E.P. Zere and ZN Motors.
A larger than life character throughout the short existence of tethered car racing in this country was E.P Zere, with many competitors relying on the products of his ZN Motors Company to the end of the sport in the late 1950s.
Although Zere’s model related activities through the late 40s and into 50s and those of ZN are well documented, despite nearly fifteen years of research, almost nothing was known about either Mr Zere or the origins of the company.
What material we had found pointed towards him having come from an eastern European country at some stage and the only official records that could be accessed at that time named him as Elia Paul Zere, the Paul probably being an anglicised name and the one that he was known by throughout his tethered car involvement. Rumours existed, as they so often did with many others in the tethered car community, but we refrained from publishing anything about him until we could find some corroborating evidence.
The growth of material on the Internet in recent years, along with access to Ancestry and Find My Past started to reveal clues that some of our assumptions were correct. There were also pre war references in directories and electoral roles, but still an almost total mystery surrounding Mr Zere. A visit to Harrow Road by a south coast enthusiast revealed details about the state of ZN in the early 1950s, but again, almost nothing forthcoming about Mr Zere. We had been appealing for information for many years and then out of the blue in February 2021 a phone call from Anthony Morini, a fellow tethered car enthusiast, provided us with a valuable contact who had access to large amounts of material relating to Zere, his background, pre-war activities and more. Oddly though, the contact knew nothing about the later tethered car activities, so we were able to be of mutual benefit with an exchange of information that has finally enable us to publish this article.
It transpires that Zere was born in 1888 as Illya Pavlovich Zerekidze in Georgia, one of the states annexed by Russia during the 19thC. He gained a degree in mechanical engineering at Bakku University before coming to Britain in 1920 to study aeronautics and automotive engineering at Bristol University. The Russian revolution put paid to his studies and with Georgia and Azerbaijan both coming under the communist rule he decided to stay in Britain, obtaining a post as an inspector with the ‘All Russian Co-Operative Society’ (ARCOS), travelling around the country to engineering concerns that were producing automotive and aeronautic items for export to Russia. Early photos show Zere outside the A.V. Roe Hangar at Hamble near Southampton in 1922 with an Avro Baby registered G-EBDA AVRO along with A.V. Roe, Roy Chadwick who became AVRO Chief Designer and Bert Hinkler, the Australia aviator and AVRO test pilot. This took place when the company was negotiating the sale of planes to Russia. Contemporary reports suggest that ‘Zerekidze’ could be the pilot of a second plane on its long delivery flight, but it was more probable that he was representing ARCOS or the Russian embassy. There is an even earlier photo of Zere working on what is believed to be a Bleriot monoplane.
|Zere with tie to right of plane in front of the A V Roe hangar||Zere in cap to right of prop|
ARCOS folded in 1929, leaving Zere without a job, but still no desire to return to a post revolution Russia, so drawing on his experience and background, he and a John Neilson set up a garage business in Deptford, South London, combining their initials to create ZN Motors. After a year the garage moved to 904 Harrow Road, Willsden in North West London, which was to remain the address of ZN until its closure. The assumption is that there was already a garage or workshop on the triangular site bordered by Harrow Rd, Rainham Rd and Pember Rd? Shortly after the move Neilson left the business. In 1932 Illya Pavlovich Zerekidze applied to become a British Citizen, being recorded as Elia Paul Zerekidze. By this time he had married Victoria Mary Kronina who was some ten years younger than him and they appear on the electoral registers initially as Zerekidze but within a year his surname was shortened to Zere.
Even this was not quite as simple as first thought as in the full sized car world, Zere seemed to be pronounced Zeere(ay) with an accent over the final e. This cannot be confirmed though and there is a possibility that it was not an accent, but an apostrophe indicating the missing letters. Whether it was through difficulties with typeface or for some other reason, this version of his name has not been documented but there is a mark of some sort evident in the only signature we have of his, but otherwise it was the plain Zere. Oddly, as it transpires, in some circles and published articles he was known as Edward, but no idea how this came about?
His prime activity during the 1930s appears to be the preparation and tuning of cars for racing, being closely associated with cars and personalities such as R.F. Oats and Heinrik Widengren from the famous Brooklands circuit in Surrey. There are numerous records of his work with the French Amilcars, which seems to have developed during the late 1920s when he purchased a 1925 4 cyl. 1074cc, Grand Sport Amilcar. The inscription on the photo of the car reads ‘My little truck’ indicating that it might have been his personal transport?
As well as the work on customer’s cars that is well documented, Zere purchased two neglected, six-cylinder, supercharged C6 Amilcar models in late 1935 or early 1936 that he started rebuilding. In an article in Motor Sport there are details of work on the 10 year old 1100 cc car with a wrecked engine that he bought for £90. This he modified extensively with a view to running it in road races in Ireland, Donnington Park and the outer circuit at Brooklands.
The onset of World War Two brought all these activities to an end and the cars spent the war years in the loft of his workshops before being advertised for sale in 1949, although it has been recently suggested that these might have been stored at his home to avoid them being taken for parts or scrap. A member of the Vintage Sports Car Club eventually bought and rebuilt them, racing them throughout the 1950s.
Left, a supercharged Amilcar C6
A rumour that cannot be substantiated is that Zere was already involved in the racing of model cars prior to the second war through the British Model Car Club that used the Metropolis Garage in Olympia for its meetings. This is believed to have been a parking and service garage that Zere was connected with in some way? The BMCC used the large open floors to run clockwork and rubber powered cars for some while before the war intervened.
Zere reappears in 1946, solidly allied to the newly established sport of tethered car racing and the first of the ZN products that established his name and reputation, the ZN Semi-Pneumatic wheel and tyre. This was so far in advance of any other product available that innumerable competitors and record breakers used them for the next ten years. A screwed collar held two accurately machined aluminium halves together, with a rubber seal between them, sandwiching a hollow tyre in the process. The tyre could be inflated with a cycle pump through a simple, rubber sealed valve, using a special adapter supplied by ZN. The vital element was an aluminium ring that fitted within the tyre to stop it 'flinging' off the wheel. So revolutionary was the design that Zere applied for worldwide patents for these wheels in 1946. That and subsequent patent applications can still be viewed online. However, despite the patent, it transpires that other and larger manufacturers bypassed these and started producing their own ‘tubeless’ tyres’. Larger and smaller versions of these tyres soon followed along with solid, knife edged, front tyres with hubs of the same style but without the seals. The great advantage of the ZN wheels and tyres was that they could deal with the very highest of speeds that the cars of the period were reaching and remarkably, many of the seventy plus year old tyres are still quite useable.
|First Ad Oct 1946||Wheel and tyre components 3.75" & 4"||Standard 3.75" x .81" tyre|
The other item to appear alongside the wheels and tyres in the very first advert that introduced 'two real engineering products' was the 'ZN High Speed Ignition Coil', for which all sorts of claims were made. Available in two types for 26/6 or 30/-. In another remarkable coincidence, this new coil in its original box turned up at Old Warden just two weeks before publication of the article.
In the late 40s Zere planned to expand the range of potential products with a complete range of tethered car engines in three capacities that he was developing. Sadly, a two year long test case fought out in the courts from 1948 between the government and the Model Trade Association over the imposition of purchase tax on model items made further work on these engines uneconomic and eventually large quantities of parts were sold off, no complete engines having ever been built. Numerous other tethered car related items were soon added to the lists, (see below) including a superbly engineered and almost scale rear, bevel geared, axle unit. This was made in several parts and varying sizes but so well engineered that all the parts were press fitted together. It was expensive and unfortunately had no easy way of mounting it into a car.
|Letter to Gerry Buck, dated November 1948 referring to Topsy, the Mathews V car and the supply of spares|
Around 1950 ZN announced a beautifully hand crafted, scale body for the Model Car News Special car, along with a complex, independent front suspension axle assembly. The body was priced at £8-10-0 although, as it was pointed out, if demand was sufficient, producing dies could reduce the price considerable. A photo of Zere working on the buck for this body appeared on the cover of Model Car News for August 1949 with a working drawing of the model on the bench behind him.
|July 1950 ad for accessories||Two sizes of ZN axles||Zere with Buck for scale car body|
|Scale body for Model Car News Special. Wheels, 5cc car, cranks, clutches, liners, coils, gears, MCN suspension and more|
In 1951, ZN produced the only complete car to come from the company. This was a 5cc car comprising of a pair of aluminium pressings, along with a spur mount, axles and wheels and fuel system. This was the first commercial car other than the smaller Oliver’s to become standard ware for many competitors, with huge numbers of race successes and records to its credit. Designed for the Dooling 29 motor, it could be supplied either as a kit of parts or a complete, ready to run car. Adverts of the period attest to its superiority with Tom Prest’s world record being a highlight. One of these cars with an ETA engine still holds the British 5cc record. A smaller 2.5cc version was also in the pipeline although full details of this did not come to light until 1956. Ron Thrower was experimenting with a complete GRP car for an Oliver twinshaft and had approached Zere to produce a 2.5cc spur drive car for an Oliver aero engine that was by then the more popular choice. Zere would design and produce the car while Ron would do the public running and testing. In the end, Zere produced the aluminium pan and the running gear with Ron responsible for production of the GRP body. First time out at the Blackpool National Championships in 1955 Ron finished 4th at 80.07mph and later attained 86mph, far faster than anyone else in grade A. The kit minus engine and GRP top was a shade under £18. A photograph from 1951 shows all the current products and a selection of parts for the ill-fated engine range.
|Original Car with Rowell wheels||Original car with Dooling 29 motor||ZN 5cc Car at 54 European Championships|
Unfortunately, by then the tethered car scene in the UK had changed substantially with many of the tracks and clubs already closing as the move to a more serious attitude to racing marginalised many of the club enthusiasts who might have been customers for products on the ZN lists. A move from spur drive to bevel drive cars for competition led Zere to his last range of products, cast pans for the more streamlined type of car. These were easily identifiable by the ZN logo cast into the bottom of each. Most of the post-war manufacturers of tethered car items failed to develop their ranges, so fell by the wayside, but ZN wheels, tyres, 5cc car and cast pans survived through to the end of tethered car racing in Britain in the late 50s.
|Final adverts from ZN in 1953/54 announcing race successes and records|
Although there are references to Zere competing in tethered car events, records of these are sparse. He was however closely involved with the Surrey Club at Christmaspie and later Chertsey Mead, donating the ZN Challenge Trophy in 1949 that was to be competed for with ‘straight fuel’ supplied by the organisers, ‘not a race for the chemists’ as he put it. Photos and mentions in race notes shows that he regularly attended meetings all round the country, usually with his German Shepherd (Alsatian) known as Mickey that was reckoned to be the Eaton Bray ‘mascot’. He is more often associated with being an official and helping to run events and can often be seen in photos acting as a timekeeper or steward. When the European Championship was held in the UK in 1954 at the Woodside track near Luton Zere is evident in every photo as the ‘start marshal’ and ‘clerk of the course’. A further ZN Trophy was presented in 1954 for competition at the National Finals as an 'incentive' for the competitor who improved their speeds from the qualifying rounds by the greatest margin. One event where his involvement is recorded in detail was in 1955 when he entered the rearranged National Speed Championships at Blackpool with his own spur drive ZN/Dooling 5cc car. After two runs, he became National Speed Champion at 94.73mph. The car was later sold to a Swiss driver and topped 100mph at Landikon, Zurich.
|1954 European Championships||Zere with Lyndon Bedford as he prepares his car||Zere with pitbox and car|
What has become apparent is that as well as his interest in tethered cars, Zere maintained an active involvement with the engineering and preparation of Amilcars and Amilcar engines, rebuilding two engines for a member of the Littlewoods family during the 1950s. In an article published in Sports Car Illustrated in 1959, there is a detailed description of the work he was doing on these engines and the parts he fitted that were of ZN manufacture. It appears that the author must have visited ZNs as he remarked upon all the model parts that Zere showed him, along with a 10cc, four-cylinder, four stroke motor and a 5cc, magnesium bobtail pan that he was going to fit with a Dooling 29. Zere also mentioned the 5cc motor that he had designed and was going to manufacture for ‘racing specialists’. The article is dated 1959, but this does not accord with Zere’s stated intention to produce a racing engine or the bobtail pan, which also predates the article by several years. Neither does it match up with the recollections of a visit to ZN made by an enthusiast from Portsmouth some years previously.
|Bobtail pan and Dooling engine parts||10cc four cylinder, four stroke destined for a scale Bentley|
Zere had placed an advert in the model magazines around 1952/53, which indicated that he was selling off all the surplus ZN engine parts from the 1940s project that he had abandoned, which again brings into question the dating on the above article. We can do no better than quote the experience of Jim who was building his own 10cc engines for tethered hydroplane racing. " I read that Paul of ZN Motors had abandoned his engine and was offering to sell pistons, rings and 10cc crankshaft forgings. I decided to purchase a train ticket, 12/6 then, and try to find Paul’s premises. I was extremely pleased to meet and chat with the great man but disappointed because the place was bare and everything gone apart from a sack of crankshaft forgings and a few stacks of piston rings. I purchased two but later wished I had bought ten, money was short because my wages as an apprentice were 31/- a week. There was nothing, his workshop was cleared out, apart from a few machines cleaned down and no longer working, nothing in the way of model cars or parts. He managed to find one solitary piston casting (10cc size). It was obvious that ZN Motors was finished."
During this period it would appear that Zere was also acting as an agent or importer for the American Dooling and McCoy engines that dominated tethered car and tethered hydroplane racing, as the late Terry Everitt recalled that he and his father, Bill would visit Zere to source parts for their hydro engines. The 1959 article also mentioned the correspondent being shown 'stocks of spares for all types of model engines'.
The Sports Car Illustrated article does confirm a story in the modelling press that Zere had developed a test rig for comparing the lubrication qualities of various oils. He is reputed to have sold examples to a number of major companies as ‘his were significantly cheaper than other alternatives’.
Amongst all his other activities, Zere seems to have come up with a large number of ideas throughout his career, some of which he patented, starting in 1929 with an application dealing with sparking plugs and assigned to Elia Pavlovitch Zerekidze. His best know though is the one for the semi pneumatic tyres and wheels from 1946.
Currently, the trail goes cold at this point. Zere died in 1965 of lung cancer, whilst Victoria lived into the 70s. The ZN Motors site remained a garage and service station until 2013 when that too closed and is now occupied by a luxury apartment block ‘Rhapsody Court’.
The only connection with either the man or his company are the numerous tethered car products that are still in existence and one of the C6 Amilcars that was retrieved from him in 1946 that now carries a commemorative plaque, in Russian, 'In memory of the well known Russian engineer E.P. Zerekidze’.
|Zere with Amilcar AM6||Commemorative plaque||Zere at Goodwood around 1955|
This article has been hovering in the pending tray for over fifteen years, never having enough accurate information to warrant publication, but thanks to t’internet, Anthony Morini, Richard Lane, Jim Hampton, Lyndon Bedford, Stuart Robinson, Dave Cunliffe, Eric Offen, Miles Patience and Peter Hill, the long gestation period is over, more or less. All vintage car and aircraft photos are by courtesy of the Salmson/Amilcar register to which we are indebted for allowing us access to the material.