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2020 Donzi 38 ZRC

The 38 ZRC mixes power and styling with responsive handling.

March 6, 2020
Donzi 38 ZRC running shot
The 38 ZRC proved fast, fun and attractive. Courtesy Donzi Marine

Overview

The passion of a lifetime is what might explain our attraction to the Donzi 38 ZRC. Beautiful and powerful, but easy to handle, this fabulous 38-foot speedboat vanished from our lives more than a decade ago. So, finding one bobbing at a boat show this spring is like spying that old flame at the end of the bar. The desire is undeniable.

And for good reason. The 38 ZRC proved fast, fun and attractive, a combination that made it a big hit—and a champion stock-class race boat—during its initial production run, from 2002 until the turmoil of the Great Recession. Yet a great hull remains a great hull, and its performance is even more potent thanks to new powertrain options and technology. So, the return of the Donzi 38 ZRC to production under the Iconic Marine Group banner put a wry smile on this boat tester’s face.

Donzi 38 ZRC helm
A set of digital/analog Livorsi gauges are mirrored port and starboard on the dash, with a Garmin 8610 screen atop the center stack over rows of trim switches. Courtesy Donzi Marine

Iconic chose to splash an example of the original two-step 38 ZRC hull to make the new mold, a better option for recreational use than the four-step race version that Donzi also built back in the day. The hull has a 15.5-degree pad at the keel aft that carries the boat at speed (overall deadrise is 23 degrees) and an 8-inch transom notch. Iconic says the hull form has been “blueprinted,” or optimized for its anticipated weight, power, drive and prop application, all of which are new. Adjustments to the shape and location of a strake, for example, can be measured in fractions of an inch and are guided by experience and intuition. “There’s no software program that can re-create the properties of strakes, a pad and steps, and factor in power and aero- and hydrodynamics,” says Jeff Harris, Iconic Marine Group’s chief operating officer.

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The 38 ZRC hull and deck are hand-laid using vinylester resin with high-density foam coring. The transom is cored with high-density Coosa composite, and composite sandwich material is used for stringers and bulkheads. We got a good look at the stringers when we opened the foredeck hatches, since there’s no cabin or liner in this boat.

Donzi 38 ZRC cockpit
Canopy windscreens are distortion-free. Courtesy Donzi Marine

Interior and Accessories

The Donzi 38 ZRC helped popularize the sit-down cockpit for performance boats, which permits a lower-profile top deck and cowl than are required for a boat with stand-up bolsters, lowering the center of gravity a bit. The skipper and helm mate must slither into floor-mounted seats with bolsters that wrap around the thighs to lock each securely in place. The seats, the rather narrow cockpit, and the curved dual canopy-style windscreens combine to create a sensation akin to being tucked into a high-performance sports car. The wheel on our boat was to port with Mercury Racing Digital Zero Effort controls on a center console. A set of digital/analog Livorsi gauges are mirrored port and starboard on the dash, with a Garmin 8610 screen atop the center stack over rows of trim switches. A Mercury VesselView 502 display is mounted on the steering wheel located to starboard. Footrests are adjustable; the seats are not. The cockpit is finished with three bucket seats aft and tall padded inwales. Small stowage compartments are located below each seat, and a pair of insulated and drained compartments are directly abaft the rear seats.

Donzi 38 ZRC engine
Our test boat was equipped with a pair of normally aspirated 860 hp ­Mercury Racing 860 9-liter (552 cid) V-8 engines. Courtesy Donzi Marine

Engine

Our test boat boasted maximum power—a pair of normally aspirated 860 hp Mercury Racing 860 9-liter (552 cid) V-8 engines with the quad-cam four-valve cylinder heads—in a staggered installation, mated to Mercury Racing M6 sterndrives. As high-performance engines go, these 860s are pretty easy to live with. They are covered by a two-year warranty, require 89-octane fuel, and won’t need a factory refresh for 300 hours, according to Mercury Racing.

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Donzi 38 ZRC audio system
The Donzi 38 ZRC pumps out great sound whether running wide open or anchored up. Courtesy Donzi Marine

With champion racer Billy Moore at the throttles, we ran the Donzi on a cool day with flat water on the Pamlico River in North Carolina. The boat hopped on plane with minimal prop slip, and from a cruising speed of 50 to 70 mph, leaped ahead when fed more throttle. The boat felt rock-solid as we clocked a top speed of 116 mph. Moore was still fine-tuning the props and setup, and has since reported a routine 120 mph top speed with the same boat. Our previous reviews of this boat praised its confident and controlled handling in confused chop (think Lake of the Ozarks), conditions we did not experience on this test. We can say that the sit-down cockpit and canopies combine to enhance the sensation of speed; the wind blast roars overhead while the helm area remains calm.

Donzi 38 ZRC running fast offshore
The boat felt rock-solid as we clocked a top speed of 116 mph. Courtesy Donzi Marine

Alternatives in this sit-down performance segment are limited (unless you shop pre-owned), but you might consider the open-cockpit 43-foot-5-inch Outerlimits SV-43 ($799,000 base price with twin Mercury Racing 860 engines), a semi-custom speedster that is longer, wider and lighter than the Donzi, and has a cabin. It’s also much more expensive.

While the 38 ZRC was on hiatus, some performance boaters migrated to sport cats and luxury center-consoles. Maybe the 38 ZRC will spur a revival of classic V-bottom speedboats—rigs that go fast, ride and handle well, and look flat-out sexy doing it.

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How We Tested

  • Engines: Twin staggered Mercury Racing 860s/Mercury Racing M6 outdrives
  • Prop: Mercury Racing CNC Cleaver 17″ x 31″ 5- blade stainless steel
  • Gear Ratio: 1.496:1 Fuel Load: 140 gal. Crew Weight: 430 lb.

High Points

  • Pop-off steering wheel eases access to the helm seat.
  • Canopy windscreens are distortion-free.
  • This fast poker-run machine handles better than a cat and looks sexier than a center-console.

Low Points

  • Loud exhaust will earn dirty looks in the marina.
  • Canopies funnel a wind blast right onto the rear-seat passengers.
  • No cabin and minimal storage.

Pricing and Specs

Price: $563,500 (base with test power)
LOA: 38’1″
Beam: 8’0″
Draft (max): 2’4″
Displacement (approx.): 11,500 lb.
Transom Deadrise: 23 degrees
Bridge Clearance: 4’6″
Fuel Capacity: 250 gal.
Max Horsepower: 1,720
Available Power: Mercury Racing sterndrive up to 1,720 hp

Speed, Efficiency, Operation

Donzi 38 ZRC performance data
Donzi 38 ZRC Certified Test Results Boating Magazine

Donzi Marine/Iconic Marine Group – Washington, North Carolina; 252-975-2000; donzimarine.com

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