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June 2016

Last month’s Pylon looking at values of cars, boats and engines brought us to another hoary old chestnut, far from confined to our core interest and that is the relative merits and values of original items against replicas and reproductions. Such are the vagaries of the collectors market though that nothing can be taken at face value any more. In our simplistic view the original item should have the greatest appeal, especially if there is provenance and documented racing history. Not so it appears when Jack Morgan’s Vixen and Lucy Gascoigne’s MG both sold for half of what bog standard commercial M&Es have realised. Is it that home built items are considered less collectable, no matter how good the engineering or history? Odd when one is unique and the other produced in relatively large numbers. It is the disparity in values between modern builds, replica or otherwise, and originals that seems to defy logic, unless it is entirely down to the cleanliness and shininess factor?

Two modern Oliver style cars built from second or third generation castings with modern repro motors realised just on double what three entirely original and genuine cars and motors from Nottingham each made. One of these also had a very rare version of the Oliver twinshaft motor, which obviously counted for nothing. Of course with eBay and internet bidding at auctions there is no chance to examine the item in person, which can reveal so much. There are currently huge numbers of exceedingly well-made reproduction motors on the market, especially .60 sized American oddities, and a few dogs as well it has to be said and the cost of production can make them far more expensive to buy than a NIB original. Down the line a bit and the lack of an admission as to its true status and prices can become very skewed.

There then come the complication of new builds put together from original parts, and there are more than a few of those about as well. This also applies to tether cars where foundries have been knocking out pans and bodies at an alarming rate for years, many of which are unashamed ‘rip-offs’ of established marques. In the long run it is only by careful examination of machining and witness marks, dirt, wear and patina that a realistic assessment of originality and age can be made. Although we have heard of castings being buried in the garden for a bit of age, no one yet seems to be doing this on the same commercial basis as in the world of antiques. Off course the market then decides the desirability of the reproduction as opposed to an original, but it still amazes us that the genuine and original item should be considered to be less valuable.

The Pitboxes start with a car that is entirely original although the less well known of the options from this company and an ‘alternative engine’ installation. The engine this month should be recognisable but the story behind it is what is more fascinating. A timely eBay listing has provided our hydro feature for this month with a rare piece of memorabilia from the 1930s and thanks to both the vendor and purchaser for providing photos.

Following the sad death of John Oliver in April, plans have been made by to celebrate his life in a variety of ways including special events and a publication by SAM 35 as well as our own look at the 'Oliver' company scheduled for the autumn. Many of these are longer term projects, so we are delighted that John Goodall has sent us his personal appreciation of John Oliver to begin this process. 

Whitsun has ceased to exist as a holiday in the UK but it is still celebrated all over Europe. The Pfingstrennen at Kapfenhardt is a firm favourite amongst competitors and with the Tell GP at Basel the previous weekend makes an ideal Spring Tour for OTW. It is also a pleasure to go racing without having to stand in cold water up to the unmentionable bits. 

Thanks to Tony Collins and Norman Lara for updating us on events at Althorne Lake. We did not think it would be long before Dave Smith, the new recruit to the airscrew class, got the hang of things, knowing his previous experience with 2.5cc motors, and so it has proved. What about a B1 now Dave?

Once again the perils of misidentification and typographic or captioning errors in reference works has reared its ugly head with enquiries about items that have been discovered and offered for sale. In most cases it is a genuine case of believing the printed word, even if it is wrong, as were those brought to our attention, but when negative feedback can result it is certainly worth checking. 

It appears that Gary Barnes has now ceased production of his car kits and components and the excellent reprints of English and American books and magazines, certainly the KG Enterprises website is no longer available. If anyone can offer an update then we would be delighted to receive it, but in the meantime our page listing published sources of information has been amended and expanded. Not extensive, but a good guide to what might be available. 

May 2016

Empty Spaces : We start with the sad news of the death of John Scott Oliver on the 29th April. Along with his father, also John, they created a marque that was to become renowned the world over and engines that dominated small capacity tethered car racing for more than ten years with team and combat flying for even longer. JSO retired from racing tethered cars in 1951 only to be lured back in 2006 with a visit to Sweden, where he had last competed in 1949. In 2007 he returned with one of his own cars and motors, proving that he had not lost his touch by recording what was probably his fastest ever run. The name ‘Oliver’ is held in such high regard throughout the modelling world and the death of John brings an end to a close and tangible connection with the days when their diesels reigned supreme. Our condolences go to his family and all those who were close to him.

Ironically, OTW is currently completing the story of the ‘Olivers’ and tethered car racing, a project that was discussed with John at Old Warden, when he drove all the way from Dorset in appalling weather to attend the swapmeet there. This will be published in due course, but for a thoroughly detailed and informed account of the family, business and all their modelling activities we recommend John Goodall’s magnificent volume ‘The Olivers and A Tiger’. Our thanks to him for informing us of JSO’s death.

The most difficult questions we have to deal with are related to values of items and collections, and even more difficult, how to dispose of them. There has been something of a flurry recently of cars, planes and engines being offered for sale, and trying to second-guess the current market is the easy way to grey hair. The auction values of full sized cars seem to have recovered somewhat from the horrendous crash they suffered a few years back with several multi million pound sales being reported. Aircraft seem to be a bit more conservative, even if a million for a ready to fly Spitfire may seem a lot, but they are not as rare as they used to be. Model planes on the other hand appear to have little second-hand value at all if current postings are to be believed. The phrase ‘can’t even give them away’ seems to be too accurate for comfort, especially if what they represent in original investment is taken into account. Tethered cars do appear to still be selling but not at the levels that many vendors are hoping, although a M&E Wasp less engine and clutch at over £600 surprised some. Starting prices in excess of £2000 are not now realistic for either more recent or older cars. Collectors are a bit more wary and the interior decorating market is being well catered for by a large range of very decent looking replica cars coming in from Holland at very modest prices.

There are still a few chancing their arms with 1/8th scale clockwork Millers at silly prices though. The few hydros that have come onto the market have been bargains for the buyers, but it does appear that it is the engine market that has suffered the biggest reverse. With one or two notable exceptions and for reasons not understood by us, tiny diesels particularly, times are very hard for sellers and we are aware of two large collections recently where the motors have passed on at an average price in single figures per item. Unthinkable just a few years ago? Even sadder are a couple of cases we have been told of recently where those trying to dispose of collections as a favour are unable to get anything like realistic bids. Just too many items chasing too few buyers at present, not a happy thought for the person we met at Gildings that reckoned his collection was ‘his pension’. Might have gone the same way as those invested in the stock market or carbon credits?

The Pitboxes kick of with an engine that has definitely bucked the trend, possibly the most sought after and valuable modern motor we know of. Fortune continues to shine with another hydro, this time a superb vintage A class boat that has some provenance, although we don’t know what that is, most frustrating and embarrassing. The car is another standard M&E but with a distinctly non-standard engine installation that has necessitated a few unfortunate alterations.

In the new edition of 'Workshop Ramblings' Olly Monk reveals details of his latest project. What he is attempting to do would have been no problem to achieve in the 1950s but presents a mighty challenge now and requires a great deal of engineering along the way.  He has also kindly pointed out a couple of instances of mental aberration on our part on the updated BTCA page, thanks for alerting us to these.

The Retro Racing Club celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and continues to publish its excellent newsletter, something of a rarity in itself in the modern day and age. The first of the track days was well supported with several new cars, including Olly Monk's hot rod, which he relates in his 'Ramblings'.

An interesting personality from the early days of aeromodelling, tethered car racing and associated commercial activity was Guy Rickard. Now, thanks to material provided by the late Phil Smith, who was closely involved with the Rickards, and material from the Westbury Archive we are able to add Guy and Replica Ltd to the list of manufacturers we have covered in more detail.

Important news for all tethered hydro enthusiasts via Dave Sheldrake is that Simon Higgins who has been producing hydro and other props for many years under the Prop Shop name has parted company with Swan Foundry. For the current situation regarding the supply of props and contact Simon Higgins.

After the mild winter, April has been numbingly cold and hardly appropriate for wading around in water, but tethered hydro enthusiasts are made of sterner stuff and eager to get underway after the winter lay-off. It is also gratifying to see a couple of new names on the entry lists and more established runners expanding into other classes.

April 2016

The car and boat racing seasons gets underway with a vengeance this month and with them, the hope that all those hours of workshop time over the winter and the investment in new bits will bear fruit. What has been very noticeable over the last six months is the number of complete and ready to run modern tethered cars that have been offered for sale. There has been a complete Kapusikov Class I, Sepp Class IIs and IIIs, all with recent racing history and not shabby at that, along with Russian and Ukrainian cars in various classes up to 5cc. Only the largest 10cc cars were missing from the sale lists although an original Picco car has appeared on eBay during March. The star surely had to be Mart Sepp’s 3b 3.5cc car that set a new World Record in 2015. Now, there is a never a guarantee with second hand gear, but for anyone who wants to start in the sport or upgrade, what an opportunity?

Building a tether car from scratch is no easy undertaking and certainly not cheap as there are so many items that of necessity have to be sourced and purchased so the ‘for sale’ offers a very attractive alternative. This approach would not have sat well with many and even today there are those who would contend this route should not be followed without having served an ‘apprenticeship’. We have experienced quite entrenched attitudes and opinions from both camps on this matter, which seems quite bizarre in this modern day and age when building is no longer a realistic option for many especially in FAI classes. From bitter experience we have come to the conclusion that a good old British compromise is something of a necessity.

Buying old gear or building may be cheap, you will learn a lot, but could experience years of frustration and never succeed, yet you will derive a great deal of satisfaction if you do manage anything like a decent run. Buying brand new, now essential in some disciplines although impossible in the hydroplane world, can also be fraught if it does not work out of the box, and there is still the process of understanding how to make it go. Given this though, mistakes can be horrendously expensive. The alternative option, which we have seen operate with success in full sized and tethered hydros, cars, bikes, boats and planes is to do a deal for one you like the look of on the day and take it as it is, dirt and all if necessary. Minimum frustration, you know it goes, maximum enjoyment as a result, if you can replicate the runs, but as for satisfaction, well you and everyone’s uncle knows you just put fuel in it. Whatever route you have pursued for the season, we hope it is successful and enjoyable. Inevitably though, someone will moan, especially if you have beaten them. Have a great season.

The Pitboxes this month feature a car that must have the greatest ever proportion of engine size to car and although we have seen an article about them back in 1950 have never seen one in the flesh. Another hydro thanks to Mark Russell and again something of a mystery at present as we can date it fairly accurately, it has a name and registration, but we cannot find any documentary evidence of its existence. Thanks to our ever helpful readers we have a few more engines to be going on with, although there are some oddities and mysteries amongst them. Our engine this month would be a rarity in its own right, so a set of original casting for the English Mechanics 15cc motor is an incredible find.

The 'tidying' of the site continues and some of the early pages are now in dire need of updating. With the kind assistance of David Giles, the BTCA page, which was originally published in 2006, has been completely revamped, expanded and brought up to date. Also, another of our very earliest pages detailing the history of tethered hydroplane racing, which was provided by Peter Hill, has received a 'spring clean' and update.

Amongst all the less than pleasant news that has come our way recently has been the much more positive confirmation that Glenn Bransby is now fully restored to health and vitality and back on the track.  Lovely to have Glenn and the Sydney Club featuring again and we wish him and the Club well for the future.

March 2016

Update: A trio of Empty Spaces, sadly somewhat belated in each case

Alan Rayman: Sue Free has just informed us of the death at the end of last month of Alan Rayman, a member of the MPBA for just on 80 years. Alan served as an officer for the association for 20 years but is best known for his straight running and contribution to the development of fast, flash steam boats. A life long member of the Blackheath Club, Alan ran flash steam hydros as well as A and C class IC hydros. OTW published an appreciation of his long involvement in model boating back in 2008.

Arne Zetterstrom: It was not until a link appeared with details of the disposal of his car that we became aware of the death in December last year of Arne Zetterstrom, one of the great iconic figures in the world of International tethered car racing. In the course of an amazingly long career that started in the very early 1950s he won eight European Championships and the 1958 World Championship in Zurich. In the 1958 Europeans at Basel, Arne competed in every class and was still competing with ‘old timer cars’ over fifty years later.

John Scott Scott: The ‘bush’ telegraph failed many of the tethered car fraternity badly as it was only when we happened to see a copy of the current SAM 35 magazine that we became aware that John Scott Scott had died last December. Although better known for his incredibly high level of work with rocket motors and advanced propulsion systems, John maintained a keen interest in tethered cars and had built a couple of exquisite models including a lovely ERA. John was a great help and supporter to us and through this shared his very detailed knowledge of the life of Gerald Smith and the motors he produced in an extensive article that we published in 2006.  A very detailed obituary for John and his work in the aerospace world appeared on the Reaction Engines website, but for us it was the enthusiasm and willingness to help with any enquiry relating to Gerald Smith that will be irreplaceable.

The subject of these Pylon jottings is usually the result of a current topic of discussion or an item that has come to our attention for whatever reason, but some things never go away. Our Model Engineer archive now goes back to the very first issue in January 1898, but apart from not now being encouraged to do your own x-rays in the lounge, spread mercury around with gay abandon or make useful workshop solutions from potassium cyanide, the willingness of modellers to take issue has not changed a jot. Seldom would a month go by without there being some bone of contention that would get various factions hot under the collar and putting pen to paper as we saw so clearly in the second part of the George Stone article last month.

Certain themes though generate similar levels of angst and feelings of injustice through to the present day. Last year it was pointed out to one of our most successful British competitors that ‘tethered cars are not representative of model engineering’, and by definition one supposes, those that build them are not model engineers. A similar argument was promulgated in the 1940s. One correspondent even went so far as to describe model car racing as a ‘fetish’ and those that pursue it as ‘snobs’. Gerry Buck was never backward in refuting this type of accusation as he had built a number of locos, his own cars and engines and made clocks as well, the sort of activity that untold car and hydro competitors have been doing for years and continue to do so. Begs the question as to when a ‘modeller’ becomes a model engineer. Is it a matter of scale, materials, techniques and tools involved or skills required? Building a Stuart 10V from a kit is considered model engineering, but a 10cc racing motor is ‘engineering’.

As we look around the world of tethered cars and hydros currently there are many who definitely are superbly skilled ‘model engineers’ as well as being equally at home with engineering disciplines in all scales as well as modelling in general. Neither is this a new phenomenon as digging through the archives reveals any number of well-known names who were just as happy knocking out a live steam loco as they were a car or hydro, and this was not necessarily connected with their primary occupations either. The sadness is that the skills involved are fast becoming a lost art, as schools, colleges and industry have all abandoned the teaching of workshop practices and the home workshop is becoming a rarity. It does not auger well for either modelling or model engineering, so any sort of model building should be encouraged, even if it does not meet someone’s strict definition. And yes, there were editorials and letters bemoaning the same loss of skills back in the 50s!

It is unfortunate that these negative attitudes still persist, but one can only imagine how entrenched they were back in the late 1940s when George Stone made such an impact. In the final part of the story of how he changed tethered hydroplane racing George pauses for reflection, and we look at the legacy he left and the boats responsible for the quantum leap in speed.

The car Pitbox this month features a project that started in the late 1970s but was not completed until 2015, another of our well-known ‘roundtuits’. A pot-pourri of engines to sign off this section for the time being includes a backbone of car and boat racing for many years now back in limited production, one from across the pond that served the same purpose forty years earlier and a last example of the dozens of Nordec motors that have come onto the market either in cars or individually. We have been exceedingly lucky in the past with our 'ace seekers' who notify of anything of interest that turns up, and sailing to our rescue in the nick of time for the hydro Pitboxes has come Mark Russell. Mark has something of a history of rooting out interesting boats, but has excelled himself this time with no less than three hydros that have obvious provenance, even if we haven't quite got to the bottom of it yet. We start with an original ED Challenger that ties in nicely with our articles on George Stone.

Like another of our correspondents, Mark has a more than passing interest in vintage pond yachts and has been working on the history of Star Yachts. He has passed on a link to his site, which is a mine of information on these models that many of us took for granted. 

John Goodall has very kindly sent us more photos and notes on his latest project,  2.5cc ZN pans and bodies that he has painstakingly beaten from sheet aluminium. John has now produced both 2.5cc and 5cc versions of this racing car originally supplied by Paul Zere of ZN, and it is only after having attempted some similar 'panel beating' that one can appreciate the level of skill that John has displayed with these cars.

A staple of the American tethered manufacturers in their heyday was the 'Hot Rod' that was inspired by the open top, often open wheeled custom cars of the late 1930s. A couple of replicas have been completed in the UK recently with the standard and somewhat overpowered installation of a McCoy 60 racing motor. In his latest 'Workshop Ramblings' Olly Monk details progress on his modern version, which with suspension and a glow motor producing something like double the power of the McCoys should be a force to be reckoned with on the track.

'Rumour mill' in overdrive. Conscious of the need to update links, and keep information in Pylons up to date we are inevitably the recipients of numerous rumours, which we do like to substantiate before making alterations or updating.

The first of these followed the appearance on eBay last year of items from the Spindizzie Collection. Many will remember the purchasing sprees of Jerry and Eric and the subsequent publication of their monster book, but all went very quiet in Yorba Linda. It transpires that some/most of the collection has passed to the Henry Ford Museum at Dearborn in Michigan, who incidentally are selling off the books at a bargain $18. Not sure where that leaves the seller advertising his at a few pence under £1,000 or how much of the collection was sold on?

The second is much closer to home and concerns the Oliver engines that Tom Ridley was producing with the blessing and cooperation of John Oliver. It was known that Tom had sold his business, but what was the situation regarding these superb and well regarded motors? Sadly, since then Tom has died after a short illness, bringing  production of 'Olivers' to an end.

February 2016

But of course, rules do have to change. Most modelling disciplines have been established 70 years or more and over 100 in the case of tethered boats, and often developments take place that are not a problem at the time, but do for various reasons become so, or even unacceptable in some cases. A prime example has been the proliferation of classes, often as new capacity or types of motor have come onto the market or reaction to a new type of model or discipline that a club or authority decides to promote for the very best of reasons. The big question is whether this helps the sport in question grow or dilutes what is already established? It has been seriously suggested that there are too many hydro classes in Britain currently and in other countries there has been an explosion of national tethered car classes. Some disciplines become so specialised that numbers of competitors that are able or want to operate at that level is severely restricted. Indeed, there are instances where there is a single competitor, or even more oddly, none at all, either through lack of interest or equipment, lack of impetus, close duplication, degree of difficulty or cost of competing in a particular class. Reading recent reports, this is even evident at World Championship events.

If the status quo is maintained then it is not costing anybody, and while some will feel the lack of competition is hampering them, there is no doubt that some will enjoy the isolation. Is there then a case for reducing the number of classes even if it means breaking long established traditions or just allow them to fade away before sounding the death knell? There were four hydro classes in this country that no one enters, one has been abandoned without a boat ever having been run, is it time to ditch the rest? If there is not two or three in a class, should it still be run, an age-old dilemma? A car meeting last season could not muster a single entry in one class. Certainly, some of our model activities need to give serious consideration to where they are headed if they are to have a healthy future, or even any future at all. Tethered car racing withered and died in Britain in just a few years, it would be a tragedy if it happened to any of our other ‘speed’ disciplines. Change is inevitable even if not always wanted. Change is desirable if not always appreciated. Change can be beneficial, but that is where the law of unintended, or unanticipated, consequences comes in, which is why the right decisions have to be made, but made they have to be.

Through his impressive achievements, the subject of our current series of articles, George Stone precipitated a prompt change in rules in order to preserve aspects of the sport that were considered important at the time. The background and controversy surrounding this is dealt with in the second part of George Stone’s story, but in the long run most chose to follow George’s lead, resulting in the terminal decline of the established class.

The Pitboxes kick off with a car and a big apology. The photos and details were sent to us many moons ago but have been lurking in an area of our mail server that we did not realise existed until a chance discovery, so to lofts, sheds workshop and garages can be added obscure web folders. The engine is a new build but represents numerous more complex flash steam motors that were common many years ago. Happily the new cars keep rolling in but for boat and engine discoveries, that really is it for the time being.

Olly Monk's superbly informative 'Workshop Ramblings' return with the first edition of the new year. This time it is work on a 'retro project' with a distinctly modern motor that looks as if it could be the basis for a very quick car. He also adds further thoughts and a different perspective on the 'rules' question that has been running in recent Pylons.

Some while ago John Goodall obtained a body shell for one of the very rarest British, commercial tethered car projects. He has now completed the build of this fascinating prototype and kindly added it his already impressive article detailing the tethered car projects he has built over the years.

We have featured the innovative and independent foursome from the King's Lynn Club in a number of articles, but in the course of 'tidying up' the website we have amalgamated all of these into three pages featuring the remarkable engines and boats built by George Chapman, John Duffield, Bert Stalham and Dr Hewlett. What they produced between them certainly proves the local saying 'they do different in Norfolk', and happily, most of the engines have survived as well as four of their boats, one of which has been run very successfully in modern events.

January 2016

Well, that’s the festivities over for another year, just got to pay for it all now. Hope it does not dent the car, engine, boat or travel fund too much?

As it is the close season, telephone calls and conversations can wander a long way from the immediate topic, and one area that can always be relied upon to instigate a lot of discussion is that of rules, and this has been much to the fore of late. Rulebooks exist in every sport to exert some controls over what happens. This might be costs, limiting performances, safety, attempting to provide the mythical ‘level playing field’ or worst of all, to improve the spectator appeal. Rules do evolve over time, but more normally reflect a particular point in the sport’s development, which may survive happily for years. Inevitably, there comes a point when rules need to be changed, or ought to be changed and there are many instances where a long established rule no longer has the intended effect or performances have rendered the current regulations untenable and something has to be done. This though is where the ‘law of unintended consequences’ can come back to bite us. Governments are particularly adept at introducing laws to control one thing, only to have an entirely detrimental effect in an area they had not considered. Sporting bodies and federations are not immune from this either and all too often, those proposing the change, although with the very best of intentions, fail to consider the ramifications of the proposed changes.

Any rule change that renders existing equipment redundant or requires competitors to buy new gear is a bad rule in our view. Equally unacceptable is a rule that favours one particular group within a sport. Sometimes though there are those who will push the spirit, if not the actual rule to the limit or beyond, and like most problems, dealing with it when it is fresh is easy, allow it to become established and it becomes impossible. We were witnesses recently to a vintage class that has become nonsensical because competitors were trusted to remain ‘within the spirit’ but nowhere did it state that you could not use the latest mega power motor instead of one of contemporary age. The different modelling disciplines are not immune from the need to restrict performances, but doing it so that it does not cost a fortune, or allow lateral thinking to bypass it completely is a challenge currently facing several groups and authorities right around the world.

It is also very easy to make a complete dog’s dinner of a rule change as we saw initially with the new exhaust regulations for tethered hydros, and the recent free flight proposals, which whilst they addressed the immediate problem could have wiped out an entire tier of the sport. So how do you change rules when it is necessary or desirable, well, very carefully, and with a lot of thought and considerations of all the possible ‘what ifs’.

We are delighted that we can finally publish the entire story of the person who changed tethered hydroplane racing forever without breaking or bending the rules in any way, just applying a bit of lateral thinking, and more over getting it right. This is George Stone, whose success was not universally applauded at the time and mired the sport in controversy, primarily because his boats were significantly quicker than everyone else’s. Thanks to his grandson James, we have been given access to a incredible amount of archive material and original photos, which has allowed us to present a very detailed appreciation of George’s tethered hydroplane career in multiple parts. We are indebted to James for all his help and work in scanning family albums.

The Pitboxes start with an entirely complete kit in perfect condition for constructing a basic tethered car. Two companies, Juneero and Prestacon, produced these kits and parts to go with the ‘tool and construction systems’ they manufactured, and this is a superb example of the former, spotted on ebay by an eagle-eyed enthusiast. The engine is the ‘lightweight’ version of the more common Stuart Turner high-speed twin steam engines. Sadly, we are now out of boat related items, so for the time being we leave the hydro Pitbox with a glimpse of Britain's premier trophy and its fascinating origins.

We are still working our way through the site to make the page content look acceptable on everything from an I phone to a 65inch wide screen TV. During this process we are taking the opportunity to rejig, re-edit and update wherever new material has come to light. Also given us a chance to redo photos now we are not bound by a dial up modem. Thanks to Jim Hampton, the page dealing with motors from Bond's O Euston Road has been extended to cover all commercial four-stroke motors from the early days of hydroplanes, or speedboats, as they used to be called.

Something of a flurry of commercial activity in the last couple of months with several British cars coming onto the market including two good examples of the M&E Challenger. We hope to feature them in Pitboxes in due course.