OPC Racing and the Aristocraft

by Chuck Petersen

The 1950’s saw the rapid growth of stock outboard racing captivate the U.S. boating audience, driven largely by the development of lightweight, affordable and reliable power plants by Carl Kiekhaffer at Mercury Marine. The premiere races of the day included short track or circle courses of one mile or less, usually three lap sprint events. Marathon racers like the Wisconsin-based Winnebagoland and Albany, New York races drew world-wide attention.
The 1960’s saw a new version of stock outboard racing emerge. When most folks hear the term OPC they think of Bill Seebold and the Budlight sponsored tunnel boats powered by 300hp V-6 outboards. In its formative years OPC stood for “Outboard Pleasure Craft”. Owners of wood and fiberglass monohull craft built by names like Crosby, Glastron, Yellowjacket and Whirlwind raced boats that could pull water skiers on the weekend! These were true family pleasure boats, powered by standard full gearshift type lower units, as they were sold by marine dealerships. Roy Rogers, the “King of Cowboys” added a publicity boost when he entered the sport.
Tunnel hull designs, tracing their roots to the Hickman Sea-sled, were refined by Bob Switzer, Ted Jones, and the famed Molinari family of Italy. This design eventually was out as the APBA standard.
My 1954 Aristocraft 14’ Torpedo was raced in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. The firm was based in Georgia and produced a wide range of craft including cabin hulls. The most popular models were the 12’ Typhoon, the 14’ Torpedo, and the 16’ Matador performance runabouts. The Bob Speltz, Volume IV Outboard Edition features excellent photos of all versions. The semi U-bottom design is not as fast a true flat-bottom racing runabout, but the ride is better in rough water. My 43-year old back and knees really like the upholstered seats however! The Torpedo, like it’s contemporary Switzer Shooting Star, could be fitted with front or rear cockpit steering. True performance enthusiasts always opted for the rear cockpit model. I was interested to find my boat was converted from front to rear seating by the original owner. I have experimented with various power plant configurations over the years and will elaborate in a future article. Happy Spring and a safe ice-out to all at BSLOL.