The Loftsman
Leith Shipyards

A history of the Ships built at the Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith, Scotland. Also a testimony to the men who built the Ships and to all who sailed in them.
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Home Ships Built in Leith 1946 to 1984 SPEEDWAY - Yard No 507 - Vehicle Transporter - Elder Dempster - Built 1970

Leith Shipyards

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SPEEDWAY - Yard No 507 - Vehicle Transporter - Elder Dempster - Built 1970


SPEEDWAY Ship No 507 


 Ship No 507 seen slow ahead into port.

(photo credit unknown)


Owners    Elder Dempster Lines
Registered     Keel Laid    
Type of Ship    Vehicle Transporter Launched    18/02/1970
      Handed Over    30/05/1970
Ship Details          
Length Overall    91.49metres Launch Details    
Length B.P.    81metres Weather    
Beam    16.5metres Time to Water    
Depth Mld     6.27metres      
G.R.T.    1,160 tonnes      
DWT    1,054 tonnes      
Engines   Vee 6-cyl 4S.SA. oil engine producing 3,016 bhp, and built by W.H.Allen,Sons and Co Ltd, Bedford, England      
Props    1      
Speed    14 Knots      
Other known names   1970-CLEARWAY,1978-O'SHEA EXPRESS, 2009-AHMED N    
Current Status   Still in Service (perhaps?) AHMAD N. (IMO 7011462) was beached at plot 29 Alang 5th February 2017    
Content on SPEEDWAY will be added as and when available. 


(photo credit unknown)


Ships History

Once a ship had been built and launched she then had to be out-fitted, and then complete sea trials
before being handed over to her new owners, who would look to have that ship at sea, as long as possible to pay for her build costs and of course to make the company good profits.

To this end one company may have had no requirement for a particular ship after a time and would then sell her on just like any other disposable commodity.
Hence a ship may have had a few owners and would go through many changes and names during what was hoped for a long and successful working life.

The Vehicle Carrier SPEEDWAY was an order for the Leith Shipyards of Robb Caledon from the Elder Dempster Line.

With the increase in the U.K. of vehicle making and exporting the shipping lines were not slow to realise a market was there and they needed special ships to carry this valuable cargo to the Continent of Europe. 

In 1968, Elder Dempster became part of the Ocean Group: this resulted in the establishment of the first British 'Pure Car Carriers'.

She was designed by the naval architects Graham & Woolnough, and was to be built by Robb Caledon Shipbuilders Ltd.

With a gross tonnage of 1,160 and a capacity to carry 450 family saloon cars,

To their credit the Roots Group, and Ford UK were quick to use the new vehicle carriers for sailings from East Coast ports to Scandinavia. Owned by Elder Dempster and managed by Mountwood Shipping Company Ltd.

By 1971 her decks were strengthened for the carriage of Trucks to West Africa.

As this route became more and more used by different carriers the cost were to rise dramatically so the Ships route was changed in 1972 and she was now picking up her cargo in the port of Poole on the South Coast of England to Apapa on a 29 day round trip out with cars and Trucks and home light.

In 1978 she made her last trip to West Africa and was sold to O'Shea (Dublin) Ltd, for the sum of £378,000 and re-named O'Shea Express.

She was re-engined in Kiel, Germany in 1980. Sold on again in 1984 to Beirut shipping interests.

The SPEEDWAY was the third such vehicle carrier built for Elder Dempster in what would end up a fleet of five such revolutionary ships they were a first of a kind and Britain had the lead on the world in the design and build of vessels of this type. 

The five car decks were connected with each other by fixed ramps and could be powerfully ventilated during vehicle handling operations. The means of loading and discharging were by means of side ramps that have been copied by every pure car carrier ever built. Two ramps, each 30ft long, were stowed vertically against the ship's (either) side: the inner ends of these gang-planks could be raised, and lowered to align with ships side doors at either side of B deck or C deck levels dictated by the level of the quay being used. As the ramps were at right angles to the ship and the quay any available cargo berth, with all but the narrowest of aprons, could be used. Costly to build, easy to damage and expensive to maintain link spans were not needed.



SPEEDWAY seen in the photograph above copyright of Bob Scott. Re-named as CLEARWAY.

Same company but not the same ship, but very similar to show the side door arrangement.


The SPEEDWAY was crewed by 16 officers and ratings accommodated on the highest deck level – E deck, in a comfortable but not luxurious deck house than ran two thirds of the ship's length with the funnel at one end and the Bridge at the other. The colour scheme was that of Elder Dempster with a black hull, and on the ship's sides buff, a white superstructure and a yellow funnel.

Wind affecting the tall superstructure could be a problem, notably when berthing, but this was eased by having a Kort rudder and Stone Maganese Marine bow transverse thruster.

Seaway Car Transporters and the SPEEDWAY had a niche in British shipping's history and had become yet another example of British innovation – a world first – that, of course un-sustained, like so many innovations during the 1960's was never to reach the level of commercial success that it might have done.

Lack of forward thinking and too much profit taking without inward investment was to always blight the industry.

SPEEDWAY's name was very quickly changed to CLEARWAY (II) as the company had named a German built ship Speedway as well just prior to the ship being launched from the Leith yard,not long after her going into service with Elder Dempster in 1970. 

She was sold on and re-named as the O'Shea Express in 1978 still under the British Flag until 1984 and still carrying vehicles from Germany to Spain. By 1984 she was sailing under the Lebanese flag and managed by shipping interests in Syria.

In 2009 she was sold on again and also converted to use as a livestock carrier, re-named as Ahmed N sailing under a Tanzanian flag, and withdrawn from the classification society of Bureau Veritas at her Syrian owner's request, so her decks have gone from Carbon Monoxide exhausts to untold amounts of Methane gas. 

 Her gross tonnage has gone up to 4,592 as well which suggests some major conversion work has been done on her during the mid 1990's.

So while she still seems to be in service it is debatable how seaworthy she is nowadays.

We try here to give as full an account of her history as time and research permits, if you know of missing info or you have any photographs of her, then please get in touch and we shall update her story as we go along.



Tales from the Ship

Here you will find the stories from the men and women who sailed on the ships, what was it really like to be working on a ship in a raging sea and in the pitch dark of night, the real stories some funny some sad, some good and some bad.

Dedicated to all the brave men and women who sailed the vessels from the Leith Shipyards.

Should you know of anyone who may have sailed on her, then please feel free to get in touch so that we can add the story here.


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0 #1 Simon Smith 2017-02-05 09:18
AHMAD N. (IMO 7011462) was beached at plot 29 Alang 5th February 2017.

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