The 1967 Auckland University Raft Race, Jaguar-powered raft entry from Ardmore Engineering School

I was lucky enough to do my engineering degree when the School of Engineering was a residential school located at Ardmore, South Auckland, just half a mile down the road from the Teachers' Training College with 500 young girls resident. A couple of years later the School of Engineering had closed and moved to Auckland. Ardmore

Each year, as part of the Capping festivities, Auckland University held a raft race, across the harbour from Okahu Bay to Devonport. A group of us at Ardmore in 1967 decided on an ambitious project that could carry all 9 of us. Calculations showed that 14 oil drums would be required, and a substantial power plant. A paddle wheeler was decided upon, as the rules were 'not normally used in marine applications'.

The design took place verbally using beer and shouting. 7 oil drums were welded together for each side and this determined the deck layout. We found an old engine and gearbox on a chassis in a back garden in Papakura that the owner was very pleased to see taken away. It happened to be an SS Jaguar side-valve motor, with twin carbs, free-flow exhaust and gearbox. On the top a plate said 'chrome plated bore, guaranteed 100,000 miles'. We also picked up a Chev diff, regarded as junk by its owner. And someone who worked for the Post Office knew of a stack of old wooden cable reels, and a large one of those came back to Ardmore.

The engine was still mounted on a part chassis, so this was fixed to the raft, the driveshaft mated to the Chev diff. One side of the diff was gas-axed off and the spider gears welded up, making it a right-angle drive. The remaining axle face was welded to the steel plate on the side of the cable drum, and the drive was complete.

Starting the engine took a little while, some stuck valves were freed up through the spark plug holes. But it ran, and the gearbox worked in all gears. Small misalignments were handled by the flexing of the timber framing. On raft-race day, a local trucking company carted all the rafts in and they were manhandled onto the beach. The engine was carried separately as it was pretty heavy. My MG TD supplied the starting battery. It was coupled up and we awaited the tide for the first flotation. We could not do an earlier test run due to its size and weight and the logistics available to poor students.

SS100 raft

It floated! Well, so it should with engineering students studying fluids as designers. The engine was fired up and we went for a small cruise along the beach. The only design flaw we found was a big one! Paddle wheelers have covers over the paddle otherwise you have, in effect, a salt-water waterfall!

raft race day

The starting gun went and our salt-water waterfall crossed the harbour, with electrical parts of the motor gradually failing. By the time we reached Devonport the last running cylinder had ceased and the battery was almost flat. The tide drifted us past Devonport wharf, where a kind fisherman threw us his old raincoat. We ripped out the lining and actually had a dry rag. With the spark plugs dry we coaxed the last start out of the Jag and powered in to the beach with loud cheers. The raft was then dismantled and the Devonport pub checked out. Despite advertising the engine for two weeks, there were no enquiries and sadly it had to go to the North Shore tip.

salt-water waterfall

Those in the team were (in no particular order):

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