Some Early Three-Pointers (Vintage 1938)
By Fred Farley - APBA Unlimited Historian
The three-point hull design of racing hydroplane caught on in a big way in the years just prior to World War II.
Most of the early three-pointers were products of the Ventnor Boat Works of Ventnor, New Jersey. The 225 Cubic Inch Class in 1937 and 1937 was the first category to whole-heartedly embrace the three-point concept where the boats rode on the tips of the two sponsons and a submerged propeller.
It wasn't long before the Gold Cup Class-together with its counterpart, the 725 Cubic Inch Class-likewise embraced the new-fangled three-pointers.
The first Gold Cup boat with a three-point design to achieve record-breaking results was Jack Rutherfurd's Juno, which set a mile straightaway record for 625 cubic inch unsupercharged Gold Cup Class boats at 84.606 miles per hour in 1937. This bettered the previous mark (established by El Lagarto) by nearly 12 miles per hour!
There could be no doubt that the era of the sponson boats had arrived. The days of the step hydroplanes, which had held sway for a quarter century, were numbered. (Although, the fast-steppers continued to be a factor for another twenty years.)
The first three-point Gold Cuppers to follow Juno's lead were Miss Golden Gate, Excuse Me, and My Sin, built in 1938.
Miss Golden Gate from Oakland, California, measured 20 feet by 7-1/2 feet and was powered by a Wright/Hisso V-8. The craft's three-point configuration resembled the Ventnor hulls. She was designed by owner/driver Dan Arena and riding mechanic Danny Foster and built by E.A. McLean.
The team of Arena and Foster had won the prestigious Pacific Motor Boat Trophy in 1936 at Newport Harbor, California, with an earlier Miss Golden Gate, a step hydroplane.
At the 1938 APBA Gold Cup in Detroit, the Miss Golden Gate team was long on talent but short on cash. Still, they managed to survive the 90 miles and to finish second overall to the Italian Count Theo Rossi and Alagi. In claiming the runner-up spot, Miss Golden Gate posted the highest finish ever, up to that time, by a Western boat in the Gold Cup series. (Californian had finished third in 1931.)
Based upon their performance at Detroit, it was obvious that much would be heard from Arena and Foster in the years to come.
And the story of their finish in the final heat would become a racing legend. That was when, for the last 24 miles, Foster had to hang precariously out of the Miss Golden Gate cockpit into the engine compartment, holding the gas controls open with his hands after the fittings connecting the foot throttle with the carburetors went adrift.
Excuse Me was owned by the auto magnate Horace Dodge, Jr., and was intended to be the pace setter for a new line of high speed racing craft to be produced by Dodge.
Excuse Me was built in secrecy at the Dodge boat building plant in Newport News, Virginia, from plans drawn up by Englishman Fred Cooper, who had done such fine work on Horace's old favorite, Delphine IX.
The cockpit of Excuse Me was located amidships with the power plant in the stern. Quite frankly, the 24-foot craft resembled a humpbacked pingpong bat. Her Packard engine had been built up to 732 cubic inches-the maximum allowed-just a few days prior to the 1938 Gold Cup and was not functioning very well at the start of Heat One. At the wheel of Excuse Me was the veteran Bill Horn, winner of the 1932 Gold Cup with Delphine IV and one of the most respected names in power boat racing at the time.
Excuse Me wallowed along in last place and began to come unstuck. First, one of the sponsons split and wobbled. Then, on lap two, a piece of the deck blew overboard. The next time around, the nose of the boat folded back, snapped off, and hurtled into the cockpit, where it nicked driver Horn's chin and inflicted a knockout punch and a severely cut jaw on riding mechanic Taylor Parker.
Then, Excuse Me went to the bottom, her racing career at an end when it had only just begun.
In the wake of this fiasco, Horace Dodge would cling tenaciously over the next two decades to the step hydro concept as-one by one-the other teams changed over to the three-point design. Indeed, the only sponson boat, besides Excuse Me, to ever carry the Dodge colors into competition was the short-lived Hornet of 1951.
My Sin was a Ventnor product and a larger edition of the company's 225 Class hulls. Built of mahogany, My Sin had a slightly concave underbody. The Zumbach/Miller engine had previously been owned by John Shibe (of Miss Philaadelphia) and been used in Gold Cup boats since as far back as 1924.
Before leaving the Ventnor plant, My Sin was given a trial run and reached a reported speed of over 100 miles per hour. At Detroit, however, engine trouble developed that could not be remedied in time for participation in the 1938 Gold Cup.
For the 1939 race, My Sin was the lone East Coast entrant and represented the Indian Harbor Yacht Club, which had won the 1926 and 1927 Gold Cups with Greenwich Folly.
The hull of My Sin was unchanged from the year before, but the 650-horsepower Miller engine had been extensively revamped. Not wishing a repeat of 1938, owner/driver Guy Simmons had My Sin ready to run well in advance of the race. Simmons logged many hours of testing time on the Hudson River during the months of July and August, 1939, in anticipation of the Gold Cup event at Detroit, scheduled for Labor Day weekend.
All of the pre-race preparations paid off. Of the six starters in the 1939 Gold Cup, only My Sin lasted the 90 miles. Simmons won all three heats. My Sin thus became the first three-pointer to finish first in a heat of Gold Cup competition. My Sin's victory signaled a complete sweep of the Detroit River by the Ventnor Boat Works. In addition to the Gold Cup, the Ventnor three-pointers won the top prize in each of the 135, 225, and 725 Class races at the Detroit Yacht Club-sponsored meet. (The winning boats in question were Andy Crawford's Ednandy, Jack "Pop" Cooper's Tops III (the future Slo-mo-shun II), and "Wild Bill" Cantrell's Why Worry respectively.)
Also not to be overlooked was the performance, over in England, of the Ventnor-designed Bluebird II, owned by Sir Malcolm Campbell. On August 13, 1939, the three-point Bluebird set an Unlimited Class world record for the straightaway mile at 141.740 on Lake Coniston. (The record would stand until Slo-mo-shun IV did 160.323 in 1950.)
A 28-footer with a rear-mounted Rolls-Royce Buzzard engine and a cockpit located amidships, Bluebird II utilized sponsons that were built onto each forward side as an integral part of the hull and not as an attachment.
Two years later, in 1941, My Sin repeated as Gold Cup champion-this time at Red Bank, New Jersey. But due to the imminence of the war crisis, over in Europe, the Guy Simmons team was the only entry to show up for the event. My Sin ran one 30-mile heat all by herself and was awarded the trophy by forfeit.
After World War II, Simmons sold My Sin to bandleader Guy Lombardo who had been a champion 225 driver before the war.
Simmons originally had a much higher dollar figure in mind when he announced that My Sin was available for sale. He settled for a substantially lower price because he wanted Lombardo to have it.
Renamed Tempo VI, the boat retained the G-13 racing number and the Zumbach/Miller engine. Although, in later years, an Allison V-12 would be substituted.
In its first race under Lombardo's ownership, the former My Sin scored an easy win in the 1946 National Sweepstakes at Red Bank. She was the only Gold Cup Class boat there, but Lombardo nevertheless made a race of it against a fleet of 225s.
Also in 1946, Tempo VI raised the supercharged Gold Cup Class straightaway record to better than 113 miles per hour at Salton Sea, California. This was the fastest speed ever recorded by a 732 cubic inch "G" boat of pre-World War II specifications.
The race for which Tempo VI is best remembered is the fabulous 1946 APBA Gold Cup at Detroit. This was the first major unlimited event to be run after the war. The 732 cubic inch limitation was abolished. Any size or manufacture of inboard piston engine was allowed. And virtually all hull restrictions were abandoned. It was truly a wide open race.
But Lombardo chose to stay with the same Miller engine set-up that had worked so well before the war.
Guy had his hands full on race day. Indeed, Dan Arena in the new Allison-powered three-pointer, Miss Golden Gate III, made Tempo VI work for it.
But the old My Sin would not be denied. She became the first boat since El Lagarto (in 1935) to win three Gold Cups. And, in so doing, Tempo VI broke the long-standing Gold Cup heat record of 70.412, set in 1920 by Gar Wood in Miss America I, with a mark of 70.890 for the 30-mile distance. It was a long time in coming!
In 1920, Lombardo had been a youthful witness when Wood set the record. Now, twenty-six years later, their positions were reversed, as the cup was presented to Guy on the Judges' Stand by none other than the great Gar himself.
Tempo VI would go on to win other races-most notably the 1948 Ford Memorial Regatta at Detroit. But the 1946 Gold Cup was her single greatest performance. The victory elevated the G-13 to superstar status in that first generation of non-propriding three-point hydroplanes that forever altered the course of competitive power boating.
© Fred Farley. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at <email@example.com>
(Reprinted from the UHRA Thunder Letter No. 331, January 21, 1998)
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