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Wartime Rolls-Royce set to inspire future engineers

Rolls-Royce engines

The roar of Britain’s engineering prestige will be heard on Great Yarmouth seafront when two wartime engines are showcased as part of the GY Wheels Festival, on Saturday, July 8 and Sunday, July 9.

Organised by Great Yarmouth Borough Council and the Wheels Festival Committee, the free festival, taking place from 10am to 5pm on both days, will see scores of prestige, classic and novelty cars delight families along the seafront.


To support the festival’s ethos of educating and inspiring young people about engineering, engine enthusiasts David Irwin and Peter Grieve, of Historic Aero Engines, will be demonstrating their vintage Rolls-Royce Merlin engines from a special enclosure on Britannia Plaza.

David’s Merlin engine, manufactured in 1943 in Derby, was originally fitted to an Avro Lancaster bomber that saw service in the Second World War. In 1945, the engine was fitted to an Avro York transport aeroplane and, in 1950, fitted to a bomber for the Spanish Air Force.

It was returned to the UK in the 1970s and used in a research facility for some years before David acquired it in 2007. He completed an eight-year restoration programme in 2015.

Peter’s Merlin engine, manufactured at Hillington in 1941, originally propelled a Bristol Beaufighter IIF night fighter aeroplane, which operated during the war as part of the Fighter Interception Unit in West Sussex.

The aeroplane crashed near the airfield during a radar test flight. The engines remained buried in the ground until 1978 when they were both recovered, and Peter’s engine was rebuilt and ran again in 2000.

David said: “We own the engines privately but share an interest with a small group of other engine enthusiasts who each own WWII engines. We display them on a non-profit basis at larger public events with an engineering or aeronautical focus, and we are really looking forward to attending the GY Wheels Festival.

“Our motives are various, but for me it includes an aspect of personal remembrance of the WW2 generation, interest in British engineering excellence, the historical significance of the iconic Merlin, and educating and encouraging younger spectators to have an interest in engineering.

“We will run the engines together, five times each day, at times as displayed on our 'next engine run' clock. Between runs, the engine enclosure is opened to the public who can enter and discuss the engines with us.”

The GY Wheels Festival is sponsored by Great Yarmouth Borough Council, the Greater Yarmouth Tourism and Business Improvement Area (GYTABIA), Joyland and the American Diner, Active Norfolk and the Department for Transport.

Cllr Barry Coleman, chairman of the borough council’s economic development committee, said: “While the focus of the Wheels Festival is cars, bikes and bicycles, the festival has always had a strong ethos of inspiring the next generations of scientists, engineers and mechanics.

“Rolls-Royce Merlin engines are icons of British engineering. These two engines have some fascinating histories, and they will be quite an experience on the seafront as part of the wider festival, which is about boosting visitor numbers, spend and the economy.”

Lyndon Bevan, events group chairman of the Greater Yarmouth Tourism and Business Improvement Area Ltd, said: “Young people take inspiration for their career choices from all sorts of places; a local marine biologist was inspired by watching Jaws; local offshore energy workers by demonstrations and exhibitions at the Maritime Festival. This is another great chance for young people to see just what they could do if they study hard and gain the right experience in their chosen field.”

Other festival attractions will include bespoke hotrods from the National Street Rod Association (NSRA), special vehicles from the East Coast Pirates Car Club, Lotus Carltons and other big Vauxhall Opel makes from the Autobahn Stormers Club, a host of pedal-powered fun and cycling confidence-building activities, and the chance to ride a 1959 vintage Spratts coach.

Motorcycle Takeover – Saturday

On Saturday, up to 5,000 motorcyclists will visit the seafront as part of the festival, arriving between 10am and noon. The borough council has worked closely with the organisers of this authorised visit, and Norfolk Constabulary, to put together a plan to ensure it happens in a co-ordinated way which reduces the impact on other road users, while still capturing the huge economic benefits that thousands of extra visitors bring.

Central Marine Parade, between the junctions with St Peter’s Road and Trafalgar Road, will be closed to traffic between 7am and 10pm on Saturday, with a clear signed diversion in place. There will be no direct vehicular access to Marine Parade from Lancaster Road or York Road.

Marina Centre South car park and the closed roadway of central Marine Parade will be designated parking zones for the motorcyclists, who will be guided by traffic marshals. Marina Centre users are asked to use the Marina Centre North car park.

Access along the whole length of Marine Parade will be maintained for pedestrians and emergency vehicles. In addition, the entire landau lane will remain open for cyclists and horses and carriages.

Classic Car and Bike Run and Show – Sunday

Then on Sunday, the Classic Car and Bike Run and Show will take place between Cromer and Great Yarmouth, in aid of Centre 81, which will see around 75 vehicles arriving at Marine Parade for the festival from around noon, followed by judging.