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
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
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
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,”
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.