In association with The Vintage Hydroplanes

The Vintage Builder's Guide

Most of the hull designs on these pages are ones that were successful during the time period of from 1950 to 1975. Opinions vary about their successfulness, but the fact that people were trying anything that would Will Farmer hullgive their particular hull design a competitive advantage is historically worth mentioning. Books could be written oncertain designers such as Henry Lauterbach, who has over 200 documented hulls he designed and built over a 40 year period. Some builder/designers handcrafted less than 2 or 3 hulls during their lifetime. Varying backgrounds of each of these builders probably played a role in the way they were built, but one thing they all must of had in common was a love of woodworking.

Rich Hallet hullEach builder must have believed that their hull would have an uniqueness of special characteristics that would make their hull faster and different from the others.There are abundant stories you will hear about the characteristics of a particular hull.

 Different theories on such items as the placement of the sponsons on the hull, angles on the chines, the beam width at the front, middle, and aft section and how those dimensions flow into the right combination for speed in the straightaways and the turns. Wally Milosivich hull

Each hull would be tweaked trying to find the ultimate agility, responsiveness, and total overall handling needed by the driver to be the first across the line. Some hull ideas worked, some did not.

Ron Jones hull

Prior to the late 1960's, the round nose 3-point hydroplane design was dominant. This design was basically patterned off the Slo-mo-shun IV that Ted Jones designed and Anchor Jensen built. This hydroplane shattered the world water speed record, then the egos of its competition when in debuted in the unlimited ranks in 1952. From then on, all the style designs of hydroplanes basically adopted this design.
Fred Wickens hullEven the stepped,  displacement V-hulls (the original "hydroplane") which were an improvement over the conventional V-hulls, with having their "notched" out steps in the bottom of the hull, were no match for the 3-point hydroplane.

This style of hull would literally fly over the water and therefore eliminate the water resistance problem. With their propeller about 50% out of the water, huge amounts of water would be displaced into the air behind the racing craft creating the famous roostertail that was associated with these hydroplanes. Henry Lauterbach hullWith most round nose hydroplanes, the motor was in the front and the driver was seated behind the motor in the rear of the hull with the drive shaft running underneath the driver. 

No seat belts were worn by the drivers, with the thinking that in case of a blowover, if would be wiser to be thrown from the hull, than to be strapped into a wood craft that could literally disintegrate upon contact with the water.


Charles Lloyd hullThese builders all contributed to the different styles and looks you see in vintage hydroplanes. These gentlemen would make hydroplane modifications, adding, subtracting, moving and refining the many angles that grace these racing machines. Another item worth noting that these men were also very good boat racers. This on-hands experience I'm sure attributed to the many major and minor distinctions you see between the different names in the hydroplane raceboats.
Jim Cunningham hull

Using experience from racing and testing, they would try to improve and build into their designs any hull requirement they thought would be needed to win. Changes and  modifications were construction techniques, different framing types, fastening systems, plywood thickness selections, driveshaft angle, and motor placement. I'm sure many of the driver/owners were also pitching in their 2 cents worth with reports on water conditions on the different courses in the regions. These handling characteristics of the different hydroplane designs and the new changes would spread between the racers. All these new changes eventually evolved into hydroplane hull styles we see today.

Jack Colcock hull

Look closely at vintage hydroplanes. Other than the major discrepancies among the different hydroplane builders, you can see very subtle variations. If you attend a vintage raceboat event and see them sitting in the pits side by side, these differences can be quite noticeable, even to somebody who may not specifically be looking for them. There lies the beauty of the different designs we see from one designer to the other. Jim Davies hullBut with so few of these hydroplanes that have survived to this time today, photographs can be the only evidence in quite a few instances where people are trying to document or acquire a rare piece of racing history.

The 3-point hydroplane hull itself (if you can imagine the raceboat without its sponsons attached) has been described as to an aircraft wing. The upward slope of the bottom towards the nose provides the lift needed to plane the hull above the water and on a cushion of air. Hence the name hydroplane. These are basically low flying aircraft with a flying ceiling of a few feet. Cramer hull
The top deck shape would be the equilibrium providing enough air pressure resistance to keep the hull maintaining its altitude especially at the higher speeds. The sponsons are the pontoons mounted to each side of the hull which helps keep the hull balanced as it crosses the water. The propeller, as on a airplane, provides the thrust to keep it airborne.  Jon Staudacher hull

The term 3-point hydroplane derives from the actual contact of the hull to the water once it achieves enough speed to plane the hull on the cushion of air. The 3 points that the hydroplane balances on as it skips across the water being the first point of contact, the propeller, and the other 2 points being the ends of each sponsons. Interesting enough, decades went by while boat racers kept trying to increase speed by increasing horsepower to overcome the friction of the water. Dick Sooy hullThere isn't anything built by man that achieves what the hydroplane performs as it skips across the water surface.

The combination of all these principles becoming the unique experience we see when you view one of these incredible craft. The sound of the open headered, inboard engine, coupled with a high flying hull, and add about one ton of water being displaced into the famous roostertail behind these machines puts them atop anything I have ever experienced. The sheer eloquence as they twist through a turn and the edge of the sponson kicks up another roostertail has to be seen first hand to be appreaciated. Ed Schroeder hull
The hydroplanes throughout these pages are the feat of engineering achieved its rich history. Quite an acheivement considering the lack of computer modules that could have spewed forth some of that information today.
The foredeck of the different hull designs would include shapes on the crown of the deck in order to find the optimum altitude of the hull throughout its flight, whether it be the straightaways or turns. Proper placement of weight being placed into the hull such as the motor, gas tank, battery, and driver all combined to influence its attitude (proper weight distribution for an even keel) and handling characteristics. Many competitive races would be decided on these factors in matches where driver skills were comparable. Kimbrough hull
That is why a good driver was always looking for the right combination in their hull to give them the best advantage possible. Just building the right combination of proper placement of these items could be the difference between a winner and loser. Considerations of the minimum weight restrictions had to be followed. Considerations of extra weight was equally important. This would be evident in time trials and on the kilo and 1-mile speed trap runs. The straightaway records and heat records could be affected if you were a heavy individual. Charlie Fyffe hull
Times and records broken could be inched up throughout a summer season. Every little thing would be looked at. As with any racing endeavor, weight reductions and maximum engine revolutions, even as minute as it may be seen, was closely looked at. Superchargers were allowed in certain classes, but one had to pay attention to the extra weight that was going to be incorporated into the hull. Also, supercharged engines would need to carry additional fuel that would be needed to feed the higher gas consumption used by a supercharged engine.
International - James Fyle hullThe drivers would experiment with the gasoline blends trying to find the specially brewed formulation using alcohol and nitro introduced to increase horsepower. Any horsepower robbing items would be eliminated. Experimentation was a rule of thumb. Engines would be tweaked between heats trying to fine-tune their motors for every ounce of power available. Getting back to the hull details, you will notice different transoms width and height that vary from one design to another. The reasoning of these features are debatable but time has already proven the winners and losers in these respects. Ed Karelson hull
Innovation was the rule. Refinements were proven or disproven throughout the summer racing season, some stuck, others were quickly thrown out. Others yet would be refined, until they were proven right. These are some of the reasons why it is great to go to a vintage event and see the stages of evolution throughout the history of the different racing periods. Some items might have worked in a smaller class, but would not work in a larger class. Many factors influenced the subtle changes.

But as with most ideas, when a designer would try to improve on one aspect of the hull, he could effect the good qualities and purpose and possibly compromise other qualities and features. Jerry Longtin hullMany a hulls were probably built with good intentions only to be dismissed after a few races. I'm sure you would get many an arguments with the designers on that subject. But whether it was a proven winner or not, any racing hydroplane left around today is a winner in my mind and worth being preserved. Hopefully, any left or found today will survive the ax or firepit, and some good soul with invest the time and money to bring it back to its original form for the pleasure of all of us.
Ventnor hull  (Ventnor Boat Works)
The sponsons were the main idea that made the hydroplane a reality. You would have to go all the way back to when Ventnor Boats Works had the original, basic idea of attaching water skis on the front of a conventional displacement V-hull to plane the hull up and out of the water. The success of this idea quickly caught on and soon many raceboats were incorporating this thinking into their hulls. Then the Ted Jones design of a 3-point hydroplane, first used on Slo-mo-shun IV, rewrote the basic hull look we are seeing throughout this article.
Harold Ruark hullTed Jones always believed that the top of the sponsons should flow into the foredeck, were as some of other raceboat designers such as Henry Lauterbach, Will Farmer and Rich Hallet, built their sponsons that were offset from the foredeck.

Different lengths, angles, heights, widths and placement of sponsons were tried throughout history. First, there were the wet sponsons that was the rule, then the exception. Dry sponsons (they would not fill with water) then became the rule. Dry sponsons would aid the hull with buoyancy. But all these changes contributed to the individual beauty of these racing hydros. Joe Guess hull

The cowlings were being built with different shapes that would have lines to improve aerodynamics and help with stability. A fin built into the rear cowling was from the thought of helping stabilize the aft of the hull. Arguments can be made about the effectiveness of this idea. 

There were also evolutions with regards to the "mechanicals" of a limited class hydroplanes. The skid fin which aids the cornering of the craft in the turns, was originally attached to the underneath of the hull inside the starboard sponsons. Somebody moved the skid fin out further and angled it slightly which was found to further aid the hull in the turns.Allen Blide hull
Another improvement was moving the 2 water pickups which were attached to the ends of each of the sponsons to a single pickup that was attached to the very bottom edge of the rudder. The water being picked up from this location was much cleaner and eliminated the one-way valves that needed to be used for the sponson water pickups. As you can see in this photo, there are many times when the sponson edges would be out of the water, which would interrup the water flow to the engine.

Marcell Belleville hullA dividing point in the history of the inboards was the cab-over which started being successful during the late 1960s. A few racers, (not builders) took regular conventionals and moved the cockpit up in front of the motor. Two of the conventionals that were converted were a Dick Sooy and Henry Lauterbach design. There may have been more of them.

Vance Whitman hullThe picklefork styled hydroplanes, with the driver in front (and currently, usually enclosed in a capsule), and the motor behind him, started making inroads in the late 1960's. In about 1963, Ron Jones started building round nosed cab-overs which stayed that way until about 1966, when shallow pickelforks were tried.

Glenn Temte hullThis was the beginning of the end of the traditionally styled, round nosed 3-point hydroplane with the driver seated in the aft of the hull that everybody was accustomed to seeing for about twenty-five years. During the early 1970's, the pickelforks on these racing hulls got deeper and became quite popular. They started dominating in most classes by 1977. But the conventionals weren't going away without a fight. Builders of the conventional hydroplanes such as Lauterbach, Farmer, Hallet, Milosivich, Karelson and Staudacher started making their transoms wider.

Norberg (Norm Berg) hullThis idea helped keep those designed conventionals in the win columns right up to the late 1970's. Only in the extremely fast Grand Prix class did the Lauterbachs hold their own up until 1989.
These unique differences and evolution's only add to the wonderful history of the sport of Hydroplane Racing.

Ed Kelson hull
The personality of handcrafted, vintage hydroplane raceboats will remain as long as the spirit of vintage hydroplane racing is kept alive through the next generation. The former owners, drivers, designers, and builders of these racing crafts will be remembered for their innovation and skill through the documentation, preservation and restoration efforts of these unique flying hulls.

Don Smith hull
Roberts hull
John Tone hull
Henry Eastman hull
Kenny Ingram hull

The Vintage Hydroplane Builders
Marcel Belleville
Allen Blide
Jack Colcock
John Cramer
Jim Cunningham
Jim Davies
Henry Eastman
Will Farmer
Charlie Fyffe
Joe Guess
Rich Hallett
Kenny Ingram
International-James Fyle
Ron Jones
Ed Karelson
Ed Kelson
Kenny Kimbrough
Henry Lauterbach
Charlie Lloyd
Jerry Longtin
Wally Milosivich
Norberg - Norm Berg
Bill Roberts
Harold Ruark
Ed Schroeder
Don Smith
Dick Sooy
Jon Staudacher
Glenn Temte
John Tone
Ventnor Boat Company
Vance Whiteman
Fred Wickens
All the photos used in this article can be seen individually by clicking on the builder's name above.
A note from the author
I hope my words expressed through this article created some interest in these beautiful hydroplanes and the gentlemen who created them. 
A big Thank You goes to all the vintage and current inboard raceboat designers and builders. Additional contributions were added by many restorers and past owner/drivers for sharing with me with some of your experiences and knowledge of these great raceboats.  And of course, this article would have never been attempted without the unrelentless help, guidance, photographs, and inspiration provided by Mr. Phil Kunz.
Story © 2001 Phil Spruit
Photos © Phil Kunz

History of the Inboard Cab-overs