components or even castings is an amazing achievement. The second part of our article brings the story of George right up to the present day.

Our ‘Pitboxes’ can be linked in many ways to the sentiments in the first paragraph. The car has the ‘Oliver’ name attached to it, which instantly adds a premium in terms of value. The engine also has a name, but probably adds nothing, other than as a means of identification, but it is its age and rarity that makes this a unique find and determined the price. The hydro ticks several boxes for OTW being something of a rarity, a modern A3 with a home built motor, and a superb restoration to boot.

It was a conscious decision to move the Old Warden Swapmeet date nearer to when Watford used to be. What no one had bargained for were record low temperatures, with nearby Bedford recording -14 degrees on the Saturday. The day did confirm that it takes more than a bit of cold to keep a modeller from a potential bargain. It also gave us a chance to catch up with a quest that has been ongoing for more than 20 years, but finally finally came to fruition just a week before the swapmeet.

February 2012

Empty Spaces: We were saddened to hear of the death of Mike Beach who had suffered ever worsening health over a period of years. Held in high esteem throughout the aeromodelling and engine world, Mike was an avid collector, immensely knowledgeable and had an uncanny knack of turning up important or obscure items. In the late 70s he tried to rekindle enthusiasm for tethered cars in the UK, but to no avail. Another 'iconic figure' and 'font of knowledge' sadly lost.

The manic rush for ‘I pad 2s’ and ‘I phone 4s’ and similar pieces of technology is a wonderful example of how desire can regularly subsume need. A side effect is that there are suddenly huge quantities of old versions, both new and second hand on the market, perfectly usable, acceptable and cheap. What would be the reaction though if the arrival of the new model meant that the old would no longer work or could not be used, making it redundant and worthless! This is a common enough problem in motor sports, especially the higher echelons, where millions of pounds of investment can be wiped out at a stroke. Far less prevalent in the model world though, and here thankfully, redundancy is usually through performance advantage of the new. That makes it a personal (or financial) choice whether you join in or plough on with gritted teeth and a few grumbles, as happened with the arrival of the Hornets, Doolings, and McCoys in the 1940s. We have discovered though that ‘equipment redundancy’ is a far from modern phenomena. The winner of the Silver Medal for the fastest speed recorded in both the 1903 and 1906 Model Engineer Speed Competitions, Mr Weaver of the Wirral Club, found his winning boat ‘ERA’ an ‘ex racing boat’ when the maximum hull length allowed was reduced significantly. He lamented on this ruling in a letter to the Model Engineer in 1907 where he stated that "I am willing to part with ‘Era’ should I find anyone desirous of purchasing. A real case of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, ban ‘em’! One distinct advantage of equipment becoming outclassed or outlawed is that entire new branches of sports start to flourish, and even overtake the original that spawned them. It was not long ago that more ACU competition licences were held in the UK for vintage racing than for the modern classes. Happily there is still a flourishing interest in running vintage tethered cars, although it seems to have waned somewhat in the hydro world recently.

Much of the credit for the early interest in vintage tethered hydroplanes must go to Arthur Cockman and Gerry Colbeck, who acquired a number of iconic boats in the 60s, restored and renovated where necessary and then ran them on occasions well into the 1980s. Amongst these were George Noble’s ‘Bulrush VIII’ and ‘Bulrush IX’. Noble's immediate competitors, Ken Williams, and Stan Clifford along with their boats have been covered on the site, while John Innocent wrote extensively and described ‘Betty’ in minute detail. George Noble however remained something of an enigma, although he raced for over four decades. The dispersal of the Pitsea collection and return of the two ‘Bulrushes’ to the Colbeck family prompted OTW to put together an appreciation of George Noble’s long racing career, which will unfold over the next two months.

The first of the ‘Pitboxes’ is another lovely English tethered car, discovered by Guy Martin, owner of Lucy Gascoigne’s MG. It is rare in that the history of the car is known, and the major components can be identified. By way of comparison with last month’s 1950s hydroplane, we move on some 30 years by courtesy of Nigel Lacey and one of his contemporary 10cc boats. The engine is another super example of a ‘homebrewed’ racing motor, that can be dated fairly accurately, but that is all that is known about it. Not exactly a pitbox item as we have seen others but we have been able to add another Rowell motor to the list of those that have come up for sale.

Collectors seem quite happy to have engines boxed and tucked away from view, which always seems a bit sad. A tethered car will look more or less the same, with or without a motor, although it wont go quite as well. There is nothing quite so forlorn as a hydro hull languishing engineless, so this month we welcome the second of Mark Mansell’s superb articles describing how he put one of the late Keith Swift’s hydros, Voodoo, back into running condition.

In the modern, commercially dominated world, we do not get too many examples of quality engineering, so we are extremely grateful to Mark for passing on details of his projects. Closer to home, Olly Monk has been putting in untold workshop hours on his cars and motors, ready for the new season as well as photographing and recording everything as he goes. It was a great pleasure to be able to publish his 'Winter Project' series of articles, which concentrated on his 10cc Class 5 car. It is rare that we are able to see so much detail relating to a modern tether car, and this was an ideal opportunity to see all the elements that are involved in preparing a 200+mph tethered car. Thanks to Olly for these very extensive articles.

We recently referred to the long-standing nature of some of the hydroplane records, which brought to our attention a remarkable performance that we missed while we were in France, and that was Ken Morrisey breaking the World F2A record on each of four successive flights at the European Championships. Congratulations to Ken and his pit crew, who left the record at a staggering 307.4kph (just on 190mph, that’s trucking). Who wouldn’t want Peter Halman, builder of the motor, on the needle and past record holder Paul Eisner as their pit crew?

January 2012

Here's to 2012 and a bumper January edition to start off with. Hang the PC, OTW hopes that you all have a happy, healthy and successful New Year. Well, if your Christmas wish list was not met, what about hopes and aspirations for the coming year? No doubt there are some in the hydroplane world who would just be happy to see their boats do five timed laps at reasonable speed without anything going bang! Some years ago, Peter Hill used to put his ‘Old Moore’s’ hat on and make predictions as to what might happen in the following season, but who would be brave enough to put their head above the parapet on that score now? Olly Monk seems determined to give a couple of the British tethered car records a nudge if all goes according to plan. We wish him well in this venture and hope it might encourage others to have a go? Mind you, with the current financial uncertainty, what might happen at a European level this season is very much open to question. It seems odd though that in spite of all the difficulties it is the good old British Pound that is still struggling, putting us at a distinct disadvantage all round. Certainly, there has been a large net flow of cars, boats and engines out of the country over the last year and buying in motors, even from Italy, can make you wince! Unless you saw the Picco EXR on eBay at a cool £950 that is?

If that caused a sharp intake of breath, the ‘re-emergence’ of the ‘hoary old chestnut we remarked upon last month was responsible for severe mutterings all round. Many will remember that a while ago, a completely standard M&E Special appeared on eBay with all sorts of claims about how it was designed and built by Gerry Buck after an abortive trip to a tethered car meeting in the US. There were even claims of a ‘Buck Manufacturing Company’, that was responsible for the tyres and other components. We have remarked before about the total inaccuracy of the description on all counts, and amongst others, informed the vendor at the time. Just a few weeks ago, an entirely different car appeared with exactly the same false description. Peter Hill noticed this listing and was soon on the keyboard pointing out the errors to the vendor, which after an exchange of emails was taken off. So far so good. It beggars belief then that a new listing appeared, with an even more inaccurate description, that still included all the statement about Gerry Buck, but with a whole new range of completely incorrect technical details added. Most sellers, whether it is on eBay or in sales adverts, will change descriptions and provenances to reflect information passed to them. One has to say, that in this case, it was a ‘try on’ as the correct description is freely available and the vendor has had other M&E Specials, so knew exactly what he was dealing with. We have to say; we know exactly what we are dealing with as well!!!!

On a lighter note, OTW is always delighted when examples of solid engineering come to light, especially recently built items, as these are now very few and far between. When it comes to quality and prodigious output, it would be difficult to beat the latest subject of the ‘Who’s Who’ interrogation, Ron Hankins. Not only does he modify commercial motors to great effect for his tethered hydroplanes, but also build the most exquisite replicas of full sized engines, most of them with lots of cylinders to boot. Having seen his wonderful Bentley rotary running and heard the sublime exhaust noise, one can only marvel and the skill and time he devotes to these amazing creations.

One of the great pleasures of publishing OTW is hearing the personal stories behind the engineers and competitors that we feature. Even more so when they are from the era we were brought up in, where the ability to build and hackle were essential if you wanted to go racing. Mark Mansell has put together  a wonderfully evocative article for us about just such a person. Although Keith Swift  hailed from Australia, his life and approach to racing has massive parallels with so many people over here that we were acquainted with. The impact he had on Mark's life is also very apparent from the way he describes their relationship. We are most grateful to Mark for this remarkable appreciation, even more so as we have not had to do the research and writing!

The ‘Pitboxes’ are continuing with a bit of a theme, but this time there are a few twist and turns on the way. The hydroplane is about to start on its third racing career, each of which has been some 20 years apart. The engine is yet another example of the ubiquitous ‘Sparky’ design but has no connection with the featured boat. There now seem to be so many of these motors about that we will try to put them all together, along with the original. There are still a few to be tracked down though. Three wheelers are very rare, but the car this month is another example of the output from those builders that put scale appearance high on their priority list.

It is always a pleasure to hear of cars being built that are destined for the track and we are most grateful to Olly Monk for very detailed articles illustrating the superb engineering going into his latest 'vintage build'. There seems to be something of a symbiotic relationship between steam and tethered cars and boats, and after several years of running the BTCA and acting as FEMA representative, David Giles is relinquishing the FEMA position to concentrate on his steam loco. We are happy to announce that Olly Monk has now taken on this duty and will be looking after British interests in this area.

Following the article on the 'monster' flash steamer last month, one of the previous owners has contacted us with an update and further details.