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June/July 2022

Back in January we related the saga of establishing the identity of a modern car and the research it involved. Later in the year we became part of a national quest where an owner was enquiring as to whether anyone could identify a tether car that he had in his possession? What was unusual was that the owner had set up several lines of enquiry involving magazines, individuals and ourselves, but all acting independently and only becoming aware of the common thread through a series of those coincidences that we enjoy so much. What was even more bizarre was that we had published a photo of the original builder with the car some eight years previously, but with no evidence to make any connection. Even so, weird coincidences continued to arise that makes the story worth retelling.

The car in question was a typical mid 1950s tether car, obviously intended for serious racing with the body bearing a quite sophisticated logo that stated ‘Planet 61 Powered’. Not a name that anyone could recall and nor did the motor match any known design but was nevertheless a well built 10cc motor, with one very distinctive feature. This was a domed rear crankcase housing with a right-angled venturi and a tail shaft that would have seemed to drive a magneto or contact breaker. No one could shed any light on the name and working through ten years of race reports and articles produced no further leads, so reluctantly we had to admit to the owner that we had no clue, and there it was left for a while. However, at one of the Buckminster meetings, David Giles said that he had a ‘mystery car’ for us and sent a scan of a page from ‘Best Of British’ magazine that was enquiring if any ‘reader could help’? This had been passed to him from long time enthusiast Chas Atkins to see if he had any thoughts? David eventually came up trumps, finding a photocopy of a race report from Guiseley amongst his archives that had a photo captioned ‘Interesting O.D. 10cc powerhouse by R. Haydock of Blackpool’. Unfortunately the copy was not sufficiently good to do much more than confirm that it was the same car but it also raised the question as to why the heck we had not seen it after our search? Well another bizarre coincidence was that the report was in Model Maker for September 1953. Guess which issue from our entire collection of MCN, Model Cars and Model Maker is missing, yes, you couldn’t make it up.

With a name and club, things started falling into place as we had published a photo of Roger Haydock of the Blackpool club who featured regularly in results with his 5cc and 10cc cars and was a team mate of Les Williamson, the photo being the two of them at a Sunderland meeting. This information could be passed on to the owner, and this is where the coincidences really took off as the owner of the car lived in Blackpool where he had found it and research by his own family revealed that a R. Haydock had lived just two streets away from him at one stage. Quite independently, another correspondent contacted us to say that he thought he had located the old Blackpool track behind the Castle Garden Hotel, and guess who had lived just a stones throw from the hotel, yes the owner of the mystery car that was no longer a mystery. Sadly, although still in excellent condition, the car was missing most of the internals, which the photo from 1953 could show, as that was the only known close up. Peter Hill came up with an original copy of the magazine so at last the secrets of the Planet 61 and its unusual back end and ignition system could be revealed.

It is really gratifying when a car or boat can be positively identified and some sort of history attached to it. Doesn’t happen too often, although in the last year and thanks to our correspondents, readers and a lot of delving we have managed to identify seven cars that would otherwise have remained mysteries. Still several to go though.

The Pitbox then is Roger Haydock’s car, a mystery no longer.

First rain for several weeks that dampened things a bit at Hall Farm and Old Warden. Happily, it all brightened up for the first of the May regattas and the hydro motors seemed to perk up a bit as well, with several runs  at competitive speeds being added to the results chart and a new British record for Angel Gullick with her 'EV' hydro. A spectacular new A1E record for Angela at the late May regatta at Hall Farm, another case of the amps beating the CCs. The first meeting of the season at Kingsbury fell foul to the combines effects of the Jubilee, bad weather and the subsequently poor turnout. Definitely a tale of two days at Old Warden with rain and wind on the Saturday but warm, sunny and just a gentle breeze on Sunday. What was noticeable was the biggest attendance for many years on Sunday and wonderful to have a Modelair event free of restrictions.  What does engage the mind somewhat is the absolutely huge number of engines that are for sale at such an event and how the market might change in the future, especially as several more collections have been broken up recently. It is our feeling that there has to be a severe dose of realism if sales are to be made, and we were delighted to hear one trader who has adopted that stance and almost sold out his stock.

We often cite examples where new information that has come to light can cast doubt on or require changes to what has previously been recorded and published. Quite often this will result from a search for something entirely different as has been this latest revelation, some 120 years after it was first printed but entirely missed, yet is fundamental to the correct chronology of model boat racing. Like with the bungee that actually appeared in this country thirty years before its 'discovery here', so the principle of running a model boat on a tether was proposed back in 1903, five years before its first recorded use and changes the attribution of this form of running completely. This does beg the question as to when the first ever run on a tether might have taken place?

An excellent weekend of running tethered cars at Buckminster, helped in no short measure by the superb weather on Saturday and that the rain forecast for Sunday did not arrive until mid afternoon. Oliver and Aaron Monk have spent a lot of time building a track grinder and then putting it to good use over several days of very hard work. The effectiveness of this was the vastly increased speeds being recorded for all cars and the much more stable runs being observed. Thanks to everyone for the work involved in getting this done.

After two years of frustration, cancellations, disappointments and 'you know what', the OTW Spring tour to Basel and Kapfenhardt was able to take place, with British competitors running in European events for the first time since 2019. For all sorts of reasons from the conflict in Ukraine, illness, accidents and the sad demise of some competitors, entries were much reduced, but it was great to meet up with people again and run cars. A wry chuckle when a well respected competitor of long standing told us that the lockdown had given him a chance to clean all the engines and cars in his display cabinets for the first time in twenty years. 

The documentary series from Vectis Toy Auctions has produced many similarities between what they deal with and our interest. In particular the market for train models is shrinking with a resultant reduction in prices as the cohort of potential buyers gets ever smaller. Star Wars by contrast has gone mad, something that perhaps we should all consider, especially with a swapmeet in the offing at Buckminster?

A very quick turnaround and off to Buckminster for the June track and speed day. Gratifying to see almost every car running faster than before and a whole slew of personal bests being recorded. Interesting to hear of the budgets that are required to run a fast jet model and the cost of the models, ours are cheap by comparison.

May/June 2022

We have been involved in motor sport, both full sized and model for more years than we care to recall yet there is one overriding theme that has governed all branches, and that is reliability, firstly in getting whatever motor it is to start and secondly, keeping it running for the length of the race it is undertaking. Doesn’t matter what motor it is, the requirements are relatively simple, fuel in correct proportions getting to the cylinders, some form of ignition and then a method of turning the engine over, either a physical effort or the luxury of electricity. If all of these are met, then it should start, but all too often they didn’t. Someone pushing a 500cc racing bike up a hill when it refuses to start is suffering the ultimate frustration, but this was the way it was done for decades. Spark ignition is notoriously unreliable, especially if there is any water about, and never worked too well with hydroplanes, model or full sized.

The move to electronic ignition changed the scene completely with almost 100% reliability in starting and completing a race, unless an accident or the engine committing hari kiri brought things to a premature end. Tethered hydroplanes have never been the most reliable, but with glow plugs, it is only the fuel part of the equation left to worry about, and more importantly starting the things with a piece of string, and this can cause untold problems. Tethered cars on the whole are much easier to start, primarily because the engine is being spun over much faster than a hydro because of the gearing and large wheels. With a horser, if the engine is running at all, a car can be wound up to nigh on 100mph before being set on its merry way, at which point it will either accelerate further or run out of go, requiring a twiddle on the needle, or sometimes a new plug. Launching a hydro is a bit more fraught as first of all that has to be accomplished, and assuming it stays above the water, will it accelerate or die? If it picks up, will it come up to speed and will it keep going for the required distance as you only get the one go? All too frequently of late this has not been happening, which is becoming increasingly frustrating, and not a wonderful advert for the sport either.

Assuming that the car or boat does keep going, then there is the small matter of whether to get the hand up or press the button, an action in itself that can put the mockers on the model. One school of thought is to always get your hand up, especially on the first run to get a ‘banker’ in, and certainly that was the case at Pila last September when four classes were won with the first run. Perusal of results going back to the 1950s reveals that this is a regular occurrence. This in turn can lead to a number of later runs not being recorded or taken if there is no chance of beating the previous speed. It was pointed out to us that it does not look good to see the results of a European Championship where only 10% of the starts recorded a speed as this does not distinguish between there being no run and the competitor not getting their hand up. It is almost impossible to explain to a spectator why a seemingly fast run is not being timed when the true answer is that is was not quite as fast as a previous one. All of this presupposes that the model is achieving racings speeds and keeping going, a situation that has been sadly lacking in the tethered hydro world for several seasons now, with little apparent understanding of the root cause.

Pitbox this month is most unusual as it is a purpose built and commercial, British tethered car engine, but from the modern era. Until this one turned up, we have never even seen a photograph of the engine, although we knew of its existence, and several people have said, ‘oh yes’ I had one but sold it’. There are more out there, but the question is where?

We are continuing the theme from last month’s article about cars that turned out to be somewhat different and more important than was first thought. Another car from the collection of the late Jim Lee that was at first dismissed as nothing more than ‘ the basis of a project’, but turned out to be a remarkably rare commercial car from the US. John Goodall has produced yet another example of his superb panel beating skills with the renovation and completion of this, which he details in in another of his superb build articles. Thanks to John for all the work in producing the article, the photography and working to a very tight deadline. For those in search of a real rarity, the car is now for sale.

It could almost be guaranteed that after the wonderful spell of warm weather we had been enjoying that it should turn cold and windy for the first regatta of the season? Nothing daunted, a group of hardy enthusiasts gathered at Hall Farm Lake on April the 2nd for the first outing of the year. Unfortunately it was little better at the end of the month. When the wind drops, it will be a super venue and give everyone a chance to get their boats running at top speeds.  Thanks to Angela and Norman for reports, results and photos.

The SAM Spring Gala was the first opportunity to get some track time in at Buckminster and try out all those new and winter development projects. It was a delight to see a number of newcomers attending, some running and others with cars that are being built. Sunny weather allowed as much track time as anyone wanted as well as a swapmeet for those who wanted to spend some money or source some vital bits. Nigel Bathe and Mike Francies have access to sophisticated production methods as well as fertile imaginations and have produced a number of innovative or difficult to obtain parts. The latest idea revealed at Buckminster was a modification to the standard Redfin 'sneaker valve' to make it a positive, lever operated knock off that will not trip accidentally and can be used in all types of cars, not just twinshafts. A super idea and thanks to them both for passing it on.

Having seen the series from Vectis Auctions on Yesterday TV channel, the engines and cars we all crave suddenly seem very good value for money, with Matchbox, Corgi and Dinky toys selling for many thousand each. And as for Lego, well, paying as much for a box of plastic bricks that you cannot even undo the cellophane on as you would for a new FEMA tethered car that you can use, well, perhaps we are luckier than we think or there are some serious toy collectors with a lot more disposable income than modellers have?

April 2022

OTW has thrived on strokes of luck and happy coincidences and we owe the very existence of the site to these happy quirks of fate. Earlier in the year we were talking about the concept of ‘trading up’, either by selling less desirable items, roundtuits and spares, or as some have done, by building purely for sale. There are a multitude of reasons for this, more usually the lack of liquidity, either currently or in the past, that has restricted activities or a change in philosophy or direction. One of our regular contributors has built untold replica cars, but is more than happy to sell them on or trade, in order to obtain more original items. For the lucky few where money is no object, there is little that is beyond their grasp, but for the more impecunious of us, a bit of knowledge or personal contact can reap even larger dividends. We are aware of several instances where important cars, boats and engines have been offered within the community rather than the open market where they might make significantly more, but that is not the point of the transaction. Whatever the circumstances though, it does help, (or is essential), to have a ‘pot’. On other occasions there can be a very purposeful chase, but for that to happen the item has to be known about and the owner is in the perfect position to hold out either until the wedge waved under their nose becomes too tempting or because there is no intention of selling. We do have examples of both of these, including  one now sadly departed British enthusiast who resolutely refused an already extremely generous offer, even when it went up on an annual basis until it almost became a game. Ultimately it was a game that neither side won as the hectoring purchaser never got the cars and the owner never got any money as they were eventually passed to a relative who sold them at a giveaway price?

Over the last few months we have been peeking at a few ‘wish lists’ to see what is being sought, if it can be found that is or afforded? In no particular order there is any hydro by Subbotin, AMRO, Pioneer, Eagle and the elusive ED Firestreak engines, Hungarian cars from the 60s, Russian ones from the 90s and one correspondent wanted to make enough to buy a large, gauge 1 steam loco. For some, the item alone is not enough as there needs to be a connection with the person who built and ran it or even that it had successes to its name, such as having won a championship or broken a record. Remarkably, this desire has come true for several of our readers, yet in each case personal contacts and an element of luck have played a part. Sometimes though it is entirely the luck factor, reinforced with a bit of knowledge that can achieve what was little more than a pipe dream, or as one reader found recently, end in severe disappointment, as what he got was not what he expected and certainly not on his ‘wish list’. There was a happy outcome though as they were on someone else’s, although he had no idea that they were for sale.

What is exciting to us is the entirely unexpected stroke of luck that delivers something that could only be dreamed of, as there was no prior indication that it was even in existence. A prime example of this was Gary Maslin’s purchase of a tethered car that turned out to be the prototype FRC. There have been others, but this month we publish a major article that outlines the accidental discovery of a car that has far exceeded even the wildest hopes of the lucky purchaser. What is even more fascinating is that the true identity and history of the car would not be uncovered for a further couple of months after its purchase and even then it relied on another coincidence that could never have been anticipated or planned. In this case the ‘trade up’ was entirely unintentional and might otherwise have been unaffordable, but it does leave significant liquidity for a more deliberate trip upmarket. Another of our correspondent’s ‘pot’ was quickly emptied by another entirely unexpected, ‘once in a lifetime’, opportunity that really did ‘tick all his boxes’.

The Pitbox features cars once owned by the late Tony Higgins who was an avid and very successful collector of tethered cars and engines. His car collection was sold many years ago, but recently, a pair of them have been offered for sale in the US, with one turning out to have a remarkable, and cast iron, provenance.

Good News from Paul Harris concerning their Bristol track. They are proposing to host 'ad hoc' practice days at the track every 2nd Thursday of the month. Paul and his team have done a great deal of work on the track and this represents an ideal opportunity for those in the south and south-west to get some running miles in before making the trek northwards. There is also now a track side starter, that Paul claims 'will start anything'.

The change in the weather and the clocks going forward is a reminder that the domestic season gets underway with a vengeance with the first regatta of the season at Hall farm Lake on 2nd April (Brrr) and Buckminster on the 9th and 10th of April for the SAM Spring Fest. The car track will be in operation for the whole weekend there with the first round of competition for the Redfin and Roberts trophies. The revised rules for both of these are now available on the SAM website and entries are welcome from all, although  BMFA insurance will be required and the daily site fee is payable. For those that want to top up their shelves, benches and projects list, or bag that rarity then there is a swapmeet on the Sunday, please form an orderly queue. 

John Goodall has been exceedingly busy as always, working on his cars, including his latest entry for the 2022 Redfin trophy, a Harry Howlett inspired Alfa Romeo based on a set of Oliver castings. John believes that his Oliver cars should be fully detailed, adding all sorts of refinements that most do not bother with. He has described most of the work in previous articles but here is a series of photos of the finished Alfa Romeo.

Still the vendors do it. Most of an M&E Wasp described as 'complete and original', that is apart from the wheels and tyres, front half of the car and front axle that have never been near M&E in their lives. For this amalgamation of bits the price is a cool $2,300. The information is out there so the vendor should know better and any potential buyer should be aware, but then as they say in the antiques trade, there is always 'one out there'?

Somewhat ironic now, the March Pylon, considering what has occurred since it was penned? No matter what the eventual outcome, the world of tethered cars and hydroplanes will feel the impact for a very long while and on so many counts given the happy coexistence we all enjoyed for so many years. It was so very sad to hear from someone we have all competed against in cars and boats and has supplied a multitude of spares that he "did not think that he would ever see any of us again"? 

Empty Spaces: Ken Smith

Ken was one of the earliest contributors to OTW and supported us with a succession of rare and interesting items that he had discovered. It is this aspect of Ken that he is probably best known for, as he was ever present at swapmeets, auctions, toy fairs and major events, especially air fairs.

Seldom did we meet Ken when he did not unwrap a gem that he had dug up, that he was happy to share with us and the website. What is probably less well known about him is that his Father was Sid Smith who created Electra Engines in Chatham after WW2, manufacturing and selling engines, tether car parts and kits under the Pioneer and Electra names.

Pioneer engines are rare, but there have been a few Electra supplied Buck 2A chassis kits that have appeared. Ken devoted much of his time to tying down the story of the company, tracing any remaining artefacts and engineering some fine restorations.

Left: Ken, centre with Hugh, John and Martin wait expectantly at Christies, all to no avail!

We became closely involved with Ken's pursuit of one Pioneer 10cc motor after the Christies sale in 2004 where one was offered, but unfortunately included with a group of other engines that realised such a huge price as to make it unaffordable. Some weeks later I spotted the engine on ebay as this was one of the group that the German buyer did not want, but Ken was concerned that his ebay name of electrapioneer would alert everyone as to what it was if he bid on it, so would I do the bidding. Well, yes, although this was one engine that was high on my wish list, Ken’s family connection was paramount, and in the end, the final price was very modest and he was able to add this lovely example to his family collection. Ken had done a super job of renovating a Pioneer 5cc motor for John Goodall, which he wrote up for Model Engine World and finally at the Walton auction in Nottingham he was able to add one of these extreme rarities to the collection.

Ken really struggled with ill health for a long while so it was not a surprise to receive the news of his death, but nevertheless terribly sad that another member of our community with such a unique family connection and encyclopaedic knowledge of Medway modelling activities has left us. Our condolences and best wishes go to his wife, daughter and family.

Empty Spaces: Serge Holc

Somewhat belatedly has come news that the tethered car community has lost another of its drivers with multiple championships to their name. It is probably correct to say, and quite remarkable, that no other racer has had a career that spanned so many years, as Serge competed in the first ever European Championship in 1953 at Geneva. His subsequent and very successful career had a certain symmetry surrounding it and years that ended with a 3.

Having entered his first EC in 1953, he won the World Championship and his first European Championship thirty years later in 1983 and competed in his last ever championship another thirty years on at Basel in 2013, finishing 7th. In between he won a further three European Championships at Minsk, in 1989, Kapfenhardt in 1995 and Basel in 1997 as well as numerous other events.

The onset of Parkinson's brought his racing to a premature end, although he still managed to get to races, including Kapfenhardt in 2016, (left) where his enthusiasm and keen sense of humour was undimmed, although this was the last time we were to see him. Serge was a renowned collector, contributing much to the French publication 'Les Motuers Modeles Reduits Francais' where many of the photos were from his own collection.

Our condolences and best wishes to his family and all those who knew him and helped him through his last, difficult years. A full and informative obituary by Michael Schmutz is available on speedmodelcar.com

March 2022

Even in the darkest days of the cold war, model car, boat and plane events crossed borders all over the world. Indeed the old Eastern Bloc countries used to promote both car and hydro racing in a big way, and still do to a lesser extent. As well as innumerable car tracks, this level of support involved building a number of ponds designed by Georgi Mirov dedicated to tethered hydroplane racing, each shallow with gently sloping sides to avoid backwash, along with spill ways at the centre and round the outside to keep waves to a minimum. Bulgaria alone had four venues, Russe, Stara Zagora, Pazardzhik and Tolbukhin, now sadly reduced to just the one. The purpose built ponds are a delight to race on but can give rise to the phenomena known to all as ‘sticky water’. Yes it is real and it is when the water is so flat that there is not even the slightest ripple to break the boat loose.

The hydroplane European Championships started off in Vienna in 1960 where Paul Otto Stroebel was a competitor, moved to East Germany the following year and then running every other year. World Championships were introduced to create annual events so that there was either a European or World Championship every year. The events have been hosted in Belgium, France, Holland, Germany east and west, Russia, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria travelling even further a field to China in 1989. Just one visit to the UK though, which was in 1975 to Welwyn Garden City. Although there were tethered hydroplanes running in the US and Australasia, apart from the one visit to China, no World Championship was ever held outside Europe.

Tethered car European Championships started with a meeting in Geneva in 1952 and for a while rotated between Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany and Sweden until 1970 when Hungary was the first of the Eastern Bloc to host a meeting, with Czechoslovakia following on the next year. A first visit to Russia in 1981 with Bulgaria added to the list in 85. Post 1989 there were more regular visits to the old eastern and Baltic States. A World Championship was introduced in 1958 with a double header in Switzerland on consecutive weekends with Roland Salomon and Kurt Zahnd each winning three times and Arne Zetterstrom twice to lock out the gold medals. The World Championships moved between Western Europe, the USA and Australia until 2004 when Estonia hosted the first event in the old east. Again, just one visit to Britain and that was in 1954 and like Woodside, at least a dozen tracks that have featured on the championship schedule are no more.

Looking at the venues above, one can only marvel at how people managed to travel these huge distances when RORO ferries, air travel, motorways and budget hotels were almost non-existent. All bookings had to be done by post; carnets were needed for cars and models whilst the amount of foreign currency that could be taken was very strictly limited.

The Pitbox item is related in this respect, as it is the NAVIGA medal presented to the MPBA at Welwyn in 1975 for organising the event.

Thanks to a great deal of help from Christoph Zaugg and the Swiss Model Car Club, we have been able to put together another Long Lost Track feature that has particular significance for British tethered car racing. The track is the Swiss Model Car Club site at Landikon and it was the venue where in 1953 Jim Dean and Jack Cook became the first two British European Champions. Another track that is now in the process of being lost forever is Dieppe, as the sea is encroaching ever closer to the site of the old track, which is now buried under the re-routed coast road.

Another tranche of images have been added to the gallery from the 1954 European Championships at Woodside.

On the commercial front, our Market Place Page generated a great deal of sale activity in a very short time, with some of the items having been sold before we completed the update. Items have headed off all over Britain and around the world to grace collections or appear on work benches as projects. Some lucky purchasers got far more than they bargained for as information that came to light after the sale revealed the rarity of what they had bought. More on this later in the year. This month a rare opportunity with three professionally made GRP moulds for tethered cars. A strange quirk of fate has meant that the anonymous tethered car chassis listed last month has now been identified as an exceedingly rare Melcraft and wass relisted, but, for the same price. A rare opportunity that was quickly taken up as you may never see another for sale. We have been alerted to a British dealer who is offering a selection of tethered cars at eye watering prices. Would anyone pay £9,500 for an E&M Maserati, or a less than pristine M&E ERA for £18,000? As the auction in California showed quite clearly, there are two very distinct markets for tethered cars, separated by a very large gulf in what potential buyers are prepared to pay?

Good news on the exhibition front, if all goes well, with the Midland M.E. planned for mid October. A chance to combine the SAM meeting at Buckminster, which includes the giant swapmeet and the first model exhibition since 2019. News filtering in from Buckminster of some exciting events being considered for the coming season. The BMFA Buckminster calendar online gives details of who is sharing the site during the tethered car meetings and other events, model related and otherwise. 

The long process of 'housekeeping' and 'tidying up' the site is more or less complete, but a few links and connections may have been lost along the way. If anything seems amiss, then please let us know. A reminder that all 2021 race and regatta reports will be removed from next month, so please download any pages and photos that you would like to keep.

February 2022

Doing the research outlined in last month’s Pylon confirmed that having so much archive material can provide hours of time wasting enjoyment, with an occasional moment of enlightenment along the way and, with a bit of luck and perseverance, the information we were searching for. What is of great cause for concern is that all this material is paper based, records, reports, magazines, books, photos etc and provides a valuable insight into the past history of our sport. We have photographic and printed material that dates to the very beginnings of both hydroplane and tethered car racing, but over the last few years, magazines, national associations, clubs, societies and enthusiasts have stopped publication of these resources with very few having been replaced by anything web based. Even these are reduced to results and short reports with little editorial material. For any given year there could be close on 1,000 pages of information, data and articles published around Europe, currently the total is zero. It does bring into question how anyone in the future contemplating research on tethered hydros and cars from the current era is going to source information?

Amongst all of this wide ranging and informative  material published are some fascinating articles and studies, one of which caught our eye, and that has been how the popularity of the different capacity classes has changed over the years. The 15cc and 30cc classes dominated tethered hydroplanes until the smaller engines became commercially available, with the C class quickly becoming the most popular followed by the 5cc with 2.5cc being the least well supported.

Tethered cars have relied predominantly on commercial motors and small-scale production engines, although there were a number of very successful one-off builders along the way. The most popular car class by far for many years has been the 10cc class, despite being the most expensive of the cars to run, but this was not always the case. In one of the many magazines we have access to, someone had taken the trouble to analyse every race entry for ten seasons to analyse the totals for each class. The 2.5cc and 5cc classes were more or less equal at the top of the list for each of the ten years. Third was the 10cc and bringing up the rear was the 1.5cc. The number of Class 1 cars being run dropped away to such an extent that there was serious suggestion that the class be abandoned. A concerted effort by enthusiasts and new equipment coming in from Russia saved the day until they were vying with the 5 and 10cc classes, but along with the 2.5cc class they have faded away somewhat and are now the least numerically popular.

A similar situation existed with the smallest hydro class, the A1 for 3.5cc motors. By stark contrast, the real growth for cars was in the adoption of the 3.5cc Class 3, which now ranks along with the 5cc class in numbers second only to the 10s that often muster nearly double the entries of any other class.

As in many full sized motor sports, the popularity of any class or indeed any branch of a sport can be related precisely to the ready availability of equipment, and in particular, motors. We have seen disciplines that have almost become extinct, only to be revitalised by the arrival of new, and more importantly, available equipment. Currently, the dearth of spares, new motors and the rapidly escalating prices of what can be found is of considerable concern, as the failure of a manufacturer that has had a class monopoly can almost wipe out a complete class in short order. It is still unclear what the future will be for the hundreds of Class 3, 3B and Class 4 cars, along with the A1 and A2 hydros, that have Novarossi motors installed following the closure of the company?

Our Pitbox item this month is an engine that always commands a premium price, the 'Yellow Jacket'. This example is again a ‘collector’s delight’ as it amongst the last produced, is still in its original packing from The Model Power Company and now with just its second owner in 45 years, who kindly took it out of the box to photograph for us.

Thanks to another of our wonderful readers and his amazing archives, Landikon will feature as a 'Long Lost Track' next month.

The new Car Archive of photos will be a two-fold reflection of the only time that the UK hosted a European tethered car championship, held at Woodside Farm near Luton back in 1954. The first selection concentrates on some of the competitors and personalities.

Advice on lifestyle changes currently emphasises the value of ‘decluttering’, a very difficult concept for some, but any visit to a swapmeet reveals those who are intent on doing this, as opposed to those for whom it is a sideline business. Recently, several of our correspondents have been disposing of surplus cars, projects or parts and trading up on the proceeds. It has also been fascinating to see a number of those previously unwanted items appearing on ebay shortly afterwards, knowing precisely how much they would have to sell for to recoup what was spent, and they don’t always. Of course, sometimes, the 'clutter' merely moves from one location to another, adding even more to what is there already? The Market Place page has proved particularly successful in relocating items, with the three B1 hydros from Uzbekistan we advertised finding a new home here in the UK. This begs the question as to what to trade up to, a rare motor, a new car or boat, three boxes of projects as one of our Retro members has, or a tethered car or hydro with history, provenance or even greater significance?  This month there (was) another rare opportunity for anyone looking for a tethered car project, five cars including a complete Dooling Arrow in kit form from John Sanderson, with a Dooling 61 motor, also in kit form. Illustrating clearly that if the price is right, things will sell, three of the cars were sold within days of the advert being published. For the engine collector, a most unusual ETA 29 and the last of John Goodall's hand crafted body sets. A late addition is two vintage rail cars from Peter Pring.

If non-fungible tokens were not enough there is now the Metaverse where one can pay to take part in an entirely imaginary event that exist only in pixels. Even better, accessories and items can be bought to 'enhance' your experience. We can see a great outlet for this, virtual tether car racing. Create an avatar, buy your virtual car, engine and accessories with crypto currency, use your expertise to prepare your car and then off to the virtual race where a complex algorithm will determine the result, based on equipment, skill of preparation and the virtual run. No dirty hands, no expensive travel, and unless the algorithm dictates, no destroyed motors. Well, it pretty well already exists in the gaming world, so all we need is a very large server, a crypto currency offshore bank account and a genius programmer, or we could still do it the old fashioned way if we are ever allowed to travel?

Inevitably, some of what we publish will become outdated or superseded, whilst additional information may well require us to modify articles. As John Goodall pointed out when publishing the late and lamented Model Engine World, when its printed, that's it. To this end, we are now updating some of our early articles to take into account this new material, developments, changes and additional images. Our first major review has combined all three articles on the history and development of tethered car and hydro engines into one engine history page. Sobering thought that the first of these dated back to 2004.

 Empty spaces:

Alfred (Fred) Kirschner

Sadly, another competitor with a extremely long career in tethered cars, and a grand character to boot, is no longer with us. Fred's racing career spans well over fifty years, firstly with 2.5cc cars before changing to the 5cc class in the early 1980s. Based in Pforzheim, he was an integral part of the RGS at Kapfenhardt where he did much of his racing and acted as Treasurer. During his long career, Fred made the podium at many national meetings, entered several European Championships and, and made it into the annual list of top 10 speeds on occasions as well.

Despite the health problems that restricted his mobility in later life, he was ever present at Kapfenhardt and of great help to many with his regular 'taxi service'. He had a wonderful archive of tethered car memorabilia, much of which was presented on the RGS website. A wonderful idiosyncrasy of his was that in an era of travel cases, car bags and pitboxes, Fred wrapped his car in a piece of sacking and tied it up with twine. Unfortunately, owing to Covid restrictions, the last time we met was in 2019, possibly the last time he ran his car as well. Fred will be missed by all.

Letter to the editor: We often get verbal comments and emails commenting on matters that appear on the site but seldom in the form that was the norm in magazines of the past, so we are delighted to have received the following from Oliver Monk with his take on classes such as the Monza and the Wilma car we featured last month.

A letter to the editor.

Is the Wilma car as innocent as the editor makes out, is Edvard guilty of breaking the spirit of the rules.
Take a look at the muffler cleverly built into the car. Near the engine's exhaust it is a similar width to the engine's exhaust, as it moves up the car it gets wider as it curls round the front, it’s parallel, then it goes into another much shorter taper and finally leaves the car's chassis with a short tube.
Straighten it out and it looks very similar to a tuned pipe although a rectangular section, it’s not dissimilar to what was on racing two stroke motor cycles of the era. 

I am a tether car racer and have yet to find out what the spirit of the rules are, is it sour grapes because you didn’t find the loophole in the rules that gave you an advantage over your fellow competitors. A book well worth a read on rules is How to Build a Racing Car by Adrian Newey of formula 1 fame.

What happened to the Wilma car was progress, it followed the trend of the other tether car racing classes. What budding young tether car racer would want a Wilma car when you could have the latest sexy, go faster, beginners class car. But 'beginners car' is a whole different story that no one seems yet to have solved.

The modern class 3b car certainly looks a complicated beast but take a closer look, the chassis is a piece of flat bar, the gearbox is a simple spur drive gearbox. The front suspension is based on a modern radio control car shock absorber. For those with a workshop at home it’s a fairly straightforward engineering project compared to building a Wilma car.

Where does that leave us? Forget a beginners class, it doesn’t exist, pick the class you want to compete in, go racing and enjoy yourself.


January 2022

Over the years, literally hundreds of cars, boats and engines have come to our attention, many of which find their way on to the site, thanks to the generosity of owners and vendors. The last year has been no exception, which is never less than fascinating, especially when it comes to identification. Most of the engines and around half the cars can be ascribed to a manufacturer or individual and then, for the others, it is a trawl through the archives or a post on facebook that can provide some clues. Recently, a considerable number of cars have been offered for sale, varying in style and age from a current FEMA car by the late Andrei Usanov to the original Dixon ‘Sparky’ from the 1940s. Around fifteen with Oliver engines alone have changed hands, helpful as the motors have serial numbers and at least four of these have a decent provenance, so we know who built and ran them and thanks to an eagle eyed reader for pointing us in the direction of a previous owner of one of them. At present, the lovely Moore Shadow look alike that we featured last August has defied all attempts to associate the superb design and engineering with anyone. It is however a more recent car that is the subject of our Pitbox this month, which gave us weeks of fun in trying to pin down, as on the face of it, it should have been simple.

A modern 1.5cc car, with a FEMA number and the previous owner known, what could have been easier, except, although it carries a number it is not currently registered? The previous owner, who never raced or registered it, was no longer with us, so it was down to wading through journals, newsletters and copious sheets of results to see if we could find the number. Oddly, although registration came into use in the 80s, many clubs continued to use the model and engine maker to identify them, and even the car colour sometimes. The country of origin was obvious from a sticker on the body as was that of the motor and not too difficult to put a maker to that. The car was a mystery though, but working through the results there were a number of cars of that combination so it could be narrowed down considerably, but it was still conjecture as to who had built the car and how it had come to be raced regularly in yet a third country.

This would not be resolved until we were able to see the car in the flesh, and what a gem it was, love at first sight in a way. Plenty of photos but what was not revealed until a bit of oblique lighting, same as what they do on posh art programmes, revealed a national race number under the paintwork, result. Back to the archives and its complete racing history with that owner was established and even better, another facebook post brought confirmation of the builder and the existence of at least two other identical cars. It also revealed some fascinating details about the owner and the other cars that he had run. It is always satisfying to get this far, as once the basics have been established then all sorts of other bits of information are forthcoming. Pretty sure we now have its complete history, but as to proof, well more magazines and more translation required. Whether it adds anything to the value, who cares, but to us, the identity gives it life.

The new Album took us back to what is still a unique event, a double header of European Championships and  World Championships at Basel and Zurich on consecutive weekends in 1958. We had prepared this material to coincide with the 2020 event at Basel, but we know what put the mockers on that and the subsequent attempt to run it in 2021. The material in the Album was probably a unique record of a British competitor’s trip to such a meeting including travel arrangements, hotel bookings and the welcome pack from SMCC. This was discovered in his loft, along with all his cars and racing paraphernalia nearly sixty years after it was consigned there. The good news is that the SMCC has been granted the EC in 2023

The first Pitbox of the year then is the car described above, which would not look out of place on a track several decades after it was built and possibly the best preserved of any car we have seen from that period.

Another addition to our series on ‘Long Lost Lakes’ that looks at tethered hydro venues from the past. Although it hosted regular and exceedingly popular regattas in the 1930s, it really is a ‘lost lake’ this time round as no trace whatsoever of it remains, apart from a road name on an industrial estate.

Peter Hill has been digging out more photos of cars and personalities from the days at Souldrop as well as some from when the Retro Club had stands at shows and a track at the 1995 ME Exhibition at Olympia. We have also added a couple of images from Old Warden when the compass circle was significantly smoother than now and well supported by tethered car enthusiasts. An even later addition are two photos of John Oliver at the tethered car track at the same exhibition where he met up with Ken Bedford of ETA Engines and ran a car from 1955. Surely a 'one off', two of the very best British commercial engine manufacturers in conversation?

Over the last few seasons, there has been a move to create ever faster and more sophisticated aircars to run at Gt Carlton and Buckminster. Although never recognised as an official class, they remains extremely popular and a great deal of ingenuity and design effort has been put into creating the new wave of cars, which owe far more to engineering principles than modelling. John Goodall has been in the forefront of this movement, having built a series of cars named Aries. He has shared elements of these in the past, but now all the material and information has been gathered together on one page where John takes us 'under the skin of an aircar' with some real lateral thinking and superb craftsmanship. Thanks to John for all the details and photos.

More fun with non-fungible tokens and this time over £100,000 for an electronic facsimile of the first ever SMS text message. Not real, does not exist, can never have it, and you have to pay in crypto currency, why????? Even more amusing is a scale model hydroplane that was sold at a local auction for a modest amount has now appeared on ebay with a entirely fictional description falsely based on a decal added as an afterthought by the builder as decoration. The provenance is equally 'iffy' as we know the member of the Retro Club that built it and when. Not so 'iffy' though is the asking price, a nice profit for the vendor if he gets it. Interesting if the buyer ever contacts OTW to find out any more about the history of this 'exceedingly rare' hydroplane?

Empty spaces: Ray Gibbs was something of a legend in the world of aeromodelling yet he expanded this into tethered hydroplane racing. We are indebted to Dave Smith for his appreciation of Ray and the photos.

Sadly, Ray ‘Gadget’ Gibbs passed away in his sleep on Friday 10th December 2021. He was 87 years old and leaves his wife Mary and three daughters, however he had been suffering from dementia for a few years.

Being a progressive modeller he competed and excelled, mainly in control line speed, team racing and tethered hydroplanes. His models were always state of the art culminating in many wins and records.

Teaming up with Fred Carter (the famous engine tuner of the time) they competed in many internationals abroad culminating in winning the 1956 World Control line Speed Championship in Italy and the 1958 team race World Championship with Dick Edmonds in Belgium. Together, Ray and Fred designed and manufactured a Carter 2,5cc Special based on a McCoy 19 crankcase to win the 56 Championship. (a superb effort). Ray is now at rest and we send our condolences to his family.

Left: Ray at home in 2011 with a selection of modern and vintage speed planes.

OTW: Ray began running tethered hydros in the late 1960s in the newly established E Class that was ideal for his 2.5cc motors. He soon changed his attention to the F Class airscrew hydros that he ran successfully for many years. Joining the British team for the 1971 European Championships in Ostende he achieved the best result of any of the British competitors with an 8th place in B1. Ray attended regattas regularly, winning a number of events along the way, including the airscrew class at the St Alban's International.

At the 75 European Championships at Welwyn Garden City Ray, Pete Hough and Dickie Phillips were all within a few kph of each other, but well off the pace compared to the continentals who had advanced the B1 class significantly. Ray also entered the A3 Class with a positively ancient McCoy engined 'Rhumba' loaned by Peter Lambert. To this day, the boat still carries Ray's Southend Club registration number. Along with the Cockman Brothers, Ray was responsible for purchasing and establishing the lake at Bradwell while he  continued to run hydros until the late 1980s.

                                       Right: Ray with his airscrew hydroplane at Southchurch Park Southend-on-Sea early 1970’s.