Does PERLITA have a “supercharged soul”, and did she set a world speed record? stay tuned……..
In the late 1960’s, George Newton, owner of Aircraft Xray Co. in Huntington Beach, CA, purchased Perlita Too from Hollywood producer Roland Reed, who had ordered this very special Riva speedboat directly from Carlo Riva in Italy. George Newton’s plan was to repair her for use at his home in Newport Beach, California. We know that at the time she was not running, and the Scripps motor was in desperate need of an overhaul. This was no surprise, as in 1956 Roland Reed had modified the motor by adding twin McCulloch superchargers to the 900 cubic inch Scripps V12, hoping to boost the power above 500HP. The supercharger installation was done by Sparks & Bonney Automotive in Hollywood, just a 1/2 mile from Roland Reed Productions Studios. This not inexpensive conversion was covered in a couple of the hot rod magazines of the day but so far I have been unsuccessful in making contact with Tommy Sparks.
The blowers (superchargers) were a great idea to satisfy Reed’s “need for speed”, but the added cylinder pressures were not kind to a low RPM motor designed in the late 1920’s! The invoices we have from the Scripps Marine Engine Company to Roland Reed Productions, for numerous engine parts, only tell part of the “speed costs money” story of contests between Perlita and the ”Miss Catalina” boats between Catalina Island and LA harbor.
Antique and Classic boat researcher Brian Robinson sent me this video of Doug Bombard, captain of Catalina V, who remembers Roland Reed and Perlita.
George Newton’s prototype machinist at Aircraft Xray, Wayne Koeppke, was in charge of rebuilding Perlita’s motor, and continued purchasing parts from Pete Henkel in Michigan (see below). Henkel had purchased The Scripps Marine Engine Company in the late 1950s, and I spoke with him in 1990 and later with his son Robert several times in the following years, about Perlita’s first three owners’ obsession with “speed”
Last year I spoke to Don Davis, the current CEO of Aircraft Xray and a nephew of George Newton. I also spoke with Wayne Koeppke, who remembers working on the Scripps V12, making parts for the superchargers, and corresponding with Pete Henkel while spending ‘a small fortune’ on replacement parts. He recalled spending hours trying various parts and settings before getting the motor to run again.
Don Davis remembers George Newton boasting of his association with Roland Reed; how Reed was always “the one with the babes”, and how when Perlita arrived in the US from Italy she had already set a world speed record with Mr. Carlo Riva himself driving. A definite selling point for George Newton!
Unfortunately, Newton passed away before the boat was finished, and Perlita then languished for some time in the yard behind the factory. At one time, Don Davis recalls, Americas Cup sailor and racing legend Briggs Cunningham and his mechanic Richie van de Water had come to look at Perlita, and in fact had bought her. Somehow nothing must have of come of it, as Bob Burnand (IN GOOD COMPANY) became the third owner.
The old hotrodders query; “speed costs money; how fast do you want to go?” seems to fit Perlita’s image perfectly. There were only four of these Scripps V12 motors ever installed in Rivas, and Perlita is the only one to survive.
Fortunately, when I found Perlita in the barn in 1990, her owner at the time, Alan Furth (the largest collector of wooden speedboats ever) allowed me to purchase several boxes of spare V12 parts, enough to build a second motor. These have been invaluable in restoring our motor. After two years, the engine restoration is nearing completion. Jim McNeilly in Seattle has done a complete rebuild to original specs.
Jim had new pistons and rings made, of course new babbitted bearings throughout, new seals, distributors totally rebuilt, carbs ditto, all new oil and water lines, dozens of new gaskets (many of which Jim made by hand from NOS materials), and oil pump rebuilt. During the rebuild process, something that came up more than once is finding that some of “the old guys”, who have been making and rebuilding parts for these motors ‘forever’, are retiring or are no longer around, and in many cases no one younger is taking their places. Many of the necessary skills and experience are disappearing. And YES, we still have parts we did not have to use.
Jim loves the Scripps, “like wearing jewelry, they are all dressed up.” Obviously his favorite. I might add, restoring a Scrips V12 costs as much as a very fine piece of jewelry Jim has won many best in show awards for his engines; including engines for master boat restorer Dave Lobb in California; who has been a gracious resource helping Jim (and us) with engine research.
When it comes to the correct color of the Scripps engine, there are lots of ideas. Thanks to the tireless research of people such as Brian Robinson, there is a good body of information relating to pre-war Scripps motors; unfortunately, there is very little info on postwar motors. It didn’t help much trying to define the gray/gray-green/greenish-gray color we needed while looking at the boats at the 2009 Tahoe Concours, as each of the 5 Scripps V12’s was a different shade of gray/gray-green/greenish-gray. At one point I was carefully scraping layers of paint off of my spare motor parts in a search for the elusive color, and documenting it in photos! Can you say obsessed? After a couple of tries, I think we finally nailed it. Thanks to Paul at Holman’s Autobody in Seattle for mixing and shooting (and his whole crew for an hour of frantic masking tape removal;-)
We know that Perlita had no superchargers when shipped to California (1953). We know when and by whom the superchargers were installed (1956, Sparks & Bonney) and we know Perlita lived virtually her entire life with 2 superchargers. They are such an integral part of the history, and the “soul” of Perlita, that leaving them on the shelf seems to be overlooking an essential part of her character.
When it comes to a historic race cars, modified after leaving the factory, where the provenance (& the investment value) is in the heritage of its actions post delivery….mightn’t the same be true for Perlita? Shouldn’t she be restored to her supercharged glory? Imagine the sound…..
Maybe we should have a poll;
¨ Keep it “original” as Carlo Riva built it
¨ Mount the blowers and put the pedal to the metal! (mahogany)
Your comments and votes are encouraged! VOTE EARLY & OFTEN.
As you can imagine this is a continuing bone of contention with me that so far the decision has been to follow the judges rules and restore “as factory original” (judging criteria for boat shows is to restore a boat “as new”); yet the gearhead in me says that leaving the superchargers off is a crime. (Just to cover all bets, I’m restoring a couple of my best superchargers……I want to hear the 2 blowers howling over the roar of 12 cylinders as Perlita does a “flyby” of the docks).
Gary Ives at the PROP SHOP in Mukilteo, Washington is no stranger to helping the wooden boat community with their mechanical needs. I worked with him on replacing or repairing where possible, the mechanical systems for Perlita.
The rudder found with Perlita in 1990, bent and misshapen, was obviously not the original shape and size, and this was later confirmed by Bob Burnand. Bob said to me very recently he had cut the rudder smaller, and it increased Perlita’s performance. On reviewing the single design drawing in existence of the Tritone series, Gary suggested we customize (re-size & re-shape) an off the shelf rudder to meet the criteria of the blueprints exactly and custom fit Perlita precisely when the running hardware is installed.
Earlier this month I returned to Dennison International, and spoke with Butch and Darren (below) on the final points of the steering wheel restoration. Final decisions were made on the color and level of gloss, and the horn ring was approved subject to small rework, ready to be sent to Richard at Queen City Plating.
EYE CANDY ~ It’s always a treat to stop in at Queen City Plating and see the progress.
Chris Casparis at Sea Sonic Boats in Canada is planking the hull and decks, and shaping plywood for the 2-layer bottom. We did have an unforeseen interruption in Chris’ work, courtesy of Canada Customs; we’ll talk about that someday after the boat is back in the US! In the meantime, check out the quality of the rough-faired! planking below…….
An interesting outcome of my researching of Perlitas history of speed, is that according to the Riva Historian Piero Gibellini, the world speed record set in 1953 was achieved by a sister boat, hull # 4 (no longer known to exist); so was Roland Reed’s assertion to his good buddy George Newton just cocktail chatter? Also interesting to speculate on….. why Carlo Riva made such a point of giving me a copy of the certificate in 1995, removing it from its frame on the wall, carefully making a copy and presenting it…….
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