In the Seattle Gold Cup, fastest and most intensely contested speedboat race in the United States, anything can happen. A $25,000 hydroplane, the product of years of design and agonizing months of tune-ups, can suddenly sputter and stop dead in the middle of a heat; or her gearbox may come unstrung under the tremendous strain of acceleration in a trial run, preventing her from even making the starting line. Or, as happened in last year's race to Wild Bill Cantrell of Detroit, her rudder may jam, sending her careening into the middle of a sedate cocktail party (left), leaving her driver with nothing but to stalk off muttering angrily, "This is the first damn time I ever walked away from a boat race."
Gold Cup entrants know this. But no one knows it better than a Gold Cupper named Tudor Owen Jones, a handsome, husky man of 45 with flecks of gray in his dark hair, who has had more to do with this year's Gold Cup entries than any man alive. As a young mechanic in Seattle's Boeing aircraft plant, Ted Jones conceived the original design from which virtually every one of this year's boats was copied. As chief architect for Stanley Sayres (SI, Aug. 23, 1954), a wealthy Seattle automobile distributor, he designed the Slo-Mo-Shuns IV and V that have won the Cup for the past five years and set two world speed records to boot; and Jones himself drove Slo-Mo IV to her first Gold Cup victory in 1950.
Victories are fine, but Ted Jones wants credit—and headlines. In the world of the Gold Cup however, the headlines go not to the designer but to the owner. In 1951, for example, Jones says Slo-Mo IV was judged the greatest mechanical design of the year and that Owner Sayres took the award, forgetting to credit his designer. Jones was furious. That year and the next, while Slo-Mo V was taking shape from Jones's design in the boatyard of Builder Anchor Jensen in Seattle, a three-cornered feud developed involving credit, authority and, of course, money.
Jones has dedicated his life to speedboat design. He began when he was a boy of 17, building first an outboard racer, then a 14-horse-power water sled that he used to run at 33 miles per hour through the rolling wake of the passenger boats that plied between Seattle and Tacoma. He also puttered around on land with a motorcycle and a hopped-up Model T, both of which he raced.
August 7, 1955
"I was just like a lot of other kids in America," he said. "I didn't contribute anything, but I had fun."
In a very few years, however, he contributed plenty. Lacking an engineering education, he pored avidly over technical magazines and journals and tried to apply what he read to the hulls he hammered together in his father's cabinetmaking shop. In 1929, he built himself a conventional hydroplane with a single step on the bottom of the hull, but with bulges or bustles added on each side, angled at 45°, to get him through high-speed turns without flipping over as the old, flat-sided hydros were prone to do.
Then he thought, why not ride on the bustles? Get the hull up clear of the speed-resisting surface skin of the water, so that there would be only three points in contact with it: a tiny aftersection of each bustle and the propeller. It took him five more years before he finally completed his first three-point hydro; and when he finished, he had a real freak on his hands. The boat had two outriggers forward, much like the jet in which Don Campbell just broke the world water-speed record, and rode on these two projections and on its stern.
"It was a dilly," Jones recalled. "The boat couldn't be turned in a 40-acre field, and it slid sideways almost as fast as it would go forward."
Bad as it was, Jones's lobster-clawed horror was the beginning of something big. For the next eight years, he juggled his designs. He brought the protruding sponsons in and incorporated them as part of the hull; and he moved the engine up, balancing the boat so far forward that the propeller came halfway out of the water.
"The speed jumped 25 miles per hour right there," he said. Then he moved the sponsons back to keep the three-pointer from nose-diving after she came down from a bump.
All during this time, Jones had little money to match his enthusiasm, and he had to confine his experiments to the smaller classes. The boats he built, however, made him the speed king of the Pacific Northwest in the 135- and 225-cubic-inch classes. By 1942, now working at Boeing, he was ready for bigger game. He set down on paper the design for what was to become the Slo-Mo IV.
Now all he needed was a backer, and he got one in Stan Sayres, to whom he had introduced himself on Lake Washington one day in the early 40's. Together they brought forth Slo-Mo III, a shovel-nosed hotrod that Sayres says was wild as a March hare. But she managed an unofficial 96 mph. From there it was a natural step to the first of the great Jones-Sayres boats, the Slo-Mo-Shun IV. It was also, unfortunately, only another step into a quiet little cold war.
Anchor Jensen, in whose yard the boat was built, claimed that he spent years dreaming of building just such an unlimited three-point hydro, long before he ever met Jones, and therefore ought to help in the design. This point of view, clashing head-on with Jones's individualism, did not have a happy result.
In spite of the intra-mural squabbling, Slo-Mo IV was built. Of Jones's work, Sayres says, "He did a beautiful job."
The first day in the water, she did 120. Next day, she hit 135; and within months, Sayres had set a new world water speed record of 160.3 mph. Next stop was Detroit, where the Gold Cup had been held in both 1948 and 1949. Jones was in the driver's seat with Crewman Mike Welsch beside him. "After the first turn, I took a quick look around. Where was everybody? I whacked that old Irishman, Welsch, on the helmet. It was too big for him and it went down around his ears. Mike whacked me back. Then later, we unwittingly lapped Bill Cantrell, Detroit's star driver. I whacked Welsch again and he really let me have it back. All of Detroit saw it on television, how nuts happy we were."
At this point, Sayres himself was still happy, and lyric in his praise, not only of Designer Jones, but also of Race Driver Jones. "His technique," says Sayres, "is perfect. His is sound, fearless and careful, all at the same time. His reactions are instantaneous, his coordination perfect." Forthwith, he presented Jones with a brand new Chrysler from the well-stocked Sayres automobile agency. That was the end of the bouquets.
Just before the race Jones and Sayres had entered into a written contract, which granted Jones $500 for his work, and prevented him from designing boats for Gold Cup rivals. Jones says Sayres wanted it for tax reasons. Sayres says Jones wanted it to give himself final say in all matters of design. Neither one seems to have been very happy with it.
Again, lessening of love did not prevent the uneasy trio from planning bigger and better speedboats. No sooner was the Gold Cup brought safely to Seattle than Sayres and Jones started planning how to keep it there. Slo-Mo IV was the fastest boat in the world on a straightaway; and she turned fairly well. But if they could get a boat that would accelerate a little faster, turn a little tighter, and hold speed on a straight, Detroit would be a long time getting its cup back. Jones quit Boeing and applied himself full time to the project. The result: Slo-Mo V. There was one other result, a second contract, this one verbal but subsequently just as unsettling as the written document that went with Slo-Mo IV. By the terms of the agreement, Jones got a flat fee of $5,000 for his plans, plus $500 per month while working on the V at Jensen's. This arrangement seems to have made Jones feel too much like a hired hand, and not enough like the man behind the boat. Nonetheless, the trio managed to hold together long enough to see Slo-Mo V win the 1951 Gold Cup. But a few months later Jones left Sayres to take a $1,000-a-month traveling job with Carl Kiekhaefer, president of the company that makes Mercury outboard motors.
The city of Seattle, cherishing her Gold Cup, was horrified at his parting; and Jones got at least one screaming headline. "Departure of Jones Perils Cup Races Here," blared one Seattle paper. One of the Detroit entries, however, was a little calmer about it. "A guy like Jones doesn't drop out of race-boat work," he said. "That would be like having Edison dropped out of the history of electricity."
He was right. During these years, Jones improved the lines of Detroit contenders like Such Crust III and Such Crust V, and the Gales IV and V. He also designed from scratch a brand new Gold Cupper, Breathless, for J. Philip Murphy, a California contractor. A year ago Jones finally stopped kidding himself and came back into the Gold Cup field in earnest when Kirn Armistead of Mercury suggested that they pool their money and make their own boat.
This was Jones's dish of tea—a boat of his own that might beat the Slo-Mos. Besides, Armistead was persuasive. "I got tired of listening," said Jones. "And he said he had a rich aunt."
All during the fall Jones worked on the new boat, to be called Rebel Suh, in the boatyard of his old friend Les Staudacher of Kawkawlin, Mich. On a trip back to Seattle in December to pick up a special carburetor for Rebel Suh, Jones stumbled on a real gold mine in the person of Willard Rhodes. Mr. Rhodes owns 550 grocery stores in the Northwest and Alaska, and has a strong desire to own the Gold Cup too. Would Jones build him a boat? Jones would.
Back in the Staudacher shop that winter, two new boats took shape. Rebel Suh promised to be brilliant on the straightaways; perhaps capable, says Jones, of 190 mph. The Rhodes boat, called Miss Thriflway, was everything Jones feels a Gold Cupper should be. "She will get up to high speeds as quickly as Slo-Mo V," he says, "but she will retain the stability of the IV."
Last week in a doorless hangar on the shore of Lake Washington, where the race will be run off Aug. 7, Jones and a volunteer crew of old friends mostly from Boeing, worked up to 16 hours a day to get the Rebel and the Thriftway ready. Thriftway was performing handsomely. Churning over the lake with the roar of a low-flying airplane and with a tremendous rooster tail of spray whooshing out behind, she worked up to 170 mph in an early trial. Shortly thereafter she damaged her gearbox; but Jones stayed up that night making replacement parts until 3:00 a.m., and Thriftway was again ready to go.
Rebel Suh, with gearbox problems of her own, was slower rounding into shape. If she is ready in time, she will give the Jones camp a red-hot two-boat entry to throw against the deadly one-two punch of Joe Taggart and Lou Fageol, who will be driving the Mos and gunning for a sixth straight Gold Cup for Sayres.
Despite his repeated protest that Rebel and Thriftway are not spite boats, it is obvious that Jones has not come this far to make more headlines for Stan Sayres. To drive the Rebel Suh, if she is ready, he has picked Lt. Col. Russell Schleeh, a man with no experience in speedboat races but a background of speed that includes the first coast-to-coast speed record set by a B-47 jet bomber. For Miss Thriftway, he has chosen 28-year-old Bill Muncey, who has been driving Gold Cuppers since 1950. Jones was going to drive Thriftway himself, but changed his mind after tests: "The people I used to be able to see on shore when I was a young driver," he says, "now look like a blur. It's a job for kids—say 28 to 35. You have to be able to enter a turn at 130—and in a split second know whether to go inside or outside. And you have to know the length of a rooster tail. All you see in front of you is a ball of watery fuzz, with no idea whether it's inches or a city block away from the boat that's throwing it."
In or out of the race, however, Jones, the old driver, is a keen student of rival tactics. "Fageol turns wide, but Joe Taggart shaves that buoy and can slide out if necessary to protect Fageol. Usually Taggart is a couple of seconds faster than Fageol on the straights, but he comes out of the turns more slowly."
Clearly, Jones is aiming at Sayres. But intent as he may be on beating his old boss, Jones's voice always becomes more animated when he speaks of his two greatest creations, the Slo Mos IV and V. Here at Lake Washington, he is working far into the night to be sure that when this year's Gold Cup is over, people will be talking about Ted Jones. Through it all, however, there is a feeling that he really ought to be still connected with the Slo Mos. But he is not, and no one knows it better than Ted Jones. Even with his divided emotions, he still can take comfort from one thought: no matter who comes over the line first at Seattle this week, some part of Ted Jones is almost sure to win the Gold Cup.