POWER; 1961 TO 1970 – Let’s talk about engines!

At the inception of the Cowes Torquay in 1961 the marine engines used by cruising boats of the time were low powered diesel, large bulky and slow like the craft. Fast petrol engined boats existed i.e. The Italian Riva but they used American Crusaders or Gray Marine and Chris Craft in the States had their own GM based engines. Entries in the first race relied on a combination of tried and trusted diesels, the prime units being Perkins, Rootes based Lister units, Rolls Royce, Volvo Penta’s and outboards. The average output of the diesels were around 120 to 240 hp, the new inboard outboard Volvo’s at 80-100hp and the outboards at 80hp usually EVINRUDE or JOHNSON.At the inception of the Cowes Torquay in 1961 the marine engines used by cruising boats of the time were low powered diesel, large bulky and slow like the craft. Fast petrol engined boats existed i.e. The Italian Riva but they used American Crusaders or Gray Marine and Chris Craft in the States had their own GM based engines. Entries in the first race relied on a combination of tried and trusted diesels, the prime units being Perkins, Rootes based Lister units, Rolls Royce, Volvo Penta’s and outboards. The average output of the diesels were around 120 to 240 hp, the new inboard outboard Volvo’s at 80-100hp and the outboards at 80hp usually EVINRUDE or JOHNSON.

The exceptions were Glass Moppie which was running marinised Chrysler V8’s of 330hp upgraded for the race to 400hp and the Bruce Campbell Christina’s, three of them running Cadillac based Crusaders, in THUNDERBOLT and CHRISTINA’S case they had the later 365 hp units, one had a single 350hp and the other ran Palmer flat 6’s of 135hp.

You must remember than in 1961 powerful marine petrol engines were in their infancy and very much an American dominated market, we Brits relied on tried and tested Diesels but all this was to change rapidly.

The Crusader units used by Campbell were the first in the country and the installations in the boats were subject to no end of gremlins during testing and in the race, the main problem was fuel starvation, they also drank petrol at a quicker rate than anticipated!

Both Thunderbolt and Christina were fitted with extra tanks for the race one mounted behind the helmsman and the other in the stern quarter starboard, giving a total of 175 galls for the 150 mile race. The Fairey Hunstman and Huntress boats used the Perkins diesel units of around 120 hp, the bigger boats such as Gay Gazelle used Rolls Royce and the Monaco entries of Morgan Giles used Rootes Listers.

The Outboard group were Johnson, Evinrude and a Scott-McCulloch.

In 1962 the Horsepower went through the roof when the mighty Tramontana appeared powered by 2 Isotta Franchini CRM petrol engines rated at 1160 hp per unit, the rest of the entries again relied on similar engines to the previous year with Perkins powering most of the entries in the diesel group and the Volvo inboard outboard was making its presence felt but again it was the American V8 that powered the fast boys, CRUSADER’S, CHRYSLERS and now FORD’s in Blue Moppie. Two new names appeared on the entry list a company called Mercruiser and Dearbourne with their Ford based Interceptor, the diesels had a new contender GM but there were also some exotic challengers to the American powerhouses, Italian entry ULTIMA DEA had three marinesed Maserati’s and John Coombes Cheetah had 2 E type Jaguar engines. The outboard brigade again used Johnson’s or Evinrudes.

With the CRM’s outlawed and the rules tightened for 63 Dick Wilkins returned with Tramontana 2 powered by 4 E type Jaguar engines producing 1000hp, Jacky S dumped her 3 Chryslers and also went down this path. John Coombes returned with Cheetah and her Jags. The Volvo I/O was taking the marine world by storm with a total of 11 entries using either the 80/100 or 110 hp unit’s, this included the famous Jim Wynn inventor of the unit.

British engine builders were now responding to the need for power in this new sport, Lorry and engine manufacturer FODEN entered the fray with 400hp diesels powering ANGLESEY, Rolls uped the output of their engine to 280hp and the Perkins now had 140HP. The Parsons Ford and Caterpillar also were now finding favour but again it was the Yankee V8’s that dominated and what a choice… “CRUSADERS”.

At 325hp INTERCEPTORS at 400hp,Ford GALAXY’S at 400HP , CHRYSLERS at 280 and that name again MERCRUISER at 320HP. 

Oddities included Rootes, Super Snipes? , Chris Craft (Chrysler based) and a Brooklands Aviation Dolphin 21 with a HEALEY! 

The Outboard brigade also had a new competitor …the MERCURY 100HP….In the end it was Ford Dearborne’s that powered A’Speranziella to the win.

The 1964 seasons was again to be dominated by American engines but a new name DAYTONA…built in Florida by engine wiz Sam Sara the GM V8 block produced 400hp same as the Interceptors and Galaxies.

They were used by Dick Bertram in the not so LUCKY MOPPIE and by the Gardener Bros in SURFRIDER, who won the race.

Volvo Penta again powered 11 of the entries, some using the new 125 hp unit and the diesels were again GM, CUMMINS, PERKINS and ROLLS, The oddball this year were Rootes ! The big American V8’s again included the DEARBORNE INTERCEPTOR with the older CRUSADER slipping out of favour and Mercruiser on the up, the biggest unit producing 310 hp.

Exotica still flourished with Agnelli’s Maserati’s and Jags powering Cheetah, Tramontana 2 and Heatwave.

Five years into what was becoming the most famous powerboat race in the world and what a year it was with Diesels setting the pace instead of Petrol, Dick Bertrams BRAVE MOPPIE won with her twin Detroit Turbo Diesels rated at 550hp each( it was the weight of these units which was to sink the 38ft Bertram Special the following year), whilst it was the Daytona that dominated elsewhere but at a price, reliability was not yet its strongpoint yet, they powered 7 of the fastest craft including the soon to be iconic SURFURY, her twin Daytona Turbo Charged engines pumping out 850hp through her single shaft.

Fodens and Rolls were the challengers to the Cummins and Detroits pushing out 410 and 310 hp respectively and Perkins powered 12 of the 56 starters. The exotic engines still tried to battle the simple V8, along side the JAGS was John Robertson’s BOTVED powered by an ASTON MARTIN !. Yet to make an impression were the Mercruisers and Volvo’s were still the choice for reliability in C2.

The V8 boys included Holman Moody Fords (read GT40) along with the usual Dearborne’s and the odd Crusader hanging in there.

Oddball of the year was Dr Emile Savundra’s “SEA UNICORNS” rated at 600hp built by WESTLAKES it was a diesel converted to petrol but it needed more development time as it ate spark plugs at an alarming rate and the slowest the boat could travel was 15 knots!

The Daytona made its mark in 1966 powering GHOST RIDER, The power was up to 500hp, though when DELTA 28’s engines were installed they found they were touching 600 hp way over Delta’s design limit! Flying Fish had 2 new engines for the race and these produced 625hp each. The Daytona was the death knell for other V8’s, the Interceptor survived but was still only rated at 400hp and Holman Moody units powered John Willment’s Big Moose and Thunderbird. As for the Diesels they did not come any bigger than Agnelli’s single Fiat diesel in ULTIMA VOLTA, it produced 850hp. 450HP FODENS powered News of the World and Anglesea. Cummins were converting the Perkins owner and Rolls Royce powered Steve Macey’s SPIRIT of ECSTACY with 460 HP on tap from each unit.

For some reason no entry had a Mercruiser installation, maybe Daytona’s success had sent them back to the drawing board and the exotic engines still could not prove their worth even though Tramontana’s 4 Jags now pumped out 1100hp, John Robertson obviously persevered with the ASTONS as his new Tremlett, VENUS appeared with two 350hp examples. No oddballs this year and only 2 entries used outboards.

If 66 marked the entry of Daytona to the higher echelons then 67 was the icing on the cake, Surfury’s twin turbo charged installation now produced 1100hp and winning the race put her designer Sonny Levi on the road to stardom and the engines into all the best craft. The Levi designed THUNDERFISH (ex Merry Go Round) had units producing 1200hp, DELTA’S were detuned to 1000hp, US entry MOMMA MARITIME had 1200hp and Italian DELTA BLU 1100HP. Class 2 used single installations of 500 and 520 hp in all 9 craft used the engine and all were capable of winning. 67 saw the reappearance of Mercury with the 100hp outboard unit powering 7 entries. The poor old diesel was now in the minority but the engines were now powerful Cummins units pumping out up to 500hp and were used in VIVACITY, GEE and the new GYPSY GIRL. Cmdr Thorneycroft’s GRAND ESPOIR used 2 400hp Caterpillar units and it was Perkins that powered the smaller cruiser class.

Of the old V8 manufacturers the odd Interceptor and Holman’s were still used but by far the most utilised engine combo was the VOLVO. The oddballs were now Bedford units in DUM DUM, Jags still powered Tramontana, Astons in Venus and Chrysler reappeared in John Iddons SEAHUNTER and there was a new kid on the block called AEROMARINE destined to follow the Daytona’s in to the history books but that was sometime off!

With the end of the decade drawing closer it was still the Daytona that was the leading manufacturer and they were to score a third successive victory in the Cowes Torquay, in the year it now returned to Cowes .The winner was a single engined boat that completely wiped out the favourites, it was of course the 25ft Telstar powered by a single Turbo charged unit of 650hp. Throughout testing the installation had caused minor problems and in one race prior to the August spectacular she stopped with a holed block! everything came good for the 68 race and she beat hot favourite Surfury.

The big Cummins diesels still held court but a new challenger entered the fray, SABRE made its entrance in to powerboat racing fitted into a Fairey Huntsman, its Ford based units were soon to become a big name in racing.

The largest representation of any manufacturer that year was the MERCURY CORPORATION with units ranging from their 125hp outboard to 400hp inboard /outboards, there were a few Holman and Moody installations and the odd Interceptor now producing 500hp.

That name AEROMARINE cropped up again with an installation in Robin Bateman’s Avenger “SCREWDRIVER” and rated at 325hp.

Perkins and Volvo were still ever present and their average hp was now 145 with the exotics represented by Aston Martin, Cadillac( not Crusader) but the Jaguars had long vanished although a certain Maurice Hardy was running a Daimler V8 in Wicked Lady.

The Oddballs did not come much odder than the Russian Hydrofoil Hydroski 1 powered by a SUDIPORT?

In many ways 1969 was to herald the biggest impact on the sport in its short history, it climaxed at the CTC when a certain Don Aronow in his Cary “THE CIGARETTE” finished in record time powered by 950 hp courtesy of the new power king MERCRUISER. Who incidentally had to settle with Volvo over the infringement of patents regarding the I/O DRIVE SYSTEM developed by Jim Wynn and Volvo Penta, maybe this was the reason they had not exploded onto the offshore scene earlier!

The Daytona was still the engine of choice with past winners Sopwith and the Gardner Bros, the Holman Moody still found favour now pumping out 450hp. The big shake up was not just felt in the petrol power department, the diesel brigade were now under attack from the new Sabre engines who were more than proving their mettle and taking some big prizes in the process and the Caterpillar was now pushing out 450hp.

The outboard racers were also on a comeback curve with all manufacturers represented and the trusty Volvo was still the tried and tested Cruiser choice.

The Jaguar made a comeback with the Tremlett “CRESCENDO” powered 4 ENGINES totalling 800HP and the oddballs in 69 were the single 480hp ROVER in SEABEAR and the LEYLANDS that powered HTS (soon to be replaced with SABRES).

For the first 10 years of the now legendary Cowes Torquay the petrol engine ruled the roost except for Mr Bertram’s interloping diesel in 65, and all the winners were American, based on the GM V8 block.

The new king Mercruiser struck again in 70, this time it was twice winner Tommy Sopwith with Miss Enfield 2 powered by Mercruisers totalling 950hp. The manufacturers engines powered 20 of the entrants in both inboard and outboard categories including Black Tornado 1000hp and the turbo units of AVENGER 007.

The diesel war was going the way of the SABRE with ROLLS, CUMMINS and CATERPILLER in decline at least in racing mode.

The once great DAYTONA had peaked at 550hp, HOLMANS were out of it and the exotics had all but disappeared but one name cropped up again AEROMARINE, the oddball in 1970 was BMW.

The next decade would bring in many new names and a surge in the horsepower ratings and a comeback by the powerful diesels but in a new form including a name from the early 60’s who’s petrol units were banned! I wonder who they might be?