In the 1960s, I persuaded my father to invest in a Formula 233 based on advertisements in Yachting heralding the boat's successful race campaign. Racer Don Aronow had commissioned marine engineer Jim Wynne to design the boat, which proved so successful Aronow launched Formula Marine. The boatbuilder was later sold to Thunderbird, and since 1976, the nameplate has prospered in the capable hands of Vic Porter and his family.
With this in mind, I headed for Miami to inspect Thunderbird Products' new Formula 370 SS (Super Sport). Her design reflects the same blend of performance, style and comfort that launched the mark. John Adams, a veteran of 30 years of Formula design, has positioned the Super Sport line-which includes five models from 26 feet to 40 feet-between the company's high-performance and cruiser products.
The low, sweeping reverse sheer and forward curving arch on the 370 SS are melded cleanly into a shapely reverse transom complemented by sculpted air intakes and a raked windscreen. The 370 SS has none of the bulkiness of a dedicated cruiser design, yet her comfortable exterior and interior arrangement make her far more versatile than a high-performance ride.
Her cockpit has U-shape seating for six with a table that can be lowered to create a sunpad area. The table also can be removed and stashed in a dedicated stowage area. A wet bar has a refrigerator, cooler storage and a trash receptacle. A transom gate leads aft to an integral swim platform and a transom stowage compartment for lines and fenders. A swim ladder is hidden in the platform, and a telephone-style shower delivers hot and cold fresh water.
The helm station is ergonomically correct with an adjustable wheel and seat. The helm seat also converts to a bolster-style perch, which I found more comfortable at speed.
The dash has a sensible, easy-to-view instrument layout and room for built-in electronics. A circuit breaker panel is beneath the dash; it's a bit out of the way, but it's also out of the spray. High-performance Gaffrig engine controls (Kiekhaefer controls are standard with MerCruiser power) have integral drive trim control. Rocker-style controls for the Bennett Marine trim tabs are on the dash.
The helm has companion seating, and an adjacent settee can serve as a sun lounge. As I have come to expect with Formula, exterior upholstery work is first-class and Dri-Fast polyurethane foam eliminates soggy seats.
A handrail and integral step lead through a folding windscreen section, and nonslip surfaces and a low stainless-steel bow rail provide a secure path forward. Our test boat was fitted with the optional anchoring system, which I recommend. A Bruce anchor is mounted on a roller, and an electric anchor windlass and 150 feet of chain are out of sight, beneath a hatch.
Belowdecks accommodations are surprisingly spacious, considering the performance-boat breeding. A Corian-trimmed galley has a cooktop, microwave and sink. A dual-voltage refrigerator/freezer is several steps away. A fully enclosed head with an integral shower area has an easy-to-clean molded fiberglass finish trimmed in Corian.
Curved seating and a table forward can be used for dining or may be converted to a playpen-style berth. An entertainment center is fitted with a 13-inch TV/VCR and a stereo system. A queen-size mid-berth extends aft beneath the cockpit. Access requires a bit of crawling, but it's worth it. Six fixed portlights and four hatches provide excellent natural lighting and ventilation, although I would like to see at least one larger hatch to allow foredeck access-an important feature in an emergency.
Interior fit and finish are excellent, reminiscent of a corporate aircraft approach to design. Thunderbird offers four coordinated exterior accent and interior décor options.
The 370 SS shares many features with Formula's high-performance products. Her hull form includes multiple transverse steps, longitudinal strakes, a keel pad and a deadrise of 21 degrees at the transom. Formula refers to its creation as FAS3Tech and suggests that in its design, the balance of each feature is optimized. This seems a fair claim based on my sea trial experience. Transverse steps are intended to provide lift with less drag by ventilating the planing surface. The trick is placing the steps in the correct location for a given center of gravity. This boat rises quickly to a plane and trims nicely at speed.
The design began life on a computer and was developed using sophisticated 3D modeling software. Full-scale mockups of the boat's interior and exterior were hand-built to confirm her concept before plugs were made for her female tooling. In production, numerically controlled routers cut various structural and finish components to accuracy within one-thousandth of an inch.
Her hull laminate is composed of stitched multi-directional fiberglass reinforcements. A modified epoxy resin is used in the first two layers of the hull laminate to reduce the chance of osmotic blistering. Closed-cell foam stiffens the topsides, decks and superstructure. Her bottom is stiffened internally with a fiberglass-encapsulated foam structural grid that is pre-molded and chemically bonded to the hull. The gelcoat exterior finish is exceptional, and the boot stripe and accent stripes are painted with Imron.
Machinery space is accessible through a small service/inspection hatch or, at the push of a button, through the raised after end of the cockpit. Aluminum tanks outboard of the engines carry 238 gallons of fuel, and Thunderbird's data suggests a range of about 265 nautical miles at 4000 rpm.
Significant options include a 7.3kW Kohler generator, a ground tackle system, air conditioning and a closed cooling system.
Contact: Thunderbird Products, (219) 724-9111; fax (219) 724-1103; www.formulaboats.com.