Earls Court really is the end. Having received an invitation from the Directors of Beaverbrook Newspapers and the Executive of the Ship & Boat Builders’ National Federation to attend the opening of their 12th International Boat Show, we presented ourselves at the notorious exhibition hall over an hour before the reception was due to start, to find all the official car parks full. The attendants, shown the imposing invitation card, put on a calculated display of couldn’t-care-less, telling us we could park in the street, if any space could be found.
This may be all right for the exhibitors who are at the Show in the hope of making money (and whose vehicles, along with those of the Federation’s Council, occupy all the limited official parking space anyway) but it is poor treatment of those invited to attend it because they can provide free column inches which should bring more people through the turnstiles and help to sell the wares exhibited. Earls Court is so awkward to go to by road that we shall never visit another exhibition there except for the Motor Show, and that under duress.
Having faced a dreary walk to the exhibition’s portals, with the risk of getting as wet as if we had been in an Off-Shore power boat we decided to regain the time wasted by skipping the alcoholic reception and taking a quick look at the exhibits from the motorists’ viewpoint. There was no apparent lack of affluence amongst the boating enthusiasts and boat makers of Britain, which some people try to tell us is now a small-time Nation, rapidly running down. We shall know, after April 13th, whether Fraser has made a gift of much former-motorists’ money to the Boat Trade, because if the 70-m.p.h. speed limit isn’t rescinded, those who might have spent handsomely on high-performance cars will surely think instead in terms of boats, houses, swimming pools, anything but fast cars ?
Because boats look even more out of their element, static on dry stands at a show than cars, and because we are now too old to be all that interested in swim-suited mannequins seen from afar parading on a dummy jetty within the compass of the Metropolis (why not stage the next Boat Show off the Battersea Pleasure Gardens and let the boats and the girls really swim ?), we went aloft to look at marine engines. In any case, the sight of an enclosed garden seat priced at nearly £25, made by sawing off the sharp end of some discarded old rowing boat, repainting it and up-ending it, had sickened us for the ground-floor exhibits….
But in the engine section (we nearly wrote engine-room) names familiar to motorists abounded. We remember one year when Mercedes-Benz, presumably incorrectly briefed as to the purpose of the Earls Court Boat Show, occupied its stand with one simply enormous diesel engine, suitable for a sizeable liner. This year the great German firm had got things in proper perspective, with a tasteful display of its small marine engines, of from 36 to 40 b.h.p., with all sorts of drives, such as the Type OM636, developing 36 b.h.p. at 3,000 r.p.m., with Fairey hydraulic drive, which powers the Fiestabell II. Indeed, it was Rolls-Royce, perhaps fearing that Mercedes-Benz would steal their thunder, who showed the giant propellants, their D-range marine power unit being able to deliver 700 b.h.p. at sprint rating or 595 b.h.p. for continuous running, without exceeding 1,800 r.p.m.—this monster had its own engine stand, and even had its own Anti-Fyre fire-extinguisher. The Rolls-Royce SF65CM engine kept its much bigger brother company, its displacement increased over that of the SF65M, raising b.h.p. from 137 to 156, also at 1,800 r.p.m.
Ford had a stand on which were displayed petrol and diesel engines “marinised”—horrid word—by firms such as Parsons, Thornycroft, Watermota, Mangoletsi (of motor-racing memory), Aquaplane, OSC6, etc., the Parsons Barracuda based on a big 6-cylinder Ford commercial vehicle engine being notable for its polished brass valve cover and piping. These Ford engines run from 105E to 2602E (997 c.c. to 1,996 c.c.) in the petrol range, from 957E to 2709E (2,360 c.c. to 5,945 c.c.) in the oil-engine range. There was also a sectioned V4 petrol engine by Ford of Britain, looking rather forlorn, perhaps hoping boat-builders will regard it with more affection than it has won to date in the motoring world.
General Motors had on show a range of their GM Bedford diesels, in-line and vee, finished in sober grey, and when we came to the Kelvin stand we thought we were at the vintage engines display, for some of the Kelvins still have a fine amount of copper piping, and chain-driven starters. This was particularly true of the 4-cylinder P4R, giving 20 s.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., and its “lesser half,” the P2 twin, naturally claiming 10 s.h.p.
B.M.W. were tucked away in a corner but had on view an attractive typist and one each of 3-bearing Type 410 and 5-bearing Type 411 2-litre marine engines, developing, respectively, 115 and 130 b.h.p. at what seemed the high speed for a boat of 5,250 r.p.m. This is the sort of thing Meadows look after these days, making reduction gearboxes for a wide range of engines, of which Mercedes-Benz, Perkins, Britt Rod and many others were on their stand.
There was a highly-commendable hall of vintage marine engines, where famous power plants of the past were displayed in spacious surroundings and the cloistered quiet of a museum. They were attracting keen interest, at all events among the older generation. In aviation and commercial vehicle circles “vintage” means down to 1939 and in marine terms it apparently goes further, because the engines in this section included a huge 1940/44 Perkins T12 (850 h.p. at 2,300 r.p.m.), a 1944 108-b.h.p. horizontally-opposed Soriano Romani, and a 1947 Mercury, the last two outboards.
Oldest on show was Daimler-Benz’s own 1890 4-cylinder marine motor, while someone else contributed an 1896 Daimler 10-h.p. engine with two very long cylinders and a delightfully primitive friction reversing gear. There were also a 1906 Kelvin (9 h.p. at 750 r.p.m.), a 1923 Petter V5 (8 h.p. at 550 r.p.m.), a 1930 Rolls-Royce Hawk adapted for marine purposes, a Rolls-Royce Merlin as used in torpedo boats, a 1926 K-type 2-cylinder two-stroke Watermota, a 1908 Gardner 4CR with four separate blue-enamelled cylinders and a glass sight-feed oiler to each crank-throw, and a 1930 Rolls-Royce record-breaking power unit with six separate cylinders, on which a suspiciously modern looking distributor was driven off the end of the o.h. camshaft to supplement the magneto. There were hosts of ancient outboards, such as Evinrudes from 1909 to 1931, Pentas for 1916 and 1920, a 1921 PE Fortis, 1922 Watermota and 1927 Elton, as well as Johnson outboards of 1928-29 and ’30 and 1906 Watermota and 1921 Archimedes.
These nostalgic exhibits were backed up by a 1921 Model-T Ford conversion by Wortham Blake, a 1925 Thornycroft 9-h.p. petrol/paraffin motor, a 1904 5.2-litre Aster petrol engine with its pots in pairs, two unknown singles, a pre-1907 Penta BL, a 1910 Balldridge reversing gear, a 1910 Rober speed-controller and reversible twin-propeller unit, a 1905 5-h.p. Evinrude industrial engine, and a 1939 Onan generator plant. Particularly fine was the 1902 Stuart Turner No. 3 compound steam engine, consisting of a big lagged boiler with very tall copper funnel, supplying a 2-cylinder engine of almost model size. Finally, a 7-h.p. Parsons paraffin/petrol engine. A stout show!
After looking it over we went below, and, feeling younger, cast our eyes over a bikini-clad model on the aforesaid jetty and the girls in sailor-blouses on the stands, before commencing the long walk to our M.G. 1100, wondering if it had had its tyres or radio removed, been towed away, or merely been written on by belligerent small boys.—W. B.