Some Famous Unlimiteds of the Past
By Fred Farley - APBA Unlimited Historian
One of the most popular hydroplanes of the 1920s was J.W. (Row) Whitlock's Hoosier Boy from Rising Sun, Ind. Whitlock was a powerboating enthusiast for nearly three decades until his death in 1931. He built his first boat, a displacement craft, in 1907. Top speed was between 23 and 25 miles an hour. His last -- and most famous -- boat was obviously patterned after Gar Wood's Miss America hulls. A step hydroplane, built a decade before the three-pointers made their presence felt, Hoosier Boy used a 12-cylinder Liberty aircraft engine, rated at 400 horsepower. On October 9, 1924, Whitlock and Hoosier boy set a never-to-be equalled distance record for a round trip between Cincinnati and Louisville. The craft covered the 267 Ohio River miles in 267 minutes and 49 seconds. Although long absent from the competitive arena, Hoosier Boy is something of a legend in the Ohio River Valley and can be seen today as the star attraction at the Ohio County Historical Society Museum in Rising Sun, located about 50 miles upriver from Madison, Indiana.
Dukie was a single-step hydroplane with the driver and mechanic seated side-by-side in separate cockpits ahead of the rear- mounted engine (an 1127 cubic inch Model E Hispano-Suiza). She was the first of three similarly named boats owned by Howard (Whitey) Hughes of Detroit. Originally built in 1938 as one of the Warnie hulls, the boat ran for several years in the Mississippi Valley Power Boat Association's 725 cubic inch class. At a 725 class race in Detroit in 1938, the craft won all three heats at speeds opf 58, 59 and 58 miles an hour respectively with James (Warnie) Anderson as driver. Acquired by Hughes after World War II, she was renamed Dukie, which was the nickname for Whitey's daughter Lilian. At the 1946 President's Cup, driver Bill Stroh managed an overall third place in her under the sponsorship of Pepsi-Cola. The high point of the boat's career was the 1947 Ford Memorial Regatta on the Detroit River where, with Hughes driving, Dukie won the first two heats. She defeated challengers such as Miss Great Lakes and Miss Peps V, but broke a driveshaft in the finals and was forced to withdraw.
Hermes V from Vine Grove, Ky., was one of the last of the old pre-war 725 cubic inch hydros to compete in the post-war unlimited ranks (the 725 class was the MVPBA's equivalent of the APBA Gold Cup Class; the 725s were sometimes jokingly referred to as the "haywire class" in comparison to the more expensive and more exotic-looking Gold Cup Class rigs; after World War II, the two classes merged and became the "Unlimiteds"). Powered by a World War I-era Hispano-Suiza ("Hisso") engine, Hermes V was built in 1941 as one of a series of similarly named hulls constructed by George Davis and Turley Carman. (The original Hermes was a 510 cubic inch rig, powered by a Curtiss OX-5; the next four Hermes boats were 725s; Hermes IV went on to become the famous It's A Wonder and was the first three-pointer of the group.) Co-owned by Davis, Carman and Noble Lanier, Hermes V suffered extensive damage in the 1941 Webb Trophy at Keokuk, Iowa, but was rebuilt to take second place in both the 1942 Auerbach Trophy and the '42 Biscayne Gold Cup. After time out for WWII, Hermes V was reactivated in 1947. That year, George Davis pushed her to victory in the Marine Derby at Louisville. The boat's final major appearance was in the 1948 Ohio Valley Trophy at Cincinnati. Relief driver Soupy Ciconett was unfamiliar with sponson boats and flipped in the first heat.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, most Unlimited owners opted for the newfangled three-point design (two sponsons and a propeller). But there were those who still believed in the time-honored step hydroplane configuration that had worked so well for Gar Wood back in the 1930s. One particular "fast-stepper" of the post-war era was My Darling, owned and driven by Andy Marcy of Springfield, Illinois. Completed in 1949, the boat was built by Marcy and his father in their spare time over a 15-month period. Marcy also assembled his own gearbox. Designed by John Hacker, the boat was a virtual copy of Hacker's 1948-vintage My Sweetie, which won so many races with Bill Cantrell as driver. Measuring 31 feet, 6 inches by 7 feet, 8 inches, My Darling was basically a single-step hydroplane but with the propeller amidships, a buffer step forward, and a tunnel in the afterplane. Although originally powered by an Allison V-1710, the craft was later fitted with a Rolls Royce Merlin. My Darling finished second in the 1950 MVPBA Regatta at Keokuk, Iowa, and then won both heats of the Fox Lake, Ill., event. Marcy failed to qualify for the Gold Cup at Detroit that year, but took fourth in the Ford Memorial, seventh in the Silver Cup and was first in the Calvert Trophy at Louisville. My Darling was the first modern Unlimited hydroplane to attend the Madison Regatta in southern Indiana and took first place in the 15-mile free-for-all (for classes 7-litre and above) at the 1950 Madison race.
Dora My Sweetie
The last in an incredibly long line of race boats to be campaigned by auto magnate Horace Dodge Jr., Dora My Sweetie was built in 1953 by Les Staudacher. She was a two-step hydroplane inasmuch as Dodge never cared for the three-point design. The most memorable moment of the Dora's career occurred during the 1954 Silver Cup at Detroit. With Jack Bartlow driving, she won the race and, together with the other two Dodge entries (My Sweetie and John Francis My Sweetie) ran one-two-three in the final heat. In 1955, a couple of well-known ex-college roommates (Bill Muncey and Don Wilson) took a turn at Dora My Sweetie's wheel. Muncey sank the Dora in trials at a race in St. Clair, Mich.; Wilson drove her to fourth place in the Silver Cup. And, at Windsor, Ont., in 1956, Wilson won the Maple Leaf Trophy with Dora My Sweetie. Her third-place finish at the 1956 Madison Regatta with Doc Terry driving was the final race appearance of a Dodge-owned hydroplane. An APBA mainstay since the 1920s, Dodge had previously campaigned the likes of Musketeer, Miss Syndicate, Delphine IV, Sister Syn, Impshi, Lotus, Excuse Me and Hornet.
© Fred Farley. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at <email@example.com>
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