This year it's come: the age of the jet racing boat. The first magnificent, sleek monsters of the new age now make their public debut on this page. At the upper right, poised like a praying mantis, is the pontooned hull planned by Seattle's whiz hydroplane designer, Ted Jones. The wide, powerful hull below it is being built in Detroit, proving that the hydro men of the Auto City are still seized with a fervent ambition for a boat faster than any Seattle has, come jets or whatever.
The huge boats represent fairly different approaches to the problem of high speed on water. The Seattle boat has made use of the pontoon design of the world's first jet, Englishman Don Campbell's Bluebird. The Detroiters have taken the possibly trickier course of keeping their hull in one piece. First of all, both boats are aiming for the world straightaway record of 239.07 mph, now held by Bluebird. Secondly, since they are also engineered to take the corners of a race course (Bluebird is not), they are aimed at each other. They may even get together for an experimental duel during one of the regular unlimited hydroplane meets this year.
Detroiters started thinking jets less than a minute after they heard that Ted Jones (whose boats have been the major source of pain to the Detroit unlimited class hydro fleet) was monkeying around with a jet engine. Lee Shoenith; Detroit's leading owner, got together with Les Staudacher, the leading resident designer, and plans for a Detroit jet began to cook.
"I've been in orbit since I got into the jet project," said Staudacher recently. "This is a great dream, and it says in the fine print that I get the privilege of giving it the first ride."
Staudacher has unbounded enthusiasm for the jet, because he sees a fine time coming when there will be a regular swarm of jets in the land. They will have to race in a separate class from the unlimited propeller hydros, but jets will easily race faster (180 miles an hour plus) for half the cost. Currently the minimum bill for an unlimited is about $30,000. Jets do not have the expensive propellers, gearboxes, struts, shafts, and oil coolers that are continually busting up on propellered craft. Best of all, the jet Staudacher uses can be picked up for junk prices (around $350).
"It won't be long," says Staudacher, happy at the thought of all the new hulls to be built, "before all the hydroplanes go to jet power."
Staudacher ought to know what he is talking about. The Staudacher woodworking factory (main business: church pews) of Kawkawlin, Mich. has turned out 32 propeller hydros since Staudacher built My Sweetie in 1949. (My Sweetie was given by indulgent Auto Heiress Anna Dodge to her son Horace for a birthday present.) Staudacher has built to everyone's plans, including last year's best unlimited, Hawaii Kai, a most successful Jones design.
Staudacher's main problems with the jet are, first, to take care that the hurricane air stream charging at a boat going 200 to 300 miles an hour doesn't get under the hull and flip the whole works and, secondly, to make the jet maneuverable enough to race. He will keep the air out from under the hull by making her shape extremely fine forward. The steering system is still a question. Staudacher says he hopes to go to airplanelike tail fins.
The jet engine itself presents no problem, although it screams like a lost banshee and throws a considerable tail flame while warming up, according to Staudacher. As the motor settles down to a bass roar, the flame retreats inside the engine housing, so there is no chance the No. 2 man in a tight race will end up well-done.
Staudacher works out his engine—4,000 whistling, growling horsepower—just a hundred yards from the kitchen where his wife Lois prepares the family meals.