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June 2018

Almost from the beginning of our interests in tethered cars and hydros we have been regaled by stories and rumours of stashes and hoards of cars, parts, engines and other material spread around the country. This phenomena is not restricted to the model world though as it gains even more momentum when moving into the realms of full size items. Specialist magazines over the years have been responsible for numerous adventures and even life long searches for some of them. In many cases it was surplus equipment summarily dumped after conflicts that has sent people on expeditions of discovery, or wild goose chases, depending on the accuracy of the original information. Barns full of cars, motorcycles, aircraft and engines are the stuff of legend but all too often are rooted in truth, just a question of tracking them down. If you are lucky enough to locate such a hoard the difficult part can be coming to some sort of equitable arrangement with the owner, assuming they are known? All too often there is a marked reluctance to part with anything, although it was probably acquired for the cost of the carting. Sadly, it is usually the demise of said owners that brings them on to the market where they are spread about, often much the worse for neglect and deterioration in the intervening years. (roundtuits that they never did)

1066 and Mr Hastings probably best represents this from our point of view. We were made aware at an early stage of the ‘shed in Kent’ stuffed full of 1066 items, which indeed turned out to be true and eventually we met the owner and uncovered a fascinating story of how he came by it all. That was not all though as Bud Morgan and Bagnalls had disposed of vast quantities of parts that had all been squirreled away although these did come onto the market later. During further research we found that large amounts of material had been dumped and was rotting away under allotments. Just to cap it all, more of the surplus stock from the 1006 ‘factory’ was packed away in a loft nearby and to the best of our knowledge is still there, and all this from one company only.

We are well aware that the Knowles family passed on large amounts of surplus E&M items, which has appeared over the years whilst a great deal of ZN material was found in a model shop in Oxford (along with a box of tethered cars). More recently, the Bedford family disposed of two invaluable collections of ETA engines, prototypes, equipment, drawings and photos. There have also been some pretty spectacular discoveries that were not specific to a particular manufacturer. We have been privileged to see the extent of a series of boxes unearthed at an event in Derbyshire, possibly the largest quantity of tethered cars and related items ever to have been found outside of an established auction.

Apart from the ‘mass hauls’ as described above, car boot sales, swapmeets and jumble sales still have the ability to surprise and amaze and that is without the occasional personal contact that can also produce an OMG moment such as the Rowell hoard from Lincolnshire in the April Pitbox.

Something very different for the Pitbox offering this month comes via the vendor on ebay and is, at the moment, a unique piece of commercial tethered car history that also raised a few eyebrows at the final price, not least the vendor we suspect? There is also a salutary footnote.

2018 is a significant year for one class of tethered hydroplane in Gt Britain as it is fifty years since airscrew boats were recognised for competition by the MPBA, initially as the F Class and in the early 90s as the NAVIGA B1 Class. Our new 'Airscrew Page' takes a look at the fastest of the categories and the current upsurge in interest.

Steve Betney has been putting the rest of us to shame with the number of 'roundtuits' that he has got round to finishing recently. Possibly the absolute iconic image of a Bonneville car is that of an aircraft drop tank with four wheels, a very large engine and an equally brave driver. Steve has built a couple of these in different scales, one with a gem of an engine, and had sent us another very detailed and informative article on their construction. Thanks Steve, and we understand the cupboard is not bare yet?

Something of a blow to the tethered hydroplane world when the Prop Shop announced that they had ceased trading after a disastrous fire. Thanks to some sterling work, another source of hydro props in a variety of sizes, diameters and pitches has been located, which we have illustrated in the Spares Counter page. Another addition to this page is a sample of the extensive catalogue published by John Sanderson. He manufactures an entire range of reproduction parts for the Dooling Arrow that are intended as replacements and are for use. Not something that we would normally publicise, but the Arrow and Dooling motor were the commercial car and motor of choice for so many competitors in this country so that must still be dozens of example or parts still awaiting discovery and restoration.

Update: Oct 2019 Prop Shop now back in business under new ownership.

May 2018

As was pointed out to one of our most well respected competitors, who is not overly enamoured of collectors in general, ‘you have two of them, you are not going to use either, you are a collector’. If that is the bottom end then the other extreme are those who have collections that number in the thousands of items, and everyone else fits somewhere in between. It was Lord Fairhaven who said that, "To collect is to add another great pleasure to life. I say collecting is the greatest fun and interest for those who like it and completely incomprehensible and silly to those who don’t". Some achieve this by specializing in one manufacturer (guilty as charged) or even one model, whilst others have far more esoteric tastes, and of course there are those that will acquire anything and everything that comes their way. The question we keep coming back to, and not just relating to models, is whether a collection should have a theme or aim, and in turn, does that make it more of a challenge and quest? Another ennobled gent, Lord Ashcroft, has spent untold millions buying VCs and associated medal groups, putting them on display at the IWM in Lambeth, and impressive they are. Anyone can see them, there is a pretty good record of what they cost and they are now preserved as a collection. In addition, it is an entirely finite field, every one is documented and eventually, most will be out of circulation. On the down side though, only someone exceedingly lucky or with very deep pockets will ever be able to own one.

Not sure that there is anyone in the model world who is quite so centred (wealthy) on what they set out to achieve and too few who have their collections on display. Most we come across admit to having ‘everything packed away in boxes in the loft’, which to us seems a great shame. Indeed, a less than happy long-term correspondent complained to us that many engine and car collectors are akin to the purchasers of multi million pound artworks who prefer to remain ‘anonymous’. One can understand this to a certain extent as there have been ‘visits’ in the past where engine and car collectors have been relieved of part or all of their items, which in turn has given rise to all sorts of interesting theories. After all, models are not the easiest things to dispose of and, like famous paintings, far too many of them would be instantly recognisable if they ever reappeared. Surely there are not collectors within our sphere that are knowingly sitting on items that have been ‘knocked off’, are there?

Pitbox is another manifestation of our favourite gripe, dealers pretending something is not what it actually is. This one was local to us and comprised two cars, a McCoy Mite with ‘full provenance and description’, except ‘Nylint’ and attendant wording on the pan clearly evident but not reflected in the £300+ price tag and our Pitbox subject with an even more elevated price tag and spurious description.

Steve Betney has been in full production mode this year and has now sent details of yet another Lotus car that he has built, this time the distinctive MK IX that we remember so well from early trips to Snetterton.

A while ago we were saddened to hear that Gary Barnes had closed his K&G Enterprises business. His publications and superb parts and kits for tethered cars have been sorely missed although you may be lucky enough to find some in a private sale or on ebay. They are well worth the money, being top quality and eminently useable, several having found their way to the UK. Gary has just informed us that his website is back up as a source of reference with some super 'gallery' photos. Love the steampunk stuff as well.

First track day of the new season at Gt Carlton with a goodly number of Retro Club members and others turning up. We knew of its existence but were sworn to secrecy of the new and very different Oliver Tiger powered design from John Goodall, and no, it was not an aircar, but chain driven.

Empty Spaces: Sad news from the US that Woody Bartelt has died at the grand age of 88. There can be few that have not shopped from his amazing Aero Electric catalogue with its myriad of spares, parts and reproduction engines. Another valuable source of supply that will now pass into the annals of history. Our condolences to his family who have undertaken to fulfil all current orders.

April 2018

Towards the tail end of last year and into 2018, there have been a number of smaller collections that have come onto the market for a variety of reason. One an enforced downsizing, one a trading up, another due to the sad demise of the collector and a couple through the necessity of having a ‘clear out’ or rationalisation. In all bar one of these, the seller or person acting on their behalf was displaying what we politely term ‘exceedingly unrealistic expectations’ in relation to the asking prices. That this is prevalent, and not just in the model world, can be judged by comments from established valuers and increasing restrictions being put in place by auction houses. It is sobering to see (if you were the vendor) that the estimates placed on a series of paintings sold in 2017 were in the order of several millions less for each than had been paid, and then there are the costs to be added as well. Unfortunately, anyone selling cars, boats or engines now will probably have to accept the same hit, although several magnitudes less, unless there is the element of rarity or exceptional desirability attached, how much an Amro 10?

Just for fun, we had a trawl of dealers, auctions and associates to gather some comparative prices for a typical, British, mass-produced motor, the ED Racer. The most expensive £245, twice as much as the NIB example and three times what a well respected dealer was asking, all for the same version. As avid watchers of ‘reality antiques’ programmes will know, there is often a large gulf between the ‘expectation’ of the vendor and what needs to be paid if there is to be a profit to be made. Dealers, auction houses or ebay, don’t do it for nothing, it can be anywhere between 20% and 40% of the total vanishing in costs, add on another 20-30% minimum for profit and suddenly the figures don’t add up. A real example we followed out of personal interest sold at auction for £250, with commission, lotting fees and a photo, the vendor got less than £200. Including premium, the buyer paid just on £300 and then put it on his table some weeks later at £420. So how much was it really worth, and in some cases we have found, the mark up is even more extreme? Auction houses are sometimes not avoidable, but to minimize the gap between what the purchaser pays and the vendor gets, a private sale is much more equitable. Mind you, when offered such a private sale at a realistic price, the owner demurred and allowed the item to go to auction and run its course, whereupon it sold for far less than he had been offered, plus he was lumbered for fees as well.

A final thought. The days of ‘money no object’ hooverers in the model world seems to be largely over, but there are still lots of more canny collectors willing and even eager to spend their hard earned. Price it right and it will sell, set unrealistic expectations and it is likely to be there for a very long while, unless of course the higher price persuades the less knowledgeable that it is a rarity???

A strange coincidence arose with last month's Album of ‘interesting engines’ that has enabled us to dig out something we were working on prior to the establishment of OTW, which we have now completed and put into an article. The photo was of a Craftsman Twin built by Harry Rae and the article explores this in more detail, while illustrating, quite graphically, the different attitudes that existed in tethered cars in the late 1940, which led to the decline of the sport.

Pitbox this month is a wonderful illustration of just what is still out there, waiting to be discovered, just a question of being in the right place at the right time as this lucky correspondent found.

The weather firmly put the mockers on the planned day of registration and car inspection for the coming racing season although four members did manage to convene to get the bulk of the work done. The first stage of FEMA's intention to have everything online was the driver registration process that has rendered the pen redundant, whilst the complete list of car registrations is already online, an impressive amount of work from Secretary Christoph Rabenseifner. By a strange quirk of fate, Britain suffered from a second helping of the 'beast from the east' in two weeks that coincided with the season opening lunch for the tethered hydroplane group. Proving that they are made of sterner stuff, most made it down to deepest Essex for the event.

For a variety of reasons, a number of our Links and Contacts have vanished or changed recently, mostly new web addresses for existing sites that we have been able to update, but some companies and individuals have seemingly disappeared completely so have been removed. Not altogether sure that they are totally accurate as some of the URLs are a bit unusual, but we will persist until we have them right.

It was all looking a bit thin at the start of the month, but since then we have been delighted to receive details of new cars, projects on the go and works in progress, so thanks to Steve, Oliver, Dave and Hugh for the material that has made it a bumper edition on the constructional front.  Following on from Peter Hill’s Babb car last month we have details of more cars being built specifically for running at the Retro Club events. Two very different cars first of all, one a faithful reproduction of the Oliver’s ‘Busy’ and the other from Dave Cunliffe, a modern take on the ‘retro concept’. The third car is another example of superb workmanship from Steve Betney. It is neither a Retro style car or a reproduction of an existing tethered car model but an very near scale version of a Lotus 49 intended to run on the circular track. Probably one of the prettiest and most effective Formula one cars of all time, even as a plastic kit, until it vanished up the hoover that is? Thanks to Steve for all the hard work he puts into preparing these articles.

The latest edition of the Retro Club newsletter is now published, number 69 no less, and this also adds to the comments in the editorial regarding unrealistic expectations. Recently there has been a large number of cars, engines, tyres and other parts for sale on ebay, mostly from the Baltic states and the old eastern bloc countries. Whilst most of these are at eminently affordable prices, there are some, and we suspect here not the original vendors, putting quite outrageous starting prices. Complete RYTM motor with wheels and tyres from a vendor almost exactly one third of the price a bare motor from a dealer was offered at. 

We met up with Oliver Monk at the beginning of March to have a look at the FEMA cars being prepared for the new season and marvel at the workmanship of one of them in particular. Since then, Oliver has been cutting metal on new projects, which he describes and illustrates in his latest 'Workshop Ramblings', as well as updating us on work in progress. He also has a very useful tip for making bead grooves in wheels that does not require trepanning tools and a lot of lathe chatter, noted here for future projects, so thanks again to Oliver.

The greatest difficulty facing those wishing to run vintage and retro style cars is the lack of suitable tyres, especially for wheel driven cars. Many of those being marketed currently are for display only and not safe to run. Luckily there is a source of supply of a range of tyres here in the UK that we have added to the 'Spares Counter' page.

March 2018

During the winter there was an opportunity to peruse more closely much of the material that we had been sent over the last year, and with the new season of racing almost upon us reflect a little on some of the sea change moments in our respective sports. In a way, both tethered cars and hydroplanes have arrived at a point where there is little, if any, real change, development or innovation, but it was not always thus. As described in one of our major articles, George Stone, as the euphemism goes, moved the goal posts massively back in 1947 by using a commercial Dooling motor in a tiny twin hulled boat to shatter the outright record and change the direction of the sport entirely. From then on hulls and engines evolved through to the style of boat that has been the norm for nearly thirty years now.

In the car world, there was not quite the same defining moment in terms of performance and certainly not so early although the modern tethered car design arrived about the same time as that of the hydro, and largely down to the work of two people, Roger Theobold and Bill Wisnewski, who in the mid 60s developed the tuned pipe for use on model sized motors. We now have fairly comprehensive lists for car events going way back and it is fascinating how certain motors have dominated each era. It might surprise many to know that the bulk of the 10cc entries as late as 1971 were still using side exhaust Dooling motors and the YJ derivative. The 5cc class was the stronghold of the similar Super-Tigre, whilst the 1.5cc class was equally split between, of all motors, the Cox and various home builds. The 2.5 class by contrast included seven different commercial motors.  As an aside, the Dooling that dominated in cars for 20 years or so had a very short life span in hydros, with Hornets, McCoys and later Super Tigre and Rossi motors being much more suited to the water environment. However, the signs of what was to come were there in the early 70s with the arrival of Sarolli,  Picco and the OPS, also being run by Horst Denneler. Gualtiero Picco, had set up OPS in 1968 but it was a couple of years before the front exhaust versions of his motors brought about the change in car and boat designs we now recognise. Yes some did use the rear exhaust motors with pipes facing forwards or even more strangely curving back over the motor like a giant iron handle.

Just four years later, only the Russian entries and Celestin Duran were using anything other than the OPS in 10cc. The 5cc class saw eleven OPSs competing against a dozen home built motors with twenty Rossi 2.5s in the smaller class. Just two Cox motors still in 1.5cc compared with a vast array of one offs and home builds. Isn’t it remarkable, and a tribute to the man, that motors emanating from the drawing board of Gualtiero Picco have now held sway in the 10cc class of tethered hydroplanes and tethered cars for the thick end of fifty years. It is almost beyond belief that between the Dooling brothers and Picco they have defined 10cc tethered car racing for seventy years?

As a long-term project we would like to record the changes that happened to cars and hydros from the late 60s and through to around 1980 and the cars and boats as we know them now, but there seems an absolute dearth of printed material or photos. Can anyone help?

The St Albans International was the venue when Ian Berne was suitably ‘baptised’ for his record breaking performance with his flash steam boat. Part II of our Flash Steam Gallery takes the story from 100mph to 118mph, the retirement of Ian, and on to the current 129mph record.

The Pitbox probably adds more confusion as it is yet another variation on packaging used by 1066 for the standard 5cc Falcon, or is there the possibility that this was actually for a factory built engine?

In the latest edition of his Workshop Ramblings, Oliver Monk adds more detail and setups for machining pistons. Someone posed the question on Facebook as to why bother, but as the piston liner fit appears to be the heart of the engine producing power and the pistons do wear quickly this is the way to keep things at their optimum without the continued and considerable expense of buying new sets on a regular basis. Thanks to Oliver for continuing to record all this precision work. 

We are very conscious that the firms and individuals offering services and items of retro tethered car interest is declining all too rapidly, so any ventures of this nature are to be applauded and in our case, given publicity. To this end, we have put together a new page under the grand title of 'Spares Counter' where we will publish details of any items of interest. At present, we have just moved what we had from Tight Lines to the new page so they do not vanish with updating. If you have or know of any source of supply of items and services that may be useful, then please let us know. We cannot do commercial adverts or sales, but we can give publicity.

Empty Spaces: We have heard, via Oliver Monk,  the sad news that Stan Barrett has died after a period of ill health. Stan had been involved with racing model cars from the 1950s, originally with railcars where he won numerous events and championships with the North London Club. Later he joined the newly formed BTCA, becoming GB003, regularly running cars at meetings within Europe, predominantly in Sweden. Over a period of time he acquired quite a stable of Class 1 and Class 2 cars, establishing British records in both classes. His 1.5cc record lasted until  2014 when it was broken by Aaron Monk, using one of Stan's cars although extensively re-engineered. The 2.5cc record he set stood until 2017. Stan's last trip to a FEMA meeting was at Lyon and his final visit to a car event was the 'Old Timer's' meeting at Orebro.

February 2018

It’s a funny old world at times? We are, and have been, members of numerous different organisations, clubs and groups over the years, and two things they all have shared in common is that firstly they are (usually) run by super enthusiasts who willingly give oodles of time and huge amounts of work for the good of the activity. More often than not, there was also an associated magazine, newsletter and even a yearbook. Only in the biggest national organisations were honoraria paid, most did it for free, often subsidising it all out of their own pockets. The second and less happy factor they share is that there are always individuals or groups within the organisations that are never happy with the way things are run, the content of the magazine, the conduct of the officers and so on. All too often there are also accusations of ‘taking advantage of positions’ to further their own activities, collections, get freebies and generally use the organisation to their own ends.

Pre twitter, this was restricted to ‘letters to the editor’ or person to person moaning, but one thing that has not changed is that few of the ‘complainers’ actively contribute anything other than their ‘subs’. Yes, organisations, magazines, events and the people involved do get stale for a variety of reason and those most intimately involved may not realise this or are happy with the ‘status quo’. Things do need to move on, but this is seldom achieved by ‘carping’. It is easy to make demands of volunteers or criticise, yet we relate two cases that illustrate this perfectly. The first was quite outspoken criticism of a couple running a national organisation by a number of members who thought far more should be done (by those running it) and that a new nationwide organisation be set up to oversee the same activity. It was inevitable that the prime mover of all this then pointed out that ‘he did not have the time to do it’. The second is closer to home and related by a long time officer faced with a number of proposals concerning what should be done within the association. Said officer stated that ‘he was in full agreement, and when was the person going to make a start’? ‘Ah well, I didn’t mean I was offering to do it?????

We are very lucky with material for the website, but numerous clubs to which we also belong are desperate for articles and contributions to enable magazines and newsletters to continue. It has also been pointed out to us at their events that there are those that do, but an equally large group that are prepared to sit there and let them. There are now fewer and fewer people, if any, willing to give up time to organise, administer and run events and clubs, even less if they are likely to get criticised or even sworn at. Why would they? Luckily in the world of tethered cars and hydroplanes, we still have those willing to take on the tasks, but it falls more and more to competitors to rally round and even compromise their own running to ensure meetings go ahead. A little help never goes amiss, criticism when a volunteer is seldom welcome.

For the ‘Pitbox’ this month there is a special offer, even better than a BOGOF, three for the price of one and three vintage designs by the ‘father of modern airscrew hydros’ Mike Drinkwater.

Readers will be aware of the occasional Flash Steam Gallery specials that have looked at some of the less well known exponents of the 'black art'. For some while we have been preparing an extended version that celebrates the battle royal that took place from 1988 to 1998 between two acknowledged masters, Bob Kirtley and Ian Berne, which raised the record from 75mph to 118mph.  Part one deals with the race to the magic 100mph mark.

Once the dust has settled from the festive shutdown thoughts turn to the new season and the work needed to get boats and cars ready for the off, and hopefully performing as well, or more preferably, better than previously. The OTW bench has been busy, but with minor work compared to the intricate engineering that Oliver Monk details in the first of his 2018 'Ramblings'. We consider it an achievement to make new bridles without a visit to A&E! As usual, there is a informative mix of tooling, techniques and tips on 'how to', so thank you to Oliver for sharing all this with us and for spending the time to put it all together for publication. The past five years of 'Ramblings' are such a valuable source of material that we maintain the pages on the site for reference.

Hardly an 'empty space' as it had to be filled immediately, but the computer that published every edition of OTW up to now is no more, the hard drive was likened to 'sounding like a steam engine', and coal fired computers are apparently no longer available. Hopefully this all works, goodbye XP?

January 2018

New Year already, so time to reflect on the season gone by, along with the highs and lows and the march of technology. An electric boat, a tiny A1 at that, now holds the outright tethered hydroplane record whilst 200mph is quite possible with an electric tethered car. One tethered car and three hydroplane world records, numerous national records and a string of personal best performances in this country have made it a remarkable season. Andriy Yakimiv, Ando Rhotmets and Danielle Duran have been notching up the wins throughout the year in Europe. The Smolnikov family continue with their remarkable careers and probably creating some sort of record as, between the three of them, they compete with both cars and boats in multiple classes and win regularly.

The British tethered hydroplane scene has been blighted this last year by the paucity of runs recorded, reflecting what also happened in the World Championships where less than 20% of the starts resulted in timed runs in some classes. The gremlins have had an absolute field day wrecking motors, drive trains, props and even boats, but after several lean years, it has been the A1 and A2 classes that have been the most competitive and produced a record and some lifetime bests. The A3 class has been annexed again by Tony Collins, with the vast majority of the runs he completed well into the 130s and two at 138+. The Picco motor still manages to frustrate again with only around one in five of the starts resulting in completed runs. The only other entrant into the 130+ club with an A3 was our ‘fast lady’ Lynn Blowers who can now lay claim to that title in both A2 and A3 classes. Jim Free has been making a MDS go exceedingly fast in a B1 Sport, while the imported B1s and Profi motors should go if only they could cure the yips. If the evil little gremlins put paid to far too many runs, illness and injuries have had an equally deleterious effect on entries, so we wish all those who are struggling a speedy recovery and hope to see you back on the water this year.

The European forays with tethered cars have had mixed results with Oliver Monk’s Workshop Ramblings detailing the many engine rebuilds he has had to undertake during the year. For the rest, no major disasters, but not entirely the speeds hoped for either. Breakages are an integral part of racing, but it would be gratifying to see a greater degree of reliability from the hydros, both at home and abroad. Perhaps some fundamental rethinking is required?

The ‘one a month’ Pitbox has provided some fascinating items over the last year and continues to spring surprises. First off for 2018 is again something very different as it is a drawing of a flight of fancy that did come to fruition, as a supplementary photo shows. Thanks to Miles Patience for all the material that relates to this long forgotten project.

The first article of the New Year was brought about by our ‘Where are they now’ Album, which featured several of Carl Wainwright’s superbly built cars. In spite of pleas on the site and facebook there is still no indication of where the cars are, but they are such an important part of British tethered car history that we have put together a potted history of each.

With youtube and facebook there are now numerous clips of tethered cars and hydros, vintage and modern and even live streaming of events. What is unusual to find is a published video for a particular event. Hartmut Berhrendt from Germany filmed the 2010 European Championships at Kapfenhardt and then produced a DVD for the RGSV. He has now uploaded the entire two hour video to youtube and passed us the link. Thanks to Hartmut there is a very watchable and well produced record of this event.