CJB Boatyard

contact us at: [email protected]



Sutcliffe Boats

Unda Wunda - 1932 to 1984

1932 saw the launch of one of Sutcliffe's most iconic clockwork steel toys, the Unda-Wunda. Sutcliffe's British competitors produced equivalent speedboats, some of them arguably better (although more expensive) but none of them produced a tinplate clockwork submarine... A DIVING submarine no less! And for 50 YEARS!


Fig. 12.1 - A trio of Sutcliffe Unda-Wundas from 1932 to approx. 1955.

The main hull consists of two similar halves, an upper and a lower, soldered at the mid line. A smaller clockwork motor was developed to fit inside the smaller hull. The motor is wound through a hole in the top which must be stopped with a rubber bung before sailing. The bung is rather cleverly disguised with a persicope made from brass wire. The sub dives by means of an angled vane at the bow which drives the boat down with the forward motion of the boat when under power.  The boat dives readily as each one is balanced to achieve almost neutral buoyancy. The boats were individually balanced at the factory to achieve both neutral buoyancy as well as balance from end to end, so that the boat dives properly; this is apparent as all examples are slightly different with respect to the number, and spacing, of the keel weights.


When sailed, the Unda-Wunda dives very quickly and steeply, probably at about 30 degrees, so will dive to about 4 feet within a few seconds, and will go even deeper if the depth of the pool allows. This was one of the problems; the sub would easily get stuck or caught on any underwater mud or debris. The other problem of course, was if you didn't put the bung in firmly, or at all!  You'd enjoy about three or four seconds of sailing and then the sub would fill with water and sink to the bottom like a stone. And no doubt in many cases, it did exactly that. And that was the end of that! To use a modern phrase, you'd be 'gutted'!


The fundamental design of the Unda-Wunda (and later, Sea Wolf and Nautilus) remained the same for over 50 years, but there were a few variations which help to date the boats.


Fig. 12.2 - Unda-Wunda, circa 1932

Fig 12.2 shows one of the first Unda-Wundas. The first boats had a white rubber bung and a simple little domed top gun pointing astern. The keel had a tube along the bottom; this was loaded with lead wire to balance the boat. The example shown has no decals, and shows no sign of having any, but it is likely that these came off as early Sutcliffe decals were not water proof. You can just about get away with that on a boat, but not on a Sub! The price shown on the box was 3/6.


Fig. 12.4 - Unda-Wunda box, circa 1933.

The Unda-Wunda boxes were rather fragile and it's unusual to find them in good condition, especially as the boat is quite a tight fit diagonally in the box. The repair cost in 1933 was a mere 1/6! A bargain as the boat was impossible to repair and a new boat would have been sent, albeit a factory reject if there were any available.


Fig 12.3 - Unda-Wunda circa 1935.

The boat in Fig 12.3 shows the lead weight fitted to the tube in the keel and the decals remain intact. The shade of grey is slightly lighter than the very first boats. The box shown is very neat and clearly old, but is not thought to be original.

Fig 12.5 - Unda Wunda - circa 1949

In approx. 1940, Sutcliffe changed the design of the keel; it was now longer and had a groove into which balance weights could be fitted. The new keel design made the process of balancing the boat much more accurate and once fitted there was no chance of the weights moving, unlike the earlier design. The superstructure was also slightly different, the gun had an angular surround rather than the rounded version, and the decal adopted the style of font used on the other boats in the late 30's.


Fig 12.8 - Unda-Wunda box - circa 1949

By 1947, the post war ecconomy was very different and the price of everything had gone up a great deal! The sub was now 11/6 (compared to 3/6 before the war) and the repair service was now 4/6 - still a bargain though.


The box used immeadiatly post war was actually a much simpler design, with just black print on a brown background, probably to reduce printing costs. Careful examination shows  the the repair cost of 4/6 is actually printed as 1/6 (the pre war price) but hand amended to 4/6!


Fig 12.10 - Unda-Wunda - circa 1953

The boat shown in fig. 12.10 shows the deck decal style adopted in approx. 1953 across the whole range. The only other change is that the white rubber bung has been dropped for a black bung. The Unda-Wunda decal is the same although the black border is heavier; this is probably just a variation resulting from a different batch of decals.


Fig 12.9 - Unda-Wunda box - circa 1953

The circa 1953 box is different again, and it would continue to change over the years as the price crept up and up. The boat is now 12/6 and it's a shilling for key and a stopper. The repair service remains at 4/6 which is obviously even better value than before.

The Unda-Wunda continued to be made throughout the 1950's and into the 1960's, and would be soon be joined by Nautilus and Sea Wolf which were essentially the same design but with different superstructure details and paint finishes. These subs are not covered on this site but the links section does point to a couple of sites that have some excellent pictures of these later boats.

IMG_1425 IMG_1423

By 1949/50, the box is back to its pre war design, although actually slightly narrower because the boat is not so deep, but the same pre-war artwork is still used, complete with rounded gun turret, unlike the boat inside. Sutcliffe were small remember; they would not incur additional costs just to keep the historians happy some 70 years later!

Fig. 12.6  Unda Wunda box - circa 1947. Note single colour printing.


Fig. 12.7  Unda Wunda box - circa 1947. Note hand amended repair cost.