The Donzi Story Posted with permission from Donzi Marine
The 1960’s were rough-and-tumble times for offshore racing. V-bottom design and fiberglass boat building technology were still emerging, and grueling ocean courses that spanned hundreds of miles through perilous seas often bested drivers and boats. Champion racers were larger-than-life heroes, and during those times, the most prominent names in racing seemed to share one address: NE 188th Street in North Miami, FL. “Thunderboat Row” was what they called it, and World Champion racer Don Aronow presided over it all.
During his illustrious career, Aronow created Formula, Cigarette, Magnum, and a handful of others, but in 1963 he was hard at work bringing Donzi to life. The first Donzis were 28-foot ocean racers. Gaining notoriety in the 1963 and ’64 Miami-Key West and Miami-Nassau races, they were grudgingly referred to by the competition as those “Damned Donzis”.
In 1964 Aronow debuted his first Donzi “Sweet 16” a boat with distinctive low-profile styling and a race-proven bottom. This boat would serve as the blueprint for Donzi models for years to come. Early Aronow designs included the Ski Sporter and the St. Tropez, and by the time Aronow sold the company to marine-accessories conglomerate Teleflex, the Donzi reputation as a fast boat with great lines was clearly established.
Teleflex stayed the course that Aronow had plotted for Donzi, introducing 14’ and 18’ variants of the original Sweet 16. In 1967 two former Teleflex executives John and Tim Chisholm bought Donzi, with the goal of infusing the classic Donzi style with a more “European” element. Models introduced during their stewardship included the Criterion and Corsican, models still lauded by enthusiasts today.
In 1985, Jack Staples and former Chris Craft president Dick Genth acquired Donzi, with the goal of increasing Donzi’s low-volume production of roughly 50 boats per year. Donzi left Miami in favor of Sarasota, many new models were introduced, a solid dealer network was put in place, and production was increased to nearly 400 boats annually. During this time, the Donzi “Z” line of performance boats was created, with the Z-33 Crossbow being one of the most sought-after performance boats of the 1980’s.
In 1988, marine-industry conglomerate OMC took the helm, with the goal of transforming Donzi into a true mass production operation. An infusion of working capital led to the creation of a family of Donzi bowriders and further expansion of the product line, but OMC’s attempt to transform Donzi came at the perhaps the worst possible time, as boat sales were in a period of unprecedented decline. In the end, OMC’s management approach proved to be less than ideally compatible with the Donzi customer base.
In 1993, American Marine Holdings stepped in. Chairman & CEO Lee Kimmell and President Mike Collins established a clear plan to return Donzi to its former prominence. Embracing emerging production methods and advanced running surface technology, Donzi found itself in the midst of its most substantial overhaul in its history.
Today, Donzi produces a more diverse range of models than ever before, all designed and built with the company’s original mandate of outstanding performance, quality construction, and enduring style. If the public has been quick to take notice of Donzi’s resurrection, the media hasn’t been far behind, bestowing awards and accolades on new Donzi models almost as fast as the company can develop them.
In its 40th year, Donzi continues to expand its horizons and build on its hard-earned reputation as an innovator. Whether blurring the lines between fishing boat and sport cruiser with the new 38ZF, or dominating the competition in the 38ZR (winner of five APBA National Championships and two APBA/UIM offshore racing World Championships), Donzi is leading the pack in 2004 just like they were in 1964. Some things never change!
When Don Aronow sold Formula to Thunderbird, he engaged the designers James R. (Jim) Wynne and Walt Walters whom he had worked with to design boats for Formula. They designed the bottoms for the new line of Donzi Boats (Sports Illustrated, August 2, 1965).