Sayres' Speed Feat Stirs Discussion [1952]

Record 178.497 m.p.h. for Boats Inspires Questions of Jet Possibilities

Stan Sayres' record feat the other day at Seattle has turned the speed-boat racing fraternity of pilots, mechanics, hangers-on and even bulkhead birds and riverbank experts into dreamers about the predictable future. What is next, they are asking.

If the impossible can be done by Sayres, then the fantastic is no longer fantasy. Jules Verne may have had something, and Captain Video with his space ships. It is an age of supermen, that's for sure,

Now that Sayres in a single-engine American boat has been clocked by official timers at an average speed of 178.497 miles an hour, what about the possibility of jet-propelled boat? What about the rivalry that can be expected from English speed kings and particularly John Cobb?

These are the questions being discussed this week in many a boat club and yacht club and wherever badge wearing top brass of regattas congregate.

Once Gar Wood held the speed boat record at 124.915 m.p.h. with his famous Miss American X. Then the late Sir Malcolm Campbell raised the figure to 129.5 with his boat Bluebird in Switzerland, giving England the speed distinction. Successively Campbell went on up to 130.91 and eventually with his new Bluebird II in 1939 on his home waters of Lake Coniston to 141.74 miles an hour.

Mark Stood for 11 Years

The mark stood for eleven years, although nearly everybody took a crack at it in numerous trials costing untold hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of dollars.

Guy Lombardo got as high as 118.229 in 1948 at Salton Sea, Calif. In 1949 Dan Arena drove Jack Schafer's Such Crust I at a new North American record of 127.063, erasing Gar Wood's mark. But this lasted only a couple of months until the Canadian, Harold Wilson, drove his Miss Canada IV to a North American record of 138.165 on Lake Picton, Ont.

The on June 26, 1950, came Sayres' 160.323 in Slo-mo-shun IV. A few days again in the same boat but with a built-up special Allison aircraft engine, obviously more powerful than his former plant, he was clocked at 178.497.

Sayres is willing to let well enough alone, at least until somebody gets up in his speed stratosphere. He is 55 years old, a successful, affluent business man. Speed-boating is dangerous even for youngsters with better health and reflexes. Most of his oval course racing with his fleet of Slo-mo-shuns has been done by Ted Jones, his designer, and by Lou Fageol, a rich amateur sportsman like himself. But Sayres has preferred to make the one-mile straightaways.

One challenge is in sight. Perhaps it's a cloud only as big as your hand by a threatening cloud nevertheless. This is the idea of Cobb, the famous English speed demon, that a jet-propelled boat can skim over the ripples enormously faster than the propeller-type craft.

Cobb is known on this side of the Atlantic and feared. He is the holder of the world one-mile speed marks for autos made in 1947 at Bonneville, Utah, in a Railton Mobil special. The average was 394.196 m.p.h. and on one of the tests the Englishman was clocked at better than 400 miles an hour.

The Railton in the name is Reid A. Railton, an Englishman who transplanted himself to California and who in last month's Yachting magazine discussed jet propulsion and speedboat records. What he didn't admit, however, was that he had returned to England to serve as Cobb's consultant for some Lake Coniston testing.

This has caused the eyebrows to lift in the Union of International Motorboating. Its general secretary, Maurice Pauwaert of Ghent, Belgium, recently wrote to George W. Sutton of New York, co-chairman of the A.P.B.A.'s International Affairs Committee, hoping the United States would get excited about the possibility of Jet boats. This was before Sayres' 178-mile record.

Perhaps two kinds of world records will eventuate, one for jet boats and one for propeller-driven craft. Some years ago the U.I.M. provided for records in jet propulsion but as yet no timings have been made. Pauwert thinks it would be "good for the sport" if jet jobs were to come along and he is inclined to feel the world would recognized only one speed champion, whether speed or propeller.

(Reprinted from the New York Times, July 13, 1952)

[Note: John Cobb was to lose his life in a speed attempt with Crusader just 2½ months after this article appeared. --LF]