26 April 2016

When isn’t a Donzi a Donzi? When it’s a Cigarette

We were running across the lake wearing big grins on our faces. The engine’s tachometer was nudging 5,000 revs. The wind was rushing past our eyes (no goggles, darn it!) and we were travelling wide-open. The boat was so fast that any words spoken swept past and were inaudible. Pedal to the metal…

Donzis are all about thrilling speed on the water. They have a deep vee hull, are narrow in beam, run well in rougher water, and wind chop doesn’t bother them. Furthermore, the feeling of speed and the corresponding fun increases proportionally with the boat’s length. An 18′ model up running in the around 70 MPH feels fast. Having been there personally, let me say unequivocally that it’s exhilarating.

A man named Don Aronow is responsible for building these boats. And he built many spectacular go-fast boats, under different brands. All of his boat companies were located on the same block, an industrial quarter-mile strip nicknamed “Thunderboat Row” in North Miami Beach. Big names like Formula Marine, Donzi, Magnum, Cigarette Racing Team, USA Racing, Cary and Squadron Marine are all included. A born trader, to Aronow, these companies were commodities that he started, bought, sold, bought back, etcetera.

Michael Peters said “Aronow looked the part. Guys wanted to be him. Six foot three, real good looking, lots of swagger. He was right out of a Hollywood script. He’s the only person I’ve ever known like that… larger than life. And he liked to get the best of people”.

“They just don’t make ’em like Don Aronow anymore.” Kevin Koenig recalls, “During his quarter-century-long reign as the undisputed king of Thunderboat Row, Aronow was a lot of different things to a lot of different people. He was a hero and a genius, a ballbuster and a bully. A world-champion boat racer who enjoyed wild success in business, he was also an unapologetic playboy and fabled bon vivant.”

Whatever one thinks of Aronow, you can’t deny his boats’ reputation and greatness.

But let’s consider a smaller Donzi ¬– the ultra-rare (one of 14 hulls molded) 14’ model. In fact, the one pictured here was the last one molded before the mold was destroyed. However, while old ads depict this boat as a Donzi, by the time she was laid up, the Donzi mold was already at the Cigarette building. So she sports a Cigarette Racing Team (CRT) number on her transom. And she may be only one of three with this particular heritage. Nonetheless, most folks consider her a Donzi.

The Donzi 14′ came in two layouts: the Fisherman (an open boat with random seating and room for fishing and other water sports), and a single cockpit speedster (runabout) model.

While a photo of the Fisherman is included, I actually took a fast trip in the runabout pictured with the boat’s restorer/owner. He has owned her twice, the first time around 1987 (shortly after Aronow was murdered on his Thunderboat Row). At one point this owner bartered the 14′ Donzi for some marine gear, then bought her back 25 years later and restored her from years of neglect to concourse condition.

She’s powered by the stock 140 HP-cylinder Chevrolet engine with a Mercury Marine Alpha outdrive. Providing seating for two adults and a child in a single seat stretching across the boat, everything else is a covered deck – finished to a high level that drips red all over the Donzi’s sexy curves. Step into her and await a big grin to appear on your face as she jumps on plane and makes the sharp turns that Donzis are famous for, at a thrilling speed.

Is there a negative to this boat? Yes. Like all deep vees she has bow rise on take-off. Anyone that runs an inboard will comment on that. But she also has trim tabs. Tab down before you hit the gas and bring them up as your speed builds and she gets fully on plane. The bow will stay down. Hey, a rare Donzi 14′ is more than boating, it is having-fast-fun boating.

3 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Lrak Charleston April 27, 2016 at 16:14
    Recently sold my 18 classic.... A sad day ! Only bit of rainbow on it was I sold it for 20/ more than I bought it
  • 2
    Ned Jennings Maine April 27, 2016 at 18:55
    I own a 1967 28' sport fish Donzi with 1/2 tower, outboard rudders, new cabin.Completely restore to orginal condition. Has a pair of 350's with zero hours sense rebuild. Anybody have knowledge of, or info on this era of Donzi's, I would like to hear from you. Value???
  • 3
    Glen Sallee Carlsbad, CA April 29, 2016 at 13:30
    Great article. Don Aronow made awesome boats. I had a 22 ft. Donzi Classic for a few years. The boat handled like a dream over smooth or rough water. It's funny how the Donzi name came about.

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