Ted Jones


Commencement For The Dean: A Distant Summer's Forgotten Man [1980]
By Weldon T. Johnson

Ted Jones, Stan Sayres & Mike Welsch (after 1950 APBA Gold Cup win)
Ted Jones, Stan Sayres & Mike Welsch (after 1950 APBA Gold Cup win)

The first that most Detroiters knew of his work came on June 27th of that year when the morning paper announced: "Boat Going 160 MPH Just A Blur — Detroit Is Next Stop." Underneath the headline was a picture of the boat with an enormous spray behind it. On the newstands, Time and Newsweek buzzed about the remarkable boat, and in England The London Times soberly reported the demise of Malcolm Campbell's prior speed mark of 141 mph established 11 years earlier.

Old-timers remember the afternoon that a blue truck and flatbed pulled into Ed Gregory's boatyard with a huge mahogany lump squatting on the trailer. On each side, painted signs proclaimed, "Worlds Fastest Boat Going To Gold Cup Race In Detroit." Those who were there of course laughed about how unsuitable the boat's name was, and wondered what clever person had that idea.

The next day, a taciturn and humorless-looking fellow in his fifties stepped out from the Chrysler Boat Well, where the boat was now moored, to talk for awhile with Detroit's newspapermen. Someone said he was a car salesman from Seattle, Washington and that he owned the boat. "We want to find out," S. S. Sayres began, "if our boat is as good as it has proved on the straightaway."

As Sayres talked on, the rubbernecking observers scrutinized the craft. It was about 28 feet long and almost 12 feet wide! Atop the stern was a high, fixed fin attached to which was an adjustable turntab, someone said. And although the instrument panel was covered with canvas, the bottom of the boat was fully visible. It had no step, but rather sponsons, both port and starboard. One onlooker said that the boat had only eight inches of wetted surface when it set the mile straightaway record.

"It's really," Sayres was saying, "a backyard-built boat, a rule-of-thumb job that has been perfected by what you might call seat-of-the-pants experiences in test runs." Two dozen middle-aged River Rats laughed approvingly at the wry quality of humor sent from Seattle.

Sayres continued with his little press conference: "Ted Jones designed it, tested it and directed all the changes made, but I don't think even Ted could tell anyone precisely all the factors that make it go so fast. Ted just has an instinct for building raceboats. This is his fifty-first boat, but his first big one. Since a youngster, he's been building raceboats, mainly 135s and 225s. He has a son who now is building fast 48-cubic-inch class racers," Sayres was saying.

The small crowd drifted back to look over the new boat.. They noticed another aviation feature, a Pitot tube running down the aftedge of the rudder. And the boat's bottom seemed to be covered only with quarter-inch duraluminum sheets. The Allison engine was turned around from the usual configuration, and the gearbox was bolted to the stern and, hence, having a shorter shaft than usual.

The old-timers huddled, and one greyhair warned, "Don't forget — Jones is a Boeing aviation mechanic, and he's probably a shark on these motors!"

A few paces away, the taciturn spokesman was finishing his speech to the press. "It has been Ted's life ambition," Sayres was saying, "to drive in a major boat race and I told him last June that if I broke the world record in it, he could be its pilot in the Gold Cup. And I broke the record, so the agreement stands — and I don't think a $5,000 check would get Ted out of the seat. Mike Welsch, one of our mechanics, will ride with him." Sayres finished and walked back to the Chrysler Boat Well.

Thirty years ago this week was the first time in the turbulent history of the Detroit River that a full, thick roostertail erupted from its surface. And the dot in front of the roostertail was Ted Jones. In 1950, they didn't call him The Dean. Then, Tudor Owen Jones was known, if at all, as Ted Jones — designer and sometimes driver of Slo-mo-shun IV. He had come to town to live out a dream — to race for the Gold Cup and, of course, to win it.

He is greyer now and there is a little more flesh to his lean frame, but at 70, Ted Jones is still starkly attractive. Too handsome for an old man. While Slo-mo-shun IV has been resting in a Seattle museum for over 20 years, Jones has not. Today, he is alive and well in the enviable clime of Costa Mesa, California where he pursues his lifelong preoccupation with designing boats that go fast. On the desk in front of him is a paperweight -a large, bronze propeller. "That's the clunk of a propeller we won the Gold Cup with. It's a piece of junk. Way too much pitch, 24 inches of pitch. We call this a rainmaker — a good propeller wouldn't show that much roostertail," he said recently.

It is immediately apparent that Jones is still independent and outspoken, two traits of personality that have not dissipated since he walked up to Guy Lombardo and Gar Wood Jr., at the 1948 Gold Cup Race and announced: "You write this down, so you'll remember it! I'm gonna build a boat. And I'm gonna come back here, and I'm gonna whip your butts with it!"

Ted kept his promise, of course. But today, he seems to wonder whether anyone remembers. In a sport where honor and credit either come too late or do not come at all, Ted Jones agonizes about his place in things — that his actual accomplishments and the obstacles to his achievement might not be known.

"It became important for a lot of people to take credit for The Mo," he began. Jones characteristically refers to Slo-mo-shun IV with that abbreviated sobriquet. "But I'd like it known that I designed it and that I had many, many first with it — things that had never been used in a raceboat, before. Almost everything was entirely different from any other boat. And I'd like to have credit for doing those things."

To understand Jones and his view of the world, it is necessary to appreciate his half-century obsession. Jones was attracted to-or perhaps called by — a peculiarly unprofitable and socially insignificant challenge at an unconsenting age: Ted Jones simply wanted to make fast boats, boats that would go faster than ever before.

At the age when most of his peers were falling in love for the first time, Ted — age 12 — built his first hydroplane. In the years that followed, Jones designed and built hundreds of limiteds and about 20 Unlimiteds. Jones hasn't designed an Unlimited in 17 years, having passed that mantle to son Ron Jones of Seattle. But Ted is still involved with other boats. "I'm 70years old, but I don't feel like 70 so I just work all the time. I just had two boats in the boatshow. I just got through designing a 60-foot tunnel boat for some military purpose and offshore sea rescue — 120 mph with a gas turbine. Four thousand horsepower!"

But Slo-mo-shun IV was Jones' most notorious accomplishment, and he remembers that boat and the circumstances which surrounded its rise to dominance as a bittersweet experience. In this story, there is both joy and sadness.

Nineteen-forty-eight began as a very good year for Ted Jones. By then, his prominence in Northwest limited racing had brought him some isolated opportunities to modify Ventnor three-pointers — "to make them propriders," Jones says. "Ventnor never had a prop-rider." One of the hulls that Jones was asked to work over was a boat that a Seattle automobile dealer had purchased from Jack "Pop" Cooper. When Stanley St. Clair Sayres bought Pop's Tops, he renamed it Slomoshun II and asked Jones to repair its left sponson which had been severely damaged in shipping.

"Later on, I built Slo-mo-shun III in my basement at home. It did 96 mph which was then faster than the world record. And it turned good — in fact, I won a race with an airplane with it one day." And at about this time, Ted Jones began to try to warm Sayres to the idea of building an Unlimited hydroplane — a physically exaggerated version of Slo-mo-shun III and the other limited three-pointers that Jones had been working on. Jones was ready with the design — he'd sketched it out on butcher paper several years earlier.

In 1948, Ted Jones came to Detroit to watch his first Unlimited hydroplane race — at the suggestion of Sayres. "Sayres wanted me to go to see if I wanted to build my own boat which was a three-point suspension -or, did I want to build a My Sweetie, which was an old-fashioned hydroplane that John Hacker designed. John Hacker was a great naval architect, and I had a lot of respect for him. Some of his boats were beautiful — fantastic — but they weren't three-point suspension. They weren't the self-induced ground effects machine, which is what I had. Working at Boeing made me learn about air. My boats rode on a ball of air."

Jones was not impressed with what he saw in the first Unlimited hydroplane race he watched. "Well, I didn't see any boats that would run. They were just a bunch of garbage — I could've beaten them with my 225. One boat finished, and he sank when he got to the dock and that was Danny Foster. The rest of them had already sunk."

After the '48 Gold Cup Race, Jones and Sayres and Anchor Jensen, a sailboat builder, returned to Seattle. Apparently, only Jones felt comfortable with his original predispositions. "My mind was made up. I wanted to build what I had designed in '44 or'45 because I couldn't think of any improvements to make. I didn't see anything that I should do differently. I knew what I should do because I built my limiteds very much like Slo-mo IV. But Jensen couldn't change his mind. He thought that John Hacker was the greatest designer, and that we should use a Hacker design."

Ultimately, of course, Sayres elected to build a boat of Jones' design. And in the fall of 1949, construction of Slo-mo-shun IV began in the yard adjacent to Jensen Motor Boat Co. At this time, the association between Jones, Sayres and Jensen was formalized outwardly, although the partnership was uneasy from the beginning. It is primarily at this point where The Slo-mo-shun story became a painful, personal odyssey for Ted Jones. This was the first beginning of the end.

"It was a sad deal, building it there. I made a list of materials to cut out, the sizes and lengths of everything and the type of material. Well, they were super-sarcastic about it. They laughed when I said one inch by 7/8 inch battens — they thought the battens should be three inches by four inches. White oak, you know. And they cut the keel out the way they wanted it -and, eventually, I had to cut that whole keel up to do it right, and I had oak left after I made all the frames and battens and everything else. If they'd had their way, the boat would have weighed four or five tons instead of 4500 pounds. It wouldn't have been a raceboat.

"And, of course, they said all the time that we should be building a Sweetie boat and get Hacker to design it — not a piece of junk that Jones came up with. It was a real bad hassle the whole time. Sayres tried to keep everything from exploding."

Nonetheless, Jones pursued the project with single-mindedness, his lifelong, lonely friend. As always, Jones knew precisely what he wanted the boat to be. But the sniping continued. Jones, becoming more accustomed to gaff and meanness, struggled on. "Jensen was always on my back. He wanted to put a step — a full step across it to make it look like the Sweetie. And I just told him to stay out of my way. It wasn't a happy deal — I never had had a deal like this before or since in my entire life."

And the interpersonal rifts took their toll. Slo-mo-shun IV took almost a year to construct, far longer than it should have taken. "It was because of personality things. It shouldn't have taken but three or four months."

Finally, in March of 1950 Slo-mo-shun IV was finished. Ted Jones has a yellowed, eight millimeter film of the first run. "The first time we took it out, the steering cable broke — this Mickey Mouse sailboat stuff they put in. So, we fixed that and went out again — and then, the rudder was bad, and we had to come in and machine the rudder. And then, I went out again and I found out that the thing would just idle at 100 mph and I'd just punch it an dit would go up to 190 mph before I even got my foot off it — I ran out of guts before it ran out of speed!"

In the months to follow, Jones tested Slo-mo-shun IV almost daily on Seattle's Lake Washington. "I ran it every day. I'd go out — in fact, I was working the second shift then so I could run the boat — and I'd run it all day until three o'clock when I hurried to Boeing. And I got a chance to find out how to turn it. I set up a tentative race course so I wouldn't be completely green when I got to Detroit."

But before the A.P.B.A. Gold Cup, there was another matter to deal with -the world's straightaway mile record. "When it would just idle at 100 mph and I'd just punch it and it'd go up to 190 mph before I got my foot off it — I knew right then, that we could clobber any record there was."

One day in the spring of 1950, Jones told Sayres, "I'm ready to go for the mile any day now. So, let's get some letters written to the A.P.B.A. and get the people out." Ted Jones was waiting for that day. For almost all his life, he was looking toward that moment. "I'll have to point out that I was eager to build this boat. I was eager to get a boat that would set a new straightaway record and win the Gold Cup, the Harmsworth the Silver Cup and all the cups because that's what I wanted to do since I was a kid. Because I raced all the time! So, when Sayres came along and he had some money — I though it was his money at the time, it turned out to be Greater Seattle's money -well, I was real eager to get it built no matter what. And I took a lot of garbage in doing it . . .

"I had a deal with Sayres on the boat. As long as he wasn't going to pay me for the boat, I wanted the opportunity to drive it through the mile and race the Harmsworth, the Gold Cup, the Silver Cup and so on. And he said, 'That's fine, I don't race anyway."'

And then, a string of incredible events began to unfold, odd circumstances that, in Ted's mind, placed him forever on the side of the angels. A few days before the A.P.B.A. sanctioned mile run, Jones discovered that Slo-mo-shun IV was not capable of more than 120 mph in a straight line. On a strictly private hunch that he ought to test the boat again two days prior to the mile run, Jones discovered that the fuel line, running from the fuel tank to the fuel pump, had been deliberately cut and a neatly machined aluminum plug had been inserted so that the quantity of fuel reaching the carburetor was substantially less than that required for full performance. An ugly scene followed, involving the principals at Jensen Motor Boat Co., the only known persons having keys to the loft where Slo-mo-shun IV was locked.

After Jones worked through three nights to find the source of Slo-mo-shun's problem, he nonetheless appeared on the appointed morning of the speed run. Despite little rest, an entire lifetime prepared Jones for this moment. He was confident that the record would be broken, and that he would be the man behind the wheel. "There wasn't any doubt because I built Slo-mo-shun IV with no pay — no design pay, no nothing — for the privilege of driving it and knowing that I set the straightaway record and won the Gold Cup, the Harmsworth and all that.

"But when we got into the boat, Sayres got behind the wheel. And I said, 'What's this?' And he said, 'This is going to be mine! This, I want- I want the straightaway.'" And Ted Jones held the wheel because Sayres couldn't see too well. Jones held the wheel and gritted his teeth.

But the worst was yet to come, and Jones remembers it today without sweating. "Coming through the mile, we were really going — I mean we were going flat out. About two hundred miles an hour! And all of a sudden, a 28 foot, deep V runabout with a Scripps-Booth engine was right in front of us. It was . . . Anchor Jensen's uncle, his boat. Now, before we went out for the mile run, I saw this guy sitting there and I'd had a problem with him before, so I had asked the Coast Guard to watch him. Well, it didn't matter. We came through and I had seen over 200 mph and we were still picking up when we entered the trap. And here comes this big lug of a runabout right in front of us — flat out across the course. We missed him by about six inches! And we hit a four-foot wall of water and The Mo went up about 60 feet and when we came down in the water, it came down hard on the right sponson. And I was sitting there, bent around trying to steer it from the right side. And the boat came down and it broke a bone in my back. But it pulled my good shaft and the propeller right out of the boat. And that was lost."

Later, the official speed run of Slo-mo-shun IV in that first mile straightaway was undertaken with back-up equipment. "The only shaft I had to replace it with was one that was scored for some reason. And the only propeller I had was this bronze propeller — this one, here on the desk — that didn't work too well. So, I was afraid the shaft would break. So, I said, 'Let's just take it through fast enough to get the record.' So, we went through at 160.323 holding the engine down to a minimum. Just enough to make the record."

With the mile record in hand, Jones began to look toward the Gold Cup Race in Detroit, looming barely a month away. Jones and the crew were surprised by Detroit's pre-race reception for Slo-mo-shun IV. The Seattle group was prepared to play out the role of imperialist invaders in hostile, eastern territory. Instead, "there were a lot of people, a lot of nice people who were sports-minded and wanted to see it run. But they were lovely people to me. We couldn't buy a meal anyplace, I couldn't even pay for a haircut! And when I qualified, there was a lot of excitement because of the roostertail. I was the only boat there with a roostertail!"

Of course, there was derision, too. Especially after Slo-mo-shun IV qualified at 87 mph — third fastest in a field of nine. Prior to qualification, it had been announced that the wash of pleasure craft made the course too rough for a high speed trial, but that Jones would attempt to qualify at part throttle. "Oh, they laughed. I deliberately made it look like I was having an awful time on those turns. I slowed way down. I could have made 100 mph laps with no problems, but we had agreed to just barely beat them, so they wouldn't know what we had. So, this newspaperman wrote: 'An eel on the straightaways, a worm on the turns' — was the caption on the picture."

On the morning of the race, Jones arose early in his room at the Whittier Hotel. He felt confident, but he was uncomfortable, too. "I knew I had a hundred miles an hour on them. How could I lose? No matter how bad a driver I was! They could run 90 and I could run 190. But I had butterflies from the day before, actually — I still had butterflies and I knew I'd have them until that final gun went off — that gnawing feeling in my stomach."

The early morning jitters forecast the events of the day: there would be surprises for everyone, including Ted Jones "I got into the boat plenty early for the first heat — in case something went wrong. I hit the starting button and nothing happened. Solenoids ! I was real excited, and I ran across the bow and pulled off the hood. And I goofed around and I found a wire loose, and I tightened it up. In the meantime, five or eight minutes had gone by and the five minute gun had fired, and another couple of minutes had gone by. And Sayres ran out on the dock and said, 'Hey, you forgot to sign the release I said, 'The release?' And he said, 'Yeah. Look, I don't want to support your wife the rest of my life if something happens to you, I want you to sign this release.' And he put this piece of paper down, and I signed it in three or four places. Just at the bottom of 'em. And I've got my goggles on, and I'm ready to go. And I'm excited! Never drove an unlimited race before, and never on the River. So I signed it."

In the meantime, Jones and Mike Welsch, the riding mechanic, set out to deal with the realities of Heat One. "Mike was friend of mine at Boeing. He'd never seen a boat race, arid he wanted to see this one. So I said, 'You can ride with me if you want. No one else wants to ride with me, and I think it's a requirement, but I'm not sure."'

The one-minute cannon fired for the start of the heat. As the clock wound down to zero, a Coast Guard Auxiliary cruiser suddenly pulled out from the dock at the DYC starting line and proceeded across the course. "Well, we were coming down for the start at full bore and still picking up, and here's this 60 foot Coast Guard boat right in front of us. Cantrell went around the stern of it in My Sweetie and I went around its bow. I think! Maybe I got killed in it and this is some other life.!

"Now, I'm shook up from that, and it was just a short distance from that to the first turn. And practically sitting there at 35 mph was a little 225! A little, white 225! Holy smokes! I shut down. You know, I thought it was a boat just leaving the turn — that it had got there before I had. And I was going into the single buoy turn awfully fast, and I could see that I was going to run right over that little, white boat.

"I turned the wheel real hard. I knew that this would bring the bow of The Mo up and over, and it just missed the top of his helmet and landed alongside of him and we continued on. But, this bothered me the whole heat, it really did. I did't even know there was a 225 in the race."

Despite these developments, Slo-mo-shun IV emerged from the first turn and entered the backstrech in the lead, having passed Such Crust II and the 225, Blitz. Many observers anticipated that Jones would all but stop in order to get through the turns. So, thousands of the faithful who had gathered at The River confidently waited for Cantrell, who was driving despite a prerace accident, to take the lead for good in the next turn. They were still waiting during the tenth and final lap when Slo-mo-shun lapped Sweetie. The thousands stood to their feet, sensing something historic. Geographical partisanship notwithstanding, the crowd collectively roared its approval of the remarkable machine from Seattle.

"As I lapped him, he moved over and tried to stuff me underneath the Detroit Yacht Club dock — which would have really shortened our bodies quite a bit. At first I thought that maybe he was out of control so I veered over a little bit toward the dock. When I got about ten feet from the dock, I turned a little bit to the left, just enough to run him out. I knew then that Detroit had no intentions of losing that race."

Returning to the dock, Jones and Welsch apologized for lapping Cantrell. "It was really my fault," said Welsch. "No, it was mine," argued Jones. "I made a bad start and I got mixed up. I thought My Sweetie had crossed the starting line ahead of me. Mike and I couldn't talk much, but I knew he wasn't sure, either. So when I came up on her on my last lap, I though I'd better make certain. That's why I gunned Slo-mo-shun and passed My Sweetie just before we got the checkered flag. We felt badly when we learned we had lapped Cantrell. It looked as if we were grandstanding, trying to show him up. We knew he was driving despite pain, and we certainly wouldn't have done that," Jones told reporters.

In the second heat, Lou Fageol replaced the ailing Cantrell in My Sweetie. Four boats started. My Sweetie crossed the line first, then Guy Lombardo in Tempo. Slo-mo-shun was very late, 200 yards behind the leader. Back at the dock, Sayres told reporters that he had instructed Jones to drive the heat conservatively, but to make certain that the time advantage established in the first heat was not lost.

"In the second heat, I was going along and made two or three laps and I noticed that when I punched it, the cowling moved three inches. And the cowling was bolted to the engine! And I shut it off and it came back! And I hit it again and the cowling moved over. I thought, `Holy Smokes!' So, I got straightened out around the turn and I looked down — the whole engine was broken loose from its connection inside the stringers. The engine was just lying there! All the engine stringers were broken, loose, just hanging and shrivelled!

"So, I had to take it easy. I just pooped along at 80 mph laps. I was just going to coast in, in second place. Then, on the last lap, Fageol blew the engine in Sweetie, he overheated it or something. So, we worked like Trojans between heats and got that engine bolted back in with a bunch of gerry-rigged stuff and lined up fairly well by the time the third heat came along."

Only Slo-mo-shun, Tempo and Chaz showed for the third and final heat. It was by now, a formality, with My Sweetie taking an early retirement for the day. "In the last heat, I went out and through the first turn and started down the backchute and the wheel — the steering wheel — felt stiff. It was getting stiffer and stiffer. And I went into the first turn, and I started to turn the wheel and it wouldn't turn! I couldn't move it — I couldn't turn it left or right. The steering gearbox was frozen up tight in the straightaway position. So I had to drive the entire third heat using the throttle — get on it hard through the turns and off to straighten it out. On, off, on, off, on, off. So, I only averaged 73 or something in the last heat because I couldn't turn the steering wheel.

"And it was kinda comical. I'd loaned Mike a helmet, and his head wasn't that big. He was extremely nervous in the race, so I reached over and hit him on top of the helmet. And that drove the helmet over his eyes. And he's a feisty Irishman, so he poked me a couple of times. And the TV station had a big lens on us, and they said, 'These guys are just scuffling in there — just having a great time!' Now, I had put pieces of tape on the dashboard in front of Mike. And I told Mike, 'You've got one job to do — everytime I make a lap, pull a piece of tape off. And every heat, there was still ten pieces of tape there! Because he was so nervous, he didn't even know he was in a race."

Finally, Jones saw the checkered flag. "I was so sure I was going to get it, I looked for it. And I saw it! And I was very elated because I always wanted to win the Gold Cup. Of course, I had my problems, and it was because the other boats were such pigs that they were easy to beat. I could've beaten them with my 225!

"When the race was over, I pulled up to the Detroit Yacht Club dock like they told me, and I jumped out with a line in my hand. And they looked at me. I didn't have a speck of water or grease on my coveralls and they looked in the boat and said, 'Well, you're not going to tie it here, are you?' And I said, 'Well, if it's illegal, I'll move it. They said, 'Oh, no! It's legal, but we thought you'd be sinking by now.' See, in '48, when I was there, all the boats sank except the winner, and he sank when he got to the dock. And there wasn't a drop of water in The Mo."

"Then, it was customary — traditional — for the winning driver to sit at a table on the Detroit Yacht Club dock and autograph the programs. And hundreds of people walked by in four or five hours and I guess I wrote until I had writer's cramp. The reaction of the Detroit people was wonderful — they just thought it was fantastic."

The day after the race, the telephone in Jones' room at the Whittier rang. And rang and rang. "I got calls in my room, and people came up to the room — they wanted to be first in line to get their boats. The consensus of opinion of all the eastern boatowners and drivers was that the Slo-mo-shun couldn't survive the water, and the supreme test for the boat would come during the Gold Cup race, and it came through in fine shape and immediately I was besieged with these persons wanting duplicate boats. Lou Fageol and the owner of the Indianapolis Speedway and Horace Dodge and Jack Schafer all wanted a boat. And I thought this was great! I gave them a price of $50,000 a boat, which in those days was good pay for a boat. After that, I got dozens of letters from oil companies, beer companies and all kinds of people who wanted to publicize their businesses with the boats. I had all kinds of chances to build dozens of Slo-mo-shuns!

"So, I went to Sayres. I was real happy about the whole thing. I said, 'Oh boy, I've finally got it made, I'm going to get some money for my boats.' Up until that time, I hadn't got a dime for Slo-mo IV, and I never did. And, boy, his face just turned purple! He was real perturbed. And he said, 'Don't you know that I have a contract with you?' And I said, 'You don't have a contract.' And he showed me the copy of it — it was what I had signed the day before!

"See, I didn't look at the paper at all when I signed it. I just signed it — I was excited, I had five minutes before the five minute gun and I had to get with it. I had butterflies on my butterflies, and I had never raced an unlimited before and the River was rough and I knew I was going to have a tough job. So I signed this, and it wasn't a release. It turned out to be a contract restricting me from designing, driving or building hydroplanes for anyone else for three years."

The uneasy partnership between Jones, Sayres and Jensen lasted just long enough to produce Slo-mo-shun V in November 1951. Finally, Jones left the Slo-mo-shuns and Seattle. It was not in the middle of the night, but there were no crowds at the airport. Jones left entirely alone. Jones decided that he had had enough, friends say, after he realized that his legalistic naivete would not permit him to design and build additional boats of the Slo-mo-shun design. He was contractually bound to Sayres, and Sayres apparently had no interest in developing additional boats either for himself or for others who wanted them. Of course, Ted himself was a complicated fellow, a dreamer who distrusted those who couldn't share the vision and, like other artists, he was untouched by economic realities. He always assumed that business would somehow take care of itself.

In Jones' absence, the Slo-mo-shuns continued the dominance begun in 1950: Slo-mo-shun V took the Gold Cup in 1951 and 1954 and Slo-mo-shun IV recaptured the Cup in 1952 and 1953. Slo-mo IV also pushed her own mile straightaway record to 178 mph in 1952.

Jones returned from his exile in 1955 with two improved Slo-mo-shuns — Rebel, Suh and Miss Thriftway. Some said they were "spite boats." And then still further improvements were to follow: Hawaii Kai III, Shanty I, Wahoo, a pair of Miss Bardahls, Thriftway Too, Maverick, two more Miss Thriftways and several others. In the late 50s and early 60s, Ted Jones was the most prolific and successful designer in the world of Unlimited hydroplanes. At about this time, they started to call him The Dean.

But his heart always belonged to Slo-mo-shun IV. She was not the best of his 20 or so Unlimiteds — Jones puts Shanty I in that spot. But she was the first. "That boat went like a bomb right from the first day. And it was extremely safe on the top end because I built enough deck pressure to offset the lift of the bottom. It was the first prop-riding boat that would turn. The fastest they ever turned a boat before I built one was 90 mph and they were hairy. Slo-mo IV was the first in everything. There was no better boat, no better design. Even today."

In the minds of many, Ted Jones was one of speedboating's genuine geniuses, a unique force of creative imagination. "No," says Jones. "The way it is . . . I think anyone who has an interest in any one thing and spends their entire life developing it — no matter how stupid they are — they can come up with a pretty good product. And I was intensely interested in going fast on the water."

(Reprinted from the 1980 Spirit of Detroit Regatta program)

[ Weldon T. Johnson; used by permission]


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