Gar Wood Page 2
Part 2: Wood was an engine freak.
By Tim Clark — June 2002
But two years would pass before Wood's display of humor regarding the new limits. Given his ferocious approach to boat racing, it's a wonder he ever came to view them with any sentiment other than rage. To appreciate the extent to which his wings were clipped, just take a look at his winner of the 1920 and 1921 Gold Cups, the 28-foot Miss America. One of the first twin-screw hydroplanes built in America, she was powered with two 500-hp modified Packard Liberty V-12 aircraft engines and in the 1920 Cup set an average-speed record of 70.41 mph that stood for 16 years. With a Philippine mahogany stepped hull, so much for displacement. With iron at 1,237 cubic inches apiece, so much for a measly 625. With dry exhaust that made her look like a pipe organ hurtling at blistering speed, so much for engine covers. And with three maniacs crammed between the engines and the transom, so much for seating four.
An engineer by training who made his fortune by inventing and manufacturing the first hydraulic hoist for dump trucks, Wood was an engine freak. According to Mollica, when he bought the Gold Cup champion Miss Detroit from a strapped racing syndicate in 1916, he was after her 250-hp Sterling engine, not her worn-out hull. Soon after this purchase, he traveled from Detroit to nearby Algonac, Michigan, on Lake St. Clair, to look up Miss Detroit's builder, the C.C. Smith Boat and Engine Company. By the end of his visit, he owned a controlling interest in Chris Smith's yard and had commissioned a new vessel for the Sterling engine, the 1917 Gold Cup winner Miss Detroit II.
For years to come Smith and his principle designer, Napoleon Lisee, would build hull after hull to cope with Wood's mania for more muscle. According to Jeffery Rodengen, author of The Legend of Chris-Craft, Wood was the first in the United States to power a raceboat with an aircraft engine when in 1917 he managed to buy a prototype Curtiss V-12 for Miss Detroit III. Smith and Wood were able to boost the engine's full-throttle rpm by 350--to 2,000--and stripped it of more than 70 pounds. "It now weighed in at a slender 1,250 pounds and 400 horsepower," writes Rodengen, "compared with 1,650 pounds and 250 horsepower for the Sterling aboard Miss Detroit II." The new boat took that year's Cup, and Wood was committed to modified aircraft engines forever after.
This article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.