Three deco-era things I don’t own… yet…

1. Ernest Eldridge’s monster Fiat, Mephistopheles

Back in 1923, British racing legend Ernest Eldridge bought an old Fiat racing car cheap after it had ‘blown’ a couple of cylinders at Brooklands. He lengthened the chassis and installed a 21.5 litre aero-engine developing 350 hp, driving the rear wheels by chain. He promptly broke the standing-start record at Brooklands, and the following year took the monster Fiat to France where he broke the World Land Speed Record at a smidge over 146 mph – this in a car with two-wheel brakes and so much power that the back end fishtailed with every blip of the throttle. It still runs – rebuilt by Fiat recently – and apparently has similar performance to a modern rally car, apart from the brakes and cornering. The name was bestowed by awed French spectators who saw the car in action near Arjapon. Needless to say, it’s worth quite a bit, but if somebody’s prepared to give me a vast pile of money, I’ll put an offer in.

2. A Hammond Novachord

If you think synthesisers were invented by Bob Moog, think again. Thirty-odd years before Wendy Carlos ‘switched on’ Bach and brought the Moog sound to the world, Larry Hammond – of Hammond Organ fame – came up with a synthesiser. The Novachord was a fully polyphonic subtractive synthesiser (ie: it filtered complex waveforms down) built around more than 160 thermionic valves. Around a thousand were built, but although Henry Ford was a fan and another was given to President Roosevelt, they never took off as the intended all-purpose home instrument. The sounds were too unusual for 1939-40 tastes, and only around 1100 were ever built. Most ended up being used to generate spooky sounds for sci-fi movies. Today a typical Novachord needs a top-to-bottom rebuild, but if somebody’s prepared to buy one of the five that have been restored and then give it to me – well, be my guest.

3. George Eyston’s Thunderbolt.

In the late 1930s British racing driver George Eyston decided to go after the World Land Speed record and designed what remains the biggest piston-engined car ever built. This seven-ton, eight-wheeled behemoth was fitted with two Rolls Royce ‘R’ type racing engines with 48 litres total capacity and a net output of around 4800 hp. Eyston took the car to Bonneville in 1937 and broke the record at around 312 mph, but it was capable of higher speeds. The following year – with some modifications – he topped 350, racing in a good-natured duel with his friend John Cobb who had his own car, the Railton Special. Apparently Eyston had further changes made for 1939, but war intervened and Thunderbolt was shipped to Wellington, New Zealand, for display in the 1940 Centennial Exhibition.

Because of the ‘blitz’, Eyston decided to keep the car in New Zealand for the duration – which was ironic, because in September 1946 it was caught in a fire where it was being stored. Although some reports say it wasn’t badly damaged, the hulk was ditched by the roadside in Lyall Bay and then buried in a landfill. It’s still in that landfill, which means  it might be recoverable. The only problem is, nobody knows exactly where in the 1946-era landfill it was put. The place is currently a sports field near Karori, but the chances of the Wellington City Council allowing me to have the whole place dug up, bit by bit, are probably nil. Still, if somebody’s prepared to give me a truly gargantuan sum of money (given that the car will need a total restoration), I’m prepared to have a go.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018