Outboard “Cheap” Thrills

Elto Quad-Powered Waterplane, National Regatta, Middletown, CT, October 1930 Negative # 1984.187.43392

In the November 1927 issue of Motor Boating, the publication announced “A New Magazine for Outboard Yachtsmen to Be a Regular Feature of Motor Boating Hearafter.” Outboard motors became commercially available in 1905 by the formation of the Waterman Marine Motor Company and in 1908 by Envinrude Motor Company (selling 12 outboards on hand during a demonstration by Ole Envirude).

In 1913, Mr. Evinrude sold half of the Evinrude motor business under the condition that he stay out of the outboard business for five years. There was little advance in design until 1915 when a 2-cylinder outboard was introduced by the Koban Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee, WI. And in 1920, Ole Evirude re-entered the outboard business with a silver lightweight twin cylinder model. He named his new company ELTO, derived from “Evinrude Light Twin Outboard” and began to design faster and faster outboard engines. At the time of the Motor Boating announcement, more than 500,000 outboards had been sold at an increasing rate, hitting 45,000 for that year.

During the same time period, Gar Wood dominated the thrills of speed with his Miss America hydroplanes – often with airplane engines as power plants. (This class of racing was attainable to only those of great wealth.) With the introduction of fast outboards, the public became interested in new classes of racing boats making the thrills of motor sport democratic and out of the realm of the wealthy. In 1924, the American Power Boat Association introduced rules for outboard motor racing regattas and the sport continued to gain in popularity. So much so, by the time of the announcement, it was reported in the article that “No advancement in the whole sport of boating ever gained widespread popularity so quickly as outboard motor boating.” Motor Boating pledged their “whole-hearted support to the growth of outboard yachting” and also their widespread use for tenders, dinghies, fishing boats, etc. There was no mention, however, of their future use to propel a waterplane!

On May 27, 1929, a patent application was filed by Russell J. Robertson for his “improvements in water planes.” The principal object of his invention was to provide a small plane with a limited loft above the water, flown like a seaplane, and powered by a small sled or boat propelled by an outboard motor. A further object of his invention was to provide “the same thrills as actually flying a sea plane without the attendant risk and which is far less expensive to buy and operate than a standard sea plane which carries its own power plant.” (Patent 1,825,363 was issued September 29, 1931.)

An article in the October 1929 issue of Motor Boating best describes the operation of the craft: “It really consists of two main units, the airplane-like structure supported by the boat-shaped step pontoon which carries the thrill-seeker, and a rear pontoon powered by an Elto-Hi-Speed Quad which furnishes the power.” A joy stick controls the elevator on the tail and the ailerons. A rudder is under each pontoon for steering and controlled by foot controls.

Pictured here is a thrill-seeker piloting a waterplane powered by an Elto Quad outboard during the 1930 National Regatta on the Connecticut River in Middletown, CT, October 1930 where 8 speed records were broken by outboards.

– Carol Mowrey