Formula Marine


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What did you buy? :rof:-Chris

I bought a 1965 Formula Jr. project boat. It has spent the past 30 years under a Banyan tree in Key Largo Florida and I rescued it in the fall of 2016. (Chased all the way home by hurricane Hermine).

It requires a complete and total restoration/renovation as not one fibre of wood is not rotted, the glass is pock-marked and warped and there is virtually no useable hardware. Engine/drive were already MIA.


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So what was this magnet that caused such a stir? She was The Cigarette, a Formula 233 that was the debut fiberglass boat from Don Aronow’s first company, Formula Boats. Aronow, a wealthy real estate developer, had retired to Florida as a 33-year-old millionaire, where he was bitten by the offshore-powerboat racing bug. He entered a wooden raceboat in the 1962 Miami-to-Nassau Race but, after seeing a 17-foot racer co-designed by Jim Wynne (inventor of the sterndrive) and Walt Walters, he hired them to design a larger, fiberglass version.

The company was intended as a thinly disguised tax shelter for Aronow’s racing ambitions and there are two versions of the naming. The first is that when Wynne and Walters were discussing the plans with Aronow, he would ask them a technical question and one of the two designers would answer, “You know, there’s a formula for that.” According to Aronow’s son, however, the name was chosen because the combination of designers Wynne and Walters with fiberglass builders Buddy Smith and Jake Trotter was the “formula” for success. I like both choices.


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In the beginning, there was Formula.....

When Donald Joel Aronow, landed in Miami in 1961 after retiring from his construction business in New Jersey, he became fascinated with the local racing crowd, then dominated by Dick Bertram. Don wanted a piece of this action, so he created a company called Formula Marine in 1963 for the sole purpose of making race boats. Formula was really a loose association of people interested in race boats and was conceived more as a tax shelter than a production company. One of the people involved was a fellow named Jim Wynne. Wynne had already been racing for about three years. His first boats were Ray Hunt designs, but by '62 he was racing a boat he designed with Walt Walters called the Wyn-Mil . Wynne had a degree in Mechanical Engineering was a lead engineer at Lake X and was a patent holder for an improvement to sterndrive which he had licensed to Volvo - because Merc thought his system would never work. Jim didn't actually "invent" this improvement but we'll leave that for later.

There are two versions of the naming of Formula Marine. The first is that when Wynne and Walters were discussing the plans with Aronow, he would ask them a technical question and one of the two designers would answer, “You know, there’s a formula for that.” According to Aronow’s son, however, the name was chosen because the combination of designers Wynne and Walters with fiberglass builders Buddy Smith and Jake Trotter was the “formula” for success. I like both choices.

Jim and his partner Walt Walters designed one boat for the "formula" company. This being the famous 233 which used his sterndrive system, and was, as far as I can tell, their very first production boat design. Formula had two models at the time, the other being a 27 footer designed by Peter Guerke which was an inboard. Jim continued refining and racing the little 17 foot, single outdrive, deep V which was called the Wyn-Mil II. This was a wooden race boat, and it’s my opinion that it was never intended for fiberglass mass production. Several racing boats were constructed in England to the Wyn Mill II plans and they did very well. A plan to produce these boats by Souters in England was hatched though, it never came to fruition.

In any case, Formula Marine was becoming more of a true boat manufacturer than tax shelter/racing company and was sold to the Thunderbird Marine Company, run by Dick Genth in mid 1964. Planned expansion of the Formula model offering had included a smaller production boat. The Wyn-Mil II was used as the basis for a mold to expand the line and create the 17' Formula Jr without undue costs and in short order. The ready for production Formula Jr. was reluctantly included in the sale by Aronow to Geneth or, it would have been a deal-breaker. By late 1964, Aronow's new company, "Donzi'" had Wynne/Walters design a new little 16 to make up for the loss of the 17 sold to Geneth. The new Donzi was heavily influenced by the design of the Wyn-Mil II and Formula Jr. and changed just enough for Aronow not to be sued. The Donzi Ski-Sporter was born and racing before the end of 1964. Meanwhile, Thunderbird was busy catching up on sold backorders of the Formula 233, and they had no time to put the 17' Formula Jr. into production and on the market. This turned out to be a huge mistake as by 65, Donzi was pounding out Ski Sporters like no tomorrow and they were the hottest design in the industry. I once thought there were 1964 Jr.s, but now I'm not sure of this. There may have been one or two prototype hulls made prior to the sale to Genth but, clearly, they were not in production.

Late 1965 appears to be the actual first year of production (many as '66 models) and ironically, they came with Merc Drives and engines. As time progressed, many were sold unrigged. So, the design of the Jr in the form of the Wyn-Mil II and as a pre production model predates the Donzi 16 however, the Formula Jr. followed the Donzi 16 into the market to play catch-up... and never did. Like the 233, the Jr. still has features that show Ray Hunt's influence on Wynne/Walters early work. If you compare the strake to chine patterns of the Jr and 233, you'll see they are more Bertram than Donzi. Though the Donzi 16 was influenced by the Jr, the two boats are completely different. The Jr is also much lighter in construction than the 16. But, what I really love about the Jr. is that it is Wynne/Walters first small run-about design and a design Wynn raced in.


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another view of the Jr.....

The Formula Jr. was sold along with the Formula 233 in late 63/early 64. From the Miami News by Miami News Outdoors Editor Jim Hardie - When Aronow decided to sell Formula to Dick Genth of Thunderbird boats, the Jr was a big part of that deal. The sale was closed on May 5, 1964

"Don Aronow, who carved a name for himself locally in the boat-building and racing fraternity and his partner sold their interest in the Formula Boat Company yesterday.
Dick Genth of Thunderbird Boat Company made the purchase for an undisclosed amount. 'It was a substantial and satisfactory amount' Aronow said.
In an interview published last Sunday, Aronow stated his primary interest was in prototype research and development of rough water racing boats. 'Boat manufacturing in itself holds no interest for me' he said.
The move by Aronow and his partner, David Stirrat, came as a surprise because they had just announced that in its first year of operation the Formula Company operated in the black and prospects for the coming year were optimistic.
'The sale is effective immediately and Genth is looking for a larger building in which to set up manufacture of the 23 foot Formula' Aronow said. ' He purchased the rights to the name Formula, and he also has the molds and plans for the 17 footer which we were just setting up to produce'

The article goes on to talk about Don and Dave and their plans for the future - no mention of Donzi yet -

As for the difference in the 17' Jr. and 16' Donzi and who produced what when and where, it seems everyone remembers it a little different. Dick remembered it one way in an hour long conversation, others have different recollections.

One thing can be agreed upon now. - The 17' Formula Jr. was Jim and Walt's design, a variation of the original Wyn Mill and that the Donzi 16' was a direct descendant of the Wyn Mill II - a totally different design.

As stated in the Donzi brochure in 64, the Donzi 16 was "Designed by a team composed of Don Aronow, Dave Stirrat, Jim Wynne and Waltman W. Walters, internationally known marine consultants, designers, ocean racers and builders,(the same team that designed, raced and owned the Formula 233, 275 and Formula Jr.).
"The Donzi 16 has been refined, tested and proved for 3 years. Hull and strake designs have been proven in the Wyn Mill II, test model holder of 8 world marathon records."

And as powerboat writer and sometime racer Bill McKeown wrote in BoatCraft Magazine in June/July of 1965, when writing about Donzi Marine and the 16', -
" Last year Aronow sold Formula to Thunderbird Boats and called in Wynne and Walters to design a different line. During Wynne's testing of his creations, he won the world's offshore championship for 1964.
The Donzi 16 was several years in preparation however. We watched Jim Wynne and Tommy Sopwith drive early prototypes for the Six Hour Endurance Race through the steep chop of the Siene to a class win in Paris three years ago. Wynne repeated the performance two successive years at the Miami Nine Hour as well, and set a number of international records with the little 'Wyn Mill II' along the way."

Bill's article ended as follows:
" And when its rough and you still want to go, she can take it if you can. We remember the first time we saw this in action several years ago. A boisterous Bahamas day had blown up for the Around New Providence Race after a flat-sea-go from Miami to Nassau. Running easily on the rough sea in a Formula 23 with Jim Wynne driving, we watched Briggs Cunningham jump his big 38 foot twin diesel cruiser out of the water occasionally in the bumpy going. Then behind we saw a little rocket flying low over the water. Sure enough, there came the indomitable duo, Cox and Joyce, driving Wyn-Mill for all they were worth, and passing the bigger stuff struggling through the seas.
That was a prototype, but now anyone can drive the real thing in a Donzi 16, if they feel up to it."

and another addendum and alternate view....

The timeline of the Formula Jr hull is possibly a little different than some describe. The first 17 Jr's were produced in very early 1964 . These hulls were Don Aronow pure when he founded, owned and ran Formula boats. Then, he sold Formula to a rich guy named Merrick Lewis. At the time Merrick owned Thunderbird Marine. The molds to the Formula Jr went to Merrick along with the Formula company. The Jr continued to be produced as "Formula Jr by Thunderbird" though 1969. The number of Formula Jr's produced in total from early 1964 to the end of 1969 is about 150 (as reported by the company that made the interiors) but, not well documented