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May-June 2017

A recurring theme in these monthly meanderings and emails we receive is the long-term future of cars, boats and engines that reside in collections large and small or have been inherited. Over the last few years there have been a number of occasions where the direct families of long standing competitors, explaining that they have no interest in dad’s or granddad’s exploits, have sold or passed on individual items or complete collections. If the value is not the prime consideration then sale is not necessarily the first choice and there is often the desire to donate items to a suitable museum to ‘preserve’ them.

Unfortunately, museums that might be interested in the models are few and far between and of those that might be appropriate, several are in difficulty. Elf and safety, access, and associated decline in income and sustainability have forced several to close, often with the assets being auctioned off, even when the museums are not actually the owners. Even more worryingly, a local museum sold off a number of loaned items to raise money without reference to the rightful owners. A larger museum in the Midlands did signify their interest to take on a collection of cars, but posed the question as to ‘how much the bequest would be’? Far from accepting or buying the items, they wanted paying to display and maintain them. One curator, on being taken to task for the state of some of the models in their care, pointed out that it was ‘not their job to maintain the exhibits’. Only prompt action saved some of them from irreparable decay and damage.

Things can be even more perilous with full sized exhibits, as redevelopment of sites, changes in landlords, change of use and changes of direction of trustees and boards can suddenly leave owners ‘out in the cold’ literally. The Vulcan Trust, and other aircraft groups have found this to their cost when ejected from accommodation they expected to occupy for years to come. Finding a home for a collection of tethered cars or boats is not impossible, even if it is with a private individual, but a full sized V bomber, railway locomotive, airliner, warship or similar, presents something of a logistics problem when told ‘it can’t stay here’. All too frequently now do we see that the only solution is to cut them up on site for scrap, hardly satisfactory if your group has spent untold hours and money on preservation and restoration? Mind you, a lot of hydros and similar have ended up on bonfires or in the tip with no return at all, unless the motors were flogged off, as they often were.

Something completely different for a Pitbox item this month, one of the smallest items we have ever featured and as far as is known, a unique example.

The hydro season is well underway with the second meeting of the year at Althorne Lake. Despite the best efforts of the Highways Agency who closed the A12 for the whole of the weekend OTW managed to get there by way of parts of Essex that had only existed on the side of jam jars up to then. Good weather encouraged some fast times, including two new records, the second fastest speed seen in this country, three personal bests and some impressive individual laps. It will be a season long chase for anyone hoping to beat Tony Collins to the Speed Trophy after the marker he laid down.

First meeting of the season at Gt Carlton, good weather, several cars notching up their best ever runs and the first successful running of an Oliver car and motor. The work on the track over the winter has paid dividends, especially for the small, wheel driven cars.

Constant cold and strong winds from the north for a week or more gave little hope of racing taking place at Althorne, but a brief respite meant two rounds could be completed before the predicted increase brought the day to a premature close. It was cold though, yet this did not stop it being the best turnout for a long while.

A timely reminder that racing can be a very frustrating and costly business opens Oliver Monk's 'Workshop Ramblings' this month.  A look back at previous editions shows how much work he put into these motors only to see it undone in Hannover. The Ramblings continue with more work on the 'Shadow', the most successful bevel drive 2.5cc car of the 50s. Designed and built by Ian Moore before selling it to Stan Drayson who won numerous events with it, including European Championships.

On one of our trips we had a long conversation with Fred Kirschner from Pforzheim who has an amazing archive of results, photos and other information relating to tethered car racing in Germany and at his home track of Kapfenhardt. We had hoped to incorporate some of this material into the site, but now he has gone one better and published much of the material going back nearly seventy years on a dedicated website for the Renngemeinschaft Schwarzwald. Included is the most complete and only published listing of European and German Champions from the first meetings in 1952 and 1957 onward. Huge amounts of history, well worth a visit and added to our links page.

It is always a pleasure to have updates on our articles and answers to questions we have posed, and thanks to Scott Clydesdale we have an update on the Arthur Weaver REDeX Cooper Bristol that is in Australia, which we featured in the final part of the Weaver story.

Empty Spaces: We were sorry to hear of the death early in May of Ken McIntyre out in New Zealand, our condolences to his family. Ken was so helpful to us when we were putting together the article about the track and hydro lake in Blenheim. He represented the  true enthusiasts of the day, building engines and cars from scratch when getting commercial items was either next to impossible or unaffordable.  In the last email we had from him he related how ongoing health problems were making it almost impossible to run his cars anymore. His family did take him to the track recently to see his Rossi engined Ian Moore car running one last time, a very touching gesture, although it  did break its axle bringing it all to an end. Ken's son David very kindly let us know about his dad and has provided an update and a photo of Ken to add to our original article.

The May regatta at Victoria Park saw one of the biggest turnouts for a long while and some sparkling runs as well. In addition Andy Coburn was on hand to take what must be some of the most stunning action photos of hydros ever seen. The quality is amazing and rather than reduce them in size and number for OTW here is a link to view them all at normal size.  https://goo.gl/photos/MDaHsE3mLDc3uw4U6 Thanks to Norman for forwarding the link and to Sonia Collins for the results.

April-May 2017

It is true to say that at OTW we are ‘information junkies’. It does not matter whether it is seeing a hitherto unknown box of cars and assorted pieces and finding out the story behind them, or having access to previously unseen stacks of photos and negatives, as we have been lucky enough to do on a number of occasions, it is always exciting. Earlier in the year, the postman staggered up the path with two large packages, the result of a long established car and model enthusiast having, as he put it, a ‘cull of his study’. We had an outline of what might be included, but that did not do justice to the quantity of material or depth of information contained. As most of it was from the ‘unreported’ era everything was utterly fascinating and occupied far more of our time than was probably justified in one go.

Subsequent and more detailed perusal provided a quite remarkable fact that we were unaware of. In 1979 no less than three of the four European tethered car records were held by Gisela Herberger and Danielle Duran, which might be considered unusual until a look back further shows just how many other ladies have been involved over the years. One of the earliest was Mrs Rickard, a Pioneer, to be followed by Annie Wright and the more competitively minded Ivy Moore and Joan Catchpole who were both regular winners and record holders in Britain. On the continent it was no different with ladies running cars at club and international level with equal degrees of success.

Information from the 60s and early 70s is thin but from there on there have been a constant six or seven ladies running regularly, covering all classes. More recently June Heath held the British WMCR class record for many years and competed alongside Heather Robinson in the 3.5cc open wheel classes. In the hydroplane world though there have been far fewer. Ethel Jones was a regular competitor around the country as was Pauline Husbands who travelled to continental meetings as well. A visitor from the continent on occasions was Signorina Fontenesi. Joyce Lara’s name can be found on several trophies, while in later years several ‘daughters of’ became involved with the then new Novice Class. The 2013 World Championships in Cestas however saw six ladies competing including the most successful of modern times, Alexandra Ogay in A3 along with Britain’s own Lynn Blowers in A2.

This was all brought to mind by the visitor to the ME Exhibition who pointed out at the MHC stand that ‘this does not look very inclusive or diverse’. He obviously had not looked round too much or was blissfully unaware of the number of ladies involved in model engineering in general and car and boat racing in particular, but that was probably not what he really meant?

The final part of the Arthur Weaver story is really where we started, as it is about the cars, boats and engines that have survived and come to our attention. Unfortunately there are also a few items that have vanished recently and may well still be out there unrecognised, as the article relates.

The Pitbox, by way of a change, is a series of photos of a lovely flash steamer, although little more is known about it other than the current owner and what can be deduced by studying the excellent images.

Congratulations to Andriy Yakymiv who achieved a landmark speed in setting a new Class III record at the Brisbane International meeting. His 300.953kph was the first ever over 300kph for a 3.5cc car. It could have been a near 7kph improvement on Mart Sepp's record had he not pressed the button at 296kph, only to see the speed rise to 303kph by the end of the timed laps.

Good news from the track at Gt Carlton where a day's work with a JCB and digger has removed 16Cu.Yds. of soil from the infield, something approaching 18 tons. This will enable the pylon to be at the correct height and avoid the cables snagging on the grass, which has become more of a problem over the last year.

Always good to get some sort of handle on where prices are going as at least one well known collector with cars and engines for sale is experiencing something of a gulf between his expectations and where the market is currently. Probably the best and most complete 1066 MRC ever to come onto the market sold last month on eBay for just under £1,300. This was a 'deluxe' model with fully detailed cockpit, instruments, seat etc, external exhaust and the original NIFE batteries, putting this at the top end of desirability.

Oliver Monk has been busy again with some exceedingly accurate machining producing pistons for his 2.5cc car. Of particular interest in the new edition of his Workshop Ramblings is how a piston is machined to give the exact fit required for the liner it is to be used in. Further work also on another 2.5cc car, but this time a more 'retro' model, a Shadow.

March 2017

We have been a bit too intimately involved with technology of the IT kind for the last few months, but hopefully that is more or less behind us, leaving us to explore some more useful aspects. The adapting of computer programmes to help analyse what a motor is doing during a run, or help in setting it up can be of immense help. Numerous enthusiasts have waded through the complexities of Excel to produce spread sheets that can provide all sorts of useful information and measurements that trial and error would take ages to cover, if at all. The ability to measure accurately, to check and input dimensions is made much easier with digital gear, although a well operated micrometer is just as good, if not better as it is less likely to lie to you. For all the technology though, it is reassuring to see squish clearances checked with a piece of good, old fashioned, solder. Again, it can confirm that previous calculations and measurements are correct, or not, as the case may be. Although the technology has changed, the desire to ‘quantify’ what is going on has been there forever.

Many are the weird devices that have been used in the past on tethered hydros to show what revs the engine was doing, and how much easier it would be now with electronics. Probably be done with an I-phone app? The rolling road we have featured before and we have seen several dynos of varying levels of sophistication from Westbury’s simple torque arm device to the Hamill’s marvellous machine for testing modern 10cc motors. No amount of theory or design tools can beat putting a motor on a brake and seeing just what it produces and at what revs. If the motor ‘aint producing the grunt, then no amount of changing of the other variables will produce results. Does this process work and is it useful? Well, in full sized racing it is vital and certainly one record holding tethered car racer has used this approach with the greatest of success.

In terms of the timing, recording and analysing of races though, electronics has been a godsend, enabling instant printouts, rank orders and every detail of a particular run. Even more helpful when ambient temperature, pressure and humidity are recorded as well. Brings us back to our original IT problems though, to make use of the technology, first you must understand it. Does anyone know what ‘sticky water’ is and can it be quantified?

For all the technology and information, there will always be those that prefer to go the ‘will this work’ or ‘this should be better’ route. The Oliver concern published a very detailed description of how to maximise the power from their Tiger motors, yet some were not content with this and came up with their own ideas. Our Pitbox this month is an Oliver engine that a well-known competitor from the Bristol area has tried something really novel.

Having had opportunity to digest the wonderful biography of Arthur Weaver by his daughter, part two aims more specifically at his involvement with hydros, cars and engines, which is where our interest began, spanning something like 35 years between seeing his award winning hydro at the Model Engineering exhibition and coming across it again at Pitsea Museum in Essex.

Following on from last month's Pylon we have been notified that Mike Crisp of Model Aero Services is no longer taking on work. We featured Mike nine years ago and added him to our list of those who offered engine repairs, servicing and rebuilding. When we first set up the site there were six well known and respected enthusiasts active in these fields, in just that short space of time Mike became the 'last man standing' and now it is down to private contacts only. Surely there is an opportunity here?

If all the technology was not enough we have now established a Facebook page for the website which is accessible via the Facebook logo on the home page.

At Alexandra Palace, Don Reynolds alerted us to a number of articles and numerous photos relating to the Victoria Club, Ted Vanner and Norman Phelps that are on the Spitalfields Life website. We have added links to these articles on the Victoria page and on the Ted Vanner page. Two film clips of boats running at Victoria Park can be seem on the British Pathe website and viewed by searching for Victoria Park. One clip, with sound, shows the Innocent brothers with Betty and the new motor they were intending to use.

Sometimes what an item for sale is worth to a purchaser far exceeds the pure monetary value, and such was the case for John Goodall at the auction of John Oliver's cars and engines. The Slabang car had significant importance for John as he relates in an update to his earlier article.

A requirement for those running FEMA cars this season is to have their cars inspected and registered by the national technical delegate. On Saturday the 4th of March the first mass inspection took place through the kind offices of Oliver and Debbie Monk.

February 2017

After a deliberately low key edition last month we are back on track with a bumper version and some amazing material and photographs, so thanks to all the contributors.

The winter months are usually taken up with building or rebuilding of cars, boats and engines and contemplating how to make them go faster, or even go at all, depending on how the previous season has gone. For others it is more about the building, whether for a run round the track at Gt Carlton or another space filler on the shelf, assuming there is any space left, which is sometimes a problem and often a bone of contention with the ‘significant other’. As part of our updates we revisited many of the sources of supply of parts, kits, motors etc that we had listed or have mentioned. Sadly, through commercial decisions, changes of direction or the unfortunate demise of far too many of the people involved, the range of items now available has contracted dramatically.

In a way it started with the loss of Dick McCoy who was supplying kits and parts for the Railton and his other cars through to his death, and by his family for a while afterwards. Retro member, Mike Day from Guernsey was having several styles of replica tyres and wheels made in China, as well as clutches and gearboxes, but this all came to an end with his untimely death. The late Ron Bernhardt produced an extensive range of useable tyres as well as castings for motors and cars, but of course these dried up leaving almost no choice of original style tyres to run on replica cars. When Gary Barnes shut up shop more recently, that was the end of the remaining source of tyres for larger cars, gearboxes, pans, and of course, his excellent remastered publications. Paul Ironmonger’s venture into the casting world and Oliver cars in particular is currently in abeyance due to the more pressing matter of relocation.

On the engine front, CS have given up on most of their replica motors, and after the Oliver Jaguar and Tiger replicas Ian Russell is no longer commissioning any more runs so that the projected Rowell and other desirable motors will now be still born. The deaths of John Oliver and Tom Ridley bring to an end production of original Oliver motors, all of which leaves the enthusiast with no reliable source of supply, meaning swapmeets, eBay and auctions or private sales for whatever can be picked up. It does however now place a premium on what may still be lurking in drawers or on the shelves of workshops. Modellers are well known for stocking up with far more projects than can ever be completed, so this may be the only ongoing option for those intending to build something in the future.

It does raise one question in our minds though, what has happened to all the moulds, patterns, dies etc that were made to produce this huge range of cars, tyres and motors. Are they all still out there waiting to be recognised and put back into use by some enterprising enthusiast or are they now in landfill like so much other material?

At last we are able to publish part one of a major article that has been in preparation almost since the site was first conceived. It had its roots even further back while mooching round the Model Engineer Exhibition in the 1970s. The lengthy 'gestation' period was down to the difficulties we experienced gathering background material, an essential part of our articles. Eventually through the power of the t'internet we were rewarded, so we are delighted to be able to present the first part of the life of Arthur Weaver, who we called 'the North London Maestro in an earlier Pitbox Special. Thanks to his daughter, part one is a biography of Arthur.

The new style ‘Pitbox’ continues with another real gem, a car that can be identified, has been illustrated, described in detail and has a real provenance. This does not happen too often with cars so we are delighted to be able to include it, especially as it is not a commercial model.

January saw the auction in Sherborne of a number of engines and three tethered cars owned by the late John Oliver, which John Goodall attended. John has kindly provided us with a report, photos and comments on the Oliver auction. Suffice to say the modest estimates and prices realised in most cases at the auction indicates that the 'bubble' may well have burst, even with the weakness of the pound. Ironic that the two lots that made the most money were pedal cars. 

As mentioned above, a regular destination in pre OTW days was the Model Engineer Exhibition until it migrated to the countryside.  The Model Engineering equivalent at Alexandra Palace reintroduced us to the annual trip to London, made all the more relevant by the Model Hydroplane Club stand and the excellent display of boats, vintage and modern.

Amongst the interesting selection of vintage hydros that Tony Collins had gathered together at AP were three quite unusual boats all built and run by the late Harold Heath of the Victoria Club. These had been passed to Norman Lara for preservation and safe keeping by Harold's son Derek who also provided many evocative memories and reminiscences of his Father, Victoria Park and tethered hydroplane racing during that period. Angela Gullick and Norman have kindly put together a delightful article relating to these memories and Harold's boats.

In the light of changes in procedures, personnel and protocols, a new umbrella organisation for tethered cars has been set up that will encompass and represent all current British clubs and organisations. To this end, and aware of the tethered car related pages that have been added over the years, we have introduced a Tethered Car Racing Homepage, similar in nature to the hydro one already in place. The new page should have links to all articles, organisations and contacts, and major events. It is a work in progress at present so will be refined and developed over the next few months with additional material from our correspondents with the more detailed knowledge and information.  

We are delighted to say that Oliver Monk has again been busy in his workshop with another intriguing engine rebuilding project that has necessitated some more high quality engineering and techniques. Thanks to Oliver for the first issue of Workshop Ramblings for 2017 where he describes more work on a Stelling motor and introducing tether car racing to an illustrious audience.

January 2017

Firstly, a happy New Year to everyone who views the site and especially to all our contributors who produce such valuable material. Hopefully you will be seeing this somewhere near the beginning of January?

Technology Update: Well, the December edition arrived, somewhat late and not without a great deal of gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair. Thanks to our host and his technician we hope that is now sorted, but to test it all out we are having what in current political parlance would be called, 'a soft update'. New pages for 2017 but no major new article at present, although we are delighted to have further contributions from Oliver Monk.

Date for your diary: We have been notified that a quantity of cars, engines and other items from the estate of the late John Oliver are to be auctioned on the 20th January at Charterhouse Auctions in Sherborne, Dorset.

Here we are in the new year, and without the benefit of a crystal ball one can only hazard a guess what will be happening on the commercial front? There has definitely been a slowdown in older cars, boats and engines being discovered or appearing on the market and subsequently making their way into our Pitboxes. Always lots of Testors, Cox and similar mass-produced items though. We always keep a watch on eBay, auction houses and dealers lists just to see what is about and what appears to be selling and what is not. The nose-dive for sterling probably means that more and more is heading abroad, a case that was put to us most forcibly by a correspondent who bemoaned his country’s vintage and tethered car heritage heading overseas by ‘the container load’.

We did experience this ourselves in a different sphere when looking to buy a local long case clock in a nearby shop. Through the door rolls a gentleman from the US, walks along the series of clocks against the wall and, no more ado, says he will have them all, including the one we were looking at and could the dealer arrange shipment. Less than ten minutes in the shop and no haggling. It is almost impossible at the moment to second-guess where the market in cars, boats and engines is heading. The arrival of large numbers of imported ‘display’ reproduction cars has probably weakened the market there and certainly the genuine but overvalued originals are staying unsold.

Hydros, unless they are steam or have a rare motor that can be looted seem to have established a value well below what they used to command, whilst the world appears to be awash with engines. There are the rarities and collectables, but also large quantities that will probably end up as landfill or in a melting pot. Where prices have escalated is with the products from Eastern Europe. The pressed aluminium schools cars and the more advanced 1.5cc and 2.5cc kits are now realising much more money, while the motors have moved sharply upwards from the giveaway prices they used to be. One wonders just how many million of these kits and the accompanying UTKAM, RYTM, MAC, MDS, KMD and Eureka motors were produced. Most of them, it has to be said, are eminently useable, even if the build quality can sometimes be suspect.

One of the great unknowns at present is where we will be in the future as regards import duties. At present anything from EEC comes in duty free whereas items from anywhere else end up with a stonking bill for duty, VAT and handling. Could it be back to the days of yore when engines arrived in coat pockets and cars in bags and a trip through the green channel was accompanied by a look of innocence? Well there is a couple of year’s grace to stock up on parts from Europe, but after that, who knows?

Regrettably, after over 360 individual items we have pretty well exhausted the Pitbox files so will be changing the format from now on. One item per month covering all three categories, but all the existing Pitboxes will still be available to view. On a more positive note the tail end of the year did bring some exciting items to our notice, so there will be material to keep the new Pitbox going for a while. The first offering is a diminutive hydro that still holds a unique place in British tethered hydro history. To accommodate the changes, all the previous Pit Boxes are now available directly from the Updates page.

Having written the above sometime previously it was a pleasant surprise to be informed that not one, but four vintage tethered hydros and associated engines have been passed to a Victoria Club member and these we hope to feature during the year.

The final tether car meeting of the season is the Lucia Race, this year in a very cold Tallinn. Oliver's 'Workshop Ramblings' from last year have again been combined into a single page and a fascinating record they make of all the work and effort that goes into racing tethered cars, modern or vintage.