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Trolls & Titanium

I don’t get half as involved in BBP politics as I used to. We have nothing to prove, we’re good at what we do and that's a fact. The kids do some Twitter, Instagram and, apparently, Tik Tok, whatever that may be and I’ve never been on Facebook, ever.

Over the years my main involvement when interacting with our followers has been to write the diary. It was great when we were breaking new ground, designing never before attempted processes and producing great tracts of visual progress but how much can you write about putting choccie on the back of a panel and screwing it down when it isn’t so long ago that you took it off? So I sort of lost the habit.

The format used to be a story of some absurdity that had befallen me or the project then loads of techie stuff. The idea was to appeal to all and it worked. Those of a less techie disposition told me how they enjoyed my poking at the ridiculous and the blokes liked all the rivets and glue and anyone could skip to the good bits to suit their tastes but we’re just reassembling ahead of Elvington at the moment so it’s mostly stuff you’ve seen before.

However. It’s not unusual for me to be sent screen grabs of 'online abuse' (that seems to be the current acceptable description) targeting me or the team or both, mostly from Facebook and the same dull colony of trolls, accompanied by a weary sounding message saying, have you seen this?

I’m old enough to know how ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me’ but I get how untold hurt is visited on innocent people on social media but it really doesn’t bother me. It’s a few deliberately spiteful individuals and, occasionally, the ill-informed but it did give me an idea. If I wanted something to write about I could inform the ill-informed and upset the spiteful by setting out the truth. They don’t like that much. They spend weeks and months perpetrating something nasty and twisted then the truth is rolled out thus undoing all their efforts and they can never unpick it because it’s the truth.

Take, for example, the previous diary entry about my various legal issues. There was some inaccurate reporting of that so what you now see set out there will stand any scrutiny and as it’s all written down it becomes a simple matter to forward a link to anyone unsure of what went on. Much like Peter Roper-Hall’s efforts to keep the 2019 meeting alive, that’s all there. Or just how involved the museum trustees were in the 2013 agreement. By creating a database of what really happened along with supporting evidence it makes the job of keeping the record straight that much easier.

I therefore asked for suggestions on what else had been distorted and having been offered a raft of suggestions I chose another one.

The story goes, told by none other than Gina Campbell herself, that I called Donald ‘yesterday’s man’.

Would you like to hear what really happened? If so, read on.


Our 2018 trip to Bute is the stuff of legend. It was damned hard work and a race to the finish and we had no idea whether it would go well but everyone got stuck in and overcame the problems as we went. The island got a huge shot in the arm with many thousands of visitors. The ferry company ended up apologising for the lengthy wait to get on and off island, the police had to clear the gridlock on the mainland side several times and Mountstuart House had 850 visitors on a soggy, August afternoon when they would normally record about 85. Their busiest day of the season.

Needless to say we were kept busy. Maintenance and planning were both thorough and meticulous so the greater part of our time was spent in the boatshed whilst outside was a continuous stream of visitors with many questions and most intrigued of all were the kids, all eager to get a glimpse of the fascinating blue machine.

Everyone wanted a pic with the boat and because I’d been on telly many recognised the man in the unusual hat and wanted a pic with him too.

This led to me letting the youngsters have a pic wearing the searching hat and it was all jolly good fun.

Gina was there too and was also very popular and sought after for pics but, crucially, this only worked when people knew who she actually was and many were simply too young to have a clue. The jester character in a funny was there larger than life but Gina was there representing someone who wasn't and if that wasn't understood it led to confusion and sometimes mild alarm.

On more than a few occasions I’d seen kids unnerved by the sudden appearance of a strange lady with long fingernails holding out a ragged bear for them to hold. It had no context for them.

Having observed this several times, we were out there meeting and greeting as usual when once again a youngster shied away so I gently suggested that maybe a different approach was needed with the youngest ones. I pointed out that these kids had no knowledge of DMC (Can anyone name the driver of Flying Scotsman when it broke records? But they still ooh and ahh at the big shiny green train as it puffs by) and so they didn’t understand. I suggested we’d have to go back to their grandparents to find a generation familiar by default with Donald’s exploits and even that might not be enough because I was old enough to be one of their grandparents and having been born in May 67 even I didn't qualify. Gina didn’t seem pleased with that.

“So you’re saying my father is yesterday’s man?” She said angrily.

“No, that’s not what I said.”

“And I suppose you’re today’s man?”

“No, I didn’t say that either…”

And that was about as far as I got with that.

The current version pedalled by the trolls is that it was me who said it and, worse still, that I said it at the meeting in 2019, neither of which are true.

BBP has always been all about the machine, the engineering and the camaraderie and we have written our own story. Others keep the historical side alive so much better than we do ensuring that DMC remains in people's minds. His story ended abruptly in January 1967 locking him into the history books for all time. Our entry into the history books began in the summer of 1996 but it's a completely different thing. I suppose in terms of derring-do and bravery we’d have to nominate Ted or Stew, if anyone, for the role of today’s man but it just doesn't work that way. Our story and Donald’s story are inextricably intertwined, yes, but they are separate, parallel things with no yesterday's or today's men.

Then there’s the alleged location and circumstances. We were supposedly in a meeting to revisit the agreement whereby BBP will look after and operate K7 while the RM organises a suitable display. Such circumstances would be the worst place and time in the world to say any such thing and to what end? It didn’t happen.

No. Those words were spoken on Bute and not by me.

Next question.


Anyway… going completely off-topic. Back in the 80s I fell stupidly in love with Group-B rally cars and the rest is history. Except it isn’t.

Back in the late 80s and 90s I used to trade parts as the Gp-B monsters were still going strong in rallycross and when spares got scarce I started making them in small batches but serious work came along and gradually I stopped, thinking someone else would step up. But now I discover there are still some cars in use and still parts that just don’t exist so I’ve gone back to making a few just for fun but one thing I never did in those days was mend smashed metal. Not, that is, until we ended up with 18feet of hydroplane that started out 24 feet long. Then we really got to work learning how to undo crash damage until it became second nature.

Therefore, when I walked into my mate’s kitchen and saw the titanium crash bar from the back of his Safari Rally Lancia 037 lying there in a crumpled state, I thought, ooh, that’ll fix.

Dave, on the other hand, the owner, driver and architect of the crash that ruined his bar, didn’t think it would fix at all and as the car is totally original this was a disaster. He was a bit upset about it. It would have to be replaced, at least partially, and after 20 years of using the car in anger without a scratch that was the worst of bad luck.

“I’ll straighten that out for you if you like.” I said cheerfully.

But Dave looked at the hopelessly kinked and split tubes with much doubt and declared sadly that some of it would surely have to go. I, on the other hand, was certain it would all save but one problem remained. It’s made of titanium and not only that, the tubes aren’t tubes at all but sheet hammered around a mandrel so they are not even properly round in section. Then it’s a very long time since I welded ‘ti’ and these days I’m not really geared for it so I’d have to buy some kit and some material and get back to speed before tackling something so priceless and irreplaceable. Who could I call?

There’s a local firm called Krolltech.

I keep bumping into their people whenever I take a Gp-B car anywhere for some reason, and they told me they’re ti specialists so I called their welder in chief, Kristian, and said I had a job for him. Next, I WhatsApped (is that a verb?) some pics across then called him back to discuss. Seeing as Krolltech make up beautiful ti exhausts all day long, amongst other things, the welding was no problem so that was that organised and I was happy to take on the metal bashing so now we had a plan. First thing was to get it back to the workshop so I handed over the parts I’d taken down for Dave and whisked myself away back north.

Dave’s car is a genuine Safari Rally 037 in an untouched and unrestored state in which he regularly competes. His stable was recently featured on The Late Brake Show.

If you look at the rear, sticking out past the rear bodywork you can see the crash bar.

It once had ends on it that extended out to the full width of the rear of the car but they're still in Kenya somewhere so Dave never replaced them. He likes the story to be told but the story went a little awry at a WRC event in Portugal a few weeks ago when an oil leak onto a rear tyre put both car and driver off backwards into something solid.

It wasn't pretty but then it wasn't anything out of the ordinary in terms of repairing it either, except it's titanium. In the end it turned out to be a very well behaved material that moves easily with a little heat so I made a start. When this sort of thing bends or snaps the metal stretches before it fails. If the stretch is in the middle of a panel it's simple enough to shrink it again but the ends of the tubes had stretched then split and with nothing to support the split ends there was little option but to grind away the edges until everything lined up again.

With the fit-up sorted so as not to leave any gaps, the parts went off to Krolltek to be glued back together.

At this point I asked Dave if he wanted the welds dressed off but the answer was an emphatic no. The crash, repairs and welds are now part of the story. We did a lot of that on K7 where welds could be left visible. Obviously that doesn't work so well on the outside but often we'd have a crumb of an old panel that we would weld into a new one and leave the weld visible to tell the story.

Once the smaller tubes were mended the crunched ends of the large crossbar got some treatment ahead of sticking all the parts back together.

The final operation was to build a simple jig from measurements taken from the car then gradually manipulate the crash bar to fit it. Kristian did a final round of welding and tweaking and we had a finished repair. I asked Dave if he wanted the ends adding back on to make it full width once again. He didn't. Nor did he want the broken ends capped off to tidy them up or any paint or powder coat applied. Nope - its story is authentic, warts and all. In the New Year I'll take it down to Dave's place and we'll get it back on the car.

Needless to say, Dave is very happy with it and many thanks to Kristian for doing such a superb job on something so obscure.

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