Warren Avis

Warren Avis Remembered

By Fred Farley - Unlimited Hydroplane Historian

Warren Avis
Warren Avis

Warren Avis, the rental car mogul and Unlimited hydroplane pioneer, died April 24, 2007, of natural causes at his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was 92.

Best known for Avis Rent-A-Car, Warren started the business in 1947 with $10,000 of his own money, two employees and fewer than 200 cars. It still uses its well-known advertising tag line, "We try harder.''

Avis participated in Unlimited racing during the single season of 1948 as driver and co-owner (with Bob Frost) of Miss Frostie, a Duesenberg-powered step hydroplane, designed by Dan Arena.

The Unlimited sport was trying to re-group and re-establish itself in the years following the conclusion of World War II.

Miss Frostie had previously raced as Herb Mandelson's Notre Dame and had won the 1940 President's Cup and 1947 Silver Cup with Arena driving. The W-24 Duesenberg engine was one of the most expensive ever used in a race boat and reportedly cost a figure close to six digits.

Avis and Miss Frostie finished second in the Ohio Valley Trophy at Cincinnati and third in the Silver Cup at Detroit. Out of 22 entries, they were the only team--aside from Danny Foster and the victorious Miss Great Lakes--to physically complete all three 30-mile heats of the disastrous 1948 APBA Gold Cup at Detroit.

The 1948 Gold Cup is remembered as one of the most destructive in boat racing history. Water conditions were the roughest in recent memory.

Avis and Frost eventually sold Miss Frostie to Joe and Lee Schoenith who renamed it Gale I and re-powered it with a V-12 Allison. Gale I was the start of the Schoeniths' Gale Enterprises dynasty, which was to last from 1950 to 1975.

As a pilot during World War II, Warren Avis continually became frustrated when ground transportation was not readily available at airports. Recognizing the same frustration among other air travelers, he founded Avis Rent-A-Car.

Avis introduced a number of innovative business practices, including national franchise licensing. Avis Rent-A-Car also became the first airport car rental company to rent new cars. At a time when his rivals were located downtown, Warren moved his base of operations to the airports.

After achieving great success, Avis sold his car rental company in 1954 to pursue other entrepreneurial ventures.