Guy Lombardo, Les Staudacher and the Tempo Alcoa [1960]


Lombardo to Race Speed-Boats Again

The Guy Lombardo Story
Guy Lombardo's 1948 Speed Attempt
Guy Lombardo, Les Staudacher and the Tempo Alcoa [1960]
Tempo Alcoa
Les Staudacher and the Jet Boats  [1960]
Miss Stars and Stripes II Crashes in Speed Run [1963]
The Fate of Stars & Stripes Part 1
The Fate of Stars & Stripes Part 2
{The Fate of Stars & Stripes Part 3 [Not yet available]}
Miss Stars and Stripes IV : The Mystery Boat

Guy Lombardo said yesterday he was planning to re-enter speed-boat racing this spring.

Les Staudacher, a boat designer and builder in Kawkawlin, Mich., is preparing for the band leader a thirty-foot Gold Cup boat with a 1510 Allison aircraft motor, for delivery about May 1. Trials are scheduled for Bay City, Mich. Lombardo may name the boat Tempo VIII.

Until Lombardo made known his plan yesterday his speedboating interest for 1960 had been this joint effort with the Aluminum Company of America to promote a jet-powered speed boat without propellers. The hope was that the boat, to be named the Tempo-Alcoa, would regain for the United States the world speed record, held by Don Campbell of England at 260 miles an hour.

The fastest time for a propeller-driven speed boat is that 187 miles per hour achieved at Seattle in 1957 by Jack Regas in the Staudacher-Jones designed Hawaii Kai III, which was powered by a Rolls Royce engine. This boat was formerly owned by Henry J. Kaiser and later owned by his son, Edgar Kaiser.

The Tempo-Alcoa, with Staudacher at the wheel, will attempt to better the 260 m.p.h. mark early in June in tests at Pyramid Lake in Nevada, some thirty miles north of Reno.

(Reprinted from the New York Times, April 13, 1960)

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Lombardo's Jet Craft Explodes, Sinks in Bay

Bay City, Mich., June 1 [1960] (UPI) — A jet-powered hydroplane, built specifically in an effort to crack the world speed record, exploded and sand in twelve feet of water in Saginaw Bay today.

The thirty-one-foot craft, the Tempo-Alcoa, owned by Guy Lombardo, the bandleader, and the Aluminum Company of America, was being operated by remote-radio controls at the time of the accident. No one was aboard and there were no injuries.

The boat, estimated to cost $300,000, was built and designed by Les Staudacher of Kawkawlin, Mich. He said it was speeding along at a "little under 200 miles an hour" when the accident occurred.

Initial efforts to tow the craft to shore were not successful. Staudacher planned to have skin divers try to get a line on the boat so that it could be salvaged. He said he believed the boat struck some debris in the bay.

(from United Press International)

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The Tempo Alcoa

Tempo Alcoa on Saginaw Bay
Les Staudacher test pilots Tempo Alcoa across Saginaw Bay

The one time my reputation as a boat driver coincided with the band business occurred in 1957 when the Royal Canadians were asked to play the annual boat show at Madison Square Garden. For me it was the best of two worlds. We would finish a set and I would wander around the exhibition floor looking at displays that ranged from race boats to yachts. The one I would come back to was an aluminum speedboat manufactured by Alcoa, and I soon became acquainted with the salesmen at the exhibit, who suggested that the company might be interested in having me drive a boat that could attempt a world's speed record.

I had tried that route, of course, and failed to achieve my objective of traveling faster on water than any other human had done before. And since my last attempt the record had soared dramatically. Donald Campbell, son of the celebrated Sir Malcolm Campbell, was now the world's record bolder. He had recently driven a boat with a jet engine at the incredible speed of 248 mph. Young Campbell died later trying to stretch that record, but the risks involved in this business of getting more and more speed hardly crossed my mind.

I decided I would take another shot at it, if I could get an aluminum boat built with a jet engine. Alcoa was willing to furnish the aluminum. Les Staudacher was willing to design the boat and we would use a jet engine taken from a fighter plane that saw service in Korea.

The boat took almost a year to build. It looked somewhat like a pickle fork with tines on either side of the driver's seat. When the jet engine was completed and installed, Les took out a model of the boat to North American Aviation to have it tested in the company's wind tunnel. We were trying to learn how fast the boat could go before it would actually take off and fly. This kind of boat would be airborne perhaps 80 per cent of the time that it was in the water. But it had to have the proper aerodynamics to prevent it from acting like an airplane taking off at the end of a runway.

The tests showed that the boat was safe up to 460 mph before it would begin performing like a jet plane. But we never expected to go that fast. There were other dangers of mechanical failure at that speed. However, we felt confident it could go 300 mph, and after making some modifications suggested by the wind tunnel tests we decided on making a trial run in Pyramid Lake, Nevada.

I was playing in the nearby Lake Tahoe club owned by Bill Harrah, another speedboat enthusiast, and we had Les bring the boat out to test it at speeds up to 200 mph in Pyramid Lake. The lake was dead calm when he took off and I watched from an elevated bank with Lilliebell and Harrah. Les made two or three easy runs, getting up to 180 mph with no trouble, and all of us were pleased. I could hardly wait to get in the driver's seat myself. We were about to call it a day, when a photographer from Popular Mechanics magazine, asked to take a photo of this wondrous aluminum boat in action. I went back to my hillside observation post and Les started up again. But by now Pyramid Lake was dead water no longer. A wind had blown up and there were ripples in the water. Where he could stop the boat in half a mile before, it would take him longer now.

He zoomed out, doing 200 mph easily, and from a distance he could see the photographer waving for him to get closer to shore. Les obliged. What he did not see was a small peninsula jutting out into the water.

By the time he spotted that tiny strip of land it was too late for him to stop. Tempo Alcoa hit the very tip of the peninsula, flew over it, and landed upside down on the other side. Lilliebell remembers that I screamed as I witnessed the boat somersaulting. I rushed down to the lake's edge, but I did not get there on my feet. Halfway down I stumbled and then I was tumbling down the bill, cracking into rocks and trees and landing finally in the water, bruised and bloody. Les Staudacher, meanwhile, was scrambling onto the dry land of the peninsula without a scratch. It was he who drove me back to a Reno hospital for patching up.

Les took the boat back with him to Kawkawlin and spent several months repairing it. The boat and the accident had received national press attention, and Alcoa would show it at the various boat shows around the country. By the following spring, we figured we were ready to try again, and this time we started testing in Saginaw Bay, near Staudacher's boatyard. But we could never be sure that we had repaired all damage. You just couldn't look inside the pickle-fork sponsons on either side of the boat.

I didn't want either Les or me to test the boat again with that amount of uncertainty over the state of its health. So we invested $2,500 in a remote control unit that North American Aviation built for us. The automatic pilot would start the boat, guide it and steer it at the press of a button. When the logs were out of the bay that serves the lumber mills around it, Les took it out for a leisurely spin just to see how the boat would respond to the "slow" speed of l00 mph. He had no trouble.

Then we put the automatic pilot in and set the throttle at about half speed, which we guessed would be 150 mph. It worked and we pushed it to 200 mph. Finally we tried 250 mph, about three-quarter speed.

It went along beautifully and I couldn't wait to get into the driver's seat and skim along water at 300 mph. Suddenly a sponson came off, veering the boat to the right. And my dreams were going up in a huge splash of water; the two-ton engine was not turning with the boat. It had broken loose and continued up the bay for half a mile before it sank and disappeared.

What we feared had evidently happened. Being unable to look inside the sponson, we could not tell that the angles that held it together had been fractured to the point of breaking in the Pyramid Lake accident. When the boat reached 250 mph, it also reached the breaking point.

That was the end of Tempo Alcoa, which was hauled up from the bay a complete wreck. The Alcoa people were understanding; they were willing to start the project all over again. All of us knew that we could easily have reached 300 mph. But suddenly the entire business did not seem worth it anymore. A year had gone down the drain and so had considerable money. Lilliebell and my brothers were getting on my back: how could a man my age (I was over fifty by then) continue a hobby that could get him killed?

[Reprinted from Auld Acquaintance : An Autobiography by Guy Lombardo with Jack Alshul. (Garden City, NY : Doubleday, 1975)].


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