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View from the Pylon

December 2007

Following the Rowell items published last month, Peter Hill of the Retro Racing Club has reprinted the 40-page Miniature Race Cars booklet that Rowell Motors produced in 1949. The quality of reproduction is excellent and can be obtained directly from him. The booklet is a very useful reference work to add to a library of tether car related items.

Commercial Break, or suspension of belief moment!!! Some years ago, classic cars started to rocket in value until prices for some were almost obscene. Tethered cars and motors seem to be headed in the same general direction, if the events of the last few months are anything to go by. Several M&E cars have appeared recently, with the larger version realising around the £2000 mark and a complete Wasp going for the thick end of £1000. At £670, a Wasp without motor or clutch did not seem too much of a bargain, but there was no shortage of bidders. The E&M Maserati that appeared on ‘The Antiques Road Show’ has yet to be offered, but a similar version with an ETA 5cc Diesel certainly provoked interest when it appeared on eBay in mid November. After the opening salvos it stagnated around £700+, edged up to £800 and then £900 on the last day. All was quiet until the last minute when a bid of £1255 went on with just on 30 secs to go. Given that there is a 7 sec delay, the top bid jumped to £1751 with 1 sec to go, yet the sniper was out sniped when a £1801 bid secured the car on the very last second. Of course, another British car is now winging its way across the Atlantic!

Gildings auction was again well attended and it has to be said that there were some bargains to be had here. With mass produced motors flooding the market, there is not much joy for vendors, but sometimes a case of surrealism becomes apparent. An ordinary 1066 Falcon would not be considered the most exciting lot on offer and starting at £45 seemed realistic. By the time £100 was reached there was some head-scratching going on, but still the bids kept coming. At £150 a few nervous giggles could be heard (not by the phone bidders though) and as £200 was passed several meaningful looks were passing amongst the audience. Still the phones kept going and by £300 people were leaving the room to get their own examples to offer up, but still it did not stop. With the exception of the two phone bidders, can anyone offer an explanation why £360 should be paid for the most common of the 1066 motors? A private collection that has been broken up yielded an original Oliver twinshaft car motor that changed hands in a private deal. It's now for sale at £750, time for a very sharp intake of breath.

Department of wishful thinking???? Buy items on ebay where there is a world wide exposure and appreciation of what is on offer, with prices usually commensurate. Pay top whack and then put on a 50% mark up. Take them to a provincial swapmeet and feign surprise when there are no sales. Time for a few reality pills methinks!

Does negative equity exists in car and engine collecting now? That of course depends on whether these items appear on the market again, and if they realise anything like what they have cost. It would seem that the market is still on the way up, and only those blessed with 20/20 foresight will know if this will continue or if, like the classic cars, it will all end in tears?

To return to the ‘real world’, Gildings did turn up one ‘gem’ that was not originally catalogued. This turned out to be the rotating pylon head with delicately engineered contacts for use with the electric timing system that Gerry Buck developed in 1944. A member of the Retro Club promptly beat off the opposition to preserve this ‘unique’ piece of tether car ‘memorabilia’.

The word ‘unique’ is often used incorrectly, but with tethered hydroplanes, much of what was built comes into this category. This was certainly true of the series of boats and engines built by the late Doug Reynolds that OTW described in detail earlier in the year. Unfortunately there were gaps in the information available until the chance discovery of an album of annotated photographs and cuttings that Doug had put together many years ago. This has resulted in complete updates of both the Triton 2 and Model Engineering articles. Original photos have now been added along with new photos and more details of development of the Triton boats and engines, including those that were not otherwise recorded. Another ‘unique’ record of tether hydroplane history.

Work Bench has regularly featured the progress of Gary Maslin’s Galeota. Now that the car has been completed, OTW looks at the background to this ‘pioneering’ design and illustrates the excellent craftsmanship Gary has displayed on his replica.

November 2007

With the summer, such as it was, firmly over, thoughts turn from race meetings and regattas towards, the workshop and projects for the winter, swapmeets and auctions. Having published OTW for 2 years, it is also time to reflect on how the site has developed.

Being very dependent on material and articles that are supplied, or developing items from information provided can lead down quite unexpected paths. If it seems that the balance of the site has changed slightly, it is purely for this reason. The Speedmodelcar site run by Tonu Sepp is the first port of call for anything relating to FEMA or WMRCA tethered car activity, and will usually provide links to results of all meetings within a couple of days. Tethered boats are not so well served with neither NAVIGA nor the MPBA providing any up to date material or information, which is why I have been happy to include items relating to current tethered hydroplane activities. However, it is the ‘historic’ element that will remain the main feature of the site and the relationship between cars, boats and engines will continue to be dictated by available material.

2008 celebrates the centenary of the first organised ‘speedboat’ regatta and also the first running of a hydroplane on a tether. Through the year it is hope to run a series of articles that look back at those hundred years of activity and also look in a little more detail at some of the more successful boats and personalities involved during that time. An ongoing project will be to publish information about any boats, hulls and engines that have survived, and OTW would be very grateful for any information, photos, relics or leads, that would help in this venture.

Some years ago, the now defunct, Model Engine World published a very detailed survey by Jim Hampton of British Four-stroke engines. Another long-term project, hopefully in conjunction with Jim, is to repeat the exercise for British two-strokes. Given that most engines were this style, that would lead to an encyclopaedia-sized document, so it will be restricted to those limited production or semi commercial 10cc, 15cc and 30cc units used for racing. Home builds that come into this category are also included, and again any help with information, adverts, photos, drawings or relics would be welcomed.

One of the great pleasures of running the site has been making contact with people that were either directly involved with cars and boats, or direct relations, and who can offer so much in the way of material, reminiscences and facts when putting articles together. These contacts often lead far beyond what could ever have been anticipated and have resulted in articles and material that more than justify the original intention in setting up OTW. This was perfectly illustrated when looking for material concerning Rowell Motors, who were very active for a short while producing racing engines and tethered cars. Close relations of the founder of the Company, friends, fellow club members and a number of acquaintances all gave very valuable insight and input into the article detailing the activities of Rowell Motors of Dundee.  An updated overview of the items Rowell produced and items that have been discovered subsequently is now available.

The Pitbox offering this month continues with the Rowell theme, but also tells a fascinating story of how the collecting ‘bug’ got seriously out of hand for one person.

October 2007.

Two years ago OTW was established to try and record as much material as possible relating to tethered cars and boats before too much more of it was lost for all time. It is difficult to believe quite what has happened since then as so many people have offered their time and help in producing articles, as well as providing reminiscences, pictures and materials for the benefit of the site.  OTW is grateful to everyone who has contributed in any way to helping the 'quest'.

 This month, by way of celebration, is something of a 'bumper edition', and to that end we begin with an extended article on a tethered racing ‘Icon’ that typifies what the site is trying to achieve.

Any discussion or argument as to who is the ‘most successful’ exponent in any sport will inevitably produce heated debate as criteria and preferences are bandied about. Seldom will there be universal acceptance of the superiority of any one individual, but in the world of tethered car racing there can be little doubt that the most consistent and successful was Gerry Buck. From his first competition in 1942 to the time he retired from tethered car racing in 1952 he had one aim, and that was to achieve the maximum possible performance from his cars. That he succeeded in this can be judged by the remarkable achievement that he was the first person in Britain to break the 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and finally 100mph mark with a conventional tethered car. Amazingly, several British records he set in the course of his career have never been beaten; yet stark statistics are not able to do justice to F.G. Buck. Although best known for his success with tethered cars, Gerry Buck was a consummate engineer, active in every imaginable sphere of modelling and model engineering and OTW is pleased to be able to publish this appreciation of his life and career. click here

The ‘pitbox’ submission for this month provides an answer as to the whereabouts of at least one of Gerry Bucks cars. Thanks to Bill Langley for providing the picture and pointing us in the direction of the story. 

As the 'Buck' article relates, by the early 50s, tethered car racing was becoming totally speed orientated and many tracks and clubs had ceased to operate, yet new tracks were still being opened, usually in more remote areas to avoid noise problems. The Nottingham Club track opened at Gamston in 1952 and featured the very fastest cars, many of them powered by the locally built Oliver engines. Roger Allton from nearby West Bridgford visited the track around 1953/4 and took a fascinating series of pictures which he has passed on for publication. Thanks to Roger for these evocative prints.

A regular visitor to the Nottingham track, and one of Britains leading competitors and record breakers  in the 'post Buck' period was Ken Proctor from Sunderland. His exploits with tethered cars are well documented, but few will know that, like Gerry Buck, he built and ran tethered hydro's as well. Two of his hulls have recently been recovered from a loft in Twickenham and these can be seen, 'as found' in this months hydro 'Pitbox'.

Getting on the trail of vintage tethered cars, boats or engines is absorbing, and uncovering the history and details always gives a great deal of satisfaction. The story of 'Naiad' provides another intriguing insight into the level of work, skill and ingenuity displayed by enthusiasts in order to go racing. We are grateful to tethered hydroplane enthusiast Dave Scarnell for providing the material for this article.

The recent regatta at Rowden produced some of the fastest runs of the season, and Norman Lara with his 10cc Picco engined boat put in a run at 130 mph that would have given him a silver medal just a week earlier. Such is life. Nothing is quite so impressive as being close to an 'A' class IC boat or flash steamer on a fast run, and thanks go to John Demott, Paul Windross and Bob Kirtley for giving us all a serious 'adrenaline hit' to tide us over the winter months.

Mid August- September 2007

With Ron Chernich at Model Engine News giving monthly reports of the total lack of rain during the Australian winter and the daily reports of floods and chaos here in the UK and Europe, you could be easily forgiven for forgetting that this is the middle of  summer. However the World and European tethered car meeting is over and the hydroplane championships only a few weeks away, the competition season is 'racing' through. OTW has had a bit of a break from cars and boats, but is now back with a second 6 week 'bumper edition'.

The summer is usually quiet on the 'commercial' front, although we are happy to been sent details of several 'interesting finds' that will be revealed over the next few months. In view of the fact that several of these items are, have, or might be offered for sale, it is worth a few moments reflection on the following dictum:-

‘Caveat Emptor’ let the buyer beware, he alone is responsible if he is disappointed.

So goes the mantra of most auction houses, but of course life is not quite that simple. With the rise in commercial values and the inevitable involvement of online and conventional auction houses comes the problem of ‘things not being quite what they seem’. Sellers can be loosely divided into four categories. Those that are delightfully ignorant of what they are selling, ripe for exploitation in the ‘good old days’. Those that have done a little research and have a rough idea of what is on offer, although this may well be very wide of the mark and they will soon be put right. Those that have the knowledge or have carried out the research to identify and describe exactly what they are selling, even to provenance. Finally, the charlatans or duplicitous ******, who will use whatever means available to fleece the punters. Never has the opening phrase been more apt, but one must be aware that buyers can fall in to the same four categories, so the market is full of potential pitfalls.

eBay can provide any number of fascinating example of every type of vendor and buyer and here is seller type 1. The ‘Stubbs Austin’, a unique, fully documented car with impeccable provenance was found on a stall at a car boot sale and the vendor had not a clue what it was. The description reflected this and the price also reflected the lack of information or knowledge of the bidders. Still a result though for all parties.

Type 2, and here there is no excuse, as they should have done better. A very crude home built car with a 1066 body was offered by one of Britain’s top auction houses. The description ‘overstated’ what was for sale but did not bear scrutiny, and the buyer obviously didn’t as he found out to his cost when he tried to sell it on. But unlike a recent lot on eBay when an equally unremarkable home build went for an unimaginable price, the buyer caught a small sniffle, not a king sized cold. (The mind is still boggling at that one!) Mind you, a little knowledge and reading between the lines can still unearth the odd bargain!

Seller 3 put up a collection in several lots. Aware of what he had, but not its significance, a third party researched, documented and recorded the entire collection and this information was then made available to bidders. Result, consistently high prices reflecting the importance of the cars on offer, and more importantly, each buyer knew precisely what they had bought.

Type 4 we are now sadly seeing in ever increasing numbers, with totally fictional descriptions designed to deceive potential buyers. Fake cars, fake boats, modern replicas and parts bodged together to give the appearance of complete units. Often a ‘known’ name’ will be woven in to the description to confuse even further. Mostly the vendors know they are lying through their teeth and will continue with the deception confident in the knowledge that there is more than one mug out there. Recent examples include a ‘Dooling Arrow’ numerous ‘Oliver twin shafts’, and a car manufactured by ‘Gerry Buck’????? Who are they trying to kid? No excuse, plain dishonest. An equally unpleasant trend becoming apparent is the separating of a car or hull and engine and then offering them as individual items or lots to create a 'bidding war'. Nasty!

It is unfortunate that every deception and trick in the book that has been evident in the antique and vintage car market for years is now surfacing in our own sphere of interest, so ‘Caveat Emptor’.

The car featured in 'pit box' this month is a fine example of the vendor knowing exactly what they had, describing and illustrating it in detail and realising a highly satisfactory outcome as a result. The purchaser also knows precisely what they have bought, which is as it should be. Congratulations to both parties.

OTW is always grateful for ‘Pit box’ contributions and it is a pleasure to be able to provide the occasional update on the fate of items featured. The 15cc motor built by John Duffield back in the 30s and featured in ‘They do things different in Norfolk’ is the subject of an update this month.

There is a 'double header' for 'pitbox' with a lovely vintage hydroplane and engine currently residing in the North East of England. Welcome to all those from the South Shields Club that have recently discovered OTW, and thank you for your contributions.

One name stands out above all others in the world of tethered boats, cars and model IC engines, and that is Edgar T Westbury. He has been responsible for designing and describing countless small motors that have been used in cars and boats. His 'History of Model Power Boats' is a valuable record of hydroplane racing prior to the second war where he was a regular competitor with 'Golly'. For a detailed feature on Westbury's life and work see Ron Chernich's excellent pages.

July 2007

For someone that is fascinated by engineering rather than outright speed, there can be little that excites the senses quite so much as a flash steam hydroplane on a quick run. Quiet they are not, but spectacular they certainly are. Steam power in this modern day and age, surely not, that was history? Well, flash steam boats held the outright hydroplane speed record from 1908 through to 1936 when the Innocent Brothers and ‘Betty’ with an IC engine assumed the mantle that was never to return to the ‘steamers’. This was not the end of these intriguing devices as a small but extremely dedicated band of engineers have devoted countless hours of workshop time, testing and experimenting to further the cause of flash steam right through to the current day. Stan Clifford, Arthur Cockman, Bernard Piliner and Jim Bamford are names that immediately spring to mind from the pre and post war period and more recently Ian Berne, Paul Windross and current A/S record holder Bob Kirtley have refined these fearsome examples of tethered hydroplanes. Whilst they cannot compete with the latest IC engines for outright records the speeds that they are currently achieving are not far away. Bob Kirtley’s Pisces II set a new A steam record of 120.79 mph in 2005. When it is considered that every single piece of a flash steam boat has to be made from scratch, engine, water feed and oil pumps, burners, boiler and tanks etc only then can the commitment of these enthusiastic supporters of the genre be truly appreciated.

There is one name missing from the list of flash steam enthusiasts and that is Stan Poyser. Four generations of the Poyser family have been involved with tethered hydroplanes, but Stan spent much of his career developing and refining his flash steam boats, that he would claim were his ‘first love’. He has competed with both A and B class boats, and it is the B class which are notoriously difficult to get to run, for which he is best known. Stan has very kindly provided OTW with the story of his tethered hydroplane career and a detailed description of the development of his very successful ‘Phoenix’ series of flash steamers. Click here to see this fascinating tale along with numerous photos illustrating the story.

For a change, this months ‘pitbox’ offering features an engine. Found amongst lots of other bits in a ‘job lot’ this little motor turned out to be somewhat rare, but ‘only if you knew what it was’.

Until relatively recently tethered boats and cars had very little value, and in any case it was the engines that were the ‘collectors items’ meaning that far too many were ‘stripped out; for sale. A tethered hydroplane hull without a motor was considered to be worthless and countless numbers of them were chopped up, burnt or thrown out. Just occasionally someone would have the foresight to salvage and preserve a boat or bare hull, not for financial gain, as none was obvious at that time, but just to ensure that, notable or not, it survived. One such person was the late Gerry Colbeck who collected together a whole fleet of boats. It is thanks to him that several very important boats are still in existence.

©Copyright OTW2007