- The 1968 Daily Express-sponsored Cowes-Torquay-Cowes race will always be remembered for the dramatic victory of the boat offered here – Tommy Sopwith’s Telstar , which is the powerboat racing equivalent of Jo Siffert’s Lotus 49 that won that year’s British Grand Prix. This famous and innovative design brought the former Jaguar racer and Equipe Endeavour founder Sopwith the greatest of his three wins in Britain’s premier offshore race. Its owner/driver’s famous tactical gamble of taking the longer inshore route around Lyme Bay while the rival Gardner Brothers Surfury pounded across the rougher water farther out saw the impudent Class 2 boat storm to the winner’s berth with 11 minutes in hand. Two weeks later Sopwith and Telstar won again at Torbay.
Of 25ft length and 6ft 9ins beam, Telstar weighs 2.5 tons and is powered by a Chevrolet-based Daytona Scarab 482ci (7.9-litre) supercharged V8 delivering around 600bhp on petrol, an awesome power unit considered the king of powerboat racing engines. The craft was built for Sopwith by the respected Cowes-based firm of W A Souter & Sons out of cold-moulded plywood to a design by racer-turned-designer, Don Shead. In designing Telstar (and its sister-craft, Melodrama) Shead adopted the winning formula of a good power-to-weight ratio with stress on hull rigidity. Following racing car and aircraft design, its strength was derived largely from D-sections that ran the full length of the boat on either side – a first for powerboat design. Telstar was an innovative design in other ways, its driver and navigator standing in tandem in the unusually short and slim hull, while there was only one engine at a time when two were considered the norm. Designed by Maurice Hardy, the drive system was another untried innovation, placing the rudder and propeller well aft of the raked transom. Sopwith’s canny specification also included increased fuel capacity that enabled the team to run a longer route.
Telstar was built as a result of the experience we had gained in Class III during the past seasons, and in an attempt to produce a fast exciting boat, still small enough to be towed to a number of events both in this country and abroad, Sopwith later recalled.
After its famous victory, Telstar was run by various teams until present owner Colin Mollan acquired it as a restoration project with a view to competing. One of its last outings was the final London to Brighton Race, which it survived despite the treacherous conditions only to run out of fuel.
Mr Mullan started Telstar’s restoration in 1998, returning this famous racing powerboat to its glorious 1968 Cowes-Torquay-Cowes no 400 livery. Last December at the Earls Court Boat Show, it was reunited with Sopwith and was the talk of the Historic Powerboat Village.
Now in full working order, Telstar would be ideal for dramatic demonstrations, or the proud centrepiece of any collection. This historic craft comes complete with an Indespension custom built trailer; copies of Don Shead’s blueprints; video of the 1968 event with commentary by Raymond Baxter; and a small portfolio of information, photographs and articles.
Although a spectacular design, Telstar is surprisingly practical and could be operated by a crew of one, but would be more fun astounding friends. Ideal for upstaging Rivas and Chris Crafts at historic speedboat meetings on the Italian Lakes.