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September 2017

We have been delighted to receive a very large number of photographs of tethered cars from several different sources during the last year. What they all share in common is that they were taken relatively recently. Two sets were extensively annotated, so as well as knowing where they were taken we are pretty sure of the subject. Three sets, which amount in total to hundreds of prints, present something more of a challenge. Some we know where they were taken but not when, or the cars photographed. Some we can identify a proportion of the cars, others, not a clue of any sort as to even when or where and certainly not the cars. Another thing they all share is that neither the person who sent them to us or the person they got them from had any hand in taking the photos, and in all bar one case, no ideas as to their origins. This presents us with a number of fascinating avenues for research. What is the car featured, and by association, who built it, unless of course it is a commercial model. Who owned it when the photos were taken, and when was that, and most importantly, since they are all survivors, where is the car now, and how did it get there?

Contrary to accusations made in the past about other individuals and publishers, this is not about acquisition, there is not enough money in the world for that, but about preserving the history and provenance of each item. Unlike the art world either, it is not about enhancing values but sharing information to the mutual benefit of the current owner, adding to combined knowledge and even sometimes being able to let the owner know exactly what they have and some (all) of its history. It is also possible at times to undo the model equivalent of an urban myth, falsehood or rumour as we have demonstrated and illustrated in the past. We do admire John Lorenz for his very detailed histories of cars in his collection, often related in his Throwback Thursday features.

Our new Album comes courtesy of a number of our contributors, including Ron Reiter, Justin Cookson and Ken Smith, who have passed on or taken the photos. It features a selection of the British built cars we recognise from some of these photographs with the ultimate question, where are they now? The Photo this month also arrived in one of these packages and was a framed print from a tethered car track no longer in existence. It does pose the question as to how the photo ended up in Oxfordshire?

We would be delighted to have current information about any of the British cars featured in the Album or the Armes and Zausner books. We believe that some of the Spindizzy collection is now in the Ford Museum but can anyone help with confirmation of this and what is there exactly please? We would also like to trace Gerry Buck’s Rowell Sabre, the only original one known to still exist, as well as the Weaver Sunbeam car that was also in his collection.

Our Pitbox this month is somewhat unusual as it is not a boat, car or engine, but in a way is all three and the first one of its type we have ever seen.

The tethered hydroplane World Championships in Bulgaria occupied the last week in July, so August has been a very busy month with results from there, the tethered car European Championships in the Ukraine, and the combined St Albans speed meeting and MPBA International over the Bank holiday weekend. Added to that, the usual August hydro meetings at Kingsbury and Althorne and a Retro Club track day it will be something of a tall order to include reports, photos and results from all of them, but we’ll give it a go.

The march of technology! At the hydroplane championships in Pazardzhik, Oleksii Smolnikov became the holder of the outright speed record for tethered hydroplanes, but using electric power. His run of 233.463kph with a diminutive A1E boat beat the record set by the late Vadim Subbotin in 2004 with his A3. This was also the fastest run of the championships by a waterscrew driven boat, amazing. In addition, new records were set in B1 and B1E.

We are delighted to have a extensive report and a selection of photos from Pazardzhik thanks to Sonia Collins who has been pounding her keyboard to get it all to us by a very tight deadline, thanks Sonia and Tony.

Sometimes though, we do have to be aware that technology is not infallible, so at the August regatta at Kingsbury, it was out with the stop watches when the electronic timing equipment threw a wobbly, but they were still electronic rather than clockwork so the true luddites could not crow too much.

Celebrations all round at Althorne Lake as Martin Hamilton's twenty-two year old A1 record was finally beaten. Congratulations to Pete Dirs who raised the record set in August 1995 by almost 2mph.

Another new record by a substantial margin as well as a quantum leap for one competitor were the highlights of a very successful two day event at Kingsbury Water Park over the Bank Holiday weekend. We are grateful to John DeMott, Arthur Wall, Dave Singleton and the Kingsbury Club for hosting the event following all the problems over the last three years at its traditional St Albans venue.

Following on from last month's information regarding the supply of components there is good news, and some not so good. Dave Cunliffe has sent details of the tyres he is having made that are suitable for relatively fast retro style cars, whilst Wolfgang Schmid has posted details on the speedmodelcar site of the timing device he is manufacturing. This is similar to the original version that Oliver Monk described in his Ramblings. Less good news, Dave Sheldrake having given up making the carbon fibre airscrew props and the current situation regarding Prop Shop supplies is unclear following their devastating fire.

Empty spaces: Word has reached us that Boris Mizor has sadly passed away. The name may not be immediately recognised but his air gauges bearing the BM logo are to be found in the tool boxes of untold numbers of car, boat and plane enthusiasts. 

August 2017

A couple of months ago we were talking of the use of technology within our sport for optimising or enhancing the performance of our cars, boat and engines, yet in the current era there are even more examples of technology being used in the manufacture of these. It was over sixty years ago that Stan Clifford produced and raced a hydro with a hull moulded from GRP and nearly thirty since the first all carbon fibre boat made its debut in the UK. GRP and later, carbon, have been in evidence for car bodies for many years but truly composite tethered car chassis are still in their infancy. Michael Schmutz has produced a number of Class V car bodies in carbon fibre both drape and vacuum moulded to clothe an aluminium engine and gearbox mount. 3D printing has been tried, and while fine for bodies could be used for chassis but would require industrial machinery, printing in non-ferrous metals along with some serious testing for strength and integrity. Roland Bendell, among others, has used a metal base or backbone clad in moulded plastic body sections.

CNC is now universal and not uncommon in the more exotically equipped home workshop, yet to see several tethered car pans or other components being machined at once is something of a marvel. Laser and water jet cutting, again once the province of industry only, is percolating down the line with at least one car chassis being water-jet cut from steel. Digital read outs on lathes and mills are now the norm yet it is not so long ago that the pre-digital equivalent, the optical collimator, was only to be found in the very best tool rooms. Tuned pipes have been produced by a variety of methods including fabrication, spinning, explosion and hydraulic forming or machining from the solid, but how cool is printing one? Saves on bins of swarf as well. All of these processes, when allied to suitable CAD programmes, can be wonderful aids to production of components.

The technology available now is marvellous and the degree of accuracy that can be worked to unbelievable, but the many tales of how cars, boats and engines were built with the most basic and rudimentary equipment is something that continues to fascinate us. No lathe, convert a sewing machine, use a bicycle and a fit volunteer, or even a belt from the back wheel of your motorbike to power your machinery and you are away. Apart from the philosophical arguments of the period surrounding the use of commercial engine, cars boats etc, the achievement of those ‘doing it themselves’ either through the parts being unavailable or unaffordable or just the desire to make their own is a vital part of the history of the sports.

Quite by coincidence we have become aware of The Vintage Model Automobile Company here in Britain that is producing kits for a well known vintage tethered car model, using some of the techniques outlined above. Tight Lines revisits Simple Simon of the 1940s and his ‘Production Line’ reviews with our look at this impressive new venture.

The Pitbox is close to the ‘holy grail’ for a 1066 enthusiast, a 10cc Falcon motor. They were advertised, along with a 15cc version, from 1946 but no one had seen one in captivity until two sets of castings were discovered just a few years ago. At last OTW has been able to handle one and photograph it. The ultimate find is still the 1066 hydroplane, proving completely elusive even after fifteen years of searching.

After a break of some thirty years it was decided to revive the Grand Regatta for hydroplanes at the July Althorne two-day meeting. Strong winds made it one day only and, as our report outlines, mechanical carnage and assorted malevolent gremlins reduced the entry somewhat as well. Another series of events missing from the calendar for a while has been the Area Championships. With the loss of Hull, the Midland and Northern Area have been combined and were run at the July Kingsbury meeting, the first time the Hymer and Ayrshire Trophies have been competed for since 2010.

It's all a question of scale. After years of working on Konig racing engines and building a few with pistons around 54mm dia, machining new ones from scratch for a 1.5cc motor at around 12mm dia leaves us full of admiration. In his latest 'Workshop Ramblings' Oliver Monk describes the process and the set ups he uses to ensure absolute accuracy for these tiny components that are going to be whistling up and down the liners at well over 40,000 times a minute.

For all sorts of very valid reasons, attendance at the Retro Club track days has been a bit patchy, but George Sayell and Pete Hughes made the trip to Gt Carlton for a practice day at the beginning of the month, which he reports on in another of his well observed jottings. Date Change: Just to muck the diary about even further, the track day that was  moved from Oct 8th to Sept 30th has now been moved yet again, this time to October 15th in order to avoid all other conflicting events, sporting, political, personal or otherwise. It will be the last meeting of the year so let's  make it a good'un. 

July 2017

Back on track now with publication around the first of the month and a bumper edition as well, so thanks to all who have contributed.

Amongst the paperwork and other material we inherited at the beginning of the year were a series of old ads for cars and engines for sale. Now, average earnings, rates of exchange and multiplication factors do have to be taken into account, but it does clearly illustrate when the major escalation in ‘collectability’ and associated value took place. That cars and engines were at ‘giveaway prices’ even up to the late 70s is well known, and many a collector, if they could be called that at the time, latched on to quantities of each for extremely modest investments, even more so, if they were ‘clearing out’ shops, works or workshops.

One can recall an M E Exhibition many moons ago where Mr C had a selection of cars for sale at what would now be termed ‘for nothing’ and even swapmeets would have very desirable cars on offer at eminently affordable prices even by the standards of the day then. On the open market, what we now drool over and fork out large amounts of liquidity for what could have been had at what now seems ridiculously low amounts. A model shop, not a millions miles away had cases of Olivers, Rivers and similar for a fiver a time and a rare M&E car for the princely sum of £1.50. One correspondent tells us of finding a box of tethered cars and related items in a model shop and having to pay £30 for the lot, yes a weeks wages in the day, yet they could not be bought for much less than 4 month’s ‘average wages’ now. It is ironic in a way that the silver Hastings Trophy that cost 200 guineas in the 1940s should now be worth a fraction of what a 1066 Conquest car is, whilst that could have been had for a 1/10th of the cost of the trophy at the time.

The ‘explosion’ when it happened resembled a model equivalent of the ‘gold rush’. It took a great deal of courage to refuse to sell a simple tethered car for almost treble what the real one in the drive cost. There is little doubt that ‘acquisition and auction fever’ was more than evident a few years back as the regulars at Gildings remember when stunned into silence by phone bidders going hammer and tongs at very ordinary lots. We have just seen an example of this at our local saleroom where an item estimated at between £2,500-£3,500 made £10,000 hammer price, £12,000 with fees. The clincher was that top notch examples by the same maker can be had retail for half the final price.

We have tracked down some Dooling Arrows sold over the years that illustrate the above clearly. Early 50s, £35 or £15 less the motor, Mid 50s £65 complete, mid 60s £12 with motor, early 70s £5 less motor, 80s £150 for two superb examples and by the millennium £1600, or one with a mag £2,200. A couple have come up for sale in the UK since then, one was offered at well over £3,000, (wishful thinking or what?)

The Album returned to the Chiltern Club track in 1954 and the European Championships, this time with the European competitors. We are delighted that one of those featured is still with us and is in regular contact. Having retired from tethered car racing around 1959 as a multiple champion, Roland Salomon then went into the relatively new sport of Kart racing before going the whole hog with Formula 2 cars. If all that adrenaline was not enough he was a regular rider on the famous Cresta in St Moritz taking his last ‘course’ on his 80th birthday.

The Pitbox item this month has connections with both the editorial content and the new Album as it was one of the cars in the ‘box’ mentioned earlier and also appeared at the 54 Championships.

Just missing publication last time round was George Sayell's report on the first Modelfly weekend at Old Warden. Vast numbers of people there and an impressive line of traders, probably thousands of engines for sale. The tethered car circle was in operation both days with several car and hydro men and women on hand. Deals were seen to be done that should ensure even more cars in future, there and at Gt Carlton. Thanks to George for the report and photos, just sorry we could not include it in an earlier update, well we could, but no one would be able to see it unless they stumbled across it by accident. Aah, the wonders of technology?

An annual foray for us now is the OTW spring tour that takes in the Tell Race at Basel and Pfingstrennen at Kapfenhardt. Being our only exposure of the season to modern tethered car racing we had thrown caution to the wind with a new driver and an extra two cars to complicate matters. For a run down on both events see our Spring Tour report.

Of course it was the hottest weekend of the year that coincided with a double header. On Saturday it was a track day in Lincolnshire with a visitor from Wales with no less than eight new cars. A quick reload of the car for Althorne on Sunday and almost perfect conditions for running hydros. Three remarkable runs including a new personal best for our 'fast lady' at over 130mph, and a maiden run at 135mph for Rick Neal with his new B1.

Delighted to receive another super edition of Oliver Monk's 'Workshop Ramblings' with details of further progress on the Shadow car. Oliver also gives us a great description of making a GRP body using a 'blue foam' core. This really is the way to go for 'one off' bodies. Thanks to Oliver for sharing all these constructional details and hints with us, especially the tools, jigs and fixings that make difficult jobs possible.

At the end of this month a team of four, along with supporters head out to Bulgaria for the World Tethered Hydroplane Championships. From Britain there is also the Chief Judge and Race Secretary. We wish them all a good trip and fingers crossed for some good results.