We're racing through history!
By Fred Farley - Unlimited Hydroplane Historian
Fred, in a number of your articles, you've mentioned the 1937 Gold Cup in Detroit and what a significant event it was. Could you please elaborate? - Bill Drexel
IMPSHI's win in 1936 returned the Gold Cup to the trophy shelf of the Detroit Yacht Club for 1937. The race proved to be one of the more successful in the series.
The rules were amended to allow participation by boats of the International 12-Litre Class, which was popular over in Europe at the time. The 12-Litre hydroplanes were roughly comparable to the American Gold Cuppers. The 12-Litres could compete providing that they join an American yacht club that was a member of the APBA.
The 12-Litre delegation at the 1937 Gold Cup comprised ALAGI and ARADAM from Italy and RAFALE VI from France. The other international entry was MISS CANADA II from Ingersoll, Ontario.
Count Theo Rossi di Montelera, the head of the Italian vermouth industry, owned the Italian team. Rossi drove ALAGI, while Guido Cattaneo handled ARADAM. MISS CANADA II pilot Harold Wilson would become a Gold Cup and Unlimited Class mainstay over the next thirteen years. RAFALE VI pilot Maurice Vasseur would perish a few years later in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.
Only one boat had finished the 1936 Gold Gold Cup at Lake George, New York. Competitively, the race was a disaster. As an added insurance against another fiasco, such as occurred at Lake George, the Detroit Gold Cup Committee invited a delegation of 725 Cubic Inch Class boats to run at Detroit.
The 725s had headlined the Mississippi Valley Power Boat Association circuit for over a decade. There was a considerable fleet of them around the Cincinnati and Louisville area at the time. The majority were powered by 1914 vintage Hispano-Suiza ("Hisso") aircraft engines. They had names such as MERCURY, HERMES, WARNIE, PIN BRAIN, WHY WORRY, WHO CARES, MY BUDDY, BIG SHOT, and MISS FERN CREEK.
Often referred to as the "Haywire Class," the 725s were a fine example of low-cost grassroots level boat racing. They met the minimum requirements for the APBA Gold Cup Class, but were in no sense Gold Cuppers as boats of that class were generally thought of being. The "G" boats were more expensive and more exotic-looking than the homebuilt 725s…and usually faster.
Throughout its history, the MVPBA tended to attract the "blue collar" participants, while the APBA was more "yacht club" oriented. Socially, the APBA and the MVPBA were not a good mix. Upon arrival in Detroit, the 725 Class people were assigned their own pit area (actually, a parking lot) and were denied access to the Gold Cup Class pits.
A Detroit newspaper reporter, Harry LeDuc, had chanced to witness a 725 Class race on the Ohio River at Louisville. LeDuc had been impressed with the level of competition among the 725s and urged the Detroit Committee to include them on the program.
A number of prominent boat racers made their first impressions in the 725 Class. These included the likes of "Wild Bill" Cantrell, Marion Cooper, and George "It's A Wonder" Davis.
Ostensibly, the 725s were invited to Detroit in 1937, 1938, and 1939, to put on their own race, run the same weekend as the Gold Cup. But the obvious intention was to have these boats available on a stand-by basis to fill out the Gold Cup field, should that become necessary.
Fortunately, the Gold Cup Class had its house in order at Detroit. The Gold Cuppers, augmented by the 12-Litres, were able to pull their own weight without having to rely on the 725s for support.
The three 725 Class races run in conjunction with the Gold Cup were won by Cooper in HERMES III, Jim Anderson in WARNIE, and Cantrell in WHY WORRY respectively. All three races were well received and provided the 725s with their finest national showcase.
NOTRE DAME, owned by Detroit industrialist Herb Mendelson and driven by Clell Perry, held off the foreign challenge en route to winning the 1937 Gold Cup. ALAGI finished second overall with a victory in Heat Two. Then came HOTSY TOTSY III in third, followed by MISS CANADA II, RAFALE VI, DELPHINE IX, and MISS CINCINNATI, Jr. in that order, while IMPSHI and ARADAM failed to finish.
NOTRE DAME used a 24-cylinder Duesenberg power plant, one of the more expensive engines to be used in a Gold Cup Class boat.
This same NOTRE DAME hull, designed by Perry, also triumphed in the 1935 and 1937 President's Cup contests.