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View From The Pylon

January 2021

We are told regularly to be positive and that ‘things will get better’, despite what seems to happening at present, so we wish all our readers a healthy, happy and successful 2021 and look forward to a season of events. A very big thank you to everyone who has contributed towards this 'bumper' issue.

Apart from the obvious, 2020 was still notable for things breaking when they shouldn’t or stopping working at most inconvenient moments. On several occasions it resulted in loss of life, serious injury or substantial damage and financial loss. As we are not in the cars, boats or aeroplanes that we use, the outcomes are not normally so serious, yet we must not lose sight of the fact that we have to ensure the models we use and the way we use them is safe in all respects. The spectacular photo in a recent Aeromodeller shows the perils of being on board when something goes wrong. It is then ironic that the rules for model cars boats and planes contain little that relates to the structural integrity, materials, or methods of construction of the models. Apart from bridles, lines and attachments, most of the rest is left to manufacturers or TLAR (that looks about right) in the eyes of the builder.

Colin Chapman always quoted the mantra, simplicate and add lightness, which led to some very fragile cars. In the tethered car world a safety factor of two is used for all specified components but for the rest it is mainly guesswork. New items can and often do have faults either in design or manufacture as we see occasionally, and that is without the elements of age or continual stressing that exist in the model world where a number of cast pans from the same source have cracked after a few seasons use. Age hardening, vibration, stress reversals, incorrect application of heat, judicious lightening or insufficient strength in the first place can all provide opportunities for failures, especially where magnesium alloys and titanium are concerned.

When it comes to tyres it is even worse as the rubber used can be of very varying quality, some seventy year old examples still being soft and crack free, others totally unusable. One major supplier of replica tyres states quite categorically that they are ‘for display only’ as they are not actually rubber. There may well be no problem with a retro style car bumbling round at 40mph but as 120mph or more was the norm in the 50s and faster still in later decades then it is a really not safe. Metal fatigue is the great enemy with tethered cars, good old-fashioned ingress of water and oil with boats. Vintage and modern planes fall out of the sky because of it, and tethered car chassis, pans and bridles have cracked or broken through fatigue. One of the most stark demonstrations we saw was a safety clip that was supposed to withstand several hundred pounds pull but was broken with just two fingers, age and stress reversals having hardened the material until it had virtually no strength. Personal experience to the fore here as OTW has two relatively modern commercial FEMA cars on the shelf with cast pans that are cracked and two others where so called solid extruded aluminium has given up the ghost. With the prospect of a full season of track events in the UK, make sure what you are running or have built is up to the job.

We are lucky in that much of the content on the website has come from those who have contacted us as they have either an item of interest, family related memorabilia or material that they are prepared to pass on or share with us. On a number of occasions these have been albums or scrapbooks that were put together by fathers or grandfathers and that have been rediscovered at some stage. The material can be very personal but also gives a wonderful insight into activities of that period. We are delighted then that the new Album this month features a series of photos from such a volume, assembled by Joe Riding of the Bolton Club. His British 10cc record still stands to this day. Amongst the material were a number of newspaper reports that we hope to scan and feature at a later date?

The 2021 Pitbox series commences with something of a 'Special edition' and a veritable gem, a 'sleeper' as the antiques market would call it, an engine that will arouse a great deal of excitement and interest. It is a British commercial engine that was known to have been produced and was tested by Peter Chinn but has so far eluded all attempts to positively identify an existing version. No doubt about the company that made it as it the name is embossed down the by-pass, yet it remained in what Adrian Duncan referred to as an 'information vacuum'. Not only has one turned up in the most unusual of circumstances, but it is also one of the rare pre-production models. The current owner was not aware of its importance until he saw a very poor scan of an original on OTW that he thought 'looked like his engine' but could not find any further information to confirm his belief. A set of photos, followed by a partial stripdown of the motor confirmed its identity and importance. We know where it has been for over 65 years, but it is how it got there that is the mystery. A bit of forensics and guesswork might provide a clue and the Photo helps as it is where the discovery started. Also, a selection of the more amusing captions to our Christmas competition.   

Steve Betney has alerted us to another superb set of tethered car castings from JDR Paris, this time the Lancia D50. The quality and detail of these is amazing and down to the double shell moulding techniques used with core plates and mould plates that control the thickness of the castings precisely and allow excellent surface detail. Most of the repro castings available are second or third generation sand castings that are very variable in quality and thickness as well as being significantly smaller that the originals. One set that is available is now so small that the correct engine will no longer fit.

Market Place:- A regular and much anticipated section of magazines and newsletters where members and enthusiasts advertise their for sale and wanted items. Since Model Engine World and the Retro Club newsletter ceased publication there has been no alternative other than online forums, auctions with their attendant expense  or in better times, getting up at an indecent hour to visit the dwindling number of swapmeets. Remember when Watford or Walsall were staples on the calendar? With our change in hosts we will be trying a Market Place page, where individuals can advertise related items for sale or place wanted ads for specific items. All ads are free and should be sent to otwmedia0@gmail.com with a description, photo if desired, price, and contact details as you would like them to be seen. We can substitute (at) for @ to confuse the phishers and scammers. Just a few simple rules. Tethered car, hydro and related items only, including engines, books and magazines, a price, ONO is acceptable but not 'offers' and if it is a wanted item, then it has to be specific, no 'catch all' ads. A goodly selection for the first posting, star item this time round is a ready to run A3 tethered hydro. Finally, the usual disclaimer in that all activities are between advertiser and customer and that posting the ads does not imply any connection with OTW.

On all the drawings that accompanied the tethered cars produced by the Oliver company was the caption 'designed by Harry Howlett', who was responsible for all the semi scale designs from the original Proto Two Five onward. What is generally not appreciated is that these were simplified for production but Harry produced a much more elaborate and detailed version of each one for his own use. Having bought a Redfin engined Oliver Mercedes off the sale table at Buckminster, John Goodall set about adding some scale touches to it, as he has done to all his models of full sized versions. Many Oliver repros are minus any sort of radiator grill as this is difficult to reproduce in such small scale. One article even described using a dog's flea comb as a basis. John has gone one stage further, even including a correct badge that involved a 14 BA thread, that's tiny!

2021 dates:- FEMA has published a draft calendar for the coming season, which includes the European Championships being held at the Witterswill track of the SMCC in July following the cancellation last year. Updates regularly on speedmodelcar.  A tethered hydroplane calendar for the UK has now been published, immediately updated with a long awaited piece of news. After a great deal of work, travel and searching by Norman, Pete and Steve, a new lake has been secured in the same vicinity as Althorne. Hall Farm Lake near Maldon is now a reality and the intention is to get the pylon and steps in place in March. Thanks to all for the work both in decommissioning Althorne and finding a new venue. A new group has been set up to coordinate activities at the Buckminster tethered car track with a series of dates and events agreed, and these, along with the contact details for the new group can be found on a second Buckminster page. We have put together a gallery of events from 2020 at Buckminster, with the full story of building the track.

It is now over 120 years since the world's fastest car was electric powered with Camille Jenatzy recording over 100kph. All the model car tracks in the 20s and beyond were electric powered, yet it was many years before electric power began to challenge IC in terms of power but now it is a viable power source, although still with limitations imposed by battery technology. In the model world where range is not an important factor, electric power is a serious alternative, so it is no surprise that the fastest tethered hydroplane and tethered car in the world are both electric powered. In the days of NiCads and wire wound rheostats it was all pretty simple, but now the technology and associated hardware along with all the maths involved is mind bending. Electric power is something that will need to be assimilated and will almost certainly exist alongside IC. So far OTW has reported on the progress of electric powered cars and boats, but have not had the opportunity to present any technical details or avenues that might be open for the future. We are delighted then that Antonio Della Zoppa has agreed to provide details of his venture into electric power, but not for a hydro as you would expect from the current European Champion, but a tethered car.

Empty Spaces: If the problems associated with Covid were not enough, the past year has been a particularly difficult and sad one with the losses that the modelling world has suffered, both in Britain and further a field. The year finished as it had started with more bad news, the passing of a life long modeller and two multiple tethered car champions. 

We were saddened to hear of the death of Richard (Dick) Roberts early last month. Readers of the website will be well aware of his involvement with tethered cars and his experimental 'sidecar' aircar that became the Gt Carlton track record holder after several seasons of development. Dick was so much more though with a lifelong involvement in aeromodelling, and along with his wife Babs was fundamental to the growth of vintage speed flying in Britain. We have fond, if somewhat scary, memories of events at Oakington including Dooling 61 planes being flown on monoline with the pilot nearly horizontal, and the first flight of the restored John Wood plane that is central to our Pitbox item this month. In addition to all his modelling activities, Dick was a superb engineer, rebuilding and restoring many engines, as well as testing them for publications. In order not to annoy the neighbours, Dick would take his engines and test stand up to a layby on the A6, pretty essential with vintage 60s on open exhausts.

In the later years he took over the cataloguing of engines for the annual Gilding sale and became a prime mover in the establishment of the tethered car track at Buckminster. When speed flying became a bit too energetic Dick turned to tethered cars, making the trip up to Gt Carlton on a regular basis even when his health was in serious decline, although this never diminished his enthusiasm. As his illness progressed he was forced to sell off his workshop and all his planes, cars and engines, with the exception of the 'sidecar' that he continued to run, thanks to other members who would chauffeur him to various events. A sad loss to the modelling world and our condolences go out to Babs and the family.

Numerous tributes have been paid to Dick, reflecting on the many years of modelling and the enjoyment he used to get from flying. A full obituary should appear in the next SAM magazine. To honour Dick and his efforts to establish the track, the new timing hut at Buckminster is to be named after him. Further, a trophy has been commissioned in his memory that will be competed for by 2.5cc aircars. In a generous gesture, Babs has donated Dick's aircar to be presented annually to the winner of the competition who will be asked to give the car a commemorative run at the end of the competition. It will be interesting to see how the car that broke the track record at Gt Carlton at just over 80mph will perform at Buckminster?

With the death of Mats Bohlin, the tethered car community has lost another multiple champion. Not only was he a 3 times European Champion and a record holder but has the rare distinction of achieving these with engines that he designed and built and that bear his name, the MB10. We did not 'know' him as such, yet on our occasional meetings he  was so forthcoming with help, information and willingness to explain what he was doing, and importantly, why. As well as running modern Class V cars, he was a great enthusiast for what are termed the 'old timers', campaigning these on a regular basis.

The Swedish nation are past masters at building their own cars and engines, incorporating their own ides so successfully and Mats was no exception, being at the very top levels of performance for many years. After a lean period, he explained to us that he had been pursuing an avenue of experiment that had turned out to be a dead end so was going to rethink his approach. In this he almost achieved another record, falling short by just 1/100th of a kph. Ill health restricted his activities more recently and his passing has been another blow in an already very difficult year. Our condolences to his family.

Priit Hoyer was one of the new guard of tethered car racers, being part of the Estonian 'dream team' that did so much to encourage young enthusiasts into the sport. We first met him at Lyon in 2005 where he won the first of four consecutive European Championships in Class 2, seven kph ahead of second place. He added the World Championship in 2007 to his tally and a new European record in 2008. 

For ten years, he and team mate Lembit Vaher shared the 2.5cc class victories between them, a remarkable achievement. Priit built his own cars, later adding a Class IV car to his stable, which he was running at the Hannover EC in 2018, the last time we saw him.

Left: Priit winning his first European Championship in 2005 at Lyon.

2nd Peter Arlautzki, 3rd Gualtiero Picco 4th Lembit Vaher 5th Andrey Usanov. A huge number of championships represented in one photo.