Saturday, June 28, 2008


It is said to be the ingenious student prank of all time.

In June 1958, Cambridge students awoke to see a car perched at the apex of an inaccessible rooftop on one of their campus buildings, looking as if it were driving across the skyline.

The spectacle made headlines around the world and left police, firefighters and civil defence units battling for nearly a week to hoist the vehicle back down before giving up and taking it down by cutting it to pieces with blowtorches.

The shadowy group of engineering students who executed the stunt were never identified and the mystery of how they did it has baffled successive undergraduates and provided fodder for countless tourist guides.

Now, 50 years on, the group have reunited to disclose their identities and reveal how they winched an Austin Seven to the top of the university's 70ft-high Senate House.

At an anniversary dinner this month, ringleader Peter Davey revealed he had hatched the plan while staying in rooms at Gonville and Caius College overlooking the Senate House roof.

He felt the expanse of roof 'cried out' to be made more interesting and decided a car would do the trick, recruiting 11 others to help realise his plan.

The group chose the May Bumps week, when any passers-by were likely to be drunken rowers celebrating after their races.

After finding a clapped-out Austin Seven, the group had to tow it through Cambridge to a parking space near Senate House but hit on the idea of sticking signs on it advertising a May ball to explain its presence.

Mr Davey, now 72, the leader of the pack, said a ground party manoeuvred the car into position while a lifting party on the Senate House roof hoisted it up using an A-shaped crane constructed from scaffolding poles and steel rope. It took all our engineering skills and knowledge and lessons learnt in the classrooms were put to good use. Remember that that was the 1950’s, no modern machinery, all the equipments used were manually constructed at night and calculated to precision and the job was carried out successfully.

The next day the bizarre sight enthralled crowds of onlookers as attempts by the authorities to construct a crane to hoist it back down failed.

The best part of this story , was when I read how the Dean of Cambridge then, reacted to the whole affair.

“The then Dean of Caius, the late Rev Hugh Montefiore, had an inkling who was responsible and sent a congratulatory case of champagne to their staircase, while maintaining in public he knew nothing of the culprits.”

You see their mindset! The Dean acknowledged their talents and even rewarded them. If this were to happen in our bolehland, guess what? It would have been a police case and the talented culprits would have been sent to jail!

Unsurprisingly given their inventiveness, many of the group went on to enjoy illustrious careers - and Cambridge officials said the ' renegades' had turned into generous benefactors of the college.

Extract from dailymail.

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