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Making historic tracks

Guy Martin talks to the Royal Tank Regiment during a remarkable remembrance project for his latest TV special

With a love of riding walls of death, motorbike racing and breaking world speed records, Guy Martin’s life to date has been mainly about going as fast as possible as often as possible. The self-confessed speed addict, who has broken nearly every bone in his body while competing in Isle of Man TT races, once famously said: “I love motorbike racing – I love it because it can kill you; that’s why I do it.”

All of which doesn’t exactly make him a natural bedfellow for a long-term project to build a lumbering First World War tank. However, when Martin received an invitation to help build just such a vehicle from scratch to commemorate the Battle of Cambrai, it was his engineering nerd self rather than the daredevil-screeching-through-the-Pearly-Gates-with-his-hair-on-fire alter ego that won the day.

“This is the most amazing project I’ve ever been invited to be part of,” said the man who in recent years has rebuilt a Spitfire, ridden a pedal bike at over 100mph on Pendine Sands in South Wales and crossed China’s vast Taklaman Desert, to name just a few of his TV escapades.

“The feat itself is just really special – there isn’t a working version of one of these in the world; there’s one at Bovington but that doesn’t run.” The immense undertaking is the subject of his latest Channel Four documentary Guy Martin’s WWI Tank Restoration, scheduled to be shown in November to mark remembrance and the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Cambrai, which is significant because it was the first large-scale use of tanks on the battlefield. “Building one of these has never been done before and it’s not like restoring something for which the spare parts already exist. We are having to manufacture them all.”

Engineering giant JCB led a British consortium to complete the daunting task of recreating the tank’s structure with millimetre-perfect precision. “Without the firm’s help this couldn’t have happened,” explained Martin. “They have replicated all the chassis and the running gear, dedicated four of their blokes a month to the project and provided all the laser cutting and pressing. It’s been a massive commitment from them.” In addition, Norfolk Tank Museum chairman Stephen Machaye is reconditioning a 1948 Rolls Royce engine and drivetrain capable of powering the 27-tonne beast – the only parts that are not exact replicas – and British engineering company Chasestead has fabricated over 360 detailed parts, including latches, periscopes and track plates.

Read the full story in the November issue

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