Trial and Error
“During the 1960s, people tried absolutely everything to see what would work,” says Charlie McCarthy, a racer and boatbuilder who helped found the Historic Offshore Race Boat Association (HORBA). He tells the story of one builder running tests in Government Cut and saying, “This is it,” then pulling the hull and realizing the strakes had fallen off!
It was also around this time that a young real estate magnate from Brooklyn, New York, named Don Aronow moved to Miami and fell in love with offshore racing. Through sheer personality and determination, he became one of the top racers and a boatbuilder whose legacy is still felt today.
Aronow hooked up with two designers who would shape his early signature boats, Jim Wynne and Walt Walters. Wynne is the man responsible for bringing to market the other great innovation of the late 1950s, the stern-drive. Wynne had worked for Carl Kiekhaefer developing outboards with Charlie Strang, who originally pitched the stern-drive to Kiekhaefer, who rejected it. Strang and Wynne further pursued the idea, and when Wynne left the outboard company, he developed the first stern-drive in his garage and sold it to Volvo Penta, which released it in 1959 as the Aquamatic Drive.
Wynne and Walters helped Aronow design boats for his first company, Formula. McCarthy remembers walking into Aronow’s shop in a desolate area, one of only two buildings standing on 188th Street. This stretch would become home to many go-fast builders and be nicknamed “Thunderboat Row.”
Aronow had a 23-foot Formula inside that he had named the Cigarette. McCarthy would learn the name stemmed from a reported rum-running boat that ran in New York during Prohibition. Aronow had Wynne design the boat to compete in the 1963 Miami-Key West Race, one of the many competitions that emerged. Aronow himself would go on to win many races.
Eventually, the standard racing boat became the 24-degree, deep-V hull around 30 feet long, powered by twin gasoline stern-drives and staggered for weight distribution and to place the props closer together. The boats had a three-man crew — the driver, the throttle man and the navigator.
Aronow sold Formula to Thunderbird during this era and started a new company called Donzi. Then he sold Donzi and started Magnum Marine, where he teamed with designer Harry Schoell. To insiders, Magnums were game-changers.
“The defining boat,” says Allan Brown, a veteran racer, “was the 28 Magnum designed by Harry Schoell.” Aronow cut it down and sold it as the 27 Magnum, but to “Brownie” and others, the hull lived on through hundreds of copies.
By 1969, Aronow had sold off Magnum Marine and started racing a 32-foot Cary he also named the Cigarette. Aronow raced that boat to the 1969 World Championship and promptly retired from racing to start what became the defining brand of the go-fast world. You can guess the name.