Today fellow Woody Boater Garret Spears shares some great memories of his friend, boat racer and Tennessee Gar Wood dealer Claude Fox. Claude is shown above in “Imp III” his record setting 19′ Gar Wood runabout powered by a Grey Marine 6-160.
Claude Fox, The Grey Fox And A Gray 6/160
by Garret Spears
Recently Seth Katz inspired me to relate to all about a name that came up while talking with Seth associated with Gar Wood and the Marysville factory. In the 80s I spent time with Claude Fox, a personal friend of Gar Wood, learning as much as I could about him, Gar Wood and the Gar Wood factory in Marysville, Michigan. He was avid for just about anything and had great personal knowledge of Gar Wood – known to many as the Grey Fox.
Claude had done boat racing and other boat related things in the 30s through the 50s. He held the APBA record for speed over measured mile in a 244 Class racing runabout from late 1939 until in the 1950s. His speed was in excess of 50 mph. Unfortunately I cannot find much by surfing to verify the record but I did have great personal conversations with Claude.
William Claude Fox was born October 20, 1908 in Andersonville, TN, and died December 1, 2007 in Knoxville, TN. He was Knoxville’s pioneer boatman and first marine dealer. Mr. Fox is best remembered in boat racing circles for restarting the National Outboard Association (NOA) after the name and the association went dormant for the duration of World War II. Prior to World War II, there had been a truce between the APBA and other racers racing under the NOA banner, who combined under an umbrella sanctioning organization known as the National Outboard Racing Committee.
After WWII, members reactivated APBA but not the NOA, nor the NORC. Mr. Fox dedicated many years to the sport of outboard racing, holding numerous executive offices for the NOA. Claude Fox was also known for his photography, taking many of the photos that appeared in the NOA’s Rooster Tail publications over the years. We are greatful to have many of Claude’s photographs from over the years to share with you on our site, thanks to a long time outboard racer and family friend. – Claude Fox biography courtesy of www.quincylooperracing.us
The racing runabout Claude Fox used to set the record was a 1938 double cockpit forward Gar Wood 19 foot runabout named “Imp III”. It was stock except for the engine and a minor change to the deck between the cockpits. The engine was a Gray Marine 6-160 triple downdraft racing engine that he and a mechanic had prepared for racing.
These 6-160/150 engines were a production engine that pops up once in a while even now. Because of the displacement, 244 cubic inches, a boat with this engine was automatically put into the 244 Class. He raced the boat against others but I have no information on how he performed with it. The one thing that he was really proud of was the APBA monitored him for setting the record for speed over the measured mile in 1939 setting the mark at 51 point something miles per hour in the 244 racing runabout class.
I have a 1937 19 foot Gar wood with a dual updraft 6-150. When I rebuilt it I took special care to have the crank, rods and pistons all balanced because a friend, Joe Fraunheim, gave me a ride in a Ventnor with one of the triple downdraft 6-150s. That ride was something else just from the speed and watching the tachometer hit 5000 RPM. At the time of this ride I was rebuilding my engine which is a pretty good story by itself and marveled at the rotating inertia numbers that had to be turning with a crankshaft that easily weighed in over 100 pounds.
Needless to say, I balanced my engines total rotating assembly but wasn’t planning on running it at 5000 RPM. My boat does easily on GPS 42 miles per hour at 3700 RPM. I haven’t had the nerve or the conditions to push it any further.
My nerves are basically telling me to remember I am only a caretaker of this boat and engine. The engines are not easy to come by although I do have a spare 244 from 1936 that was used for racing at one time. Records indicate this engine was used for three seasons of racing and returned to Gray Marine for refurbishment.
What is remarkable about this whole story is that Claude set the record in a stock 19 foot Gar Wood runabout hull shown in the opening photo. He originally took delivery after having to buy Gar Wood off with a dinner and several other things he wouldn’t disclose to me. Claude had ordered the 19 foot runabout without an engine and the deck between the front and aft cockpit altered to allow walk through.
When Claude arrived at the factory to take delivery of the boat Gar Wood was present and Gar himself discovered what had been done to the bridge between the two cockpits. Gar told everyone the boat was not to be delivered because removing the bridge between the cockpits weakened the boat too much. This led to quite a bit of wrangling between Claude, the managers at Gar Wood and Gar himself. Fortunately Gar relented eventually and allowed delivery of the boat to Claude after a couple of days.
During the initial runs of the boat Gar flew down in his personal airplane and helped Claude refine everything for the record runs. In later years when Seabees became available Gar visited with Claude several times since Claude also sold Gar Wood boats until he got drafted in 1941 for the war effort.
Claude’s relationship with the Marysville facility began in 1938 and lasted until 1941. Claude would go to the factory to get boats by trailer rather than wait on normal rail shipments. When rail shipping was used, boats would be hauled to Cincinnati, Ohio and then put on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad for shipment to Chattanooga, Tennessee – Claude’s base of operation. Claude also forwarded boats to Texas, bought for resale by Del Homme, another Gar Wood boat dealer.
Claude visited the Marysville facility several times a year to review and select boats for his business. On one of these trips in 1939 Claude arrived and saw several brand new boats lined up being destroyed and burned. I and he both wished we could have gotten there the night before to steal some of these boats as they were the 16 foot and 18 foot speedsters that never got out there. Gar Wood was strongly convinced they were too dangerous and shouldn’t be offered. Claude tried to get Gar let him have some of these boats but Gar wasn’t going to let them get loose for any amount of money. Hextuple Dang! I can only groan internally over the 18 foot speedsters.
(To our knowledge, there is no record of these 16′ or 18′ speedsters ever being produced by the Gar Wood factory – Texx)
In his visits to the factory he learned that Gar Wood had a very active role in shaping the boats. Two of Gar’s pet design characteristics that he took great pride in were the bow flares and the bottom structure of all the boats. Gar kept the factory operating during the winters with a small core cadre crew. These guys built all the show boats and boats for patterning.
Claude’s inventory of boats usually consisted of two to four boats as stock for the showroom and and some others in a warehouse. Generally sales were 90% utilities but Claude did sell a 22 foot triple cockpit.
In relating things that occurred with Gar Wood one of the anecdotes Claude told me was about Gar and Claude running one of Gar’s race boats on Lake Norris in Florida. Seems they were the first to do this and accumulated the first citing by the US Coast Guard for too much speed. Remember, this is an anecdote and if anybody can come up with records of this it would be interesting to figure out which boat was used.
In Marysville Gar was using a utility one day and ran over a water logged 2×6 which jammed in the strut causing the boat to get up on a plane. This was his story about another first that I am not sure really can qualify as a first, maybe just the uniqueness.
On another jaunt in Marysville with Gar they went looking for a big Chris-Craft triple used for rum running that Gar wanted to race. Claude relates that Gar drove right to the dock where the Chris-Craft was hidden and blew the horn. Next thing, two guys were down getting the Chris-Craft under way. During the race Gar rode one of the Chris-Craft’s wakes and couldn’t steer away from the Chris-Craft and hit it with the bow of his Gar Wood boat. This stove in the side of the Chris-Craft and only damaged the cutwater on the Gar. Afterwards Gar Wood told the guys they should be using one of his boats for the rum running rather than one of those Smith boats. Claude thought that Gar did this bashing on purpose but Gar wouldn’t acknowledge it.
Thanks Garret for sharing your stories with us here at Woody Boater, the legend of Gar Wood is alive and well… And we also had the opportunity to learn about Claude Fox and his significant role in the history of boat racing in America.
It’s interesting to note that this particular Gray Marine 6-160 powered Gar Wood runabout was also featured in the 1986 Gar Wood News publication by historian Tony Mollica. At the time “Imp III” was being restored by Stokes Tomlin of Atlanta, Georgia who owned the boat after Claude Fox. Tony also spoke directly to Claude Fox and was very impressed by the performance of the Grey powered Gar Wood for that period.