Fixitor: Victorian Art Nouveau Gentleman’s Racing Boat – Part 2 Power, Test & Relaunch

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1900’s Racer “Fixitor” being carefully eased into the water for her test-launch.

Yesterday in Part 1 of our story about “Fixitor” – a remarkable English race boat believed to be from the very early 1900′s – owner Wint Taylor and transportation photographer Peter Zabek described how they discovered this extremely rare race boat, her connection to the early Harmsworth Cup races which began in 1903, and the early stages of her restoration by Colin and Steven Meser at Classic Restoration Services at Clewer Boatyard Windsor on the River Thames near London. (In case you missed it, you can see Part 1 – Fixitor: Victorian Art Nouveau Gentleman’s Racing Boat, The Restoration Begins by Clicking Here.)

The Harmsworth Cup was the first annual International Award for motorboat racing. It was founded by Alfred Charles William Harmsworth in 1903.

Officially, it is a contest not between boats or individuals but between nations. The boats were originally to be designed and built entirely by residents of the country represented, using materials and units built wholly within that country. The rules were somewhat relaxed in 1949 and may have been relaxed further since.

In the beginning, it was a very primitive affair, with many boats failing even to start. England won the trophy in 1903 with Dorothy Levitt driving a Napier powered, steel hulled, boat at 19.53 mph at Queenstown (now Cobh) in Cork Harbour, Ireland. It was owned and entered by Selwyn Edge the owner of Napier Motors. – Source Wikipedia


Dorothy Levitt driving the winning Napier motor yacht – 1903 Harmsworth Cup – Photo Wikipedia

It is also interesting to note in the history of the now famous Harmsworth Cup races (as documented at Wikipedia here) how the average speed steadily increased from 19.53 MPH in 1903 to 100.2 MPH in 1961 and the drivers / countries who accomplished those milestones through the years.

The 1906 Harmsworth Cup race held in Solent, England was won by Lord Montagu from the United Kingdom in “Yarrow-Napier” with an average speed of 15.48 MPH.

Now refitted with her new 1950’s MG 1500 cc 4 cylinder sports car engine, “Fixitor” can safely reach speeds of 15/16 knots (17.2 to 18.4 MPH) similar to the avarage speeds from the early Harmsworth Cup events.

Here’s Part 2 of the story by owner Wint Taylor with photography by Peter Zabek.

Fixitor: Victorian Art Nouveau Gentleman’s Racing Boat
Part 2 – by Wint Taylor

Texx – We do not yet know what the original engine was and as you know these things were changed regularly on these experimental trials boats though with publicity this information might emerge as well as the original name of the boat which we are actively pursuing.

When the Hawkins bought the boat in the late 1940’s and named her “Fixitor” she was already in cabin cruiser mode (see Part 1) and had been fitted with a 9 HP Kelvin petrol paraffin engine which was removed by them and replaced with a combination of a lifeboat electric drive combined with a Stuart Turner 24 Volt lighting power plant generator. At the time “Fixitor also had a very unusual period twin cone inboard Donald Hotchkiss paddle system and the remnants of these were in “Fixitor” when we acquired (rescued) her as a hulk.

We were against fitting a modern engine or a very ancient unreliable engine, though we wanted something evocative with good reliability and availability of spare parts. So we thought it appropriate to create and fit an “MG” engine similar to that of the mid 1950’s, fitted to the MG-A sports car and the MG Magnette Sports Saloon. The engine is 1500 cc 4 cylinder with twin 1-1/4″ SU Carburettors (MG TD style), special pistons and rings, Piper cams set up for high torque, c/w custom induction and exhaust manifold.

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“Fixitor” was fitted with a mid 1950’s MG 1500 cc 4 cylinder sports car engine with Twin 1-1/4″ SU Carburettors (MG TD style)

The engine work was entrusted to Brian MG Bax and the team at Tim Walker Restoration at Woodham Aylesbury, UK who did such a fantastic job restoring the engine for “Fixitor”. The MG engine project is well documented on their website which includes a photo gallery and YouTube videos on the engine being tested. We have also included one of the Tim Walker Restoration videos below.  To visit the Tim Walker Restoration website you can Click Here.

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We fitted a suitable marine gear box and a suitable heat exchanger based cooling system such that this power plant is salt water compatible. I have included some images of this engine on the Dyno and being fitted, it is a real tool!!

The entire dyno-tested MG engine and new running gear was then set up on a temporary purpose-built engine stand / trolley which was used to move the engine around and as a test structure. The assembled running gear was then thoroughly tested and tuned as a single package to ensure all running gear and mechanical was operating properly, tested for leaks, etc prior to final installation in “Fixitor”.

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Below is a great YouTube video of the perfectly restored, mightly MG engine coming to life on the trolly.

Then it was time to install the mighty MG 1500 engine and running gear in “Fixitor” which was an exciting time for everyone involved in the restoration project.

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Now that everything was connected and buttoned-up, “Fixitor” was ready for her first water test.

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Finally back in the water after many years of dry dock, storage, and lack of attention – “Fixitor” is once again at home in the drink for her initial water test. A historic day in the life of a 100 year-old race boat.

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And with the water test complete, the final bottom paint and finishing was done, the electrically actuated gull wing hatches were installed and here she is – once again ready to grace the waters of England with her unique, timeless Victorian Art Nouveau styling.

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And now it’s time for Wint to get out on the water and put her through her paces, which was captured by master photographer Peter Zabek for everyone to see and enjoy.

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Wint Taylor notes – “Fixitor’s” top speed of 15/16 knots is achieved rapidly, was par for the course at the time and of course limited only by her state of the art circa 1900 racing yacht hull design she enjoys. What her original engine and name was we hope to discover some day soon and will continue to research?”

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“She handles at close quarters really well, accelerates well, is very nimble with excellent straight line steering.”

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Wint also notes: “One other thing about Fixitor which makes her possibly unique is that she has plaques for and has taken part in the three Royal Jubilee Celebrations on the River Thames in the 1950’s, 1977, and 2012 as noted in Part 1 of the story. These plaques are mounted on “Fixitor” as a tribute to her longevity and timelessness.”

Below is an image of Fixitor H103 in the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant of June 2012 (shortly after her historic relaunch) one of them alongside “Knight Errant” (1934) H102 the only 50 foot Slipper Launch made with a cabin, which is a sister boat in our local collection (ignore the upstart Riva, not ours).


Wint Taylor and “Fixitor” with the 1,000 boat flotilla during the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant of June 2012 – Her third Queen’s Jubilee Pageant.

Very Best Regards,
Wint Taylor

Special thanks to Wint Taylor and Peter Zabek for sharing this great story of “Fixitor” with Woody Boater. Hopefully we will continue to learn more about her history to fill in the gaps from the first 30 years of her life in England.

Now if we can just convince Wint to bring “Fixitor” to Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada in July for the Toronto ACBS Chapter “100 Years of Racing” celebration. “Fixitor” would feel right at home with the other boats and would certainly be a hit with the spectators!


20 replies
  1. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    So the original power mystery remains! There were not too many British engine makers in 1903 that had anything much more than 10-15 hp but perhaps she didn’t have much power in original form. Looking forward to part 3 with the first 30 years of history, hope you find out!

  2. Texx
    Texx says:

    Wint also sent us this small photo what he thinks is a shot of a trials boat taking part in the 1908 British Olympics Motor Boat Race around the Isle of Wight. Only one finished and probably this one or it is the 1903 Harmsworth Cup race.

    Thanks to everyone who chimed in on Part 1 yesterday regarding possible early engine options for “Fixitor” – That was very educational and fun to see the different comments and ideas.

    We have a great group of knowledgeable “gear heads” here in the Woody Boater community.

    Later this week we have another fun vintage marine engine story from “Cobourg-Kid” up in Ontario, Canada… And yes, there will be a quiz after the story. So stay tuned.

  3. Texx
    Texx says:

    Cliff – Here’s a blow up of the dash from one of the other high resolution photos. I can ask Wint if he has any better close-up shots of the dash, and will post them if he does.

  4. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    this is really just an exquisite boat, so elegant in a way unusual for us colonials. I have really enjoyed this story, and wish Wint all the luck possible as he tries to learn about her early years. I also think the MG was a very inspired choice for power, probably weighs 20% of whatever the original power plant did.

  5. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    I remember quite a few of the MG,Triumph and Austin Healy in line four cylinders from the old days, but I don’t remember all that chrome. They made a real jewel out of that engine. Great story!

  6. brian t
    brian t says:

    Interesting that the 1500 engine was chosen. Most folks that chose to use / upgrade that engine series opt for the 1800 five main bearing versions, as in my 1965 MGB. The early versions were only three main bearing engines which was a bit of a weak link. Still, a great choice. Parts availability is a non-issue as Moss Motors / Moss Europe offer everything for these engines (and very inexpensive) – including superchargers !! Maybe we’ll see Fixitor down the lane with a bit of an upgrade as below.

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      With a displacement hull like that, it will take a ton more power to go just a smidge faster (in precise technical terms) so no point in power upgrades.

  7. wint
    wint says:

    Dear brian t i thought about a blown austin a series engine like this med hi torque out of my classic mini this shoves out `130bhp and 125ftlbs of torque however as m fine says it would go no faster and we thought it was TOO modern/anachronistic..

  8. brian t
    brian t says:

    Wint – You made the right choice in the end – the powerplant and boat are A1. Job well done to all involved !

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