A PEDIGREE British classic racing powerboat is currently being restored to its former glory at Isle of Wight-based Whittle Marine, with this year’s Cowes–Torquay–Cowes race very much still in focus, despite the Covid-19 lockdown.

On the eve of the August bank holiday last year, the team at Whittle Marine in Thorley launched a landmark, classic powerboat in Yarmouth Harbour.

It was a unique boat which had slumbered for ten years in dry storage, before it was test-launched by her new owners in time for the Cowes Classic Powerboat Rally — an event that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Round Britain Race.

The precise timing of the launch was deliberate.

Following a brief stay at Whittle Marine’s yard to undergo essential structural and mechanical work, Fordsport 707 took centre stage at the anniversary of an event in which this heavily race-prepared, Fairey Marine Huntsman 31, performed far beyond expectations.

Isle of Wight County Press: The Fordsport 707 being test launched from Yarmouth Harbour.The Fordsport 707 being test launched from Yarmouth Harbour.

Still carrying her original 1969 race number and bearing flaking and chipped paint, 707 was launched with caution.

Nick Whittle and his team checked 707 for water ingress around the recent repairs to the transom, the boat’s through-hull fittings, twin exhaust outlets and around the two propeller shafts, as the boat rested securely on its launching trailer — feeling water lap around it for the first time since 2009.

Satisfied 707 would not sink, the two ignition keys were turned and the boat’s original, twin 180hp Ford Sabre engines coughed, barked, belched soot and rumbled into life.

Built in 1969 as a collaboration between Fairey Marine and Ford to promote the American company’s entry into the European marine engine market, Ford’s powerboat fleet for the 1969 Round Britain Race fielded three Fairey Hunstman 28s, with 707 the largest of the Ford boats at 31 feet.

Ford’s 1969 racing fleet was specially designed to withstand the slamming and punishment the boats would experience during the 1,700-mile circumnavigation of Great Britain, with 707 fitted with forward water ballast tanks, extra internal bracing and additional ring frames through-bolted in the hull — features absent in the leisure versions of Fairey Marine boats.

Isle of Wight County Press: The Fordsport 707 being given a pontoon test launch.The Fordsport 707 being given a pontoon test launch.

Ford’s development produced a stunning, powerboat racing debut for the company, with 707 taking fourth place overall from 42 entries, just ahead of her smaller, sister boats.

It is worth noting, 707’s success is also due to her highly-talented driver in the Round Britain Race — the late Lt Cmdr Peter Twiss, a former fighter pilot, test pilot and 1956 world speed record holder as the first man to fly a jet aircraft over 1,000mph.

In 1963, Twiss also featured at the helm of a Fairey Marine speedboat in the Bond movie, From Russia with Love.

Isle of Wight County Press: Lt Cdr Peter Twiss piloted the 707 in the Round Britain Race.Lt Cdr Peter Twiss piloted the 707 in the Round Britain Race.

However, 707’s spot in the limelight was very brief.

She raced in the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes in 1969 and again the following year under new ownership, but with race boats reaching 60, 70 and 100mph, 707 was dramatically outpaced and, generally, enthusiasm for racing in the cruiser class declined.

Very swiftly, 707 became a pleasure boat.

Unusually, though, over the past 50 years there has been no attempt to convert 707 from a purpose-built race boat to a comfortable cruiser.

She is still in her original racing trim, with the full cockpit padding remaining.

Isle of Wight County Press: The original trim of the Fordsport 707. The original trim of the Fordsport 707.

The standing-only racing seats and extra, strategically positioned hand grabs are also still in place.

Without doubt, 707 is irreplaceable and, of Ford’s Fairey racing fleet, only the Huntsman 28 606 still survives, based in the Channel Islands.

Following her test launch in Yarmouth, 707’s new owners, Sean Siddons and Rob Bingham, took the boat to Cowes for the Round Britain Race 50th anniversary, hitting 32 knots en route with ease — a staggering speed, considering the boat’s original engines had not run for a decade and had only an oil change and new belts fitted at Whittle Marine.

This unexpected level of power also confirms the 180hp engine blocks were considerably uprated by Ford for racing.

Isle of Wight County Press: Fordsport 707 was brought into Whittle Marine on the Island for restoration.Fordsport 707 was brought into Whittle Marine on the Island for restoration.

Following this successful outing, 707 returned to Whittle Marine and is currently undergoing a thorough restoration.

The Whittle Marine team are working top-downwards throughout the boat.

The cabin roof underwent rudimentary repairs and will be removed and replaced with mahogany lamination in cold moulding formation, while the cabin’s sides will be epoxy sheaved before it is painted in its exciting, original 1960s colours, with perhaps the most complicated repair being the interior area of the boat’s bow.

“It’s not a job for the fainthearted,” Nick conceded.

Isle of Wight County Press: Nick Whittle, of Whittle Marine, Thorley, who has spearheaded the boat’s restoration.Nick Whittle, of Whittle Marine, Thorley, who has spearheaded the boat’s restoration.

The boat’s ‘cosmetic’ restoration is equally extensive, for a top spec finish and her racing number will be carefully traced, alongside the original Ford transfers — producing a sympathetic restoration to show her off in all her glory, with the exact historical detailing and accuracy required for such a famous boat.

707 will certainly look spectacular, but with the firm intention of entering the boat in this year’s Cowes-Torquay-Cowes Race, to mark the event’s 60th anniversary, the boat’s twin Ford Sabre engines will be stripped back to the block with turbos, superchargers and coolers, rebuilt for maximum performance.

On Sunday, August 20, Fordsport 707 will be back on the race course where she belongs.