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Thunderboat Row

The Tale of Two Cities

Whatever happened to the street once known for fast boats, shady characters, and a murder in broad daylight?

By Elizabeth A. Ginns — June 2003

   

Photo: Courtesy of
Michael Aronow
 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Thunderboat Row
• Part 2: Thunderboat Row
• Part 3: Thunderboat Row


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Offshore powerboat racing in the United States was born in and has been based almost exclusively out of South Florida, specifically, North Miami Beach's 188th Street (a.k.a. Thunderboat Row). This is where it all began and where, amongst the construction and racing of some of the most famous boats ever, there also occurred drug trafficking, money laundering, and one highly publicized murder. A quarter-mile-long street once redolent with the smell of curing fiberglass and the sound of big engines, 188th Street, now part of the city of Aventura, is today a quiet, tree-lined boulevard with condos, parks, a school, and a recreation center. There's no sign of the shady characters and millionaire playboys who used this street as a personal playgound. So whatever happened to Thunderboat Row?

The street was developed mainly by the famed powerboat racer Don Aronow, who was the victim of that much-publicized murder. In fact, his son Michael, author of Don Aronow: The King of Thunderboat Row, claims his father created the offshore powerboat industry and that "the world of powerboat racing belonged to him." Indeed, Aronow was arguably the most popular, admired, hated, controversial, and successful personality in offshore powerboat racing and boatbuilding between 1962 and his mob-style slaying in 1987. He created six of the best-known powerboat companies in the world, some of whose boats were highly prized by smugglers for their superb offshore performance. It was also here that he built a boat for George H. W. Bush, which the ex-President still owns, and a series of controversial catamarans for U.S. Customs to combat those very smugglers.

It all began in 1961. Aronow, then a wealthy 34-year-old retired New Jersey construction contractor, moved to South Florida with his family in search of a new challenge, which he found in the emerging sport of powerboat construction and racing. An astute businessman, he decided to start his own boat company and so created Formula Marine in 1963 on 188th Street, then a vacant piece of land along a canal. Formula was but the first in a series of companies Aronow would create and sell shortly after making it successful (and often buy back at a profit) over the following 25 years, turning the street into a thriving industry.

While he was building boats, he was also racing them, and between 1963 and 1975, Aronow won two world powerboat racing championships, three U.S. titles, set numerous speed records, and became known as "the godfather of the powerboat industry." His deep-V Cigarettes "became an industry standard that all boats following were modeled after, even today," says Phil Lipschutz, owner of North Miami's Lip Ship Performance, the longest continuous exclusive Cigarette dealer. In Michael Aronow's book, Gunnar Hansen, former editor of The Yacht, is quoted as saying, "In one short decade in the early 1960s, Aronow moved from being a spectator to absolutely dominating powerboat racing. His deep-V designs transformed the sport and became the prototypes for an entire generation of hulls. In the process, he made Cigarette, originally the name of one of his racers, a generic term for all drop-nosed, go-fast muscle boats."

Next page > Part 2: “Kramer wanted to be the king of Thunderboat Row...” > Page 1, 2, 3

This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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