How to Build a Hydro [1959]

The building of an unlimited hydroplane would never qualify as an "easy-to-assemble do-it-yourself" project.

It takes real experts to design and construct the giant boats which hurtle across the water at speeds up to 180 mph. It takes more than a family handyman to solve the thousand engineering details, to gear a prop to over 10,000 revolutions-per-minute, and to keep the whole thing from disintegrating against the strains and stresses of resisting waters.

That's why the roster of successful unlimited designers and builders is so short—and, of course, that's why men like Ted Jones of Seattle and Les Staudacher of Kawkawlin, Michigan, stand at the head of the list.

While Staudacher, the Michigan pew manufacturer, is recognized principally as a builder, Ted Jones has emerged as one of the most skilled designers the boating industry has ever known. In fact, one national magazine in a recent Gold Cup review simply said:

"... every boat in it was either a Jones design or an obvious copy."

The casual fan usually thinks of design as the external appearance of the boat—the shape of the hull, the size of the fin and the flashy paint job. But the real brain-work comes in the generally unseen areas. Prop, rudder, skid fin, sponsons, spoilers, gear box and dozens of other parts must be brought together as a single unit with the knowledge that the resulting mechanism will operate without fault.

Ted Jones has been designing and building racing boats since 1927. Lacking a formal engineering education, he more than made up for it through experience in Seattle garages, boat-building companies and the aircraft industry.

For 23 years he drove the limited hydroplanes he designed. While winning both Northwest and Canadian titles (and trophies galore), he also learned to transcribe the problems of a boat in action to his drawing board where solutions were found and later applied.

Seeing the aircraft engines of World War I had sparked the idea for Gar Wood's famous Miss America boats. The same thing happened to Ted Jones when he first became familiar with the Allison engine. When the Allisons became "surplus" after World War II, the Seattle designer was ready with the boat idea which would revolutionize the unlimited fleet.

With Stan Sayres as the sponsor, Jones worked closely with boat-builder Anchor Jensen as they translated the idea into the Slo-mo-shun IV. The plans on the drawing board proved that Jones was on the right track. Not only did the Slo-mo set a new world speed record, but Jones himself piloted his brain-child to the 1950 Gold Cup championship which, for the first time, brought that famous race west of the Detroit River the following year.

After that there were many successes to follow for the Seattle designer. He pooled talents with Staudacher in Michigan to develop many of the current unlimiteds. Lately, both he and Staudacher have combined both designing and building in their own shops, each having learned from association with the other.

Has the design of unlimiteds become static? Not on your life. Staudacher is working on a jet-propelled boat for Joe Schoenith. Who's to say that future Gold Cup competitors might not all be jets?

The cab-over design of Thriftway Too by Ted Jones is a departure. And the dream of Armand Swenson to develop a revolutionary one-pointer is certainly a step toward the future.

Norm Christiansen, Frank Taylor, Bob Gilliam, Bart Carter, Fred Hallet, Dan Arena and a handful of others know first-hand the agonies and joys of creating a new unlimited. Without them there would be no Gold Cup race!

[Reprinted from the 1959 APBA Gold Cup programme]


A new unlimited hydroplane will soon make its debut. Here a partially finished hull is being turned over to allow craftsmen to work on the bottom. This will be another standard three-pointer, the type you'll see battling for the Gold Cup.

Designer-builder Ted Jones (right) discusses a boat-building problem with two of his craftsmen. The skill born of years of experience is necessary to produce consistent champion-quality hydroplanes as Jones and Les Staudacher have done.

Hydroplane History Home Page
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010 .
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. Email us at
© Leslie Field, 2008