The Western Mag Special: A Need for Speed
Famous Hydroplane Set a World Record in 1978
“When I saw her, I knew I had to have her.”
This might sound like the hook from a new Maroon 5 song.
But instead, it’s how Gilroy resident Jerry Mangono describes seeing, for the first time, the Western Mag Special, a world record setting hydroplane that he’ll be showing at this year’s Pacific Coast Dream Machines Show, April 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Half Moon Bay Airport.
“I’ve been a boater all my life,” says Mangono, who fondly remembers growing up near Lake Berryessa. “I always loved hydroplanes.”
The name “hydroplane” says it all. A water-based vehicle that can fly. And fly they do. The current record for a quarter mile is 260 MPH. A boat that powerful can also be exceedingly dangerous. So the courses were recently shortened to 800 feet.
Hydroplanes are designed to actually lift out of the water just a touch, so there’s nothing but air between the water and the hull. The engine churns out between 10 to 12,000 RPMs. In other words, it’s quite a show.
Western Mag was the boat to beat back in its heyday in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It set a record, 208 MPH in the liquid quarter mile. People who followed racing esteemed the boat the way other people idolized, say, Broadway Joe Namath or Secretariat.
Mangono says that boat racing in those days was a little like a nautical Super Bowl. Huge crowds would line the shore for a chance to see—and hear—those amazing hydroplanes scream by.
“My goal in purchasing the Western Mag was simply to continue to preserve the legacy,” says Mangono. “A lot of these boats are gone because they were raced until they just broke apart. So this boat is really a piece of history.”
If weather allows, Mangono plans to put the Western Mag Special back in the water on New Year’s Day, at Camp Far West Lake. Don’t worry that he’ll be tempted to open up the engine.
“Not only are those days gone for the boat. But they were never here for me,” he laughs. “It is a truly treacherous sport. It’s exciting as anything I can think of. And the drivers are true athletes, skilled beyond words. You really need to know what you’re doing. Disaster can occur in a microsecond.”
He’ll settle for the Cacklefest at Dream Machines, when all the boat displays battle to see whose engine growls the loudest.
“That’s a little safer,” he laughs.