Rothmans 558

Rothmans 558

It is late summer 1981 and the Cowes Classic is experiencing one of the lowest entries on record, the race that August Bank Holiday had attracted an entry of just 12 craft comprising 6 OP1 and 6 OP2, although there was no denying the entries were top quality. Entrants were from Italy, the USA and Germany plus the Brits led by Ted Tolman and Mike Doxford, the promised good weather turned sour and within the first ten minutes half the fleet had been knocked out including Ego the entry of Italian Renato della Valle a 38ft Don Shead designed CUV powered by 2, 650hp Mercruiser’s, with a damaged drive shaft.

Rothmans Ego 1982

Rothmans Ego 1982 Photo courtesy Graham Stevens

Not to be discouraged della Valle returned in 1982 to compete in the Peter Styvesant Classic which was based on Solent courses and totally cut out Torquay, even so another poor OP1 fleet was again decimated by sea conditions which included 6 foot waves at Christchurch ledge. His craft, again EGO but renamed ROTHMANS EGO after its sponsor the tobacco company is still powered by Mercruiser’s, of the 14 starters in the 179 mile race only 3 finished led by Rothmans Ego at a speed of 65.7 mph.

Not to be discouraged della Valle returned in 1982 to compete in the Peter Styvesant Classic which was based on Solent courses and totally cut out Torquay, even so another poor OP1 fleet was again decimated by sea conditions which included 6 foot waves at Christchurch ledge. His craft, again EGO but renamed ROTHMANS EGO after its sponsor the tobacco company is still powered by Mercruiser’s, of the 14 starters in the 179 mile race only 3 finished led by Rothmans Ego at a speed of 65.7 mph.

No longer resplendent in her Rothmans colours EGO returned to Cowes in 1983 to defend her title and although listed as Rothmans EGO was also known as EGO NOOXY her hull painted white, again still powered by Mercruiser’s, this time with an output of 1400 hp. The race once again returned to the old format down to Torquay and back, a total of 192 miles and of the 12 starters only 2 OP1 entrants and 2 OP2’s finished, led again by della Valle this time proving his worth over the full original course, he was closely followed by previous winner Alberto Smania in the similar boat Marlboro.

The weather for the CTC in 1984 was superb and the conditions on the course the smoothest ever and EGO is back for more, not only more but sporting a new sponsor, CINZANO and is again resplendant in a similar red white and blue livery to the Rothmans years. Another bonus for the Bank Holiday crowds is an upturn in both the number and quality of the entrants, although there were only 3 from outside Britain but the slightly shorter course of 165 miles still takes in the Torquay turn. It was a day waiting for records to be broken and as Cinzano swept back into Cowes they were, first the speed 76 mph then the equalling by della Valle of Tommy Sopwith’s record 3 wins, it seemed the Cowes Torquay was back on its pinnacle again and that was good news.

Race boats as you know change hands frequently and are often renamed this may be the case with EGO/CINZANO as her return to Cowes that year may have been as a new craft, she certainly had new engines, a pair of 800 hp Lamborghini’s.

Cinzano 1985

Cinzano 1985 Photo courtesy Graham Stevens

The reason that this may be a new craft for della Valle was firstly the new power house and secondly the appearance on the race scene of the Spelta family with an identical CUV called NOOXY which was Ego’s name in ’83, although the Spelta’s boat is powered by the soon to be dominant Isotta Fraschini diesels. As for the race there was a new format, it would be run in 2 stages the first down to Torquay where entrants would be refuelled then were flagged off for the race back to Cowes after a compulsory 1hr stop. The new format helped the race regain its prestige and a fine entry of 26 starters we flagged off on the combined 203 mile trip. For della Valle the competition was stiff, comprising the massive Stain mono Outsider with 3 IF diesels totalling 2250hp,the Spelta’s, Len Bylocks giant Buzzi NITRO and Ken Cassir driving the leased CUV Ideal Standard.

It was NITRO that sped into Torquay first, hotly pursued by NOOXY and CINZANO, the return trip left behind NITRO sinking at the dockside and NOOXY with flat batteries and although conditions were not perfect CINZANO stamped her authority on the return to Cowes leaving Outsider trailing in her wake and slowly sinking, the Spelta’s after finding some new batteries were playing catch up. Although the winners speed was down on the previous years, the winner of the 25th anniversary of the race was once again Mr Renato della Valle completing the first ever back to back of 3 consecutive wins in the CT and 4 overall victories ‘82,’83,’84 and’85. Would it last?

The Cowes Classic had once again been firmly established as the race to win even though the new format with the 1 hr stopover treated it as 2 separate races, the 1986 entry list saw another leap in the quality and quantity of the field with entries from Monaco, Sweden, Italy and France plus genuine British contenders after years in the wilderness.

Oh yes, that man was back again this time EGO is called after her sponsors EBERHARD & CO, maybe you do change your luck when you change a boats name, the Spelta’s NOOXY /FRESH & CLEAN took the big prize and Eberhard retired.

Renato returned in 87 with a new 42 CUV, PINOT de PINOT and EGO was traded between various owners all hoping for the magic of the 80’s to rub off on them, but it was not to be.

It was arrivederci no 558, so long Ego, we’ll meet again one day…

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Renato (Sonny) Levi.

Renato Levi, known to all as Sonny, was born in Karachi, India in 1926.
His father ran a shipyard in Bombay(now Mumbai), so Sonny naturally took an
early interest in boats & ships.

Sonny became an apprentice in his fathers shipyard in Bombay, but with the coming of World War 2, he joined the RAF, becoming a Pilot Officer. No doubt his interest not only in boats but also aircraft was heightened by this part of his life.

Sonny became primarily interested in marine design, especially in relation to smaller, fast craft, and the ability of such craft to withstand the varieties of sea conditions often encountered. He designed craft for his fathers yard during the 1950’s, but moved to Italy in 1960. In Italy, Sonny managed Cantiere Navaltecnica (Canav), in Anzio.

No one of a certain age can forget “A’Speranziella”, built by Canav to Sonny’s design for the 1961 Cowes-Torquay Race. She finished sixth, after experiencing mechanical problems, but had led the race for a considerable distance, dueling with the eventual winner “Thunderbolt”.

After partially re-building the boat in light of the experiences of 1961, success dawned with a win in the 1962 Viareggio-Bastia Race. Further developments resulted in great success with “A’Speranziella” winning the 1963 Cowes-Torquay Race.

Sonny became a world renowned designer of fast craft largely as a result of these successes, and the many fast craft he designed culminated in the 1965 launch of
“Surfury”, often thought of as one of Sonny’s most memorable designs. This boat
made a name for herself, winning Cowes-Torquay in 1967. “Surfury” was the first of Sonny’s much lauded Delta designs.

This success brought more commissions, and Levi designs were sought world wide,
where fast sea-going boats were needed.

In the 1980’s, Richard Branson commissioned Sonny to design “Virgin Atlantic
Challenger II”, which was successful in recording the then fastest trans-Atlantic crossing, despite contaminated fuel issues en route. This famous boat was certainly a fabulous marker in Sonny’s career. “VAC II” not only had its design by Sonny, but also the Levi Drive system too.

Developments in high speed propeller and drive systems have been part of Sonny’s
great contribution to fast boat development over the last forty or more years.

Martin Napier

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