Hitachi Power Tools once again pits the trades against each other with a fiendish two-day challenge: design and build the fastest and most durable 18V Combi Drill-powered bathtub vehicle!
It’s back and it’s bigger than ever! Forget Hamilton and Rosberg, the Bathtub Challenge brings out the rivalry between the trades like no other event. Last year the electricians’ tub ran away with it, but this time it won’t be as easy. First, let’s meet the teams:
James Carter, Sam Hill, Terry Smith, Editor, Professional Builder, Mike Buck, Hitachi Demonstrator
Tim West, Mat Hounsell, Stuart Duff, Editor, PHPI, Steve Biggs, Hitachi Demonstrator
Damien Heath, Matt Holtom, Dan Tovey, Editor, Professional Electrician, Dave Allsopp, Hitachi Demonstrator
Charles Pascoe, Ben Sykes, Richard Bowler, Editor, Professional Motor Mechanic, James Taylor, Hitachi Demonstrator
Ace upcycler and designer from George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, Kirstie Allsopp’s Fill Your House for Free and Shed of the Year, TV star Max McMurdo is back to judge the teams.
Four teams – builders, plumbers, electricians and new for 2016, mechanics – have two days to design and build a bathtub vehicle, powered by a single cordless DV18DBXL 18V 6.0Ah Hitachi combi drill or two DV18DGL 18V 2.5Ah combi drills. Machines will be judged for style and then set a series of exciting speed and tough endurance challenges.
“The teams will pick lots and that decides what materials they get to work with,” explains Simon Miller, Brand and Product Manager for Hitachi Power Tools.
“A tub, a selection of old bikes, maybe three, maybe four wheels, timber, scrap and, of course, access to every Hitachi power tool. Each pit will have an expert Hitachi demonstrator on hand and their van crammed full of tougher, faster and more advanced power tools.”
“There will be points for design, innovation and, as you’re all skilled tradespeople, workmanship too,” continues Simon. “We’ll also judge you on how you work as a team.”
So the teams crack on with designing their bathtub. Straight away we see the early favourites, the mechanics, discussing a two-drill option.
Charles Pascoe, who specialises in Land Rover repair and maintenance, thinks it can be done and if they pull it off, they will be the first ever to attempt it and possibly win the challenge with the innovative design.
“It will basically be steered like a tank,” explains Charles as he lies on the design room floor. “Ben will be our driver and use the two 2.5Ah combi drills to power and steer the bathtub.” Ben looks bemused, but the mechanics are talking a very good game.
Meanwhile, the builders look like they mean business. Last year the builders’ team had terrible problems getting going so it’s great to hear James Carter when he says: “We’re aiming for reliability. We don’t want to have any breakdowns; we want to make sure it gets around the track.”
The electricians meanwhile are quietly determined. Damien and Matt look confident and have already decided on a trike. As well as being NICEIC-registered electricians, they are motorcyclists themselves and their pit lane wouldn’t look out of place at the Isle of Man TT!
As for the plumbers, Tim and Mat competed last year and wanted to come back and have another go. “We’ve been thinking about it for 12 months!” says Mat, and it shows. The team go into a huddle and soon their bathtub is beginning to look incredible – a bike and sidecar design! They are desperate to make amends for last year’s second place and get to work with renewed purpose.
The builders tub has been flipped upside down and takes the form of a trike. Sam and James confidently begin to build the gearing – yes, gearing – and the accelerator mechanism from brake cable. Once that’s been done and the wheels fitted to the frame, the team begins the design and it’s looking a lot like Thunderbird 2!
The electricians’ design looks cool. Damien, Matt and Dan have worked well together. Rivals are pointing out that it’s a copy of last year’s winning design, but that will be taken into account in the judging later.
As for the mechanics, day one has been spent cutting and chopping the frame but with very little action in the way of getting the power to the wheels.
“We’ve underestimated the time it would take, and we can’t get the fixed wheel to work,” explains Charles. “But we’re going to go for it – and anyway, we have a working shower on board.”
Yes, you read that right, the mechanics have made a working shower, which they plan to have on throughout the judging. With the hot weather and the hard work an on-board shower might be the best idea of the day!
A lot of blood, sweat and gears are spilt over the six hours, but the teams arrive at scrutineering with four different designs of bathtub. It’s finally time for Max to judge and then comes the action – series of speed and endurance tests using just the Hitachi 18V combi drills for power…
After an overnight pause, the teams return rejuvenated to make the finishing touches and prepare for the track tests and judging.
Four incredible bathtub vehicles, designed and built in less than two days, are now lined up in the middle of the racetrack for scrutineering. It’s a great sight as Max McMurdo and Simon Miller take a careful look at each vehicle as the teams watch apprehensively.
“I’m so excited to see these incredible designs and it’s been a privilege to see the teams work so hard to get to this point,” says Simon Miller.
The builders have gone for what can only be described as a cross between a Thunderbird and a VW Beetle. Just check it out! It somehow all comes together to look very cool, with a steering mechanism which looks like a rudder.
“I like this design,” says Max. “In fact, it’s the best looking bathtub here. They’ve even sprayed it Hitachi green!”
For the plumbers, it’s Tim and Mat’s second time round at the Challenge and they have really gone for originality – a motorbike and sidecar design.
“It looks fantastic, but I’m not sure how sturdy it will be on the track,” continues Max. “But I like the innovation on the sidecar, it’s up there with the mechanics’ team for that.”
And the mechanics’ bathtub does not disappoint. There is real innovation on the drive front (two Hitachi drills side by side driving a wheel each), the team has even installed a working shower. The plumbers don’t look happy about that, although the mechanics do, with much laughter and applause from the other teams too.
“Definitely the winning team for innovation. I like the idea of the two drills and the working shower has a level of craziness I love,” says Max.
For the electricians it’s been a case of making last minute adjustments to their power train, but their trike design looks clean and slick, so scores highly on design but scores low on innovation. The chain issues and a realisation it wasn’t working properly had led to last minute adjustments.
“We’ve made the drill’s chuck sit directly on the tyre. We’ve tested it but we won’t know until we get out there on the track if it will work out or not,” explains Damien Heath, electrician team leader.
The atmosphere at Hitachi HQ grows and it’s over to the track where more points can be scored. The track measures about 200m in distance, featuring tricky cambers, hills, ramps and obstacles.
It’s here where the builders and their Thunderbird come unstuck. An accelerator issue and urgent on track repairs mean it’s not an auspicious start.
As they retire hurt, the electricians arrive at the start line for a straight speed test around the track. It’s a scorcher at just 17.74 seconds putting them in first place.
Next, it’s the plumbers with an incredible 18.26 seconds – the sidecar design works a treat but a small driver error costs a second. The builders come back at 38 seconds, while the mechanics’ tub looks great spraying water out of its shower but it registers a damp 47 seconds on its hot lap.
Still, there is time for the builders and mechanics to redeem their scores and win as it’s the endurance event – how many laps can the tub do in five minutes?
The electricians set off and don’t stop. In fact, the driving is superb from Damien too and it reaches an amazing 24 laps.
The place goes wild – a tub upcycled from so little and powered by a single Hitachi drill looks like it can run and run. Who could beat this? Well, sadly not the mechanics, who limp around for one lap after a final crunch of materials failing. Nor will it be the builders who manage eight.
As plumber Tim takes to the start line with Mat behind, the crowd waits with bated breath. Tim rolls off the ramp and off he goes – in fact, he drives it like he’s stolen it! He whizzes round, 5 laps, 10. Just how far can this machine go? And then comes the answer – an incredible 24 laps, matching the electricians’ lap count exactly!
Max looks at the scores and tots up the totals for design, innovation, workmanship and of course the racing. Silence descends as he calls for the Bathtub Challenge trophy to be brought forward.
“In fourth place, with 21 points, we have the mechanics. Superb innovation could not be matched on the track. In third place with 24 points, it’s the builders with their amazing design, and although it didn’t perform as it had in practice, a great bathtub!
“In second with 25 points and only a point behind the winners it’s… the plumbers. And the winners with 26 points– really only winning it by one second in the speed lap test – it’s the electricians! Congratulations!”
It’s two wins in two years for the electrical trade and the trophy is held aloft by the team. Everyone’s a winner too as each team member gets to keep their overalls, Hitachi power tools and a goodie bag, just for taking part. It’s a great way to finish an epic inter-trade battle!
“Congratulations to all the teams and I don’t think I will ever forget seeing those tough, fast and powerful Hitachi drills drive big tradesmen and their tubs for so long and at such speed!” says Simon as he hands out the prizes. It’s been a great Bathtub Challenge and will be remembered by those who took part for a long time to come.
Watch it all unfold below!