More To The Name

By Ian Peters

Ed Notes: A few weeks ago I innocently posted a question on the Lotus internet list asking about the origin of the name of the Thackeray Washer. This is the funny spring washer that we've all come to know and love that is used to mount Webers and Stromberg carbs on many Brit cars. I received the expected answers... Like it was named after some guy named Thackeray... That was until this reply from Ian Peters of Australia....

The Thackeray washers are named not after their inventor as urban folklore would have you believe but after a device used in their manufacture.

In the early 60s various additives were put into petrol to improve atomization and minimize condensation on the larger ports that were being used to facilitate wider rev ranges. Unfortunately the additives worked by changing the liquid properties of the fuel in ways that were not always helpful. Those old enough will have noticed that it became harder and harder to fill up the fuel tanks due to foaming of the fuel. Another adverse side effect was that when shaken the fuel in the float would froth up as well. Mixture control went to hell and often stopped the motor. Sir Eric De Welsh who had founded a large industrial empire around an invention to close the hole in sand cast cylinder blocks that periodically failed and kept the manufacturing industry going, thought he could help. With the aid of Dunlop he used O-rings to mount the float chambers on SU carburetors. This was a huge success and Sir Herbert Austin paid Sir Eric a large bonus for ensuring the continual sales of Austin products to replace those spontaneously combusting. It became obvious that a similar solution for other products might secure a similar financial reward. These cars had integral float chambers and introducing a failure point that was obscure enough to get away with would be hard. He picked a manufacturer whose cars had a propensity for flammability to cover the development. By rubber mounting the entire carburetor he could provide the advantage that would lead people to use them but it didn't have that flammable hidden extra. He had devised a multi turn spring washer to sit under the lock nut to provide compliance, this had been made of spring steel by spring makers. If this part could be made to fail.... He needed a flawed genius.

Enter Scotsman, Angus Thacker. As a small boy Angus had been shunned by others because of his odd behavior. He was even know to eat the local foods that had been contrived for tourists (haggis et al) so was considered less than bright. During his long lonely childhood he became enamoured by rumors of travelers from the South that on a few very precious days of the year the clouds would parts and above them could be seen a large yellow hot thing that could make you warm and light the country. So began his long investigations into light. His aim was to create an artificial Sun that could be deployed beneath his native Scotland's permanent layer of cloud such that all could share the wonder. Little did he know that even if he had created a Sun it would soon have become coated with soot and grime and merged into the Scottish grey.

He did discover that coherent light could be made to carry large amounts of energy to cut metals. He named his invention the Thacker Ray. Obviously Sir Eric utilized the invention to cut the coiled washers from a suitable low grade sheet of metal and the Thacker Ray Washer Was born. Not since Lucas had such a delicate balance of function and despair been wrought. Sir Eric tried to name it after himself but there was too much confusion over the Welsch plug and the Welsch washer that he had to call it the Thacker Ray Washer.

Angus Thacker died a lonely penniless drifter after he discovered that the Americans had turned his invention into the Ronnie Ray Gun and used it for a special effect on the American military's production of "Star Wars - and you thought Darth Vader was nuts". He spent all his fortune trying to sue the Pentagon.

So next time you have to replace a Thacker Ray Washer you can take pride in participating in such a fine old English tradition and a small part of a huge international saga.