We're racing through history!
By Fred Farley - Unlimited Hydroplane Historian
Fred, in a recent column, you mentioned an early forward-cockpit hull named THUNDERBOLT. Do you have any details regarding this boat? Did it have the same owner as the later THUNDERBOLT? - Tim Matyn
The original THUNDERBOLT made its one and only race appearance at the 1952 Silver Cup in Detroit. It had the same name, number (U-18), and owner (George Zigas) as the second THUNDERBOLT (former SUCH CRUST IV), which raced in 1960-61-62.
The first THUNDERBOLT did indeed seat the driver ahead of the engine. But this was a step hull--not a three-pointer.
The boat resembled something from the Gar Wood era. Built by Zigas, it measured 28 feet by 9 feet 3 inches, used an Allison engine, sported a gray paint job, and represented the old Detroit River Racing Association (DRRA).
THUNDERBOLT had been in development for several years. It was entered in the 1950 Gold Cup at Detroit but never showed up.
THUNDERBOLT's performance in the 1952 Silver Cup was something less than an artistic success. Here's the story, as told to me by the late Walter Kade.
Walt was scheduled to drive THUNDERBOLT in the Silver Cup. He was on loan, at the time, from Jack Schafer's SUCH CRUST III, which was to be driven by Chuck Thompson.
Thompson had a fight with Schafer on race day morning and quit. Schafer had to recall Kade to drive the CRUST.
Walt tried to talk Zigas into driving THUNDERBOLT. George protested, "You aren't getting me in that thing!"
Kade reached into the glove compartment of the truck and pulled out a bottle of Bourbon. "Drink this. It'll give you courage."
Zigas got into the boat and drove like a man possessed...and scared the bejesus out of riding mechanic Leo Mucutza. In desperation, Leo kicked George's foot off of the gas pedal, causing THUNDERBOLT to go dead in the water with a "Did Not Finish". Zigas and Mucutza literally got into a fist fight right there in the cockpit!
To this day, Leo breaks into a cold sweat at the very mention of the 1952 Silver Cup.
Zigas vindicated himself a decade later with the second THUNDERBOLT, which performed a whole lot better with Kade and Bud Saile as drivers.