The Langwell Rally Odometer

Recently I bought a Langwell rally odometer.  Or at least I have what I believe to be a Langwell rally odometer, but I think that I have an early model of the Langwell rally odometer. There are no distinguishing markings that identifies the brand of the odometer.  The Langwell rally odometer was a Canadian rally odometer based on a modification to a Halda odometer.  It appears that my version of the Langwell is still in large measure a Halda odometer.

Haldex first entered the rally market in the mid-1950s with the introduction of the Halda Speedpilot.  The first Halda Speedpilot was a 4-knob model that was an odometer and an average speed calculator.  The advertisement below from Road & Track in 1957 shows that the Halda Speedpilot was new to America at that time.

Early Halda Speedpilot Ad

An Advertisement In Road & Track Magazine In 1957

While the above advertisement is from Nisonger Corporation, one of the other early marketers of Halda products was John Burns through Burns Industries.  Later Bob Radford started selling Halda equipment also, under his company “Bob Radford Enterprises”.  He captured some market share due to his association with SCCA.  Later Vilhem B. Haan, in California, also started importing Halda and Heuer.

I do not know when the Halda Speedpilot was first used in major car rallies, but I have found a mention in Sheila van Damm’s book “No Excuses” that she along with navigator Anne Hall had won the ladies’ class of the Norwegian Viking Rally in 1955 using the Halda Speedpilot.  As a result of that success, the entire Sunbeam Team used the Halda Speedpilot during the 1956 Monte Carlo rally.

Sunbeam Team Monte 1956

The Sunbeam Team At The 1956 Monte Carlo Rally

It is somewhat surprising that the Halda Speedpilot, with all its complexity, predated the familiar and less complex Halda Tripmaster and the Halda Twinmaster.  The Halda Tripmaster and Halda Twinmaster were first made available in Canada in 1964.  The following advertisement announcing the Tripmaster and the Twinmaster appeared in Canada Track & Traffic in 1964.

Halda Ad Dec 1964 CTT

Advertisement From Canada Track & Traffic 1964

Before the Tripmaster and the Twinmaster, Halda made an odometer that was used in cars to measure distance, primarily for commercial drivers.  These early Halda odometers are sometimes referred to as the Halda Tripmeter.  One of these units is shown below.

Early Halda

A Halda Tripmeter

The following is a photo of the Langwell rally odometer that I have.  The display numbers are quite large which makes the odometer very easy to read.

Langwell Rally Odometer (1)

My Langwell Rally Odometer

My Langwell rally odometer looks like it is relatively simple addition/modification to the base Halda Tripmeter.  The knob on the right side of my unit controls the direction of the odometer display rotation.  Leaving the knob pushed in will cause the odometer display values to increase with progress of the car.  Pulling the knob all the way out will cause the displayed value to decrease with progress of the car.  This feature is useful for recovering from off-course excursions.  There is a mid-position that disengages the odometer display from the odometer drive gears and therefore allows the navigator to adjust the value shown in the odometer display.

The “wing-nut” knob on the left side of the Langwell odometer can rotated to reduce the odometer display to zero.  This cannot be done instantaneously and navigators should allow 3 to 7 seconds to re-zero the odometer.

The knob on the lower right with the yellow notching is used to calibrate the Langwell rally odometer.  I will have more on this further in this post.

If I rotate the Langwell rally odometer, then the original Halda tripmeter can be more clearly seen.

 Langwell Rally Odometer (2)

The Base Halda Tripmeter Can Be Clearly Seen

If you look back at the original Halda tripmeter and compare that with my Langwell, it can be seen that the original white knob and its function is not used on the Langwell unit.

By twisting the unit around the original stamping from Haldex can be seen in the photo below.  The official Haldex Type is not clear because of the hole drilled in the unit.  It appears to be a Type NR, HR, or RR.  Perhaps someone can identify the proper type description.  It is interesting to note that it looks like the original Halda serial number has been ground off at some point in the odometer’s history.

Langwell Rally Odometer (4)

Original Halda Stamping

The Langwell rally odometer calibration dial can be seen by looking at the bottom of the unit as shown below.

Langwell Rally Odometer (3)

Langwell Rally Odometer Calibration Dial

The Langwell rally odometer is calibrated by selecting the correct calibration number from the calibration dial.  The selected value can be adjusted by rotating the yellow notched knob on the front of the unit.  The calibration approach is similar to the Halda Speedpilot which eliminates the need for navigator to carry around a set of gears as is needed for the Halda Tripmaster or the Halda Twinmaster.  Also this approach can allow for fine tuning of the calibration to suit current conditions.

This calibration method is the real strength of the Langwell odometer.  The Halda Tripmaster and Halda Twinmaster have discrete calibration steps based on the number of teeth on the calibration gears.  The Langwell odometer has a continuous calibration method which will allow Langwell odometers to be fine tuned to be “dead-on” calibrated.  This continuous calibration capability was eventually added to the Halda Speedpilot.  My Halda Speedpilot Mark V has a knob in upper right position which allows for the continuous fine tuning of the unit’s calibration.  Some say that this modification to the Halda Speedpilot came from seeing what the Langwell odometer could do.

The brass fitting shown on the left side of the image above shows how the drive cable is connected to the Langwell rally computer.

Walt Kammer of the Buffalo area of New York State has a Langwell rally odometer, but his is much different from mine.  Walt’s Langwell, shown below, appears to be a much more finished design and I suspect that it is a much later version of the Langwell rally computer.

Langwell Walt Kammer

Walt Kammer’s Well-Used Langwell Rally Odometer

The knob on the right front controls forward, no-count, reverse function.

The knob on the left front is the calibration adjustment knob for factor.  Walt used to intentionally remove the knob from that shaft to lower the odds of it getting shifted with a pant leg or something or being grabbed by accident instead of using the forward/reverse knob.  The left adjust knob rotates only.  The right function knob when pushed in like in the photo is counting normally causing the displayed odometer value to increase, pulling the knob out one position is neutral, and pulling it all of the way out is reverse.

The round plastic knob on the right side is to add or remove miles manually.  The wing nut when rotated will zero the unit.

Walt’s unit has some internal lighting, but my unit does not have any self lighting capability.

Walt’s unit has a fully developed, integrated look to it, while my Langwell has the look of two joined separate pieces of equipment.  Functionally the two units are similar, except that my unit has a five-digit display as compared to Walt’s four-digit display.

I found an article in the March 1966 issue of Canada Track & Traffic about Lloyd Howell one of the developers of the Langwell rally odometer.  This article is shown below.

Lloyd Howell

Article From Canada Track & Traffic March 1966

Walt Kammer did not recall and has never seen a “manual” or any documentation for the Langwell rally odometer.  Frank Langdon and Lloyd Howell basically built them to order and most times they had one or two sitting on the shelf in the shop mostly to respond to competitor rush deals when someone broke the one they had.  Walt said that they were both cool guys and fun to have on events since they were both characters, although with dramatically different personalities.

Thanks to Walt Kammer for his input into this post about the Langwell odometer.  I look forward to using my Langwell odometer sometime.  If anyone can add to or correct the information here about the Langwell, then I would welcome hearing from you.  You can contact me via email at: shanna12 at comcast dot net

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3 Responses to The Langwell Rally Odometer

  1. Jan Franken says:

    Hi Steve,
    Thanks for this interesting article.
    I also have this Halda Tripmeter, I will check which type is written on the unit , as mine has no
    knobs drilled at that spot.
    I was told, that these were the first prototype Tripmasters build by Halda, and some were used in Mini Coopers, but this was never confirmed. There is not so much information out there, about these first Halda Tripmeters..
    Kind regards,
    Jan Franken
    The Netherlands

    • Hi Jan,
      I really don’t much about those early Halda odometers. I have read that they were built for commercial applications, such as taxi cabs. I too have read about them being used in Mini-Coopers, but I also have seen nothing to verify this. As the Halda Tripmaster came out in 1958 and the Minis did not arrive until 1959, I would have thought that a early well-prepared Mini-Cooper rally car would have used a Halda Tripmaster rather than the early Halda odometer.

      If you find out more information about these early Haldas, please share it.

      Steve McKelvie

  2. Jan Franken says:

    Hi Steve, sure I will. do that.
    I will ask my Swedish contacts if they can find out more about these early Halda’s.
    Best regards,
    Jan

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