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Henry Ford once had a 450hp, V12-engined boat. Here’s the story
One-off, WW1 aircraft-engined boat built for Ford founder has resurfaced
Henry Ford apparently had “several” boats during his life, built between 1920 and 1924. This particular one – the last of eight built – is the only one that exists today. It’s also the only one to have been ordered by Henry himself.
It was named Evangeline, after Ford racing driver Raymond Dahlinger’s wife. More so, the story goes that Evangeline was a long-time Ford employee and close friend of Henry’s: she quickly became his personal secretary and was apparently one of the ten most influential people close to the Ford family.
So, that’s the name, let’s talk about the boat. It’s 33ft, and was built over the winter of 1923-1924 by the Hacker Boat Company (again, another lifelong Ford friend), and Ford itself. It featured a wraparound windscreen, louvered deck ventilators and four bucket-seat cockpit arrangement. Said features were wrapped into a bodyshape that today still looks really, really lovely.
Lovely power, too. The engine was lifted from a marine-converted World War I Liberty aircraft engine: a monster 27-litre V12 producing 450hp, and 1,250lb ft of torque. Suffice to say, power wasn’t really an issue.
What became an issue was an incident during the 1924 Gold Cup boat race: one of the eight boats Ford had – the one dubbed ‘Nine Nighty Nine’ – caught fire, and Henry Ford was said to have halted his involvement in boat racing for the time being. The whereabouts of the other seven boats remains a mystery, but Evangeline continued to be used.
It stayed in Dearborn, Michigan (Ford’s base) for “several years”, and was sold in the 1950s, ending up in New York. In 1961, it was sold to a boat broker in Long Island, and then found its way to New Hampshire after that. Still unrestored, it wound up in Southern California in 1982. Even now, the side and deck frames are still in original condition.
A restoration was carried out in 1987 but stopped in 1989, after which it was put into storage, never to see the light of day for the following 25 years. Robinson Restoration (CA) finished the job, with a fully restored WWI-spec Liberty V12 (Ford was one of the largest producers of this engine under war contract).
Here’s where the next bit of the story comes into play: Mecum Auctions is offering this very boat – Henry Ford’s former runaround – at its Daytime Auction, over the next few days, with an expected price tag of between $1.25m and $1.75m. This or a Veyron?