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The METEOR plastic speedboat was introduced circa 1960; all of Sutcliffe’s competitors (mainly Hornby and Triang) had been using plastic extensively for toy production all through the 1950’s, so Sutcliffe decided to follow suit, albeit reluctantly! Sutcliffe was at its heart a Pressings company, experts in making things from sheet metal, either by pressing or fabrication, so it’s understandable that they didn’t want to ‘sell out’ to plastic. After all, they had no expertise of plastic moulding and would have to outsource most of the manufacture, just the final assembly and packaging being done back at the Sutcliffe factory.
Nevertheless, they did produce a fine model boat in Meteor! She was clockwork powered, using the same motor as the 12” tinplate boats in the range, and she was sold along side her sister boat ‘Merlin’ which was electric powered. The name Meteor was actually being re-used; the name first appeared on a 16” speedboat some 30 years previously. How different the two boats look side by side!
The fine example shown above was Martins Meteor; as a boy Martin lived in land-locked Cambridgeshire, but he had an uncle who lived in Surrey. Martin's uncle was very keen on ships, the sea, engineering and all things boating. Martin and his sister loved this uncle, not only because he was funny and great with children, but also because he had a wonderful tradition - every time he came to visit, or they went to visit him, he bought them amazing toys as off-the-cuff presents. And one day, when Martin was about 5 or 6 years old (C 1962/3) he bought him a Sutcliffe Meteor.
Many orginal boxes show the name and address of their proud owner, and just like Chris is 1922 (See Chris’s Battleship), Martin made sure that everone knew who this particular boat belonged to. And just to underline how precious the boat was considered, the box also was also updated with the caution ‘Handle With Care’!
Martin clearly looked after his boat lovingly. It is in excellent original condition, although the tiny anchor, very neatly added, was Martin’s addition when he was about 7.
With the encouragement of his uncle, Martin learned how to sail dinghies - initially in Poole Park, which in the 1960’s had small clinker-built sailing dinghies for hire. His enthusiasm for sailing, ships, the sea and generally mechanical things led Martin into a BSc in Ship Science at Southampton University and eventually a career in ship construction and ship repair which took him all over the world, working for major marine companies like Lloyds Register of Shipping, Shell and BP.
Kenneth Sutcliffe would no doubt be delighted that one of his toy boats had such a long lasting effect on a young boy, particularly as it was one of his new fangled plastic ones!
Martins boat is now part of the CJB Collection; and we'll look after it very carefully just as Martin did (though we’ll probably stop short of writing our name on the box!)
Martin’s uncle lived at Great Bookham near Leatherhead and there was a park nearby with a boating pond where he took Martin to try out the boat. Martin recalls that it was great, he showed him how to set the rudder so that the boat would set off from the shore and do a wide arc so that all he had to do was walk slowly along the bank and collect the boat after its little voyage. Martin would often take her on holiday to places where they had boating lakes and was very careful to sail her only in fresh water and make sure she was clean and dry before popping her back into the box.
Left: Clockwork Meteor, circa 1935. Right: Clockwork Meteor, circa 1962
Martin's Meteor alongside the electric Zodiac - both circa 1962