REDHEAD – The First New Zealand Boat To “Crack The Ton” Fifty-Nine Years Ago


Len Southward in Redhead – Courtesy Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ

Fellow Woody Boater and New Zealand Correspondent Philip Andrew sent us this great story about a historically significant New Zealand raceboat named REDHEAD. Len Southward (shown above) in his famous raceboat REDHEAD, after retaining the Masport Cup in 1951. The logo of the Evans Bay Yacht and Motor Boat Club is painted on the side of the boat.

The term “Crack the Ton” originated in Great Britain in the 1960’s during the Mods & Rockers era and refers to breaking the magical 100 MPH barrier on a motorcycle.

Philip Andrew reported – There’s a Museum about an hour north by road from where I live here in Wellington, NZ. Its The Southward Car Museum bequeathed to the country by the now deceased Sir Len Southward. Sir Len Southward is a household name in New Zealand and through the legacy of his museum, his warm and chartitable nature continues to inspire. I drove up there last week and took these pictures.

Len Southward was a successful businessman, forming Southward Motors back in 1935, servicing motorcycles and the very popular Austin 7 automobile. Due to the continual shortage of engineering materials in New Zealand, Len created his own steel production company making extruded steel tubing and brackets called Southward Engineering.

Typical of many Kiwi blokes back then he had the attitude that if you couldn’t buy it – you’d just figure it out and make it yourself. He started collecting cars back in 1956 and the car collection today is the largest private collections in the Southern Hemisphere. (Which isn’t saying much as most of the Southern Hemisphere is water!)

Here’s a shot of just some of Sir Len’s collection and if you look to the top left of the picture you will see the raceboat.

Her name is REDHEAD and she was built by Len Southward back in 1947 / 48 to race in the Masport Cup and the Griffiths Cup. She is a 3 ton Hydroplane powered by a 1450 HP Allison V12 Aero 1710.  Len enjoyed a long and successful race career in his homemade raceboat winning the Masport Cup every year with one exception 1948 through 1958. Together they also won the Australia and New Zealand Griffiths Cup ten years straight from 1949 to 1959.

Len Southward was the first New Zealander to “Crack the Ton” with REDHEAD on Feb. 22, 1953 exceeding the magical 100 MPH barrier with an average speed of 101.260 MPH on a two-way run over the measured mile. He then set the New Zealand and Australian Water Speed Record aboard REDHEAD at 109.900 MPH on May 8, 1956 at Port England in Auckland, NZ.

REDHEAD has a decidedly homebuilt quality to it typical of much of the “Near Enough is Good Enough” engineering of the day.

Whilst the hull is constructed of native Kauri timber, the top decking appears to be aluminium with a timber paint effect applied. Does that make her a Woody?

The cockpit is rather agricultural but it did the trick when REDHEAD was kicking the Aussie boats butts back in the 40’s and 50’s.

Hold on Baby, Hold On!! (Gar Wood had two lucky toy bears in the cockpit, Teddy & Bruin and it looks like Len Southward had a lucky plastic doll – Texx)

The boat features the original hand done graphics that look …. well hand done. No gold leaf here boys – “Anyone know a good sign writer?” – “Don’t worry about it I will do it myself… There you go, one Kiwi flanked by NZ.” Look closely and you can still see the pencil lines. Old School Cool…

Whoever MAJOR was… I’m not so sure he should’ve been telling the world he did the Stream-lining on this thing.

Here are a couple of shots of the underside showing the hull shape leading back to the single step. Again the hull supports are rather agricultural. No comfy carpeted bunks for this old girl!

As the sign-board describes, REDHEAD is displayed as she was lifted from the water in Picton at the head of the South Island, NZ. Metal fatigue apparently caused the prop to disintegrate at speed and it sure made a mess. (Maximum prop shaft speed was 9428 RPM)

In the museum we also found a cool old painted sign of REDHEAD in her element.

Matt and Texx, I have found a couple of short YouTube videos featuring REDHEAD from back in the day that I thought the viewers at Woody Boater would find interesting.

Happy New Year to you both and to everyone at the Woody Boater Community! – Philip Andrew

[youtube width=”440″ height=”344″][/youtube]

1956 MASPORT CUP – This YouTube video features Sir Len Southward and his famous powerboat REDHEAD. The footage is from the Masport Cup, New Zealand’s oldest and top powerboat trophy. Remember to adjust your computer speakers so you can hear this classic machine roar! – Philip

[youtube width=”440″ height=”344″][/youtube]

Thanks Philip for sharing this great story with us here at Woody Boater.  To learn more about Len Southward and The Southward Car Museum in New Zealand, you can click here to go their website.

There’s also a very informative story about the history and evolution of powerboat racing in New Zealand and Australia by our friends at the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Seattle, WA. You can view that story “Thunderboats Down Under” on their website by clicking here.



19 replies
  1. Rick
    Rick says:

    The “Homebuilt” look is perfect. The “hey if it works” attitude takes precedent. Down under do the props rotate in the opposite direction?

  2. matt
    matt says:

    There is a fantastic film called ” The Worlds Fastest indian” About another Kiwi named Burt Monroe.. A MUST WATCH, great film about a great guy..

  3. Philip Andrew
    Philip Andrew says:

    Nice editing Texx, you added stuff even I didnt know.That old Black and White shot of Len in the boat you found adds an interesting dimension to the story. In that shot the engine cowl has a scoop on the top which must have been blanked off at some stage and the Kiwi logo is around the other way on the displayed boat. I checked the shot I took and you can just make out the old painted kiwi under the paint.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Thanks Philip, this was a fun story to work on with you.

      Last week I didn’t know who Len Southward was or anything about this famous raceboat named REDHEAD. Now – Thanks to you, we have all learned more about the history of vintage power boat racing down under.

  4. Tritone
    Tritone says:

    3 days into the new year, and we have an yet another exceptional post! Looks like a great year coming up!
    Thanks Philip and Texx.

    BTW: from the look of the prop shaft, that must have been an exciting few moments right there at the end….. :0

  5. brian
    brian says:

    So that is what happens when the bits in the water go bang bang. The forces on that shaft and prop must have been amazing to twist it like a pretzel.

    Great story!

  6. Dick Dow
    Dick Dow says:

    Let’s see – 1500hp, 9000rpm, looks to be about an 1-1/4 shaft… Well, it worked!

    Great story and cool boat!

  7. Philip Andrew
    Philip Andrew says:

    One of the New Years resolutions I made to myself this 2012 was that I am going to come over for a Boat Show.
    I’m solid booked back here for the month of March and I think thats Tavares, right? Thats the show you guys seem to rave about but I cant make that one. Tahoe is in August I think. Are any of you guys planning to be in Tahoe for the show? Texx you’ll be gliding down there on the bike wont you? Matt, Alex, Mike, are you guys going?

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Philip – It would be great if you could make it to America for a classic boat show in 2012.

      I am planning to attend the Lake Tahoe Concours again in August 2012. It’s another exciting year with Riva being the Marque Class.

  8. ducati forums
    ducati forums says:

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  9. Tom Humphries
    Tom Humphries says:

    Thank you for the great article. I am Clarrie Olssons Clarrie son in law the engineer on Redhead having lived with Clarrie for the last 10 years of his life we have heard all the facts on this wonderful boat.


  10. John Williams
    John Williams says:

    Minor correction. The video of “Masport Cup 1956” is wrongly titled – probably the Griffiths cup of that year. 1956 was the year Len Southward lost his unbroken record of Masport Cup wins – was won by Murray Williams in Clipper (6-cyl Dodge truck motor)

  11. John Glennie
    John Glennie says:

    Redhead was designed and built by Jack Morgan of Morgans Boat yard, Picton. Not by Sir Len
    I did my apprenticeship with Jack and looked at the half model Jack made of Redhead that the lines were taken off.
    A step was built into Redhead later

  12. Keith
    Keith says:

    When you remove the center of your step making two individual steps with a tunnel down the middle you are now officially a “three point hydroplane”. Awesome boat!

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