Scooter (U-12) - The Forgotten Thunderboat
By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Historian
Henry Kaiser's SCOOTER is a mystery in history.
She was a product of the famed Ventnor Boat Works of Ventnor, New Jersey. With Jack Regas driving, SCOOTER (U-12) won two Unlimited races on Lake Tahoe in the summer of 1954.
But despite these accomplishments, the U-12 is one of the least heralded Thunderboats of all time.
Frequent confusion by editorial writers with her better-known--but less successful--successor, SCOOTER TOO (U-10), has caused the U-12 to be largely forgotten and lost in the sands of time.
Ventnor had patented the three-point design in the 1930s and had done a land office business in the years prior to World War II. But the company had fallen on hard times by the 1950s. SCOOTER was Ventnor's final Unlimited Class effort. And unlike any other Ventnor Unlimited, the U-12 had the sponsons situated almost entirely underneath the hull proper.
SCOOTER measured 25 feet in length and was originally powered by twin Cadillac automotive engines, which were located in the stern of the hull in the tradition of Stan Dollar's SKIP-A-LONG. The cockpit was approximately amidships. SCOOTER was essentially a pleasure boat that met the minimum requirements for Unlimited competition.
Henry and his son Edgar Kaiser had raced boats as a hobby in free-for-all regattas on Lake Tahoe since the early 1930s. One of their earliest efforts was a vintage step hydroplane named MISS ALUMINUM III in 1933. In 1948, they sent this same MISS ALUMINUM III, renamed FLEUR DU LAC (G-19), to the President's Cup in Washington, D.C.
In 1949, the Kaisers stepped up to the plate in a big way with two brand new Ventnor three-pointers--the HOT METAL (U-20) and the ALUMINUM FIRST (U-21)--but were sorely disappointed. Both boats failed as competitors and quickly vanished from the national scene. For the next few years, Henry and Edgar confined their racing activities to local events on Lake Tahoe.
The new SCOOTER (U-12) seemed to hold forth promise. So the Kaisers replaced the twin Cadillacs with a single V-12 Allison, rated at 1750 horsepower. One of the Kaiser Industries employees involved in the conversion to Allison power was the boat's future driver Jack Regas, who worked as a welder. Jack had no previous racing experience prior to being named the SCOOTER's driver. But within a few years, Regas would emerge as one of the most successful pilots in Unlimited history as driver of Edger Kaiser's HAWAII KAI III. He was the only driver in the decade of the 1950s to win 45% of his races.
The first race for Regas and SCOOTER was the Lake Tahoe Yacht Club Regatta on July 26, 1954. The Unlimited contest for the Lake Tahoe Championship consisted of one heat of three laps on a 1.67-mile course. The pit area was located at Chamber's Lodge near Tahoe City, California.
Together with Seattle's Lake Washington, Lake Tahoe was the only Unlimited venue west of the Mississippi River at the time.
The reigning king of Lake Tahoe speedboating in the early 1950s was R. Stanley Dollar, heir to the Dollar Steamship Line and owner/driver of SHORT SNORTER, a 1939 Ventnor creation, which had won the APBA Gold Cup in 1947 as MISS PEPS V.
Dollar had been racing hydroplanes for two decades. He had raced Limiteds in Europe prior to World War II. Stan won the 1949 Harmsworth International Trophy with SKIP-A-LONG, the 1952 APBA Gold Cup with SLO-MO-SHUN IV, and the 1953 Lake Tahoe Mapes Trophy with SHORT SNORTER, all with Allison power.
Despite the inexperience of her driver, SCOOTER romped to an impressive victory over SHORT SNORTER in the LTYC Regatta. The rookie Regas beat the veteran Dollar over the finish line by 3.1 seconds, 56.479 miles per hour to 55.939. GALLOPING GAEL, a 7-Litre Class hydro, piloted by Roger Murphy, finished a distant third.
The performance of Jack Regas in the Lake Tahoe Championship justified the faith of Edgar Kaiser who had given Jack the job after watching him handle the boat incredibly well in a test run on a flooded gravel pit at the Kaiser Industries plant in Oakland, California. Clearly, this fellow would be heard from in the future. And he was.
Two months later, on September 11-12, SCOOTER entered its one and only APBA National High Points race--the Lake Tahoe Mapes Trophy--and won that one, too.
This time, the Kaisers and Regas faced a full fleet of local Unlimiteds, including Dollar in SHORT SNORTER, Jay Murphy in BREATHLESS, and Bill Stead in HURRICANE IV. A couple of local Limiteds--the 7-Litre CALIFORNIA KID with George Mattucci and RUTHLESS II with Ken St. Oegger--rounded out the field.
The 1954 Mapes Trophy (also billed as the "Lake Tahoe Mile High Gold Cup" but with no connection to the APBA Gold Cup) was the first Unlimited race in the southwestern United States to count for National Points. The event was co-sponsored by the Lake Tahoe-Sierra Chamber of Commerce and the Mapes Hotel and conducted at the south end of the lake.
Three heats of 15 miles in length were run on a 3-mile triangular course. And three different boats won them. The defending champion SHORT SNORTER captured Heat One, SCOOTER Heat Two, and HURRICANE IV Heat Three.
SCOOTER ran second, first, and second and posted the fastest lap of the race at 88.748 miles per hour. HURRICANE IV finished third, second, and first in her heats. SHORT SNORTER ran the fastest heat of the weekend at 80.631 in Heat One, finished second to SCOOTER in Heat Two, and then was unable to start in Heat Three.
The top three point-getters were SCOOTER with 1000, HURRICANE IV with 925, and SHORT SNORTER with 625. Then came CALIFORNIA KID with 338, BREATHLESS with 225, and RUTHLESS II with 127.
After so many years of frustration and mediocrity, Henry and Edgar Kaiser now had back-to-back triumphs on their "home" lake.
SCOOTER's greatest success was also her swansong. Henry Kaiser retired her on the spot and announced in the pit area that he would build a new SCOOTER TOO for Regas to drive in 1955. SCOOTER (U-12) faded into obscurity.
A glorified pleasure boat, the U-12 obviously lacked speed and would have been thoroughly outclassed in a race with SLO-MO-SHUN IV, MISS THRIFTWAY, GALE V, MISS PEPSI, MISS U.S., or TEMPO VII. And even in her day, 25 feet was considered rather short for an Allison-powered craft.
SCOOTER TOO would be a SLO-MO-style hull, equipped with a more-powerful W-24 rather than a V-12 Allison engine. But unlike her predecessor, the TOO never won a race.
Another Kaiser boat, HAWAII KAI (U-9), also built in 1955, failed to achieve victory and was eventually wrecked in a mile trial.
Not until HAWAII KAI III (U-8) arrived on the scene in 1956 did Henry and Edgar return to the winner's circle.
On a historical note, SCOOTER (U-12) was the only forward-cockpit (or cabover) boat to win an Unlimited race in the decade of the 1950s. Not until Gene Whipp captured the 1973 President's Cup with LINCOLN THRIFT'S 7-1/4% SPECIAL would another Unlimited winner steer from the front.
And not until Whipp in 1973 would another rookie driver duplicate Jack Regas's performance of winning his first-ever Unlimited race.