Aggressor and Stampede Remembered [1997]

Contrary to popular belief, the USA and Canada are not the only countries in the world with Unlimited Class racing. Australia and neighboring New Zealand have hosted the big hydroplanes for many decades, albeit on a different scale than in North America.

Of all the motor sport trophies in Australia, the E.C. Griffith Cup ranks as the oldest and the most prestigious. First contested in 1913, it compares favorably to America's Gold Cup and England's Harmsworth Trophy and is indicative of the Australasian (Australia and New Zealand) Unlimited Motor Boat Championship.

Two of the most popular winners in Griffith Cup history were the Aggressor and the Stampede, which dominated the sport in the late sixties and early seventies. Owned by Stan Jones and Dick Carnie, Stampede won the Cup in 1970 and '71, while Aggressor took the honor in 1972 for co-owners Dave Tenny and Ron Simpson.

Both boats were rather short by U.S. standards. Aggressor measured 26½ feet long with a 10-foot beam; Stampede was 22 feet in length with a 9½-foot beam. For power, both teams used an Australian version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.

As shown in movie film taken in the early seventies, Aggressor was by far the better riding boat and appeared to handle quite smoothly. She was a conventional hull with the traditional rear-cockpit/forward-engine/shovelnosed bow configuration. Stampede was a cabover hull with a lot of balance problems. At racing speeds, she seemed perpetually airborne and rode roughly in the turns.

Aggressor and Stampede both affiliated with the Victorian Speed Boat Club (VSBC) of Melbourne and carried the racing numbers VS-50 and VS-41 respectively. The VSBC was the prominent boat racing organization in Australia at that time and hosted a series of races at Lake Eppalock, which is about 75 miles from Melbourne near Bendigo.

Until recently, Unlimited racing "Down Under" seemed to be a generation behind its U.S. counterpart. While the first American boat reached 100 miles per hour in 1931, the Australians didn't clear the century mark until 1955.

The first 100 mile per hour Aussie craft was the Fleetwing, a Merlin-powered step hydroplane with miniature added-on sponsons. She was named for another famous Unlimited that her owner had campaigned during the 1920's with a 200-horsepower Hispano-Suiza engine.

Interestingly enough, the second Fleetwing played a role in the genesis of both the Aggressor and the Stampede racing teams. Tenny had the opportunity to take a ride in her in about 1961. And when Fleetwing was scrapped a few years later, much of the mechanical equipment was installed in a new hull, which became the original Stampede.

Construction began on Aggressor in 1962 and was completed in January of 1965. She was designed and built by Tenny alone as a hobby and in his spare time. Tenny, a $70-a-week pipefitter, brought Simpson on board as a partner and financial sponsor in 1970. The boat sported a green-and-yellow color scheme which duplicated that of the 1958 U.S. National Champion Miss Bardahl.

For several years, Tenny and riding mechanic Les Scott experienced one setback after another trying to get Aggressor to perform properly. The team entered the 1965 Castrol 100-Mile Marathon, but carburetion trouble prevented them from starting.

At the 1966 Castrol race, Tenny withdrew on account of rough course conditions. More trials and work saw Aggressor performing reasonably well. After having run about ten miles of the 1967 Castrol event, the boat's propeller struck something in the water and Tenny beached the boat on the rocks at Point Cook. She was swamped and remained there for three days before recovery operations could be effected.

Thirteen holes were punched in the underside of the hull, and the sponson bottoms were ruined. During repairs, changes were made to the sponsons and the whole underside was re-sheeted with aluminum. A decision was also made never to run again in salt water.

Returning to action in December of 1969 (the seasons "Down Under" being the opposite of those "Up Over"), Aggressor was equipped with the first of several hi-tensile stainless steel racing propellers, specially manufactured for the boat by co-driver Scott.

Everything performed excellently in tests on Lake Eppalock and Aggressor was entered in her first circuit race--the 1969 Boxing Day Meeting at Yarrawonga--where the boat scored an easy victory. At the 1970 New Year's Day event, also run at Yarrawonga, Tenny and Scott won the first heat and were leading in the second when the engine stopped cold. This was the start of twelve months of carburetor miseries. And during the Eppalock Gold Cup, the back of the boat sustained severe damage on account of a thrown propeller blade.

It was at the 1971 Griffith Cup on Lake Eppalock that Aggressor first clashed with Stampede, the only other Rolls-powered boat in the fleet. The race consisted of two 9-mile heats on a 1½-mile oval course.

Stampede won Heat 1-A and Aggressor took 1-B. Aggressor was was moving up on Stampede in the final when a fractured exhaust stub caused the engine water delivery hose to burst, halting Tenny's valiant challenge for the lead on the fourth lap.

Then came the historic 1971-72 racing season, when Aggressor entered all eleven races that an Unlimited hydroplane can run in Australia and won a record ten of them in a row.

Included on Aggressor's trophy shelf at season's end were the Griffith Cup, the Kimbolton Cup, the Eppalock Gold Cup, and the Australian National Championship award, among others.

Then, in the Final Heat of the final race of the year, tragedy struck.

While dueling alongside the 6-Litre Class boat, Air New Zealand, for the A.E. Baker Trophy in Sydney, Aggressor hooked a sponson at 150 miles per hour and crashed, badly injuring her crew of two.

Tenny recovered from the accident, but Scott was almost completely paralyzed.

In later years, Tenny took over his injured friend's propeller business and remained semi-active in the sport as a crew member for the Stampede organization.

Although crippled for life, Scott stayed interested in boats and continued to attend the Griffith Cup races at Lake Eppalock in a wheel chair.

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Stampede was built in 1963 by Colin Winton for original owner Bruce Walker. Prior to being purchased by Jones and Carnie in 1967, Stampede experienced various mechanical problems but managed to win both heats of the 1964 Victorian Unlimited Open on Lake King.

Under the new ownership, a number of major modifications were incorporated into the hull. She was modified from a two-seater into a one-seater; a new gearbox setup was designed; the engine was moved forward to obtain a better planing action; and a new engine cowling was added to help clean up the boat aerodynamically.

With Jones driving, the rejuvenated craft set an Australasian kilometer straightaway record of 154.32 miles per hour on Lake Glenmaggie.

With Jones and Bob Saniga alternating in the cockpit, the original Stampede won the 1970 and 1971 Griffith Cup contests, the 1970 Victorian Unlimited Open, the 1971 Yarrawonga New Year's Day Meeting, the 1971 Kimbolton Cup, and the 1971 Eppalock Gold Cup.

After being defeated by Aggressor in the 1972 Griffith Cup, Stampede was retired and replaced by a namesake that met the American 28-foot hull length requirement.

The second Stampede was built over a ten-week period from November 1972 to January 1973. The Rolls-powered boat measured 28 feet 6 inches long with a beam of 11 feet 8 inches and bore somewhat of a resemblance to the Gale Enterprises' Atlas Van Lines built in 1971.

Stampede the second scored "the triple" in 1973, winning the three major Unlimited events in Australia: the Griffith Cup, the Eppalock Gold Cup, and the Kimbolton Cup, all on Lake Eppalock.

After having proved herself in Australian competition, plans were formulated to ship the boat to North America in the spring of 1973 to do battle with the U.S. Unlimiteds. To finalize a sponsorship agreement, Stampede had to establish a new Australasian straightaway record.

On May 19, 1973, at Lake Eppalock, the record was set at 159.49 miles per hour. The crew wasn't satisfied, however, and sent driver Saniga out again, equipped with a special two-bladed prop manufactured by Tenny and Scott, designed for record breaking.

Saniga made a run of 156 and then, about a hundred yards past the end of the kilo, the rudder apparently failed, causing Stampede to veer to the right and shatter in a cloud of spray.

Happily, the driver survived with nothing more than a dislocated shoulder. The hull was repaired and successfully defended its title in the Griffith Cup the following January.

Renamed Solo, the boat attended the races at Tri-Cities and Seattle, Washington, in 1974, to become the first Unlimited hydroplane from another continent to participate in America since Sant Ambrogio came over from Italy in 1948.

Solo, unfortunately, experienced mechanical difficulties at Tri-Cities and had to withdraw. Two weeks later, at the infamous Sand Point Gold Cup in Seattle, driver Saniga had her in second place for three laps in Heat 1-A and was gaining on the leader, when the engine overheated. Solo limped back to the pits and was through for the day.

Four years later, members of the Solo crew affiliated with another Australian Unlimited, the Miss Bud (a former American Miss Budweiser), owned by Ron Burton. With Solo Crew Chief Clem Anderson (who had worked on Rolls engines in the Royal Australian Air Force) performing his mechanical wizardry, Miss Bud finished a respectable third at both Tri-Cities and Seattle in 1978 with Saniga as driver. Miss Bud fared far better than Aussie Endeavour, a 1996 Burton craft, which participated at Tri-Cities and Seattle but completed only a single heat, because of mechanical difficulties, with Dennis Parker as driver.

The Stampede/Solo team made one final appearance in North America at the 1983 World Championship Race in Houston, Texas, with Miss Bayswater Bulk, a Merlin-powered cabover craft that used the same VS-41 designation as had her predecessors.

(Reprinted from the UHRA Thunder Letter No. 326, December 15, 1997)