The year 2002 will mark the 100th Anniversary of Ventnor Boats. Adolph E. Apel first established  his company in Ventnor, New Jersey.

 His vision was to build boats that would successfully adapt the gasoline engine as  the predominant source of lightweight, efficient

 and fast power. As in early automobiles, gasoline engines had to be proven to the public to have virtues of  speed, endurance,

 and reliability. Adolph was an excellent mechanical engineer,  and chose his commercially built power well. 

His ability  adopt netow hull designs of lightweight yet durable construction was proven in his successful

 involvement with inboard  racing.  Ventnor boats continuously updated their designs, as lighter and greater horsepower engines

 became available. A 1913 example was “Tech Jr.,” built for  T. Coleman Dupont which was the world’s first recorded boat to exceed

 the “over a mile-a-minute” (60.3 MPH) mark.


 


The Ventnor Company built a wide variety of custom launches, tenders, utilities, runabouts, and

 commercial small craft into the 1930’s. Their racing involvement remained strong, and

 the 1931 American Power Boat Association’s (APBA) creation of a 135 cubic inch displacement

 racing class was immediately dominated by Ventnor. The “Flying Eagle” set the 1931 speed record of 35.7 MPH, and in the succeeding

 years of the 1930’s, the 135 class records were held by Ventnor at 54.08 MPH lap speed, and 67.5 MPH flying mile.

In 1934, the APBA introduced the 225 class, and Ventnor set a record of 44.14 MPH. Later in the 1930’s, Ventnor set the record at 66.4

 MPH lap speed, 87.5 MPH flying mile. Ventnor boats, privately owned and raced, held virtually all records in the 91, 135 and 225 cu.

 in. classes, as well as many divisional and national championships. 

 

Adolph Apel invented the five-point suspension hull in 1935, and refined it to the three-point

 style. He patented the three-point

 suspension hull in 1936 in the US and UK, and it is still used today. This design was a major

 development in both water resistance and stability. During this time, Adolph’s son, Arno,

 became president of the company and continued with the same visions. The company

 continued a wide line of pleasure boats, with racing boats still being the dominant focus. Some

 of their 1930’s “fast” boats were “Miss Peps V,” “Tempo VI,” “My Sin,” “So Long,” “Lady Glen

 IV,” “Hi Ho II,” “Eagle” and many others.

Their racing notoriety was recognized in 1937 with an order of 12, 20’ boats by the Chinese

 government. For use as “Suicide Boats,” they were powered by a Lycoming Engine, and designed to run at 64 MPH with a 500-pound

 bomb in the bow! Their intended use was in the on-going Sino-Japanese War. For political reasons, only 11 were delivered, and the

 12th hull remained at the Ventnor factory.

Jack Rutherford purchased hull #12 and replaced the power plant with a Packard 621 cu. in. Gold Cup engine. In 1937, at the

 President’s Cup Race, it ran at 72.7 MPH, 1 MPH faster than the three-time Gold Cup winner, “El Lagarto.” This boat, named “Juno,” is

 still participating in boat shows and Race Boat Regattas. 

Ventnor designed other fast boats. In 1938, Ventnor designed the hull for Malcolm Campbell’s “Bluebird,”

 which was clocked at  141.74  MPH in England.

 Likewise, Ventnor also designed, built and won the Gold Cup with “My Sin,” in 1939. 

Ventnor built pleasure boats and custom race boats through 1939. With the advent of the war, Ventnor moved to Atlantic City, New

 Jersey, and built military vessels 23’ through 110’.

 While many were  looking to escape everyday life through the

 enjoyment of pleasure boats.   

At the end of the war, the Apels added several experienced pleasure boat production people.

They decided to focus on this wider base 

  Their first new model in 1947 was an 18’ deluxe utility runabout. Sales were good and their racing  knowledge  helped

 produce  a fast pleasure boat reaching 44 MPH.

 

The first year of a complete line was 1946. They offered models from 15’6” through 22’9”. The 15’6” was built of

 plywood, as were the boats extensively used during WWII. Planked boats were offered starting in a 16’ length, and

 considered to be standard construction through the 22’9” Custom Runabout style. Gray Marine engines were

 predominant, with the 22’9” having twin 150s for 55 MPH performance. In 1947, one cruiser, a 23’ Express, had options

 up to twin Gray 150’s.

 


Most notable, beginning in 1945 (and about 9 years before the automobile industry styling) was the 20’ Sport Runabout

 and the 23’ Sport Runabout (22’9”) introducing the torpedo-style rear and sloping “dorsal fin.” As a major styling

 innovation, the “fin” models combined an oak frame, mahogany-varnished decks, and painted sides 


consisting of both planking and cold molded plywood. A few 19’, 20’ and 23’ Sport Runabout models were built with all

varnished sides and two-tone decks. In 1945, the 20’ model could also be ordered with a (then well-advertised) “Tucker Engine.”

 This was highly  possible, as the Tucker was a Lycoming, and Ventnor had previously used many Lycoming marine engines.

Like the finned 1955 Chris Craft Cobra, the 1945 finned Ventnor looked great as a contemporary design, but did not sell well to some

 because of the Art Deco design. However, it did define a unique model that has become a classic. The finned Ventnor was not

 renewed  in the 1951 models.

Competition was fierce for the consumer spending boom, and Chris Craft, Century and Higgins, were masters at mass producing low

 cost, good quality boats. Others such as Hacker craft, Owens, Lyman, Correct Craft, Garwood, Larson etc.

were competitors after the same market.

After moving to Egg Harbor, New Jersey, Ventnor continued to build 20’ to 40’ lapstrake and plywood cruisers until 1968. The

 company then faded away in the mass transition to fiberglass boats after their merger with Cruisalong Co.


Quality, as well as innovative design, was always an important factor for Ventnor. Their innovative design of the torpedo transom,

 however, exceeded the ability of plywood. In the late 40’s, although the best choice of the time, plywood was not competitve with the

 new fiberglass. It is ironic that the new material, fiberglass, which later Ventnor would not adapt to, could have enabled their designs

 to be built better, cheaper, and much more durable.

The Art Deco look of the late 30’s, through the late 40’s is captured in the Ventnor’s finned

 Sport Runabouts. In 1994, Dick Thede of Harrison, Tennessee, culminated

 his several years of research on Ventnor boats by

 reincarnating the Ventnor Company, and its 1940’s era 20’ Sport Runabout design. Today,

 Dick’s revived Ventnor Boat Works 

produces the 20’ Ventnor on a custom-built basis, with color, power, hardware, and many

 

 other items specified uniquely for each boat. Current Ventnor boats are

built with the materials  which best fulfill the 1940’s design,

 but with 21st Century technology, durability, and high

 quality standards. I have seen two of his boats and both the quality of construction and

 faithfulness of design are excellent. The “ambiance” of the original has been retained and if

 Arno or Adolph Apel were around, I think they would not only approve, but also wish they had

 available epoxy, lightweight 250-300 HP engines, current molding techniques, high UV resistant leather etc. for their era.


A “100 years of Ventnor Boats” will be featured at the Mt. Dora Boat Show, as well as others next year. I have only touched the

 historical surface, so why not have some research fun and seek out some Ventnors at boat shows. 

 

by Jim Aamodt.