Detroit News sports writer Gregg Krupa talks with Andrew Tate, of Walled Lake, racing in this weekend's Spirit of Detroit Hydrofest off Belle Isle. The Detroit News
Detroit — The first time Mitch Evans sat at the wheel of the U-80 Blue Chip he was nine years old, and in the lap of his father, Norm.
“We went over to Lake Chelan, in Washington, and did a little testing,” said Evans, just before giving the 1957 unlimited hydroplane a vigorous visual inspection in drydock at the edge of the Detroit River, about 100 yards from the famous Roostertail turn.
“I dropped down in the seat and got a big spin. We went up the lake about 10 miles, came back,” he said.
“And, I’ll never forget my Uncle Al was jumping up and down on the dock, because it only had about 20 gallons of fuel in it.
“And he was, ‘Norm! Where the hell are you going?’ ”
A half-century later, Evans, a retired driver who won the 2003 American Power Boat Association Gold Cup in Detroit, and Ron and Paul Gordon, owners of the Detroit Machinery Center, have restored the Blue Chip.
The U-80 raced for the Gold Cup on the river in the early 1960s, piloted by drivers that included Fred Alter and Walter Kade.
In some of those races, they drove against Norm Evans in $ Bill.
“When we went out for a boat ride, we never stopped until it was out of gas, or blown up; one or the other,” said Mitch Evans, whose father raced brilliantly in the late 1950s through the 1960s in boats like Miss Bardhal and Nitrogen.
“I can still, till this day, look down between my feet and see that propeller shaft going around, water flying, big grin on my dad’s face,” he said.
Back in the day, drivers got a lot wetter and dirtier, driving the old boats, with their elegant, streamlined bodies and their monstrous aircraft engines.
The Blue Chip sits this week across the river from the Detroit Yacht Club, with other vintage hydroplanes like Gale V and Miss U.S. IV, the old technology.
It is storied stuff, especially in the Motor City.
After some years of painstaking effort, aided by the Gordon family tradition of manufacturing parts for the big racing boats in Detroit, the pair of dedicated powerboating aficionados put the Blue Chip in the water one month ago during the Columbia Cup in Washington.
The Blue Chip started and ran with that thundering, ear-splitting rumble of the World War II era fighter plane engines, an Allison, from a P-31 or P-38 “Lightning.”
Pistons provide the power, and the jarring roar.
No tame, whistling turbine for the Blue Chip.
The Allison aircraft engines are the power plants Gordon’s grandfather and grand-uncle Paul and Dick gobbled up from military wholesale and surplus in the 1950s.
Paul and Dick Gordon founded Detroit Machinery Center and operated Fairlane Tool, where the machining business would leave shavings or “chips” turned blue by the heat and speed of the tooling.
The Gordons raced Blue Chip 50 and 60 years ago to advertise their business.
When they bought the boat, it had been raced under various hull numbers and names, including U-222 Breathless II.
That is why Paul Gordon is returning his family’s vintage hydroplane to the Detroit River this weekend.
And doing it, like Evans, with a big smile on his face.
“Family,” said Gordon, a veteran businessman in machinery, in a town famous for mechanization for more than a century. “This is part of our history.
“The Gordons have been doing the machinery business for 60 years, and still are today.
“And, always in Detroit.”
Old boats have a way of ending up in someone’s backyard.
That is what happened with the U-80.
The shapely, powerful Blue Chip ended up in Evans’ backyard, long after the Gordons parted with it.
When Gordon heard that a member of another family was dedicated to unlimited hydroplanes, he and his father Ron were all in.
And, Evans could not have been more pleased.
Have you ever looked for parts for an old unlimited hydroplane?
The Gordons still make them.
“We manufactured most of the (transmission) boxes for all of the racers, most of the shafts, the propellers, and we’re known for making the best parts, essentially,” Paul Gordon said.
“When we heard about Mitch putting this boat back together, last year at this time, Detroit Machinery Center, the Gordons, decided to get behind it and make sure that it came back here.
“And, we’ll kind of celebrate the history,” he said.
Looking toward the newer unlimited hydroplane the Detroit Machinery Center has entered in the 2018 Gold Cup, the U-7 Spirit of Detroit, Gordon thought to add something.
“It’s the spirit of Detroit, and we’re hometown guys.”