Evolution of the Unlimited Lights
By Fred Farley - APBA Unlimited Historian
The Unlimited Light hydroplanes that support the Unlimited Class on the Jasper Thunder Tour presented by Las Vegas are descendants of the old 7-Litre Class that debuted in the late 1940s. Gold Cup luminary Lou Fageol is considered the father of the 7-Litre Class, which was nicknamed the "Junior Gold Cup Class" in the years immediately following World War II. Fageol made available to his fellow racers the 404 cubic inch Fageol V-8 bus engine.
The first hydroplane to use a Fageol 404 in competition was So-Long, Jr., which Lou drove in the 1946 APBA Gold Cup at Detroit. Although nominally a Gold Cup Class "G" boat, So-Long, Jr. was the forerunner of all the 7-Litre "H" boats that followed.
Officially recognized as an APBA class in 1947, the 7-Litres competed in races sanctioned just for them and--for a number of years--were allowed to participate in Unlimited events, although this didn't happen very often.
Most 7-Litres measured around 20 feet in length in those days and weighed less than a ton. They could theoretically register in both classes, until the Unlimiteds imposed a 25-foot minimum in 1957 and a 5000-pound weight requirement in 1958.
One 7-Litre craft, the Whizski, measured 20 feet 10 inches. Owner Wally Pannebaker extended the tailfin 4 feet 2 inches in order to participate in the 1957 APBA Gold Cup at Seattle. But later the 25-foot rule was amended to read: "from bow to transom excluding appendages."
Many of Thunderboatings biggest names came up through the 7-Litre ranks: Bill Cantrell, Bill Muncey, Don Wilson, Bill Sterett, Bill Brow, Buddy Byers, and Dean Chenoweth to name only a few.
By the 1970s, 7-Litre racing had evolved into two divisions: 7-Litre I, the "H" boats; and 7-Litre II, the "J" boats.The "H" division was modified; the "J" division was stock. Most boats in both divisions measured between 22 and 24 feet.
7-Litre I evolved into the Grand Prix Class; 7-Litre II became the Grand National. The GP boats are primarily a Canadian class with a few playdates in the United States, including Detroit.
A Grand National boat can enter a Grand Prix race, but a GP boat can not run in a Grand National race.
In 1994 the UHRA staged a series of exhibition races for the Grand National teams at selected Unlimited race sites. This led to the formation of the Unlimited Lights Racing Series in 1995. The ULRS is now the official support class on the Unlimited hydroplane circuit.
© Fred Farley. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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