Gold Cup Glitter
By Fred Farley, APBA Unlimited Historian
Beginning in 1922, the APBA Gold Cup was open only to boats of displacement design. Hulls with "steps" or "shingles" on the underside were outlawed together with engines larger than 625 cubic inches in piston displacement. The intent of these new rules was to put Gold Cup racing into the range of more pocketbooks than had previously been the case and to encourage the construction of boats for the race that would be useful for something besides racing.
A field of thirteen of these so-called "gentlemen's runabouts" appeared in the hotly contested 1922 Gold Cup on the Detroit River, which was won by Jesse Vincent in Packard Chriscraft with a 90-mile race average of 40.253. Unfortunately for the rulemakers, though, things didn't work out as they intended. Costs went up in the ensuing years, and the boats that competed were distinctly not the desired "gentlemen's runabouts"; they were nothing less than simon-pure racers.
One of the more bizarre chapters in Detroit Gold Cup history occurred at the 1924 contest. Canadian sportsman Harry Greening had apparently won with his Rainbow IV, which was seen by some as being a hydroplane rather than a displacement hull. The craft's bottom was of lapstrake construction, which was technically permitted by the rules. The APBA decided, however, that the strakes had been installed for the express purpose of achieving a hydroplane effect. In other words, Greening had followed the letter of the rules but not the spirit of them. As a result, Rainbow IV was disqualified and Caleb Bragg's Baby Bootlegger was moved from an overall second to first position.
Outraged, Greening returned to Canada and never raced for the Gold Cup again.
Another interesting--if largely unsuccessful--attempt to promote and develop a "gentlemen's runabout" class of boat was the 150- Mile Detroit Sweepstakes, which the Detroit Yacht Club sponsored between 1923 and 1927. Patterned after the Indianapolis "500" auto race, the Sweepstakes consisted of fifty laps around a 3-mile course with pit stops permitted. The maximum engine size was 1250 cubic inches. The fastest winning average was 55.650 in 1925 by Packard Chriscraft.
The event was also one of the earliest examples of a power boat regatta that offered a substantial cash prize ($25,000)- -thereby establishing the trend toward the professionalization of boat racing that is so much a part of the contemporary competitive scene.
Auto magnate Horace E. Dodge, Jr., was a Detroit mainstay during a career that spanned from the 1920s to the 1950s. Dodge owned and sometimes drove such stellar racing craft as Musketeer, Miss Syndicate, Sister Syn, Delphine IX, and My Sweetie. Dodge's Delphine IV won the
1932 Gold Cup with Bill Horn at the wheel, and his Impshi won the 1936 Gold Cup with Englishman Kaye Don in the cockpit.
Step hulls were readmitted to the Gold Cup Class in 1929. Many owners of displacement entries "shingled" their vee-bottom monoplanes in compliance with the new regulation. One of these was George Reis of Lake George, New York, who revamped his veteran El Lagarto, which had made a lackluster debut in the 1922 Gold Cup Race as Miss Mary II.
In spite of the age of the boat and a blindness in one eye, Reis astounded his contemporaries with consecutive Gold Cup victories in 1933-34-35 with the fastest heat speed since the cubic inch displacement limitation: 60.866 in the first round of the 1933 race at Detroit with an unblown Packard engine. Not for thirty years did another boat (the Miss Bardahl, driven by Ron Musson) match El Lagarto's record of three consecutive Gold Cup wins (in 1963-64 -65).
In the late 1930s, the new-fangled three-point hydroplanes were all the rage in Gold Cup racing, although the "fast-steppers" remained competitive for many years to come. Many of the more successful three-pointers were products of the famous Ventnor Boat Works of Ventnor, New Jersey, designed by the father-and-son team of Adolph and Arno Apel.
At the 1939 Gold Cup Regatta on the Detroit River, the three- pointers forthe first time outnumbered the step hydroplanes. The sponson boats included the eventual winner, My Sin, a Vent nor hull, owned and driven by Guy Simmons who won all three heats and averaged 66.240 for the 90 miles. The other three-pointers in attendance were "Wild Bill" Cantrell's Why Worry, Lou Fageol's So-Long, Marion Cooper's Mercury, and George Davis's Hermes IV.
With the advent of World War II and gasoline rationing, competition for the Gold Cup was suspended. When racing resumed in 1946, a rejuvenated format was in evidence. The American Power Boat Association had voted to allow, for the first time since 1921, entry by boats of unrestricted cubic inch piston displacement in the Gold Cup Class. This was necessary because there were no suitable engines being manufactured in the sizes prescribed by the then-current rules.
The introduction of converted Allison and Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft and other types of engines developed for the war effort was expected to produce new enthusiasm for what was now, unquestionably, America's premier power boat racing category. And it did! Although only one of the seventeen starters in the 1946 Gold Cup at Detroit was powered by such an engine--an Allison V-1710--the boat in question (a big wild-riding three- pointer named Miss Golden Gate III, driven by Dan Arena) didn't finish the race but set a new Gold Cup lap record of 77.911 miles per hour on a 3-mile course.
The Unlimited--or Thunderboat--Class quickly established itself as the "show" category of power boat racing, drawing more spectators than any other APBA division. As the Gold Cup Class metamorphosed into the Unlimited Class, a true national circuit for the "big boats" came into being.
The Dossin brothers' Miss Peps V emerged as the first Season High Point Champion in 1947 with victories in the Detroit Memorial, Gold Cup, and President's Cup contests, using an Allison engine, with Danny Foster driving.
© Fred Farley. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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