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Donzi ‘Sweet 16’

Illustration by Jim Ewing

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Sixteen feet of speed and sex appeal. The Donzi Ski Sporter still looks good 50 years after her introduction. And what a sensation the “Sweet 16,” as she was affectionately known, created back in 1964 when raceboat driver and designer Don Aronow showed the boat off to a public eagerly playing in Sunfish, Boston Whalers and other small boats.

Here was an affordable powerboat that looked sharp, ran fast and could water-ski all day long. And the red-and-white color scheme and tuck-and-roll upholstery gave it a “groovy” sports car look.

It was an irresistible package and an instant success. People skied them, raced them in souped-up versions, trailered them to their favorite getaways and simply rode around with friends. Celebrities bought them — in fact, President Lyndon Johnson raced Secret Service men in his Sweet 16.

But the boat was more than just pretty. The team of Aronow, Jim Wynne and driver Walt Walters had already produced a pair of 28-footers dubbed “those damned Donzis” for their dominance in the Miami-Key West races. The Sweet 16 was an innovative offshoot. Power came from Wynne’s newly developed outdrive, which was coupled to an inboard engine. It rode a 24-degree, deep-vee hull and had a top speed of 45 to 50 mph. Even the seating was new, with an aft-facing “spotter” seat for keeping an eye on skiers.

During his tumultuous career, Aronow won more than 350 offshore races while claiming three U.S. powerboat championships and a pair of world titles. He also designed and built a fleet of performance boats with legendary names — Formula, Magnum, Cigarette and the Blue Thunder, 39-foot power cats that were used as government patrol boats. But few matched the appeal of his sporty little Sweet 16.

December 2014 issue