1936 APBA Gold Cup
Shining Up the Gold Cup
By Everett B. Morris
The Gold Cup speed boat class, keeping pace with engineering and naval architectural progress through more than three decades of glamorous if somewhat troublous existence, reaches another milestone in its development this month.
Casting aside the thin disguise of "gentlemen's runabouts" which they have worn since 1922 with figurative tongues in equally figurative cheeks, the aristocracy of American speed boat racing will burst into full bloom at Bolton Landing, Lake George, on July 25th as out-and-out racing machines.
Gone will be the pretensions to utility and comfort required by tightly drawn rules. Clutches and reverse gears have been dropped overside. Length, beam and weight restrictions on hulls have disappeared into the gloom of Davy Jones's locker. The old 625-cubic-inch piston displacement engine that has served so nobly since 1922 has been retired in favor of a 732-inch motor fitted with supercharger, scavenging pump and no end of modern gadgets.
The shackles have been taken off the imagination and ingenuity of the men who have striven under handicaps to keep the Gold Cup fleet a development class in fact as well as fancy. The result is the merging of the Gold Cup group into the International 12-Litre category and an opportunity for American motor boat racing men to match their ability, wits and skill with Europeans on an even basis.
There is new luster on the old gold-plated silver urn that has served as the supreme trophy for this country's speed boat devotees since 1904. The end of July will mark the end of an era in Gold Cup history and the beginning of a new one rich in possibilities for marine engine and hull development and higher, more breath-taking speeds on the water.
One must not expect the transition from conservatism to radicalism to occur suddenly. There will be a period of what might be termed liberalism. The metamorphosis will be accomplished without undue haste and its inevitable waste. So, at Bolton Landing, we shall see a blending of the old with the new, familiar faces mingling with strangers.
Unless unlooked for circumstances force a change in his plans at the last minute, George Reis will defend the ancient trophy for the Lake George Club with the oldest and most amazing of all the Gold Cup boats in commission — the fourteen-year-old El Lagarto, the "Leaping Lizard" of Lake George. Victor Kliesrath, another veteran of the class, will be on hand with a new boat. Arthur Bobrick, from the Pacific Coast, will return to the Gold Cup wars after a long absence, carrying the colors of the Long Beach Yacht Club on El Torbellino (funny how these Californians go in for Spanish names), a 15-footer that will be the smallest boat in the field.
Among the newer element will be Herbert Mendelson of Detroit, with Notre Dame, the only boat built into the class last year; Jack Dunn, of Miami, with a brand new hull, Jay-Dee Too, and possibly Jack Rutherfurd if the Long Island and Florida sportsman can finish the extensive over-hauling of his equipment in time for the race.
John Shibe, Philadelphia baseball magnate, had entered Ethyl Ruth IV but withdrew her later on the grounds that the new opposed cylinder engine that Harry Miller was building for him would not be completed. However, Mr. Shibe is unpredictable. He may turn up with his big Hacker-built hull and astonish everyone by going somewhere with it.
The foregoing paragraphs, you probably have noticed, have not taken into account two of the leading Gold Cup figures of recent years — Bill Horn and Horace Dodge. Horn, whose Delphine IV won in 1932, is now associated with the vast Bendix organization and may be at the starting line if Vincent Bendix and Kliesrath decide to put in two boats instead of one. Dodge, of course, is an uncertain factor. He has boats and engines galore and, since he has for years been one of the most ardent advocates of lifting hull restrictions and allowing superchargers on Gold Cup engines, it would surprise no one if he decided at the last minute to put the good old Impshi and perhaps one of his many Delphines into the contest.
So, when the gun booms and El Lagarto gallops off in an attempt to win her fourth straight leg on the Gold Cup, she may have anywhere between four and nine opponents. One never knows about this Gold Cup situation. About the only prediction it is safe to make is that the combination of El Lagarto, George Reis and Dick Bowers will be the one to beat.
Last year, matched against theoretically faster, more up-to-date craft, the aged "Leaping Lizard," with an unsupercharged, 625-inch Packard motor combining a reasonable turn of speed with staunch reliability, melted them all down and made history by taking the cup three years in a row. At the end of the season, El Lagarto sang her swan song as a 625-cubic-inch class boat by galloping 72.727 miles an hour in an official mile time trial on Lake George — a grand performance for an unsupercharged engine in an old, multi-step hull.
This record was not dimmed by the fact that, a week later, Clell Perry drove Mendelson's Notre Dame 76.08 miles an hour with superchargers stepping up the power output of a 24-cylinder Deusenberg engine. These performances are listed in the American Power Boat Association archives as separate record achievements.
Last year, it will be recalled, the class raced under the old hull requirements, but the engine restrictions were relaxed to aid in the transition from the obsolescent code to the one going into effect this season. Drivers were allowed to use either 732-cubic-inch motors, unsupercharged, or to employ blowers on their 625-inch engines. For one reason or another, none of the "suped" up jobs ran worth a sneeze in a gale of wind and El Lagarto, with no blower on her Packard, romped in.
Obviously, she cannot be expected to go on forever with that equipment and no one knows it any better than Reis. This time he will bring out the old lugger with a new power plant, a twelve-cylinder, supercharged Reis-Menasco engine worked out by the Lake George sportsman in collaboration with the aviation engineer whose name is the other half of the hyphenated combination.
He had planned to use this machine without blowers in last year's race but connecting rod weaknesses forced him at the last minute to go back to the tried and true Packard. All winter, at his home in Pasadena, Reis has worked over the new engine, strengthening weaknesses, eliminating "bugs" and getting it ready for the boat. Now, at Lake George, he and Bowers and "Smoky," El Lagarto's groom, are engaged in their characteristic, painstakingly thorough tuning and adjusting of motor and boat.
The new motor is said to be pulling close to 700 horse power, about double the output of the now outmoded Packard. Obviously, changes will have to be made in El Lagarto's shingled V-bottom to make her handle the increased speed without turning inside out or upside down. It is a pretty safe bet to say that when Reis and Bowers are ready for the starting cannon, the old El Lagarto will be leaping around the lake at 80 miles an hour, anything but a decorous gait for one so aged.
The challenging outfits are an interesting mélange of new hulls, new motors, and old motors with new fittings. Different ideas are embodied in every boat.
Mendelson and Perry are standing pretty much pat on Notre Dame, which won the President's Cup at Washington last September after failing to get further than the starting line in the Gold Cup. They have shifted the engine aft and the control cockpit forward so that Perry and his mechanic will be riding ahead of the motor. The same Deusenberg, supercharged, will be used but has been brought up to 732 inches and will exhaust through open stacks.
Mendelson believes the new layout to be definitely faster than the 1935 installation and he points out that when Notre Dame did her 76 m.p.h. last October she was not wide open. That gives you some idea of what may be expected from the Detroit Yacht Club's entry. Perry seems to have mastered the temperamental Deusenberg that ran so erratically in so many Gold Cup boats before Mendelson bought it from Dodge.
Vic Kliesrath, who chauffeured Hotsy Totsy to victory at Red Bank in 1930 and at Lake Montauk the following summer, is pairing with Vincent Bendix in the entry of a new hull powered with a rebuilt version of the Wright motor that did duty in Hotsy Totsy II (ex-Louisa) at Lake George last year.
The hull is being built at Benton Harbor, Mich., by the Robinson Marine Construction Company on whose designing staff is Walter Leveau, who used to work on the Dodge fleet and later turned out successful 225-cubic-inch hydro-planes. The boat is 23 feet long, has a beam of 6 feet 4 inches and will resemble in a general way the Italian 12-Litre Lia that ran the Gold Cup boats ragged at Palm Beach in the 1934 internationals.
Time was too short to build a new power plant for the Bendix entry so Kliesrath and his faithful mechanic, Otto Capra, thoroughly revamped the Bendix-Wright V-8. Says Kliesrath, a cagy veteran not given to loose talk: "We expect to develop plenty of power." He will have to be reckoned as one of the leading contenders.
Considerable interest is bound to be shown in the first Pacific Coast entry since the ill-starred attempts of Dick Loynes to score in the Gold Cup with Californian in 1930 and 1931. Bobrick's El Torbellino (torpedo) is a veritable jack rabbit of a boat. She is only 15 feet long and 5½ feet wide at her largest point. Her engine, a 728-cubic-inch Bobrick adaptation of a Wright aeroplane motor, drives the propeller through a gear box that has a 1:2½ ratio. The motor, turning at 2,500 r.p.m., thus spins the wheel at better than 6,000.
Bobrick is considering the advisability of using a new set of valves and cams in the hope of putting 500 r.p.m. on the motor speed and consequently getting 7,500 on the shaft, but it is by no means certain that he will attempt this. Rather than sacrifice reliability for excess speed, Bobrick is working with the idea of making his outfit one that will hold together for the three 30-mile heats and run at a better average speed than ever has been made in a Gold Cup race. He says: "I haven't been worried much about speed. I feel sure we have enough. The thing we have been working on is to get everything fixed in the boat so that nothing will break and no nuts or bolts will come loose."
That will be quite a trick if he does it in so small a hull, particularly if Lake George happens to be in one of its less amiable moods the day of the race. With all that power on such a short water line, El Torbellino promises to be a handful in bad water. Bobrick is sure, though, that his construction is sound. Two stringers, 1½ inches by 16 inches, run the entire length of the hull from stem to sternpost. The motor is bolted to these and so is the gear box. The hull is suspended on the stringers.
The engine is housed under a streamlined hatch abaft the cockpit. Twin drive shafts from the two banks of four cylinders lead forward to the gear box installed just forward of the single hydroplane step. The V-drive idea is carried out by leading the propeller shaft aft from the gear box through the step. The driver and mechanic ride on the step with their knees against the gear box. Hot stuff!
Jack Dunn's Miami Junior Chamber of Commerce entry, Jay-Dee Too, will be only three feet longer than El Torbellino. She is being built short and light especially to make the best of the power produced by the built-up Wright aeroplane conversion the young Floridian used but little last year in Jay-Dee (ex-Nuisance).
Dunn expects the combination of small hull and unsupercharged motor to give him a speed of 68 to 70 miles an hour. If things work out this way, he will be satisfied because he believes that any boat that can run the 90 miles this year at 63 to 64 miles an hour will win. If Jay-Dee Too does not measure up to the 70-mile standard, then Dunn and his mechanic, Jack Betts, will go into supercharging.
Jack Rutherfurd's appearance at Lake George depends upon what luck he has in the rehabilitation of Duster, which was a failure as a Sweepstakes boat last year because the hull would not put out the power it contained. Duster just would not handle. Rutherfurd has had her chines brought in, her after bearing surfaces enlarged and her rudder adjusted. He hopes that these changes will enable her to run without momentarily threatening to imitate a submarine or aeroplane. Rutherfurd has an old Packard engine and a Curtiss job. He can use either and will if Duster gives him any promise of behaving at all like a real Gold Cup contender.
The new boats, new engines, new improvements all around, would seem to indicate a wholesale shattering of Gold Cup records on July 25th. If any progress has been made at all, El Lagarto's heat record of 60.866 m.p.h., Californian's lap mark of 63.644 (made on Red Bank's rubber course), and Delphine IV's 90-mile race average of 60.28 m.p.h. should go by the board. The race will be the thirty-third for America's oldest speed boat trophy and it should be by all odds one of the most interesting.
(Reprinted from Yachting, July 1936, pp. 39-40, 103)