The Unlimiteds : 1947 in Review ... 50
By Fred Farley - APBA Unlimited Historian
The 1947 season saw the first true national circuit for Unlimited hydroplanes. Four races--the Ford Memorial, the APBA Gold Cup, the Silver Cup, and the President's Cup-counted for APBA National Points.
Power boat racing had been dormant during the war years. Most of the boats that participated in 1946 and 1947 were holdovers from the pre-war era. The Gold Cup Class of the American Power Boat Association and its counterpart, the 725 Cubic Inch Class of the Mississippi Valley Power Boat Association, had combined and changed over to what became the APBA Unlimited Class. This was to take advantage of the huge supply of war surplus Allison and Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 aircraft engines that were now available for sale to the general public.
The term "Unlimited" applied specifically to inboard cubic inch piston displacement size. Jet engines and outboard motors were not allowed.
The top boat of 1947 was the Dossin brothers' Miss Peps V. At the time, commercial sponsorships were permitted but frowned upon. Although sponsored by the local Pepsi Cola distributor, Miss Peps V did not carry the full corporate name into competition.
With Danny Foster driving, Miss Peps V won the Ford Memorial, the APBA Gold Cup, and the President's Cup, while Herb Mendelson's Notre Dame captured the Silver Cup with Dan Arena at the wheel.
The Miss Peps V and the Notre Dame represented opposing philosophies in 1940s power boat racing. The Peps was a three-pointer, built in 1939 by the Ventnor Boat Works, while Notre Dame was a step hydroplane with no sponsons, constructed in 1940 by Arena. The success of the propriding three-pointer Slo-mo-shun IV was still a few years in the future. In 1947, the non-propriding sponson boats, such as Miss Peps V and Tempo VI, were on pretty equal terms with the fast-steppers, such as Notre Dame and Miss Canada III.
Only one boat-the Miss Great Lakes, a 26½-foot three-pointer-had tried an Allison in 1946 and had won a clear-cut victory in the President's Cup at Washington, D.C., with Foster driving. Another craft, the Miss Windsor, had tried a Rolls-Royce Merlin but had been unsuccessful.
Miss Peps V, which measured about 23½ feet in length, had originally used half of a Curtiss Conqueror when she had raced as So-Long in 1939. The Dossins commissioned Foster to install an Allison in the Peps. And he did. But Danny had to literally hang the cockpit over the transom in order to make room for that enormous engine.
In retrospect, both Miss Great Lakes and Miss Peps V were vastly overpowered. They were quite a handful to drive. From 1948 onward, almost every boat built for an Allison or a Rolls was at least 28 feet in the interest of safety.
The Ford Memorial Regatta at Detroit almost went to Dukie, a step hydroplane and a former 725 Class campaigner, powered by an 8-cylinder Hispano-Suiza. Driven by Whitey Hughes, Dukie won the first two heats but couldn't start in Heat Three. Miss Peps V was the only boat to finish the 45-mile race. Her fastest heat was 53.928 miles per hour, compared to Dukie's 57.783.
The APBA Gold Cup was run on extremely rough water at Jamaica Bay, New York. Notre Dame won the first heat of 30 miles, but Miss Peps V rebounded to win the next two. Heat Three featured a good battle for first and second between Peps and Miss Great Lakes with owner/driver Al Fallon. Foster did 56.256 to Fallon's 55.667 in the almost ocean-like chop.
The 90-mile Silver Cup on the Detroit River proved to be an off-day for Miss Peps V, which failed to finish. Notre Dame won the first heat of 45 miles (on a 4-1/2-mile course) at a speed of 73.685 to Harold Wilson's 73.505 with Miss Canada III. In Heat Two, run the next day, Miss Great Lakes with relief driver Guy Lombardo came out on top at 71.218, while Notre Dame maintained a distant second to win the race on points.
The President's Cup was a three-heat grand slam for Miss Peps V. Foster won the first heat by a wide margin at 70.063 on a 2½-mile course. Danny then throttled way down in Heats Two and Three to make a race of it with the Deusenberg-powered Notre Dame.
Miss Peps V proved conclusively at Washington that the good fortune of Miss Great Lakes with Allison power in 1946 was no fluke. The Thunderboat Era had most assuredly begun. For the next four decades, Unlimited hydroplanes would have to pretty much depend on World War II fighter aircraft power sources to be competitive.
The National High Point Standings for 1947 saw Miss Peps V in first with 1369 points. Then came Notre Dame with 869, Miss Great Lakes with 750, Dukie with 427, Miss Canada III with 300, Hot Potato with 225, and Tempo VI with 225. Also participating that year were Trudy, So-Long Jr., Miss Windsor, Lion Bar Special, Let 'er Go Gallagher, and Hermes V.
In those days, the winner of a race received 400 national points, regardless of the number of heat points accumulated. Second place received 300, third 225, fourth 169, and fifth 127.
In races that didn't count for High Points in 1947, Lou Fageol's So-Long Jr. won the Biscayne Gold Cup at Miami and the Webb Trophy at Davenport, Iowa. Miss Peps V captured the National Sweepstakes Trophy and the Auerbach Trophy at Red Bank, New Jersey, and the Imperial Gold Cup at New Martinsville, West Virginia, while Hermes V and George Davis took first place in the Marine Derby at Louisville, Kentucky.
(Reprinted from the UHRA Thunder Letter, Vol. 3 no.315, October 27, 1997)
© Fred Farley. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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