Howard Gidovlenko

Howard Gidovlenko Remembered

By Fred Farley, APBA Unlimited Historian

Howard Gidovlenko
Howard Gidovlenko

Howard Gidovlenko, one of the sport's premier Allison engine builders of the 1950s, passed away on February 11. He was 76. Gidovlenko operated Avia Union, a Los Angeles-based company that sold motors to many of the top Unlimited hydroplane teams, including Slo-mo-shun IV, Hurricane IV, Hawaii Kai III, Shanty I, and Maverick. Howard provided Allison engines to Slo-mo-shun owner Stan Sayres until that team changed over to the Rolls-Royce Merlin in 1954. One of Gidovlenko's Allisons powered Slo-mo-shun IV to victory in all three heats of the 1953 APBA Gold Cup on Seattle's Lake Washington.

An Avia Union Allison was also used in Bill Stead's Hurricane IV when that storied craft did 163 miles per hour at Salton Sea, California, in 1954. This speed was second only to Slo-mo-shun IV's world record of 178, set in 1952.

Gidovlenko enjoyed a successful three-year association with Bill Waggoner's Shanty I/Maverick team, starting in 1956. Shanty I was National High Point Champion in 1956 with USAF Lieutenant Colonel Russ Schleeh as driver. Shanty I won three races that year — the Lake Tahoe Mapes Trophy, the Seafair Trophy, and the British International ("Harmsworth") Trophy — all with a single Allison engine, built by Howard. In the Seattle Seafair race, Shanty I shattered all records for qualification and competition on a 3.75 mile course. The Bill Stead-chauffeured Maverick used Gidovlenko's motors to win the Apple Cup in 1957, and the Diamond Cup, the Mapes Trophy, and the Silver Cup in 1958. Howard was the first driver in competition of the famed "Pink Lady" Hawaii Kai III, owned by Edgar Kaiser. Gidovlenko finished second in the 1956 Lake Tahoe Mile High Regatta at Tahoe City, California. Jack Regas, pilot of Scooter Too and Hawaii Kai III, marveled at the amount of power that Howard could pack into an Allison engine.

Gidovlenko also tried his hand at boat building, but was unsuccessful in this regard. He constructed a couple of experimental Unlimiteds — the Zephyr-Fury in 1955 and the Shanty II in 1958 — but neither of these ever made it into a race. Colonel Schleeh was Howard's close friend for over 40 years. Schleeh identifies Gidovlenko as the man who successfully adapted the aux-stage Allison, which had been tried in airplanes, for use in race boats. Thanks to Howard's pioneering concept, it was possible for an Allison to nearly equal the power output of a Merlin. Schleeh eulogized Gidovlenko as "a great friend, a talented engine builder, and a good man. I will miss him."

(NOTE: Associate Unlimited Historian David Greene contributed to this report.)

(Reprinted from the UHRA Thunder Letter, No. 342, April 26, 1998)