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Retro Reprints

Another mystery solved

By now you will have come to realise that there is nothing I enjoy more than getting to grips with a good ‘mystery’ car, boat or engine. In this case it involved two of the three and had an outcome that was entirely unexpected and even more satisfying than I could have imagined, as it also came up trumps in another of my great, on-going quests. More of that later though. One of the key players in this was again John Goodall, who has a wonderful ability to set me off on these ‘little adventures’.

Several years ago John obtained a couple of tethered cars, and knowing my interest, offered them to me. The first was a slightly crudely built, but nevertheless attractive little model, powered by a GHQ motor. The other, an entirely different kettle of fish, being a very well engineered 10cc car, clearly intended for racing, but never finished.

The pan and body were entirely and expertly hand beaten from aluminium, while all the running gear was from ZN, including the spur mount. The only totally incongruous factor was that nestling on the spur mount was a Mowhawk Chief. Hardly a 10cc ‘racing motor’. This was almost certainly not the engine the car had been built for as the mount had been machined quite specifically for bolts that did not match the Mowhawk, which had required four more holes to be drilled and then tapped, whilst the originals were plain.

A deal was agreed for these two whereby I passed over a large box of unwanted speed kits at a very cold Woburn swapmeet and I became the owner of two cars that did not really seem that they were both built by the same person, although this was the case. The only information was that ‘they had been built by a watchmaker in Scotland’.

Not a lot to go on! Nice though it was, the GHQ car did not last long as Mike Beech tempted me with an offer of a couple of Ken Proctor’s models, as he reckoned the GHQ in the car was a ‘bit special’. (Now migrated to the US)

The racing car was perfect for my purposes, if only I could figure out what motor fitted, assuming it was not the Mowhawk?

A while later, John emailed three photos of a home built 10cc motor to see if I could shed any light on its origins, but apart from 1954 stamped on the case, which did seem to be significant, that was all. It was very nicely made, and as a collector of ‘home brews’, quite desirable, but it had already been snaffled, at a not inconsiderable price.

End of story, more or less, as I could not find a motor with anything like the appropriate mounting hole spacing, and I was not willing to drill more holes in the mount. In the end I lodged a Conqueror in there with a false mount that utilised one pair of the original holes and one pair of the Mowhawk’s. Ignition components were fitted to existing screws and bolts, and a set of tether brackets made to fit holes in the pan. Not a lot else I could do. Nice car, wrong engine, no history!

Time passed and the car sat on the shelf, as they do. Earlier this year, I was contacted from Canada with the same photos of the engine that John had sent all those years previously, but this time with a vital 4th image. Clearly stamped around the front of the bearing housing was stamped ‘R.G. Cameron Gatehouse Of Fleet’.

Unfortunately this did not get us any further forward, but a similar enquiry to Uncle Ron’s 'Model Engine News' site produced an immediate and amazing response from Sam Alexander, up in Scotland. Not only was it him, who had sold the engine and the cars to John Goodall, but he also had the entire history of the motor and all the other items that he had obtained from Mr Cameron’s daughter in the late 1980s.

Mr Cameron was a watchmaker who also did electrical repairs in Gatehouse Of Fleet, which is in Kirkcudbrightshire. He was one of a local group of model car enthusiasts and engine builders that seemed to operate in isolation, although some of his work is recorded in aeromodelling magazines. As well as the 10cc engine described above, he built a diminutive diesel of just 0.15cc capacity that Peter Chinn described in Model Aircraft in February 1953. Amongst the items that Sam obtained was the only complete Rowell Rapier car known to exist and a quantity of Rowell spares. His connection with Rowell is lost in the ‘mists of time’ but in another Model Aircraft article in March 1956, Peter Chinn shows a Rowell 60 in ‘its final developed form, this version modified by R G Cameron has also been lightened’.

Over the years, Sam passed on most of Cameron’s items, including the Rapier, to a friend of his, but kept the other two cars and the 10cc motor. In a subsequent conversation Sam told me that this was a collection of parts when he obtained it, so he had commissioned a friend of his to complete it as an aero engine, and an excellent job he did of it. Eventually Sam decided he could do without the remaining items and took them to the swapmeet at Barkston, where John Goodall bought them all.

Having found all this information, it seemed likely to me that the 10cc motor and the car had originally been intended for each other, but by 1954 the interest in tethered cars had all but vanished, so the project was never completed. Looking at the photos and having printed out a full size image of the motor, the odd hole spacing in the mounting lugs seemed to match up with the equally oddly drilled and machined spur mount, ignoring the extra holes drilled for the Mowhawk of course. Still, this was academic as I did not own the motor and could not have afforded it anyway, but just a few weeks later, a bit of luck, or a spooky coincidence, call it what you will manifested itself. During a conversation about other things entirely, Paul Goodall told me that the Cameron motor might be for sale, and that he would enquire, ‘if I was interested’. Was I ever! Well, another few weeks passed by and Paul contacted me to say, yes the motor was for sale, and at a price that was eminently acceptable, so the deal was done.

Distinctive drilling and machining Matched the holes in the mounting lugs Original gears and flywheel

When it arrived, a quick offering up confirmed that it should slot straight into the car, and as soon as the current project was finished, the Cameron car and engine were on the bench. Yes, the motor did fit, perfectly, just needed some very long bolts as the mount had been drilled right through, rather than threaded. The prop driver on the motor was a later addition, and with this removed, the gears and flywheel that were with the car slid straight onto the crankshaft and meshed perfectly. One new washer and crank nut and just 30 minutes later, the car and engine that Mr Cameron had built nearly 60 years ago were re-united.

There is little that makes me happier than being able to put engines back together with the cars or boats that they started with. A great deal of luck is required and often there is no hope as one element or the other has gone astray or been destroyed, but this is the 4th time I have managed it. On each occasion though, John Goodall has been part of the equation either providing the contact or some of the hardware that has made it all possible.

Thanks go to John and Paul Goodall, Gordon Yates, Sam Alexander and the late Ron Chernich, all who have had a hand in bringing this ‘unification’ to a happy conclusion.