Almost three-quarters of a century ago, a new sports phenomenon roared into the Northwest. Unlimited hydroplanes raced for the first time on Seattle’s Lake Washington in 1951. The thunderboats came to the Tri-Cities in 1966.
In today’s What’s It Worth? a reader asks about a toy hydroplane in his collection. You might call it a replica; but this boat never existed.
Q. While my primary collecting interest is toy candle boats, I have obtained several wind-up boats along the way because they are much more plentiful. One is the Slo-Moshun VI by Ideal, which has a wind-up friction motor rather than a spring-driven motor. What can you tell me about this, and what it may be worth? — Gary in Pasco
A. This colorful plastic toy measures 13 inches in length and looks to be in excellent condition. Unlike most of the boats in Gary’s collection, you wind it up to run the propellor. His main collection is primarily what are called “pop pop boats,” a toy with a very simple steam engine without moving parts — typically powered by a single candle.
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Before we value the Slo-MoShun VI, here’s a bit of hydro history, going back 65 years and more.
Over the years, there were five “Slo Mo” hulls. All were owned by Seattle auto dealer and racing enthusiast Stanley Sayres.
Sayres has many connections to our region. He was born in Dayton, graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla and owned automobile dealerships in Walla Walla and Pendleton just after World War I. He moved to Seattle in the 1930s.
On a mild June morning in 1950, with Sayres in the cockpit on Lake Washington, his Slo-mo-shun IV astonished the boat racing world and broke the one mile speed record. With a water surface perfect for speed, the boat’s combined two runs were clocked at an average of just more than 160 miles per hour. That shattered the previous record, set in 1939.
The Slo-mo-shun IV would go on to win the 1950, 1952 and 1953 Gold Cup Races and eventually break her own straightaway speed record.
That historic 1950 speed run caught the public’s attention and brought unlimited racing to Seattle, with the first race run in 1951. An estimated 500 thousand spectators turned out to watch. The Seattle Seafair race has been held each year since.
The sport spread across the Northwest, and at one time or another unlimited hydroplane regattas have been staged in Chelan, Coeur d’ Alene, Eugene, Kewlona, B.C., and, of course, here in the Tri-Cities.
As to this toy boat, it actually has very little to do with its namesake.
The Ideal Toy and Novelty Company, headquartered in New York, may have had licensing concerns about using the name. Speculation is that’s why it is spelled in all capital letters — without dashes — and there is no number on the hull. Sayres’ real racing boats were marked “U-27.”
In addition to the punctuation of the name and missing number, the colors are wrong. This toy is green and yellow. An accurate replica would have been done in the mahogany with red trim racing colors of the Slo-mo-shun boats.
Most notable is that there was never a real Slo-mo-shun VI.
Just before Sayres died in 1956, the crushed remains of Slo-mo IV returned to Seattle. It had been destroyed in a crash on the Detroit River. Sayers never saw the wreckage of his favorite boat.
Her sister boat, the Slo-mo-shun V - while winning two Gold Cups - had a less distinguished overall racing career. The hull eventually saw service as both Miss Seattle and Miss Tri-Cities.
That said, the toy is quite collectible, if not particularly valuable.
We have seen examples in good condition sell for as little as $10 and as much as $100.
Many thanks to David Williams, Executive Director of the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum in Kent, WA for his invaluable research for What’s It Worth?
Terry K. Maurer, Tri–Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What’s It Worth? by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.