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The Real Inspector Thumb

'Tom! Stop, hard!' This week's story from the casebook of Inspector Thumb of New Scotland Yard's Slot Car Division kicks off with the sound of these words and the squeal of rubber. Just a few years ago, Ray Singh and Tom Orrow were on their way to a race meeting at Warmington. Passing through the village of Walkden Fisher, Ray noticed an old 1/24th scale car in the window of an antique shop. It took him a couple of seconds to work out what it was, and a millisecond to yell the words that brought Tom's foot stamping hard on the brake pedal. Only a few moments later the transaction was complete, a few euros had been exchanged, and Ray had taken from the hands of a particularly slow-witted antique dealer the legendary- the unique- the almost mythical, first ever West Hamley open championship winning McLaren; the popular victor in that tense and close-fought final of the very first Argo Series Open, held back in the winter of 1970. A true masterpiece of slot race engineering. Bob McNee, the long-odds independent driver had squeezed out the might of the U.S. factory sponsored pro-teams Puma and Champayne with this exact car. Who could ever forget it? Fighting hard through all the heats after his Dissociated spur gear chipped a tooth during his qualifying run, an exhausted but inspired McNee had dragged this Rob Emmitt autographed plumber-anglewinder chassied car to the final the hard way, through countless hard-fought heats during the day. This home rewound double-28 gauge Puma can with adapted Champayne 'Pink Dot' Argo magnets and armour-plated endbell, still hot from battle, eventually lined up against the relaxed and confident pros, who having qualified fastest many hours ago, had kept their motors cool, their tyres well gooped, and their frames straight in parc ferme until that moment. But Bob drove out of his skin that afternoon. After all, he'd spent most of it driving the track- he was in a winning rhythm by then. He tore away at the factory boys, stunning them into a disorientated catch-up race, dropping only one heat on the notorious inside orange lane, when Leonard Roland of Champayne lashed round blue, the fastest on the track. The real drama came in the last heat, with Bob on green and needing only a second place to clinch the title. But he dropped a brush spring in the pits, and started three laps behind. The way he clawed back the deficiency, the inspired determination he displayed to wrest second place from a flying Marc Masters of team Puma, sealed the place of Bob McNee- and his dark metallic blue McLaren M8B with white flashes and purple fogging- in the annals of slot racing.
Well, some time after that, the car was put up for auction, and raised a phenomenal amount of money for charity. The wining bidder was Spike Ramsbottom, a West Hamley acupuncturist, who, over the years, forgot all about it. The reason for that was a personality-changing L.S.D. experience when on the road with prog-rock supergroup ELK. Ramsbottom was travelling with the band as bass player/vocalist Greg Kake's personal 'herbalist and medical advisor'. He never quite recovered. For some years the McNee McLaren was lost to history. Until Ray and Tom found it in that backwoods antique shop.
To cut a potentially very long story short, money quickly became the big question. Ray and Tom were driven into hiding by the ensuing publicity (and a disgruntled antique shop owner from Walkden Fisher). There were rumours that big-time U.S. philanthropists were throwing shed loads of dollars into a fund to bring the car Stateside, to the Smithsonian or the Metropolitan Museum. That sparked a rival fund raising campaign in British newspapers to keep this national treasure in its home country, safely and reverently installed in the National Slot Car Collection in the British Museum where it belonged. Arguments in Parliament over export licenses and government pledges eventually resulted in the car being purchased for an undisclosed sum of twelve point four million euros. But Scotland Yard's Slot Car Division kept a very close eye on proceedings. Inspector Thumb's team of informers and grasses brought in consistent stories of gangland interest in the deal. Rogue slot-car collectors worldwide were rumoured to be offering any price to whoever could bring the car home to them. Negotiations between the British Museum and the owners, Ray and Tom, took place through a series of intermediaries under strict security organised by Thumb's department and the Home Office.
But now the deal was complete. Huge tax-free monies had been deposited in Ray and Tom's newly established offshore bank accounts, and all Inspector Thumb had to do was collect the car from agents at the West Hamley Club and deliver it safely to it's new home in the National Slot Car Collection in the Pendle Wing of the British Museum. A delicate job, requiring sensitivity and diplomacy- an unusually low-profile mission for Thumb. A simultaneous decoy run had been set up with maximum publicity, involving a convoy of armoured security vans with police motorcycle outriders heading off in the opposite direction down the M25, while Thumb set off alone in his Elise. Not even his trusted Sergeant Malcolms Argent had been let into the secret, much to Thumb's satisfaction. This was his own gig, and he wasn't about to share the glory with his daft-as-a-brush Geordie sidekick. In fact the decoy convoy was quickly bogged down in the usual junction 8 gridlock, and Thumb was also blocked by a minor traffic incident as he approached Great Sheldon on the A132. But Thumb was not to be deterred. He was as excited as anyone at the prospect of having the fabulous McNee McLaren in his possession, if only for a short time. Up on the kerb, flashing his Scotland Yard badge at anyone who might see it, he roared off along the pavement terrifying the pedestrians and dropped only five minutes from his ETA at West Hamley.
He had a slight surprise as he pulled into the yard outside the club next to an identical green '98 Lotus Elise. 'Too clean', he sniffed. 'A garage queen, not a working classic like mine'. But a bigger surprise knocked the smug grin off his face, as he bumped into himself coming out of the club.
'Good God!' exclaimed Coxie Cooper-Archer, the West Hamley Club Secretary and Thumb's chief contact in the deal, who was already accompanying the other Thumb through the door. 'Inspector Thumb! But you're here already!' All three men eyed each other slowly. Then two pairs of eyes focussed on the intricately carved and inlaid mahogany pit-box that one of the Thumbs held tucked firmly under his arm. And the seriousness of the situation hit all of them at the same time. 'Something very fishy is going on here,' said Coxie. 'Obviously' said the two Thumbs.
Inside, the club was busy with an ordinary weekly race meeting; convenient cover for the main operation of the evening. But everyone stopped when they saw the two Thumbs. The whole club listened intently while Coxie explained the situation, and the two Inspector Thumbs glared opposingly at each other. 'I have just handed over an extremely valuable object to a man who claims to be our old friend Inspector Thumb of the Yard. Now I find there is another man who claims that same identity, and displays all his familiar outward characteristics. How are we to decide who is the real Inspector Thumb? How do we finger the original? Will the imposter betray his hand, or will we be palmed off with a fake?' 'One of them should be under a-wrist' called out Paddy. 'This is no `arm-less fun,' scowled Coxie, 'this is serious, deadly serious'. Then Bruno elbowed his way to the front. 'I've got a plan. First off, we need to know which one we're talking about. You,' he pointed to the nearest, 'are Thumb no.1. And you, gesturing the other way, 'are Thumb no.2. Now we should call Sergeant Argent. If anyone knows Inspector Thumb, it's him. They've been working together for years.' At that, Thumb no.2 tried to protest. 'No- not Argent! This is a top secret mission, he must know nothing of this!' Thumb no.1 smiled briefly and said 'by all means, let him come! Good old Argent will sort out this little misunderstanding.' Thumb no.2 felt the suspicious gazes falling on him from all sides, and realised that he'd made his first gaffe. Coxie looked darkly at him, while Bruno continued after a significant pause. 'But while we're waiting for Sergeant Argent, I suggest a little entertainment, which might also help identify the fake Thumb. We all know the real Inspector is one of the greatest slot car connoisseurs in the world. On the track here is the starting grid for heat one of tonight's Classic Le Mans race. What I propose is a little quiz. Each Inspector will step up to the start line and identify one car in turn, from red lane across to orange, or until one of them makes a mistake. That man will be seized immediately and handed over to the authorities. Bengt Axel should be able to take care of that.' Bengt, the 7 foot tall Norwegian ex-lumberjack on a cultural exchange visit from the Tromso Sloot Kluube stepped forward on hearing his name, and smilingly fingered the blade of the enormous double-edged axe he carried everywhere with him. 'The man who correctly identifies all the cars will be handed the precious McNee McLaren, and God speed to Bloomsbury!' Bruno sat down to a round of applause, and Coxie announced gravely 'let battle commence!'
Thumb no.1 held his advantage well. He walked briskly towards the track before Thumb no.2 could raise any objection. Still at several yards distance from the track he called out in a brisk voice ' Red lane. Car no.9. Ford GT40. Scalextric version. 1969 Le Mans winner driven by Ickx/Oliver. Gulf Team.' As he got closer, he made a few more impressive calls. 'Rear wheels replaced. Look like BWA. Longer axle, wide track. The car has been lowered slightly. Hmm. Driver replaced- wise move- I think we have a Fly Classic driver in there, am I right? Let's take a look underneath.' He picked up the car and hefted it in his hand. 'Right. Magnet removed, but a few judicial lumps of lead epoxied in place. Good. A very impressive job. Slot-it V12 motor. New spur gear. 33 tooth. Silicone rears. Fronts have been profiled and varnished for low-friction. Slot-it guide, too. Rear chassis has been strengthened- the production model is prone to cracking there, isn't it? Not much else to say, really, is there?' He ended on a confident flourish, and an approving murmur. He sat down trackside, and waited for Thumb no.2's effort. No.2 was totally out psyched, and he knew it. The second car on the grid was a trickier proposition entirely. It was a Ferrari 275P, superdetailed and reliveried. A good representation of John Surtees and Lorenzo Bandinis 1964 third place car. It would almost certainly be an MRRC model, but there could be a catch- maybe it was an original '60s Monogram version? But surely no one would tamper with a valuable classic like that. He thought quickly as he approached, merely giving the run down on the full-sized car's technical and race history. He finally picked it up. It had been resprayed with an accurate dark Ferrari red, and was running on good wire wheels- Nincos turned down to fit some ali hubs. The chassis was scratchbuilt- no clue to the date of the shell. But then he noticed the original white undercolour to the plastic. He continued with his analysis aloud. 'MRRC shell, thoroughly reworked. White original colour, resprayed and redecalled. Nice interior work. Only one person I know goes to the trouble of fitting a spare pair of goggles round the driver's neck. Looks like the work of Lee Vittout.' It was good enough to keep him in the game. Lee stood up at the back of the room and yelled 'Good call, Inspector- or whoever you are'.
The third car on purple lane was a tough proposition, and both Thumbs knew it. No.2 watched intently as no.1 walked up and laid hand on the blue blob. He cleared his throat. 'Matra MS 670. Graham Hill/Henri Pescarolo's wining car from 1972. But only just. Vacform. Scratchbuilt. Not very well scratchbuilt.' A sort of bristle went round the clubroom. Thumb no.1 had taken a risk. The ID was right, but the criticism had maybe cost him an ally. But it proved his credentials. He continued. 'The race numbers are incorrect. Should be 15, not 51. This shade of blue is too dark. The wheels lack inserts and are undersized. The chassis is twisted and poorly soldered. The gears are badly meshed and the guide is not centralised. The darkening of the endbell indicates an accumulation of carbon brush debris, and excess oil from the can bearing has leaked onto the rear tyre. I have no hesitation in attributing this wreck to Eric Shaw.' Thumb no.1 heard a pathetic sob issue from somewhere back in the club and knew he was right.
Thumb no.2 got up once more. He had to pull out all the stops to get back in contention. On red lane was a distinctively liveried car. He was on home ground here. 'Fly Porsche 917L. Richard Attwood/Hans Herrman.1970 winner. Motor glued in and tyres trued up- rear axle spacer added, magnet removed- otherwise pretty well bog standard.' He picked it up and sniffed it. 'Originally purchased from Slow Mo's Slotshop, Llamenmad, circa June 1999.' That drew an appreciative murmur. An old trick, but a good 'un. 'Slow' Mo had set up his shop in May of that year in premises that had previously been a notoriously unsuccessful pet retailers. It took him three months to get the smell of dead hamsters out of his stockroom. Not a lot of people knew that.
The pressure was back on Thumb no.1. He picked the car up from green lane and studied it carefully. 'Interesting. LeMans Miniatures Ford Mk IV. Nice job. But wait. Unsprayed resin on the inside. This is a cloned shell, mounted on a Slot Car Heroes 1/32 universal inline chassis. TSRF motor, Slot-it gears.' He paused for a moment, realising he had to reply to no.2's trick with a theatrical gesture of his own. He brought the car to his lips and slowly drew a repulsively long tongue along its flanks. 'Ahh! The unmistakeable tang of Johnson's acrylic floor sealer. A very effective clear coating, which has been used to protect the decals. Of course the standard kit decals are appropriate to the winning Dan Gurney/ A.J.Foyt car, but this represents the Mark Donohue/Bruce McLaren car which took third, 1967.' It was a classy performance. Thumb 1 sat down with a smug grin.
All to play for. The next car on the grid. Thumb no. 2 had to make this one to survive. 'Ferrari 250 GTO. Very beautiful car. Some minor remodelling, but basically an early production Pink-Kar….' A strangled gasp from someone in the room stopped him in his tracks. Had he made a simple but fatal error? He picked up the model and turned it over. A 1964 Revell adjustable chassis with FT 16D Mabuchi motor. Green can. Interesting. So. Revell or Pink-Kar repro? His first instinct had been for the modern Spanish clone. He wouldn't usually miss a Revell original. He looked carefully at the body moulding. Those three vents on the bonnet…he couldn't be mistaken. He had to make the decision of his life. He cleared his throat and spoke. 'An early production Pink-Kar Ferrari 250 shell, mounted on an old Revell chassis with 16D motor. The shell has been slightly reworked, but is otherwise standard. The running gear is circa 1964 and original, apart from the replacement silicon tyres.' He sat down to uproar. 'Well, I think that clinches it', said Coxie. 'Take this man away, Bengt, whoever he is. The real Inspector Thumb would never mistake my mint condition original Revell Ferrari for a Pink-Kar copy. I bought it from Steve only a few weeks ago. Cost a bit, didn't it Steve? But it was worth it. Specially since it has solved this little mystery for us.' Steve smiled thinly. Turning to Thumb no.1, Coxie said 'Well, I think I can safely return this wonderful Mclaren to your safe hands. I'm sorry to have doubted you, Inspector, but that rogue's disguise was quite convincing.' 'No, no, Coxie. You did exactly the right thing. Now if you'll just let me have the McLaren…'
Just then Sergeant Argent burst through the door. 'I got here as soon as I could, Inspector…I…I…Inspector, are you all right sir?' Coxie broke in. 'Inspector Thumb here is quite alright thank you Argent. But I think you should direct your attention to the rogue over there!' 'Good God! What's going on! Two Thumbs? This is a nightmare!' 'Don't worry, Argent,' said Thumb no.1 quickly. 'I'm on a secret mission. Must go. Late. Take care of the chap over there. Impersonating a police officer should hold him until we get to the bottom of this.' Sergeant Argent looked carefully from one to the other, his slow but careful mind working through the impossible situation before him. 'Sorry sir,' he said slowly, 'but I must make sure in my own mind before...' 'Don't be ridiculous, Argent. Arrest that man and let me get on my way!' 'Just a second. There's one simple question I want to put to you both. You, sir. What is my wife's name?' Thumb no.2 shifted uneasily under the shadow of Bengt Axel and his axe and scowled. 'How do you expect me to answer a question like that?' Thumb no.1 spoke up immediately. 'Your wife, Marge Argent is 1m 50cm tall, weighs 200 kilos and has a large mole on the lower part of her left….' 'That's quite enough from you…whoever you are!' An incensed Argent stepped angrily towards Thumb no.1 and reached out towards him, grabbing him unexpectedly by the ear. There was a thin, ripping, tearing sound, and Argent stepped back, holding a revolting looking pink latex skin mask in his right hand. 'By all that's holy! Racso Omt, the evil genius behind SMEGMA, the Society of Model Engineers, Gangsters, Murderers and Arsonists!' At the same moment, Thumb no.1 stepped clear of Bengt, grabbed the mahogany pit box containing the precious McLaren from under Omt's arm, and spoke. 'Racso Omt, I arrest you for the attempted theft of a work of slot racing art belonging to the nation. Cuff him, Argent. And by the way, cuff Steve too. Fraud. Selling that trumped up Ferrari as a genuine Revell original! Either that or give Coxie his money back now.' Steve whimpered. 'Yes, sir Inspector sir. Sorry Coxie. Innocent mistake!'
Coxie led Thumb and Argent back to their cars. 'One thing that concerns me still, gentlemen. I felt sure we had picked the right man. Especially as he seemed to know all about your wife, Sergeant.' 'Well, Coxie,' said Argent. 'That was his big mistake. He'd done his research well- too well perhaps. But in all the twelve years I've been working with Inspector Thumb here, excuse me but begging your pardon, sir, he's never once asked me a single question about my personal life. He doesn't even know I'm married. Or didn't until now. All Inspector Thumb knows and cares about is slot racing. And isn't that just the way it should be, sir?'
 

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QUOTE (Rail Racer @ 18 Jan 2004, 11:20 PM)Hmm. Driver replaced- wise move- I think we have a Fly Classic driver in there, am I right?
I've tried this... it doesn't work, the Fly chappie sits far too upright to sit in the 40! Other than that, as excellent as those Inspector Thumb tales always are!

Coop
 

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Well he did ask if he was right, didn't he?

The first of one or two entries for the spot-the-mistake competition in this week's Thumb story. Come on chaps, it's a unique chance to win your weight in pre-masticated Juicy Fruit (tm.) this time.
 
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I know the answer and I should have edit it out before I posted it. It's one two look for!

RR
 

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Not according to Shelsey Walshs' 'Bumper book of LeMans Misconceptions and Mistakes' Publ. by Ripoff & Dai, 1987. Unfortunately no longer available.
Anyway, to qualify for this week's Grand Prize, the judges require each entrant to state their correct weight so that the pre-masticated Juicy Fruit (tm.) can be fairly distributed amongst the winners.
Just thought I'd better clear that up. Well somebody had to. It was starting to make a stain on the carpet.
 

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After waiting too long for a correct answer to the spot the mistake competition, I've swallowed the chewing gum myself. If it glues up my insides like my mum always said it would, you can all blame yourselves. Interesting addition to the annals of science though.
The actual mistake, as RR himself actually spotted, was that Thumbs 1 and 2 got mixed up right at the end. As if anyone cares. Thumb no2 was the real one. RR is disqualified from the comp tho' as he's part of the management. As it were.
 
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
tx I am fairly fat free 230lbs that in case the management change their mind (what mind) on the Juicy Fruit.

RR
 
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