View from the Pylon
Part of the joy of running OTW is being able to keep an eye on the commercial and market activity of our hobby, yet be independent of it. It is very difficult at present to work out what effect the current economic situation is having on values and items changing hands. Although there have been a few choice lots on offer on ebay, putting anything into an auction at the moment must be something of a gamble. There are several extensive lists of engines for sale being circulated currently, but some of the prices being asked are definitely in the ‘wishful thinking’ category. Observation over a period can give a feel of what the ‘market value’ for any particular item might be, but any logical reasoning as to why escapes many of us. Why, for example should a commercial, mass produced motor such as a Dooling 61 be worth 3 times what a commercial, mass produced McCoy 61 commands? Why do Yellow Jackets sell for 5 times what a standard Dooling does? Why is a mass produced Oliver Tiger, with no history other than a serial number, worth 2 or 3 times more than a hand crafted racing engine with a full provenance? OTW unashamedly comes down on the side of the home built motors, boats and cars, and all the hours of thinking, workshop time and development they represent. How satisfying must it be to create an engine from scratch, that not only runs, but also can challenge the best factory produced hardware, which in turn, brings us to our main article of the month.
Any sport that has been in existence for a century will have experienced several defining moments, but in the world of tethered hydroplane racing that has developed steadily over the 100 years there were possibly just three that could be considered in this category. The most obvious, if it can be counted, was tethering the boat in the first place. The second occurred in 1936 with the IC engine wresting the speed record from the flash steamers. And the third occasion was in 1948 when the record was taken by a commercial two-stroke motor of just 10cc capacity. Each of these moments were to prove significant, but none more so than George Stone’s 1948 record that was not only to prove controversial, but changed the sport forever.
Added to the links page, thanks to Tony Collins, is the web address of long time Swiss hydroplane enthusiast, Gilbert Hugenin.
Another bumper selection of pitbox items to ponder over this month, but we start with two mystery cars from Ron Reiter. Ron is hoping that some eagle-eyed enthusiast might be able to identify the maker of a superb early British twinshaft motor and associated chassis. He has also submitted photos of an extremely well made Cooper 500 that has had an engine and transmission transplant, again hoping that someone might recognise the origins of the car. The hydroplane follows on from last months Spook with another of Charles Booth’s boats, yet another Spook. The engine in this example is so unusual that it almost qualifies for a pitbox entry of its own. The engine pitbox though features a sister motor to that in the record breaking Faro, built from original castings supplied by Ken Williams.
Just as the site was being published last month, OTW was informed of the passing of Cindy English, widow of one of the great characters of tethered hydroplane racing, ‘Doc’ English. The page that previously featured as 'photo of the month', with the reminiscences from Tom Clement as a small tribute to both Cindy and this ‘larger than life’ enthusiast now has a permanent space on the site.
By the time the ‘publish button is pressed for this edition, there will have been 5 hydro regattas and the European tethered car season will be in full swing. A contingent from GB recently attended the 'Old Timer' meeting at Orebro in Sweden. The highlight was a couple of storming runs by John Goodall with an Oliver engined Slabang. A top speed of 150kph was an amazing achievement for an Oliver 2.5, especially as John beat none other than John Oliver, the original builder of the motors. Also in the party was Tom Ridley who is now producing Oliver motors, so perhaps there could be a new production run of Tiger twinshafts? OTW is always grateful for results, reports and pictures from meetings, especially as the specialist magazines seemingly ignore this aspect of competition.
Workbench is a regular feature, showcasing the talents and skills of enthusiasts across the world and OTW would be delighted to publish details of any other builds or restorations that are going on. We know from conversations that there are numerous projects underway ‘out there’ and it would be encouraging to one and all to get a glimpse of some of the fine work going on. News of sources of materials and hard to find items is always welcome to add to the links, contacts and resources sections.
Well, the new season is upon us, and for the next 6 months or so there will be much toil, money, head scratching and anguish expended, not to mention a few less than polite words at times, and all in the name of making the car, boat or plane perform. Faster than before, faster than the other competitors, faster than anyone else in the country or even the world, always faster. This is of course the nature and result of competition, and it cannot have escaped notice that it is the bi-centenary of Charles Darwin who had a thing or two to say about evolution. In the natural world the process takes place over thousands of years, but in any technology-based sport it can be reduced to months. In the desire to be quicker the original aims of the activity can be blurred or lost totally, causing all sorts of upset, aggravation and accusations, not to mention rulebooks, inches thick, to exert some sort of control. Just 10 years after cars started being run on cables, they had changed from scale or semi-scale versions of full sized cars, powered with home built or simple engines to purely functional projectiles that bore little resemblance to any prototype, equipped with top of the range racing motors imported from the US. While this route satisfied the competitive urge, it found little favour with those that considered themselves responsible for pioneering tethered cars in this country. A sizeable and vociferous element considered that cars should be scale representations, and some, such as Bill Boddy, long time editor of Motor Sport, suggested that they should be run at speeds more approaching scale. Yes there were those that continued to build and run scale cars for their own enjoyment, but inside 10 years, running tethered model cars as a hobby had all but vanished as it quickly evolved into a fiercely competitive sport.
In the immediate post-war period when cars of scale appearance were the norm, several competitions were run that rewarded that aspect. One car that did consistently well in scale judging was the MG record breaker run by Lucy Gascoigne of the Pioneer Club. This car appeared on eBay at the tail end of 2008 and OTW is now pleased to be able to present the complete story of the car through to the present day. This was one of two well-known models of the same car, with a larger version being built and run by Ian Moore of the Derby Club. Following its sale many years ago all trace of this car has been lost, but by the strangest coincidence another superbly engineered model of the MG has been discovered. Because of the elegant streamlined body very few examples of this car were built for racing, so it is a pleasure to feature such a rare tethered car in a ‘Pitbox Special’.
The ‘Pitboxes’ continue to turn up some of the rarest, most significant, and historic items it is possible to imagine yet happily, as can be seen from the item above, there are still more ‘surprises’ out there. The engine featured this month was part of a surreal coincidence. At the ME Exhibition, flash steam exponent Phil Abbott on the Blackheath stand was showing a vintage hydro enthusiast an old copy of Model Engineer that someone had just given him, featuring that doyen of flash steam hydroplanes, Arthur Cockman. Aforesaid hydro enthusiast then reached into his bag and produced the very engine described in the article some 60+ years previously. Weird or what???
Quite amazingly we can offer a full house of unusual finds this month with a lovely car that has just come to our attention. The featured hydroplane is again very different, as it is one of the few boats built where aluminium was the material used for the construction, which makes it somewhat rare in terms of tethered hydroplanes. The boat also has something of an interesting ‘recent history’.
It was the 2004 European tethered car championships at Basel in Switzerland that was one of the major catalysts for the establishment of this website. The first ever European event in 1952 was also held in Switzerland, this time in Geneva, where all classes were won by Italian entrants. Switzerland hosted the following year’s meeting at Zurich, but this time British competitors won two of the three classes, with Jack Cook taking the 5cc class at 148.8 kmh and Jim Dean the 10cc at 191.4 kmh. In 1954 the event came to the Chiltern Club track at Woodside just outside Luton, and this would be the only time GB ever hosted a European meeting. It would also be the first time that the 1.5cc class was contested; being won by Stan Drayson at 118.0 kmh. Stan also won the 2.5cc class with Jim Dean again triumphing in the 10s. Only Cossetta of Italy in the 5s stopped it being a clean sweep for the British. Since those early days, speeds in all the classes have doubled, yet the domination of the British soon faded with Jack Cook’s success in 1957 making him the last British class winner for over 20 years. OTW is most grateful to David Giles for providing a very detailed article describing how in 1979 he became the next, and to date last, European tethered car Champion to hail from Great Britain.
John Lorenz, who corresponds from the US, runs a very comprehensive website dedicated to ‘Mite Cars’ as the B and C class cars are referred to over there. Recently he has been describing the current financial climate in the States and how it is affecting the market. Perhaps what is happening in our hobby is reflecting the overall financial situation. Certainly there are those that would contend that the market had gone a bit mad, with astronomic prices being paid for quite ordinary items. The knock on effect is that sellers, vendors and traders start to set these values as the norm and the whole market stalls. This mirrors what has happened in numerous other areas of collecting over the years. One only has to recall the fortunes that have been made and subsequently lost by paying over the odds for classic cars. Perhaps, like the housing market, there is what the economists call a ‘realignment’ happening? This does mean that collectors may be reluctant to sell unless they are forced to by unforeseen circumstances, and traders may have stock that is unlikely to move for a while, yet in the end it might mean a more realistic marketplace. The message does not seem to have sunk in some areas though, as prices being asked for cars, boats and engines at recent fairs and swapmeets have been beyond belief. Perhaps this, rather than the ‘credit crunch’, might be having the adverse effect on sales? Having said all this, there are still surprises, or shocks to be more precise, especially in the world of eBay. It is understandable if rare or quality items, or those with good provenance make good money, less so if they don’t, but that is another story, yet some quite unremarkable lots seem to defy any concept of money shortage.
This brings us neatly to the first of our ‘Pitbox’ offerings for this month and a double ‘how much’ moment in the engine department. The hydroplane being featured is a total mystery. We know what it is, its recent history, but have not got a clue beyond the fact that it incorporates some very detailed and intricate engineering. The car was a complete surprise and goes to show that there are still untold gems out there and was a ‘star find’ for the new owner. It is also serving as a ‘taster’ for next month’s lead article.
Issue number 41 of the Retro Racing Club Newsletter has just been published, containing the usual fascinating range of vintage and modern articles, photos of members cars and some of the more obscure items that tend to get overlooked. The cover features an attempt on the model hydroplane water speed record by a Mr Carter of Chesterfield in 1939. If the model had been any bigger there would have been room for a driver!
The weather in the last few weeks over here in the UK has hardly been encouraging in terms of anticipating the new season as we have been shivering through one of the coldest spells for years, and trudging through the worst snow for 18 years or more. With the cold keeping people out of the workshops for a while and many projects temporarily suspended, a wander around the recent Model Engineering Exhibition served a stark reminder of how things have changed in the model world. Fewer and fewer models on show, fewer stalls offering components, castings and materials, and ever more with complete models, machined kits, or stalled projects to finish off. The price tags were impressive as well, indicating that there were no shortage of people with large amounts of cash, but shortage of time, skills or facilities. True there are still those that prefer to create from scratch, but they are becoming the minority, and as the ‘builder of model’ rule disappears from more disciplines, they probably feel threatened into the bargain. Aeromodelling is a prime example of all these trends, yet ARTF models and detailed prefab kits, bring untold numbers of people into the hobby. They are also controversial, especially in the competitive events, were the impact of technology and availability of ready built hi-tec models (at a substantial price one has to say) is having a detrimental effect on competition entries. There seems to be no doubt that as building becomes less realistic for whatever reason, the availability of affordable equipment does encourage participation and in this Eastern Europe has led the way. If you can make the contact, it is possible to buy a ready to run tethered car, hydroplane, speed/free-flight/combat/team-racer and just about everything else required from engines to replacement parts and modern replicas of vintage items.
In the UK we are not well served in this respect and for most it is a case of building or buying second hand if you want to join in. In turn this has led to a huge increase in the vintage and nostalgia elements. It would be difficult to calculate just how many ‘vintage’ tethered cars have been built or completed since the sport all but vanished in the 50s. ‘Workbench’ regularly features such cars, and here we have been lucky in being able to follow each step of Gary Maslin’s massive ‘pioneer project’. With the recent completion of the SS100 it was an ideal opportunity to combine the story of D.A Russell’s original model with the building of a superb replica.
We are always extremely grateful for contributions, and this month Ken Smith has provided a link to a very important piece of film. The film clip is of one of the very early tethered car meetings on the factory roof in London. Competitors for the event featured were Jim Cruickshank, Bob Curwen, Jack Morgan, Vic Middleton, Jack Gascoigne and WP Jones. Worth noting are the extensive safety features?? There was far more to his life and inventiveness, as the site will show, and Ken has done us all a favour in discovering it and passing it on.
Better late than never, as the saying goes, but having made way for the ‘jet special’ ‘Pitbox’ returns to the Westbury Atom family with an even earlier version of this series of motors and a roundup of the other motors to carry the name. 'Spotter in chief' Gary Maslin has come up with a car, remarkable for the 4 stroke motor that was fitted, and the range of parts used in the construction. The hydroplane featured this month was run as a 'vintage' boat some years ago and there is a distinct possibility that it could be campaigned again in the coming season.
On the subject of engines, good news for Oliver enthusiasts, especially if you cannot afford these engines at their current prices. Perhaps not such good news for those selling though. A complete range of Oliver motors is going to be produced by Tom Ridley at Clint Hill Engineering in Hinckley, Leicestershire. What is important is that these are not replicas, as John Oliver is actively involved with Tom restarting production of these famous engines. Projected prices vary between £155 to £210 depending on the model. A pre-production Tiger MK IV is already being evaluated.
Just when you think that the ‘elf and safety’ gurus have taken over, a piece of nonsense appears to remind us of the ‘lighter side of life’. The February edition embraces this with enthusiasm. Our local airfield recently witnessed a spectacle that would have surely given the HSE a quick attack of the vapours. A free spirit had built a king sized valve less pulsejet, which he then attached to a shopping trolley, modified to give a degree of steering control. In the true spirit of adventure, he then sat himself in the trolley, fired up the jet and set off down the runway to establish a new record. Whether this was for speed, lack of control or sheer lunacy, is not recorded, but he did succeed in bringing a lot of amusement to many and howls of dismay from those that consider armchairs should be fitted with seat belts. However he is not the first person to strap a rocket or jet to something quite unsuitable, either in the course of justified research, misguided enthusiasm or ‘I wonder what will happen if’ experimentation.
After all, the Reverend Ramus was using rockets to propel his hydroplane models in the 19th Century and Opel thought it appropriate to stuff the back of a car with numerous solid fuel rockets in 1928 and then ask someone to drive it. Pulsejets and rockets have a wonderful ability to drive authority to distraction yet provide untold amusement for others. Although ‘frowned upon’ as not quite ‘playing the game’ as a source of power, banned in many disciplines because of the danger, the fans of smoke, flames and red hot exhausts continue to thrive.
Tethered cars and hydros with that ‘little added extra’ of a pulsejet have appeared regularly, although rarely successfully, which is probably just as well as there is nothing quite so awe inspiring or frightening as a pulse jet on ‘full song’ Those that were ‘lucky’ enough to witness the setting of a new national control line record of 200.67 mph at Barkston last August will no doubt agree. An F2A plane or tethered car at 200mph is impressive enough, but add a pulsejet and it becomes terrifying. Whilst speed flying is outside our usual remit, it shares a great deal, including the pylon so by way of a slight diversion it is interesting to compare speeds of planes, cars and boats. Ken Morrisey’s 10cc record for a plane is a shade over 214 mph while the 10cc car record is 212mph. Compare this with the 136 mph for a 10cc hydro to appreciate how high speed on water has always been more difficult to achieve. If 200 with a pulse jet powered plane does not send the pulse racing then consider that the outright record with one of these beasts is 245 mph!!! ‘Pitbox’ then, carries on with the pulsejet theme this month, starting with a lovely model of a LSR type car. One can now only speculate on what might have happened had the jet-powered hydro we are also featuring got into its stride. Perhaps a judicious and rapid retreat from the lake may have been the order of the day? ‘Jets and things’ continue through to the engine section, but with the bonus of a commercial ‘jet powered’ tethered car.
Mike Drinkwater, who was builder of the pulsejet ‘airscrew boat’, has provided a lovely story of what happened at the World Championships, when things did not quite go ‘according to plan’. Thanks go to Mike for providing a timely reminder that things should not always be taken ‘too seriously’.
This edition of Pylon will appear at the end of the tethered hydroplane centenary year and it is worth reflecting just what a year it was for OTW. Apart from the racing debuts of the editorial team, it has been a succession of amazing stories of engineers, enthusiasts and the boats and engines they created. 14 months ago we were concerned that there was insufficient material for the year, but thanks to numerous contributors, some superb contacts and a great deal of help there has been an abundance of material to present. Thanks to everyone who has contributed and assisted us throughout the year.
Conversation over the last month seems to have been dominated by two of the more strange auction results ever seen. There only seems to be two questions that are ever asked, ‘how fast will it go’ and ‘how much is it worth’? The first is usually relatively easy to answer, but the second is an absolute minefield, as events of the last few weeks have shown. Auctions live or otherwise, are always a gamble and can be relied on for a few shocks and surprises. Last month two famous cars from the days of the Pioneer Club appeared on eBay. The MG record breaker that was built for Lucy Gascoigne by her husband Jack is probably the most famous, original and well recorded British car that has come onto the market in modern times. It still had the original fitted case, and unless the vendor had polished the inside of the body, a very famous signature indeed. That it only made £1,300 must be one of life’s great mysteries. Jack Morgan’s Vixen, which is almost as well known made slightly more, but compared with what totally anonymous commercial cars or home brews have gone for, it beggars belief. No one in the UK would accept that they were only worth that amount, but that is what they went for, so that, on the day, is what they were worth. Bit like Vincent’s Sunflowers appearing and being knocked down for 12 grand. There must be two bidders who just cannot believe their luck!
Last month we were delighted to be able to feature John Benson, who started racing tethered hydroplanes in 1938, but it is appropriate that we conclude the centenary year articles by paying tribute to an even more senior competitor. George Chapman was part of the innovative and skilled group of enthusiasts from the Kings Lynn in Norfolk, who over a 25-year period built a succession of remarkable engines and boats. OTW is delighted to record the work and racing careers of the group and in particular, the sole survivor, George Chapman who started running tethered hydroplanes nearly 75 years ago.
Another cornucopia of pitbox items this time. Where do they keep coming from? The engine section features two engines from John Towell, who would like information about them, while the hydroplane this month is an American designed boat, raced by a Swiss, yet with very British connections. The car just had to be the MG record breaker.