APBA Gold Cup

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The First 55 Years

A History of Gold Cup Competition [1959]

By W. Melvin Crook

Fifty-five years ago, members of New York's Columbia Yacht Club donated a perpetual challenge trophy for power boat racing. Incidental legal documents referred to the trophy as the "American Power Boat Assn. Challenge Cup for Forty-Foot Class and Under," an official technicalism used to this day. But the need for a shorter label soon gave birth to "Gold Cup," a title barely justified by the thin layer of yellow metal plated on the trophy.

Possibly the finest combined explanation and apology ever made for the Gold Cup appeared as this advertisement of the American Power Boat Assn.: "Perhaps it is not so great a work of art as some others. Neither is the 'America's Cup' but they both represent the finest thing in their classes, and the best efforts of the cleanest sportsmen in the world."

Inherent in the Gold Cup rules has been the right of each winner's club to select the location for its defense. This gives the defender a substantial advantage in that he is saved the time and cost of transportation and he can be sure of a race under his favorite water conditions. Thus it is not surprising to find that the Gold Cup tends to enjoy rather lengthy stays in each new resting place.

After the first two contests in the New York City area, the St. Lawrence River became the locale for races from 1905 through 1913. Then came a series of one-year stands at Lake George, Long Island Sound, Detroit and Minneapolis. From 1918 through 1924 Detroit was the Cup's "home. Long Island Sound then held three, Red Bank, N.J., a pair, Montauk, N.Y., a pair and Detroit, one. The old urn spent 1934, 5 and 6 at Lake George. Detroit next took over for three races, Long Island Sound for one and Red Bank for one. After World War II, Detroit staged the curtain-raiser followed by one at New York City and three more at the Motor City. Then came 1951 through 1955 at Seattle—the first time West of the Rockies. Detroit had it for 1956 but Seattle took it back for the two most recent contests.

The length of each course lap varied somewhat from year to year and the heat distance ranged from a maximum of 32 nautical miles each to a minimum of 30 statute miles, the latter distance having been used consistently from 1918 to the present. But in every one of the Gold Cup races the contest has been scheduled to consist of three heats.

You will note from the accompanying summary that, following the initial two Gold Cup contests in 1904, speeds during the ensuing three years fell off sharply. This can be attributed directly to the use in the 1905, 6 and 7 races of a handicap system under which boats were rated according to their power and size. Use of this system produced as 1905 winner the next-to-slowest boat in the fleet. The following year's victor rated fifth in speed among eight starters; in 1907 only one other contestant was slower than the winner.

Summary of Previous Gold Cup Races
Race Year No. Boats Started Winner Owner Make of
Engine
Speed, Fastest
Heat, s.m.p.h.
1st 1904 3 Standard C. C. Riotte Standard 23.6
2nd 1904 10 Vingt-et-un II W. S. Kilmer Simplex 25.3
3rd 1905 9 Chip J. Wainright Leighton 15.9
4th 1906 12 Chip II J. Wainright Leighton 20.6
5th 1907 5 Chip II J. Wainright Leighton 20.8
6th 1908 8 Dixie II E. J. Schroeder Crane 30.9
7th 1909 4 Dixie II E. J. Schroeder Crane 32.9
8th 1910 4 Dixie III F. K. Burnham Crane 33.6
9th 1911 5 Mit II J. H. Hayden Sterling 36.1
10th 1912 8 P.D.Q. II A. G. Miles Sterling 36.8
11th 1913 6 Ankle Deep C. S. Mankowski Sterling ( 2) 44.5
12th 1914 9 Baby Speed Demon II P. Blackton Sterling 50.4
13th 1915 7 Miss Detroit Miss Detroit P.B.A. Sterling 48.5
14th 1916 6 Miss Minneapolis Miss Minneapolis B.A. Sterling 49.7
15th 1917 3 Miss Detroit II G. A. Wood Sterling 56.5
16th 1918 4 Miss Detroit III Detroit Yachtsmen Curtiss 52.1
17th 1919 3 Miss Detroit III G. A. Wood Liberty 56.3
18th 1920 5 Miss America G. A. Wood Smith-Liberty (2) 70.0
19th 1921 3 Miss America G. A. Wood Smith-Liberty (2) 56.5
20th 1922 13 Packard Chriscraft J. G. Vincent Packard 40.6
21st 1923 8 Packard Chriscraft J. G. Vincent Packard 44.4
22nd 1924 8 Baby Bootlegger C. S. Bragg Wright 46.4
23rd 1925 9 Baby Bootlegger C. S. Bragg Packard 48.4
24th 1926 15 Greenwich Folly G. H. Townsend Packard 49.2
25th 1927 11 Greenwich Folly G. H. Townsend Packard 50.9
26th 1929 4 Imp R. F. Hoyt Wright 50.4
27th 1930 7 Hotsy Totsy V. Kliesrath Wright 56.0
28th 1931 8 Hotsy Totsy V. Kliesrath - R. Hoyt Wright 54.9
29th 1932 6 Delphine IV H. E. Dodge Packard 59.2
30th 1933 6 El Lagarto G. C. Reis Packard 60.8
31st 1934 6 El Lagarto G. C. Reis Packard 58.0
32nd 1935 3 El Lagarto G. C. Reis Packard 57.5
33rd 1936 2 Impshi H. E. Dodge Packard 47.1
34th 1937 10 Notre Dame H. Mendelson Duesenberg 68.6
35th 1938 5 Alagi T. Rossi Isotta-Fraschini 66.0
36th 1939 6 My Sin Z. G. Simmons Miller 67.0
37th 1940 6 Hotsy Totsy III Sidney Allen Wright 51.3
38th 1941 1 My Sin Z. G. Simmons Miller 52.5
39th 1946 17 Tempo VI Guy Lombardo Miller 70.8
40th 1947 7 Miss Peps V Dossin Bros. Allison 56.2
41st 1948 15 Miss Great Lakes Albin Fallon Allison 57.4
42nd 1949 8 My Sweetie Ed Gregory & Ed Schoenherr Allison 78.6
43rd 1950 8 Slo-mo-shun IV Stanley Sayres Allison 80.8
44th 1951 9 Slo-mo-shun V Stanley Sayres Allison 91.7
45th 1952 6 Slo-mo-shun IV Stanley Sayres Allison 84.3
46th 1953 6 Slo-mo-shun IV Stanley Sayres Allison 95.2
47th 1954 9 Slo-mo-shun V Stanley Sayres Rolls Royce 99.7
48th 1955 9 Gale V Joe Schoenith Allison 102.4
49th 1956 12 Miss Thriftway Willard Rhodes Allison 100.0
50th 1957 15 Miss Thriftway Willard Rhodes Rolls Royce 104.0
51st 1958 16 Hawaii Kai Edgar Kaiser Rolls Royce 108.7

 

For obvious reasons this sort of system has never produced a race appealing to either contestants or spectators and so it was with this early experiment at handicapping. As a result, the 1908 race was thrown open—without limits on engines or hulls—and without handicaps.

The races in 1908, 9 and 10—sometimes known as the "reign of the Dixies"—marked the culmination of development of the displacement type racing power boat—a form resembling a miniature ocean liner. Dixie's owner E. J. Schroeder was quoted as saying that no boat would ever go faster than she did. And—because of very inflexible physical laws—no boat of that "through the water" type, and of that length, ever has gone faster.

In 1910 the 250-hp. Dixie III's best heat speed in the Gold Cup was 33.6 m.p.h. The following year Mit II, with only 40% of Dixie's power, exceeded 36 m.p.h. The hydroplane, which skims over the surface of the water instead of plowing through it, had arrived. And with the hydro, speeds leaped. By 1913 Count Mankowski's huge hydro Ankle Deep had pushed the Gold Cup heat mark up one-third over Dixie's pace; the following year Paula Blackton's little Baby Speed Demon bounced it to 50.49. In mile trials the Blackton craft attained 51.726.

The single step hydroplane continued to be developed in the ensuing years—years which ran into the period of World War I. That war did not hamper racing. In fact, race boat owners were quick to capitalize on the engineering advances that grew out of the War. In 1918 Gar Wood obtained a 400-hp. Curtiss engine developed for the British and with it won that year's Gold Cup.

In 1919, World War I developments first paid off in a big way. Every boat in that year's Gold Cup was equipped with one of the famous Liberty engines designed during the War for aircraft use. Gar Wood's boats took first and second. The following year Wood won with a twin-Liberty-powered craft and posted a heat speed of 70 m.p.h.—a mark that was to stand for 26 years. This boat established the 1920 straightaway record of 74.87 m.p.h.

Wood's double-Liberty-engined Miss America again took the Gold Cup in 1921. This was more than enough for his competitors, who decided that "something had to be done." As a result, the class was turned into a restricted one with hulls limited to a type having no breaks or steps in the bottom and having a minimum length of 25'. Power plants could not exceed 625 cu. in. of piston displacement.

Advocates of "giving the game back to the boys" were happy when 13 starters appeared for the 1922 Gold Cup race: The peak horsepower of the most powerful boat entered was less than one-fourth that of the previous year's winner. The victor's best heat speed was the slowest in the past decade of Gold Cup racing. This race was notable for marking the debut of a Packard Gold Cup engine, a make that was to have great success in the class during the next 15 years.

First and second place boats in the 1924 race were driven by Wright engines. These updated versions of the wartime Hispano-Suiza, especially converted for Gold Cup racing, also were to be active in Gold Cup competition for the next decade. Although the Cup was awarded in 1924 to the beautiful Baby Bootlegger, she was not the top boat in scoring. This honor had been taken by Harry Greening's Rainbow IV, which was protested and disqualified as being a hydroplane. Rainbow's bottom was of lapstrake construction—a thing specifically permitted by the rules. However, the officials ruled that her strakes had been installed for the express purpose of making the Greening craft a hydroplane.

In 1925 and 1926, with the donor club playing host for the first time since 1904, large fields faced the starter's flag. But the winner's speed in the latter year was only nine miles faster than it had been in 1922, the inaugural year under the new restricted rules. The contestants began to feel that they were getting precious little speed for their large investments in hulls and engines. They therefore voted to admit hydroplane hulls, commencing with the 1928 race.

In the 1927 contest, 11 started. Two capsized, three disintegrated, one became a victim of driftwood, three dropped out with mechanical ailments and two finished. With the intention of requiring reasonable stamina in future boats, the contestants voted to impose a minimum weight of 2,000 lb. on the hull, exclusive of crew, engine and fuel.

No race was held in 1928, this year having been set aside to build the new hydroplanes, and 1929 found four brand new Gold Cup hydros ready to race. But alas, final results of the contest showed that the 1929 winning hydro had actually run slower than had the 1927 winning vee-bottom monoplane.

The 1930 race fanned the spark of suspicion still glowing from the previous year—a suspicion that hydroplanes built to the new rules were a flop. Six of them appeared in that second contest for which they were eligible. But none of them was able to beat Hotsy Totsy, a four-year-old vee-bottom boat that had been treated to a shingled bottom. This shingling created a multiple step form similar to the one which had caused the disqualification of Rainbow in 1924.

Hotsy Totsy triumphed again in 1931. The new type hydroplanes did not threaten her seriously.

By the following year two-thirds of the starting fleet was made up of shingled versions of earlier vee-bottom Gold Cup contenders. This time the Cup went to Delphine IV, a refurbished version of the seven-year-old Solar Plexus.

In 1933 the 11-year-old shingled El Lagarto ran away from the competition, posting a best heat speed of 60.8 m.p.h.—a pace previously exceeded only once in Gold Cup history and that by Wood's twin-Liberty-engined Miss America. El Lagarto (The Lizard) held the Gold Cup for three consecutive years, her victims including a mixture of shingled veterans and new hydros built to the existing rules.

Late in 1935 El Lagarto ran the mile course at 72.729—a record for Gold Cuppers of that vintage.

Despite the development which had taken place in multistep bottoms and the power increases coaxed from engines, moguls of the sport in 1934 commenced to view the Gold Cup situation with alarm. American Power Boat Assn. president George Townsend (Gold Cup winner in 1926 and 1927) pointed out that the mushrooming racing outboards had pushed their speeds startlingly close to that of the Gold Cuppers. The rules makers hastily voted to open the 1935 race to 625 cu. in. engines with superchargers and to unsupercharged engines up to 732 cu. in.

Throughout the era of shingled hydro supremacy, Packard and Wright engines accounted for every victory. But the owners had gradually pushed these ageing machines far beyond the power capabilities incorporated in their original design. Engine failures were becoming all too common. With virtually no other suitable power plants of this size available, the liberalization of rules for 1935 merely invited accelerated annihilation of the remaining Packards and Wrights. In the Gold Cup race for that year, only two contenders were able to finish as much as one heat.

Hoping vainly that modern engines would magically materialize, the rules writers for 1936 took one more step toward extinction of the class as it then existed. They threw the Gold Cup race open to any power plant not exceeding 732 cu. in. and abandoned length and beam minima for hulls. While thus aiming for pie in the sky, the rules makers took a practical look at the boat racing scene and noted with terror the skyrocketing speeds of the 225 cu. in. class. On these scampering little fellows they slammed the door by adopting a 600 cu. in. minimum piston displacement for Gold Cup engines.

The familiar old Packards made their last appearance in the winning column in 1936. The fancy new rules attracted nine contenders for that race. Seven of them wrecked their machinery before the start. It was a two-boat race for almost two laps; a solo cruise for the balance of the 90 miles.

The 1937 Gold Cup race drew entries from France, Italy and Canada. The victor, with a speed within a mile and a half of Wood's long-standing 70 m.p.h. record, was Herb Mendelson's Notre Dame. Notre Dame's engine was a beautifully re-engineered version of an ancient 625-cu. in., 24-cylinder Duesenberg.

For the first time since a none-too-successful appearance in the 1916 Gold Cup race, hulls of the three-point or triplane type were entered in 1938. Adolph Apel had staged a brilliant revival of this hull form in the smaller racing classes. Their performance in that year's Gold Cup proved discouraging and Theo Rossi's little 18' Alagi, with a supercharged Isotta-Fraschini aircraft engine, won with ease. This was the only time the Cup was ever captured by other than a U.S. resident.

The 1939 race went to the first successful Gold Cup three-pointer. Zalmon Simmon's Apel creation My Sin, powered with a modernized 16-cyl. Miller of ancient vintage, had an easy victory.

The following year's contest started as a fine duel between My Sin and a new Notre Dame, powered with the same refurbished Duesenberg. But these and all other fast boats dropped out with mechanical failures and the Cup went to a ne'er-do-well named Hotsy Totsy III, practically by default. The year 1940 saw many of the Gold Cuppers boost the class straightaway speed record. Notre Dame topped them all with a mark of 100.987 m.p.h.

By 1941 the complex stresses of World War II were making themselves felt in power boat racing. Only one boat — My Sin — appeared for the Gold Cup race. The trophy was awarded to her after she had run one solitary heat.

Prior to the post-World War II revival of power boat racing the Gold Cup rules again underwent a wholesale revamping. Essentially the class was returned to the unlimited status it had enjoyed from 1908 through 1921. From that day to this there has been no restriction on Gold Cup power plants other than a ban on jets. Hulls are unrestricted except that they must not exceed 40' in length.

The first post-war race, in 1946, attracted a flock of 225s and a handful of pre-war Gold Cuppers—notably My Sin, renamed Tempo VI and owned and driven by Guy Lombardo. In addition there was one brand-new three pointer, Miss Golden Gate III, powered by one of the war-developed Allison aircraft engines. Golden Gate showed the crowd a promise of things to come as she roared madly around the course, flinging an enormous rooster tail and chalking up lap record after lap record, till she pegged one at 77.911. But Golden Gate's Allison folded before the end of the 90 miles and Lombardo took the Cup. The winner's best heat speed topped the 26-year old Gar Wood mark.

The following year the race was held on New York's Jamaica Bay under poor water conditions. Miss Peps V, a small three-pointer overpowered with an Allison, won at tortoise speed after Tempo, Miss Great Lakes and Notre Dame had suffered mechanical woes.

In 1948 there appeared several new boats with Allison power but no boat had a chance to prove its worth that year on a course blown into a white-capped turmoil. Miss Great Lakes was the only one of 13 starters capable of completing the contest and she sank shortly after crossing the finish line.

Up to this point observers had seen little to convince them that a three-pointer was the best hull form to carry the enormous power available from the World War II aviation engines. Their doubts were further increased at the 1949 race when My Sweetie, a multi-step hydro with Allison engine, posted the highest qualifying speed (92.402 m.p.h.) and easily bested a 10-boat fleet in the race.

On June 26, 1950 an unknown boat named Slo-mo-shun IV, owned and driven by an equally obscure Stanley Sayres of Seattle, set a new world straightaway record of 160 m.p.h. — 19 miles over the existing standard. When it was announced that she would run for that year's Gold Cup, loud were the laughs of the experts. Here, said they, was a three-pointer capable of going only in a straight line. But in the first heat of the 1950 Gold Cup Slo-mo not only beat, but lapped the 1949 winner, My Sweetie, and every other boat in the fleet. She took the trophy with a perfect point score. The prop-riding three-pointer had arrived as a vehicle for Gold Cup competition.

In 1951, victory went to a newer and similar Sayres craft, Slo-mo-shun V. But a multi-step, twin-Allison boat named Miss Pepsi re-aroused lingering doubts by qualifying at better than 100 m.p.h.—nine miles faster than the eventual winner—and running Slo-mo V a close second until Pepsi broke down.

As a tune-up for the 1952 Gold Cup race, Slo-mo IV boosted her own straightaway record to 178.497.

In 1952 not a single one of the fleet could finish all 90 miles, but Slo-mo IV racked up more points than any of the others. Once again Miss Pepsi accounted for the top qualifying speed and set a new heat record of 101.024 — almost ten miles over the one then in the book.

The older of the Sayres contenders took another perfect point score victory in 1953. In the process she upped her own 90-mile record set in 1950 from 78.215 to 92.371.

When Slo-mo V won the Gold Cup in 1954 she made Sayres the first owner ever to win the trophy five consecutive times. She boosted her sister's total-race speed record to 99.108.

In the closest Gold Cup contest in history, Joe Schoenith's Gale V carried the trophy back to Detroit in 1955 by virtue of a 4.536-sec. time advantage. In the doing, she posted a new 90-mile record of 99.503.

The 1956 race, one of the finest contests ever held for the Cup, was marred by the greatest rhubarb in the trophy's history. The apparent winner, Miss Thriftway, was disqualified by the race committee for an alleged buoy striking, and the race awarded to Miss Pepsi. Thriftway owner Willard Rhodes appealed this decision to the Inboard Racing Commission. Meantime, Horace Dodge, owner of one of the challenging craft, obtained an order from a local court seeking to have the APBA declare the race "no contest." After many weeks, the IRC found that Thriftway was entitled to the Cup. The lawsuit was withdrawn, but the ensuing bitterness resulted in the unlimited hydro class setting up its own Racing Commission under APBA.

As if to prove the validity of her 1956 victory, Miss Thriftway repeated the following year. In her efforts she accounted for the first 100 m.p.h. Gold Cup race with a 90-mile speed of 101.9. Still standing from that race are the lap record of 113.804 set by Bill Boeing's Miss Wahoo and the heat standard of 109.823 credited to Edgar Kaiser's Hawaii Kai. In late 1957 the Kai established the still-standing world straightaway record for propeller-driven boats — 195.33 m.p.h.

Last year's race drew the best all-round fleet in the history of the competition. Sixteen boats qualified — 13 of them at speeds in excess of 100 m.p.h. That only three boats were able to complete all three heats detracted in no way from Hawaii Kai’s victory. Her "perfect" race included a new 90-mile record of 103.481.

The development of the Gold Cup class since World War II has, for the most part, been steady and healthy. The 13 contests held since it reverted to its earlier status as an unlimited class have produced some splendid competition.

The immediate future of the Gold Cup would seem bright except for one factor. The wartime aviation engines which all contestants use are being pushed beyond their limits and engine failures are becoming an ever-increasing plague.

No high power, liquid-cooled piston type engines have been built since 1946, nor are any likely to be built in the future. To obtain the needed additional power with improved reliability Gold Cup contestants are likely to have to shift to turbine engines of the type used in Viscounts, Electras and similar aircraft.

(Reprinted from Yachting, July 1959)