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January 2022

Firstly can we wish all our readers a very happy New Year with the hope that the worst of the last 21 months is behind us and that we can look forward to a (relatively) normal season of events and meetings?

Late addition: 2022 tethered hydroplane calendar

Over the years, literally hundreds of cars, boats and engines have come to our attention, many of which find their way on to the site, thanks to the generosity of owners and vendors. The last year has been no exception, which is never less than fascinating, especially when it comes to identification. Most of the engines and around half the cars can be ascribed to a manufacturer or individual and then, for the others, it is a trawl through the archives or a post on facebook that can provide some clues. Recently, a considerable number of cars have been offered for sale, varying in style and age from a current FEMA car by the late Andrei Usanov to the original Dixon ‘Sparky’ from the 1940s. Around fifteen with Oliver engines alone have changed hands, helpful as the motors have serial numbers and at least four of these have a decent provenance, so we know who built and ran them and thanks to an eagle eyed reader for pointing us in the direction of a previous owner of one of them. At present, the lovely Moore Shadow look alike that we featured last August has defied all attempts to associate the superb design and engineering with anyone. It is however a more recent car that is the subject of our Pitbox this month, which gave us weeks of fun in trying to pin down, as on the face of it, it should have been simple.

A modern 1.5cc car, with a FEMA number and the previous owner known, what could have been easier, except, although it carries a number it is not currently registered? The previous owner, who never raced or registered it, was no longer with us, so it was down to wading through journals, newsletters and copious sheets of results to see if we could find the number. Oddly, although registration came into use in the 80s, many clubs continued to use the model and engine maker to identify them, and even the car colour sometimes. The country of origin was obvious from a sticker on the body as was that of the motor and not too difficult to put a maker to that. The car was a mystery though, but working through the results there were a number of cars of that combination so it could be narrowed down considerably, but it was still conjecture as to who had built the car and how it had come to be raced regularly in yet a third country.

This would not be resolved until we were able to see the car in the flesh, and what a gem it was, love at first sight in a way. Plenty of photos but what was not revealed until a bit of oblique lighting, same as what they do on posh art programmes, revealed a national race number under the paintwork, result. Back to the archives and its complete racing history with that owner was established and even better, another facebook post brought confirmation of the builder and the existence of at least two other identical cars. It also revealed some fascinating details about the owner and the other cars that he had run. It is always satisfying to get this far, as once the basics have been established then all sorts of other bits of information are forthcoming. Pretty sure we now have its complete history, but as to proof, well more magazines and more translation required. Whether it adds anything to the value, who cares, but to us, the identity gives it life.

A new Album to start the year that takes us back to what is still a unique event, a double header of European Championships and  World Championships at Basel and Zurich on consecutive weekends in 1958. We had prepared this material to coincide with the 2020 event at Basel, but we know what put the mockers on that and the subsequent attempt to run it in 2021. The material in the Album is most probably a unique record of a British competitor’s trip to such a meeting including travel arrangements, hotel bookings and the welcome pack from SMCC. This was discovered in his loft, along with all his cars and racing paraphernalia nearly sixty years after it was consigned there. The good news is that the SMCC has been granted the EC in 2023

The first Pitbox of the year then is the car described above, which would not look out of place on a track several decades after it was built and possibly the best preserved of any car we have seen from that period.

The Photo this month looks at the the changes in rules and philosophy that took place, which turned the 'beginners' 3.5cc class into the highly competitive and specialist 3B Class that it is now.

Another addition to our series on ‘Long Lost Lakes’ that looks at tethered hydro venues from the past. Although it hosted regular and exceedingly popular regattas in the 1930s, it really is a ‘lost lake’ this time round as no trace whatsoever of it remains, apart from a road name on an industrial estate.

Peter Hill has been digging out more photos of cars and personalities from the days at Souldrop as well as some from when the Retro Club had stands at shows and a track at the 1995 ME Exhibition at Olympia. We have also added a couple of images from Old Warden when the compass circle was significantly smoother than now and well supported by tethered car enthusiasts. An even later addition are two photos of John Oliver at the tethered car track at the same exhibition where he met up with Ken Bedford of ETA Engines and ran a car from 1955. Surely a 'one off', two of the very best British commercial engine manufacturers in conversation?

Over the last few seasons, there has been a move to create ever faster and more sophisticated aircars to run at Gt Carlton and Buckminster. Although never recognised as an official class, they remains extremely popular and a great deal of ingenuity and design effort has been put into creating the new wave of cars, which owe far more to engineering principles than modelling. John Goodall has been in the forefront of this movement, having built a series of cars named Aries. He has shared elements of these in the past, but now all the material and information has been gathered together on one page where John takes us 'under the skin of an aircar' with some real lateral thinking and superb craftsmanship. Thanks to John for all the details and photos.

Market Place has two tables of desirable engines to tempt, including a whole host of NIB replica 10cc motors and miniatures. More fun with non-fungible tokens and this time over £100,000 for an electronic facsimile of the first ever SMS text message. Not real, does not exist, can never have it, and you have to pay in crypto currency, why????? Even more amusing is a scale model hydroplane that was sold at a local auction for a modest amount has now appeared on ebay with a entirely fictional description falsely based on a decal added as an afterthought by the builder as decoration. The provenance is equally 'iffy' as we know the member of the Retro Club that built it and when. Not so 'iffy' though is the asking price, a nice profit for the vendor if he gets it. Interesting if the buyer ever contacts OTW to find out any more about the history of this 'exceedingly rare' hydroplane?

Empty spaces: Ray Gibbs was something of a legend in the world of aeromodelling yet he expanded this into tethered hydroplane racing. We are indebted to Dave Smith for his appreciation of Ray and the photos.

Sadly, Ray ‘Gadget’ Gibbs passed away in his sleep on Friday 10th December 2021. He was 87 years old and leaves his wife Mary and three daughters, however he had been suffering from dementia for a few years.

Being a progressive modeller he competed and excelled, mainly in control line speed, team racing and tethered hydroplanes. His models were always state of the art culminating in many wins and records.

Teaming up with Fred Carter (the famous engine tuner of the time) they competed in many internationals abroad culminating in winning the 1956 World Control line Speed Championship in Italy. Together, Ray and Fred designed and manufactured a Carter 2,5cc Special based on a McCoy 19 crankcase to win the Championship. (a superb effort). Ray is now at rest and we send our condolences to his family.

Left: Ray at home in 2011 with a selection of modern and vintage speed planes.

OTW: Ray began running tethered hydros in the late 1960s in the newly established E Class that was ideal for his 2.5cc motors. He soon changed his attention to the F Class airscrew hydros that he ran successfully for many years. Joining the British team for the 1971 European Championships in Ostende he achieved the best result of any of the British competitors with an 8th place in B1. Ray attended regattas regularly, winning a number of events along the way, including the airscrew class at the St Alban's International.

At the 75 European Championships at Welwyn Garden City Ray, Pete Hough and Dickie Phillips were all within a few kph of each other, but well off the pace compared to the continentals who had advanced the B1 class significantly. Ray also entered the A3 Class with a positively ancient McCoy engined 'Rhumba' loaned by Peter Lambert. To this day, the boat still carries Ray's Southend Club registration number. Along with the Cockman Brothers, Ray was responsible for purchasing and establishing the lake at Bradwell while he  continued to run hydros until the late 1980s.
Right: Ray with his airscrew hydroplane at Southchurch Park Southend-on-Sea early 1970’s,