Fordsport 707: Back in the game
On the eve of the August Bank Holiday, the team at Whittle Marine launched a landmark, classic powerboat in Yarmouth Harbour on the Isle of Wight. A unique boat that had slumbered for ten years in dry storage before launching by her new owners in time for The Cowes Classic Powerboat Rally; an event that – this year – celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the 1969 Round Britain Race.
The timing of the launch was deliberate and following a brief stay at Whittle Marine’s yard just outside Yarmouth to undergo essential structural and mechanical work, Fordsport 707 took centre stage at the anniversary of an event in which this heavily race-prepared, Fairey Marine Huntsman 31 performed far beyond expectations.
Still carrying her original, 1969 race number and bearing flaking and chipped paint, 707 was launched with extreme caution; Nick Whittle and his team checking for water ingress around the recent repairs to the transom; the boat’s through-hull fittings; twin exhaust outlets and around the two propeller shafts as the boat rested securely on its launching trailer, feeling water for the first time since 2009.
Satisfied that 707 would not sink, the boat’s co-owner, Rob Bingham, fired up the twin, 180hp Ford Sabre engines which coughed, barked, belched soot and rumbled into life. Bingham and his co-owner, Sean Siddons, hadn’t bought 707 on a whim and although both men already own Fairey Marine boats, Fordsport 707 exerts a particular pull on classic, British powerboat enthusiasts.
Sean Siddons explains the boat’s appeal: ‘I was just looking for a day boat and Rob introduced me to the Faireys,’ says Siddons. ‘I’ve owned one for about four years and our aim is to take 707 back to its former glory and relaunch next season. There’s a lot of history here and it’s amazing what the boat has actually done.’
707 was built in 1969 as a collaboration between Fairey Marine and Ford to promote the American company’s entry into the European marine engine market. Ford’s powerboat fleet for the 1969 Round Britain Race comprised three Fairey Hunstman 28s carrying race numbers 606, 808 and 909 with 707 the largest of the Ford boats at 31 feet. ‘Being a 31, she was the best sea-boat,’ says Bingham. ‘There were only three other aft cockpit [no aft accommodation cabin] Hunstman 31s, which seems to attract everyone,’ he adds.
Ford’s 1969 racing fleet was specially designed to withstand the slamming and punishment the boats would experience during the 1,700-mile circumnavigation of Great Britain and 707 is fitted with forward water ballast tanks, extra internal bracing and additional ring frames through-bolted in the hull – features that are absent in the leisure versions of Fairey Marine boats.
Ford’s development produced a stunning, powerboat racing debut for the company with 707 taking 4th place overall out of 42 entries with her smaller, sister boats bagging 5th, 6th and 12th place. It is worth noting that 707‘s success is also due to her highly-talented driver in the Round Britain Race, the late Peter Twiss OBE, DSC & Bar (1921-2011), a former fighter pilot, test pilot and World Speed Record holder in 1956 as the first man to fly a jet aircraft over 1,000mph.
However, 707‘s spot in the limelight was very brief. Rob Bingham explains: ‘She also raced in the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes in ’69 and then again, under new ownership, in the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes in ’70,’ says Bingham. ‘But she was getting too slow to race,’ he adds. ‘Boats were doing 60, 70, 100mph and the cruiser class seemed to die out, so she became a pleasure boat. Her most recent owner has had her since 1989 and she’s been sadly neglected over the past five years.’
Remarkably, over the past 50 years, there has been no attempt to convert 707 from a purpose-built race boat to a comfortable cruiser and she is still in her original racing trim with the full cockpit padding remaining, her standing-only racing seats and extra, strategically positioned hand grabs.
Without doubt, 707 is unique and of Ford’s Fairey racing fleet, only the Huntsman 28 606 still survives, based in the Channel Islands. Bingham’s work as the head of Robert Bingham Yacht Surveys gives him rapid access to classic boats appearing on the open market. ‘We knew about 707, other people had tried to buy her but she was never for sale,’ he says. ‘I bumped into a yacht broker who said he’d just taken 707 onto the market,’ explains Bingham. ‘I contacted Sean and we moved in quickly. Now we need to get her restored and back up to full specification.’
Following the boat’s recent launch in Yarmouth, 707 motored to Ocean Village, Southampton, before heading across to Cowes for the 1969 Round Britain Race Anniversary on Bank Holiday Saturday. In Cowes, she was joined by 25 classic powerboats from the 1960’s and 70’s including Fairey Huntsman 28s; Fairey Sworsdman 33 and 40; a Fairey Spearfish 30; a Fairey Fantôme 32; a Levi Corsaire; Levi Triana 25s and a three-engined Riva that delivers a blistering 1,050hp.
Sitting in 707‘s slightly scruffy cockpit in Cowes Yacht Haven, surrounded by gleaming and fully restored classic powerboats beneath a cloudless sky, Sean Siddons looked to the boat’s future: ‘It drives really well and we’ll rally the boat and maybe do some classic races,’ he says. ‘She’ll be kept in Cowes as there are some lovely stretches of water down here.’
After the Classic Powerboat Rally, 707 returned to Yarmouth and is currently undergoing a thorough restoration at Whittle Marine. Over the years, the boat’s cabin roof has had some rudimentary repairs to counteract rot and the structure will be completely removed and rebuilt using her existing roof as the shape and mould. Nick Whittle explains the complex process: ‘Using new mahogany laminations in cold moulding formation, we’ll build the laminations up each day once the glue has cured,’ says Nick of the technique already used in the pre-Bank Holiday launch repairs to 707’s transom.
The Whittle Marine team will work top-downwards throughout the boat: ‘Her cabin sides will be epoxy sheaved to preserve works for the future, then her exciting new paint system will be laid down over the top giving her original colours to the cabin roof with a new, bright, fresh look,’ Nick continues.
Perhaps the most complicated repair is the interior area of the boat’s bow. ‘Her stem apron also requires some structural works to be carried out, firstly removing one or two small forward bulkheads for ease of access, then scarfing in new mahogany timber,’ says Nick. ‘It’s not a job for the fainthearted!’ he admits.
The boat’s ‘cosmetic’ restoration is equally detailed and thorough with the exterior paint stripped back to bare wood allowing the state of her hull and topsides to be fully assessed. ‘Providing all is as good as required, a new, full paint system in the boat’s original, 1960’s colours will be meticulously built-up and applied for a top spec finish,’ adds Nick. ‘Her racing number will be carefully traced and relayed onto the fresh paint system alongside the original Ford transfers, producing a sympathetic restoration to show her off in all her glory with the exact historical detailing and accuracy required for such a famous boat,’ he concludes.
To find out more about classic British powerboats, visit the Fairey Owners Club website here
Text and images: Oliver Dewar
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