DOWN THE WORKSHOP WITH
Steam-powered racing car Bob Dyke
It’s a famous steam car ‘Whistling Billy’ was one of the leading cars in American dirt track races in the 1900s, but was badly damaged in an accident in 1912 and left to rust on a farm.
It was very successful The car was built specifically for racing by the White Sewing Machine Company in 1905. Originally called the ‘White Rocket’, the car was christened ‘Whistling Billy’ due to the noise from its burners. It won many races and in 1905 took nearly four seconds off the world track record for a mile-long dirt track.
Bob Dyke recreated it In 2004 Bob Dyke began the long journey to recreate the car. On a trip to America, he bought a 1906 White steamer. As well as the parts he acquired in America, he took many parts for the recreation from a 1907 20hp White tourer. Bob has been passionate about steam cars since his youth, inspired by his father who owned many steam traction engines and steam cars.
It was a huge project Dyke says: “It’s a faithful, accurate rebuild using mainly correct, original parts from White steamers. I had nine or 10 photographs of ‘Whistling Billy’ at the time, which were very helpful in figuring out how to put it all together, and allowed me to get the exact dimensions.”
It has been running for four years The project was finally completed in 2012, and has been demonstrated at a range of events. The car is based six miles west of Land’s End, near Penzance in Cornwall.
Now it is allowed to race Dyke says: “The recent Chateau Impney hillclimb was the first time in competition for ‘Whistling Billy’. It’s brilliant to be out competing. The MSA stopped us from doing it for many years and it is somewhere around 100 years ago that a steam-powered car last competed in the UK.”
There is more work to be done too Dyke says: “The car wasn’t going terribly well at Chateau Impney as I was running at 600psi instead of 800psi because I’ve got two engines and both of the blocks are cracked at the moment. I cut off the top third of the throttle and I couldn’t open it out properly on the straights, which was very frustrating. I’m having new blocks made to cure that though.”