Owner protects history of high-performance powerboat
If Jim Guidry’s bright yellow, 18-foot Donzi brings to mind the infamous “cigarette” boats favored by Miami drug smugglers of the 1980s and made famous by the “Miami Vice” TV series, it’s no accident. She represents a stage in a development of those boats.
Donzis and Cigarettes were the creation of Don Aronow, a charismatic young millionaire from New Jersey who met early success in the construction business. In the 1960s, he turned his attention to the sport of offshore powerboat racing and became a world champion. He moved to Miami to pursue the sport and began to design, and then build, his own “go-fast” boats. He set up his shop on “Thunderboat Row,” just outside of Miami, to produce high-performance powerboats. He called his company “Donzi,” for his nickname, and the company’s successor is still making boats under that name.
The demands on a high-performance racing hull are high. Aronow hired crews of Cuban craftsmen — “the best fiberglass builders in the world,” to fabricate the hulls, Guidry said. His basic design was a long, narrow, deep V planing hull, able to go fast on flat water as well as to muscle through or over the swells on the open ocean. The hull had to be able to withstand repeated slamming into waves at speeds of more than 60 mph.
“This hull feels like it was carved from a solid chunk of metal,” Guidry said.
The fact that Aronow was building the fastest boats on the Gulf of Mexico was not lost on drug smugglers, and they put in their orders. The Cigarettes, and the Donzi 18, were very costly boats for their time, but the profits on a single cargo of Colombian cocaine would pay for one many times over.
There’s no proof that Aronow knew the business of his customers, but he wasn’t naive. The 6-foot-3-inch man was larger than life, a ladies’ man and free spender. And he was a prominent figure in Miami society.
The speed of his boats, and the difficulty of detecting them by radar of the time, was an increasing frustration to the U.S. Coast Guard and the Customs Service. Nothing they had could catch the Cigarettes on the high seas, and so they went to the source. Aronow designed and provided them with fast interceptor boats, able to keep up with their prey.
Don Aronow came to a bad end. Playing both sides is often lucrative, but always dangerous. Aronow was shot to death in his car in 1987, just outside his shop on “Thunderboat Row.” The shooter was caught and convicted, but it was never known who contracted the hit, or why. The Donzi company still produces go-fast boats.
Jim Guidry’s 1970 Donzi is a classic now, a gleaming relic looking just like she did when she left the builder’s yard in Miami. Guidry hasn’t restored her. He is a proponent of a movement in classic boat circles that favors “preservation” over “restoration.”
“She has a few dings and scratches,” Guidry said. “But to me, they’re her history.” Guidry doesn’t name his smaller boats. He refers to it as “the Donzi.”
The only renewal Guidry has done in the boat is the tucked-and-rolled interior upholstery, but even that’s true to the original color and design, and made by the same Florida company that made the originals in 1970.
“It may have been done by the very same guys who made them in the first place,” Guidry said. “I show her in the water at Lakewood Yacht Club’s annual ‘Keels and Wheels’ event, in the ‘Classic Glass’ division. My wooden boat friends call it ‘Glass Trash’ — all in fun — but unlike a wooden boat, my Donzi doesn’t leak a drop, and all it takes to maintain her hull is a good buffing with Carnauba Car Wax.”
The twin V-8 engines on the Donzi line were contracted to Holman-Moody, originally of Ford Motor Co.’s racing division. Guidry’s engines, 190 horsepower each with the original Volvo outdrives, are still running well, though he cruises her below racing speed.
“She’s an old boat, after all,” he said.