In 1928 the stock market hit its dizziest upward spiral, Al Smith was defeated for the presidency, the first all-talking motion picture was shown at the Strand Theatre in New York, the Graf Zeppelin flew around the world, Henry J. Gielow designed “the largest diesel yacht in the world,” the 294 foot Savarona, and a youngster named Nina swept her class in the ocean race to Spain.
Inspired by the excitement and affluence of this last year of the Jazz Age, and no less by Gar Wood’s incredible feat of both setting a world’s speed record of 92.838 mph and keeping the British International Trophy in America, all while racing a boat he took but three weeks to build, the desire for elegance and power reached its peak among boatmen.
Thus was born Typhoon, with lines running back to the great power racing days of the early part of the century, yet reaching ahead to the stark and demanding days of the as-yet only horizonal WW II.
An instrument panel reminiscent of an aircraft is a telltale indication of Typhoon’s impressive and complex power plant and electrical system, worthy of an ocean going yacht. A sometimes troubled lady from an era when boating was still a wealthy man’s sport, Typhoon returns to a former glory under work by a doting restoration crew.
Designed by George W. Crouch, whose three-point suspension hydroplane, Cinderella revolutionized early speedboat racing, and whose ideas for a motor torpedo boat were later incorporated into H. Scott-Paine’s PT boat designs, Typhoon was built for Edsel Ford to be used for commuting between his home and the Ford plant on the Detroit River. The 40 foot runabout was constructed at the Henry B. Nevins Shipyard, City Island, New York, where Crouch, who died in 1959 was design consultant, reportedly for over $70,000. Estimates of her replacement cost today run upward of $100,000.
Typhoon took her name from the original engine, a 600 hp, 12 cylinder Wright Typhoon aircraft engine, designed initially for a dirigible. This power plant was carried in a lacquered African mahogany hull which was double planked forward, single planked aft, had seven feet, eight inches of beam and was pointed at both stern and bow. She had three broad seats, two forward and one aft of the amidship engine well.
Typhoon’s experience was no less troubled than the times which gave her birth. Ford, reportedly told by his doctors that the powerful boat was a threat to his health, announced the craft for sale in the September, 1934 Motor Boating. The half page ad gave the barest of specifications and the accompanying photograph showed her dead in the water, looking deceptively meek.
The boat had several subsequent owners in and around Chicago, among them the racer, Joseph Van Blerck Jr., but generally spent more time out of the water than in. From time to time her power plant was changed. At one point an Allison aircraft engine with marine conversion was put in, another owner installed a V12 Hall Scott Defender which developed 650 hp at 2200 rpm and weighed an incredible 4300 pounds.
Late in 1961, motor boating enthusiast George Babcock of Puritan Cordage Mills, Louisville, Kentucky., found the boat in the Henry G. Grebe storage yard in Chicago, where it had lain for five years. Deciding to bring Typhoon back to life, Babcock shipped her home, where restoration was begun in May 1962. The Hall Scott “collapsed” after fifteen minutes of operation, so Babcock and his seven-man crew replaced it with an aluminum, 3000 pound V-12 Packard W-14, a 2500 cubic inch marine engine developing 1500 hp at 2500 rpm. Ironically, this engine was built for the same PT boats which were inspired in part by Typhoon’s designer.
The Packard came complete with a 604 page manual, restricted information in 1944 when the government paid $19,000 each for the engines, three of which were used on each PT boat. Finding no hydraulic system with enough “travel,” Babcock paid $50 for an original government cost $1400 surplus eight ton GM actuator, built to raise and lower the nose carriage of cargo planes, and uses it to operate the reverse gear actuating arm on his Packard.
Finding the hull sound but in need of refinishing, and the electrical system and accessories deteriorated, Babcock had the entire boat revarnished inside and out, replacing the windshields, seats and cushioning, and installing a rather impressive new instrument panel and a complete complement of electronic equipment. All in all Babcock estimates that more than 5000 working hours have gone into Typhoon, with more engine adjustment yet to come before the Packard can be opened to full throttle. Top speed, he says, should be about 70 mph, consuming nearly 125 gallons of 100 octane gasoline per hour, drawn from two 120 gallon tanks. So far, Typhoon has reportedly cost nearly $20,000 to restore or about one fifth of her replacement cost.
Launched in October last year near Louisville, the graceful powerhouse had to be towed one mile away from the launch site before being started in order to get away from the hundreds of small boats whose awed skippers maneuvered for a closer look.
Present plans for this survivor from an era when a runabout could, and in this case did, mean something far different than it does today, call for the kind of attention Typhoon has long merited but infrequently received — a series of special appearances at boat shows and regattas where there will be nothing, absolutely nothing, quite like her.
-ROBERT L. MAYALL