Power boating into the history books

Last updated 15:50 20/02/2013
Speed boat

Doing the ton: Redhead breaks the 100 mph barrier on Evans Bay, February 22, 1953.

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Sixty years ago, Len Southward (later Sir Len) drove his speedboat Redhead into Australasian power boating history as the first in the region to travel at more than 100mph.

The hundreds of spectators lining Evans Bay and Shelly Bay on Sunday, February 22, 1953, cheered when they heard the boat had covered the two-mile course at an average speed of 101.266 mph (162.91 kmh).

He told reporters that Redhead was powered by a 1450hp Allison V12 engine.

It was originally a stepped-up hydroplane converted to a three-pointer by the addition of inboard sponsons, or riding planes, that increased its speed.

Earlier that morning Redhead had clocked 98.227 mph.

Its propeller was changed for one with a slightly larger diameter and less pitch before it made history in near-perfect conditions.

Southward gave much of the credit to the backroom boys who helped him prepare Redhead.

"I would say it will do another five miles an hour, but I am quite happy to leave it until somebody beats it," he said.

It was three years before Redhead's Australasian water speed record got broken. Australian boat Fleetwing hit 103mph in 1956 to break the record.

Southward reclaimed the speed record with a 109.29 mph (175.89 kmh) run off Pt England in Auckland, on May 8, 1956.

In September 1956, Donald Campbell more than doubled the speed in his Bluebird hydroplane on Coniston in the English Lake District, with a world water speed record of 225.6 mph (383.07 kmh) .

Redhead held Australasia's major water speed trophies for most of the 1950s.

The boat won Australian Griffiths Cup from 1949, and with the exception of 1954 it held New Zealand's Masport Cup from 1948.

Its last victory was at Picton on Easter Saturday, 1959, when it easily won the Griffiths Cup.

While leading Mystic Miss in the Masport Cup, Redhead suddenly veered left and stopped.

A crowd of several thousand watched in disbelief as the defending champion sank seconds later - a buckled propeller shaft had ripped a gaping hole in its hull.

Redhead never raced again, and is now displayed in the Southward Car Museum in Paraparaumu, as it was when it was lifted out of the water.

The Southward Car Museum Trust opened the museum on December 22, 1979, to house the collection Len Southward began.

Vintage cars were not mentioned in Southward's post-record interviews. The collection that grew into a car museum began in 1956.

He was knighted in 1986 and died in 2004, aged 98.

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- The Wellingtonian


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