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Retro Reprints

Mindless Meanderings born of desperation

I do a lot of musing, or some might call it day dreaming as a way of surviving poking 4000 or so packets a day of giblets up chicken’s backsides or invigilating exams for 30 years, an even more mind numbing use of valuable time. An idle thought added to a recent RRC article resulted in an offer from a fellow club member of a comprehensive selection of parts for a modern 10cc FEMA car. This was so unexpected that I was immediately seduced by the prospect, and consequently a significant part, well all really, of the winter has been spent twiddling the handles of the milling machine.

My Emcomat bench mill has turned out to be the best 200 quids worth I have spent, although two modern pans have pushed its capacity to the limit and well beyond at times.

Not having a separate workshop either has led to a patently obvious ‘sparkly rash’ of magnesium and aluminium spread liberally around the house. Mind you it ensures that the hoovering is done regularly without herself having to fire up the Dyson. Takes months to get rid of all the pesky little blighters though.

What a Unimat and Emcomat do ensure is patience, as cuts must be small and slow leaving plenty of time for the mind to wander. Much of this time is spent on pondering the many and varied design concepts and wild flights of fancy that your erstwhile editor propounds for possible projects during our long and rambling phone calls. As the workbench is being gradually being cleared of the serious engineering the mind inevitably mulls over what to build next for the track. 

Once this process starts there is any number of constraining factors, some philosophical others more practical. Entirely practical is whether there is anything left in the box to finish or that might provide a starting point. Currently in my case, not a sausage, although there is a ray of light on this front, courtesy of Mr Hill? Auctions, ebay, personal contacts, anything in the offing there at remotely affordable prices? If nothing obvious comes to light then it is onto the more profound consideration of what route to take. Should the aim be to uphold the ‘retro’ concept with something redolent of the 40s or 50s either original or replica? Go for speed and be uncompromising, or come up with something entirely whacky or way out?

There is no doubt that modern RC cars with fully damped suspension should be good for nigh on 80mph but that may not find favour with all, although freely available at giveaway prices. Small twinshaft or direct drive cars can be somewhat skittish even though they can be built quickly and cheaply either using the Bill Bannister extruded channel chassis concept or Oliver/Slabang style castings. These do rely on mastering the push stick and having a fit horser, significantly easier with glow motors than diesels it appears.

                                                                                   Right: Lots of handwheel ’twiddling’ later

Is there further mileage in the aircar? Well, with retro designs, no limits, as there are still many to be explored and suitable motors are cheap and respond well to a quick application of a starter. Dick Roberts proved that a bit of lateral thinking can pay dividends in the speed stakes, but if the pursuit of speed is more the aim, Peter has discovered the plentiful MDS could provide a frightening prospect on a suitable chassis. The eastern Europeans have been running these projectiles that look just like current B1 hydros for a very long while, even forgoing wheels for tungsten skids. If they can manage over 100mph on a hydro how would this translate to a car? Mind you, this route opens a can of worms in terms of safety, as an excessive power to weight ratio can produce an aeroplane instead of a car.

Perusal of ebay and other sites has thrown up a number of now redundant Monza, Wilma and early open wheel modern cars that have been exceedingly cheap in the grand scheme of things, ready to run for around £250. Now these do have piped motors, but Philipp Meier has come up with a cunning ruse for his two young sons, modern style chassis but with sideport motors and no pipe. This concept is not too far from what Peter has been experimenting with during the last year using a very cheap Kyosho pull start motor on a muletto chassis. Runs so far have been at respectable speeds and proved the viability with the application of a bit of engineering.

Now I have to nail my colours to the mast here and say that I do feel silencers should be fitted to glow motors in rural Lincolnshire as experience has shown that modern schneurle engines can be somewhat anti social on open exhausts.

Apart from these flights of fancy, we come to the option of a period original or replica, wheel driven car but here there are a few practical hurdles to overcome, and they are all hardware based. If you do not go the direct drive, push start route then there is the need for clutches, gearboxes, suitable motors and most importantly wheels and tyres. There is now a severe shortage of tyres that are safe to run at any real speed. Since the sad death of Ron Bernhardt there is no one manufacturing traditional tyres in the larger sizes that are safe to run. All the output from TLC is for display only.

Vintage tyres were a bit of a lottery at the time and 60 years on would be even more so. Bill Banister does a good range of bonded tyres and a smaller selection of others including a useful solid 1066 substitute. I have used these on air cars and wheel driven ones and they are certainly OK at moderate speeds. For anything more rapid, a beaded or grooved tyre firmly clamped between machined hubs is a necessity and again, apart from very thin FEMA tyres, these are not available, a true conundrum. Not entirely sure either how the 1066 and ZN air tyres that Mike Day had made would stand up to high speeds or a meaty wheel driven car?

With the best will in the world, using vintage clutches and gearboxes is OK for similarly aged and sedate cars, but for anything more modern and speedy then modern gear is called for and here toothed belt drive does seem to be the norm. There are lots of RC derived clutches available but these tend to work at much higher revs and even then are pigs to set up as I have found to my cost. Bill Bannister has come up with a very useful clutch and gearbox if only he could be persuaded to put these into production for Club members.

The final consideration is bodywork, as naked cars do not look good although a trawl of charity shops, Sunday markets or a certain online auction site may provide a tinplate or plastic item that could helpful and there are some scalish cast cars on the market in lifestyle shops although relatively small. Short of producing GRP moulds and bodies making anything that looks the part is difficult, time consuming and an absolute pain. Amazingly some have even resorted to 3D printers, but that is probably beyond us at present.

So, where does that leave me in my convoluted thought process? It should look something like a proper vehicle, nice plan for an Edwardian Austin in a back issue for example. Some degree of suspension is desirable, but how can this be achieved, well, chain or belt drive or a completely suspended engine, gear unit. Most of the diesels have proved a bit baulky to start, so a glow motor with onboard battery and a push stick to take care of that bit.

There are any number of ‘retro’ tethered cars appearing on the market coming in from Holland and these might prove a fertile ground for conversion if you avoid the silly prices being charged in some up market stores or very speculative eBay listings. Plenty of ideas but it still all comes down to finding suitable bits.

That brings me to the more ‘off the wall’ possibilities that have resulted from devious minds running riot. Olly Monk tried the flying tail concept with somewhat spectacular but unsuccessful results. Numerous people have bolted pulsejets to chassis rudimentary or otherwise but usually courage fails before lighting the blue touch paper or the ‘powers that be’ look down their collective noses.

There is also the element of being a leap into the unknown as far as potential speed is concerned? Who is going to be brave enough to wield the smother blanket if it all gets out of hand and would the blanket need to be fireproof and more to the point, just how fast can we run if it got too hairy?

Dick Robert’s sidecar becomes a two-wheeler at speed, so could two wheels be a starting point either with an RC derived bike or something more traditional as seen at a track somewhere in that States in photos recently offered for sale. Along these lines there were the outfits of Les Kirby and Kevin Leverington that could be scaled up or even modernised in the style of the Renwick Wedge that would not test panel-beating skills to any great extent. Kevin's sidecar sold twice through eBay.

RC motorcycle Les Kirby's sidecar Lots of engineering opportunities here

The final possibility is to revisit something tried but not pursued seriously, and that is to use flash steam. Photos exist of one attempt and our own Paul Windross was working on something similar before being seduced by hydros.

Lots of engineering involved here, but with the lightweight plants that have been developed recently, quite feasible I would have thought, although again, something of an unknown performance wise?

Left: Flash Steam Car based on a Stuart Turner Star

Further along this line of thinking, combining the elements of flash steam and pulse jets with a water/steam rocket that has been used to great effect with full sized cars, bikes and even bicycles.

Or how about going the whole hog and use a gas turbine now they are doing some mini versions?

                                                                                       Right: Could this be a suitable prototype?

One avenue not considered by yours truly, primarily cos I don’t understand it, but making inroads in every other sphere of modelling is that of electrickery. The late Keith Bragg had gone this route with some success and Bob Cheshire’s car showed huge potential if his radio could reach the far side of the track.

Original VoltsWagen Programmable ESC throttle control

Vector Racing have shown just what can be achieved in a car with lots of amps and some electronic wizardry to control it all and within the American rules radios are not allowed so it is down to programmable gubbins. Switch it on, accelerates away, ramps up to full speed for however many laps and then slows down at the end of the run. The ultimate in clean, green running. Quiet it is not though. Well, it’s a thought, but where do you stop, gets back to the old philosophy question. A 150mph electric car might need de-tuning.

So where does this leave me, well in a way no further forward as the mind is now a maelstrom of ideas. Since spreading much of my finger across the track I have had an inbuilt dislike for aircars and I am not a great fan of small twinshaft cars either. Large and majestic at modest speed does appeal but then so does the ultimate speed option so in the end it will probably come down to my usual modus operandi, see what turns up and go from there!

Totally unpredictable and something of a cop out I know but a route that can be full of surprises and unconsidered possibilities. If any of this inspires anyone all well and good, as for me, not a clue as I pen this.

What I do know is that as long as Peter continues with a run what you brung regime at the track, the only limiting factors are the imagination and the acceptance that you may go home with a bag of bits. After all, one can only watch ‘the Goer’ trundling round happily for its fifty or so laps for so long before the wandering mind and a bit of lateral thinking comes up with faster or alternative designs.

Happy building.

Update: Seldom does one of reprints warrant an update, but in just four years, so much happened on the domestic scene. The new track at Buckminster brought a whole new range of cars. Several of the European style aircars were imported, with replicas also being built, some of them proving to be very fast. The electric scene has come on in leaps and bounds with the new Vector CF breaking the outright tether car record and plans to change rules so that radio control can be used throughout. Numerous wheel driven cars have also been imported or built and one steam car, as yet un-run. A couple of converted RC cars have shown a great deal of potential, but of the other flights of fancy, nothing so far. Does not stop the ideas flying about though.