Friday, December 19, 2008

Four Winns Unlimiteds


I have been obsessed with the Four Winns Unlimited series of boats since I first saw one at a dealer in 1995 or '96. This has been a rare and controversial boat since its inception. For a brief period in the mid-Nineties, Four Winns and Donzi operated underneath one corporate banner. Donzi of course is the legendary Florida brand that first marketed its Sweet 16 speedboat in The Sixties. For many years the company has been producing what they call the Classic line in 16-foot, 18-foot, and 22-foot lengths, and the series fits right in with Donzi's racy image. Four Winns has always been a Your Father's Oldsmobile sort of company. For the 1996 and '97 model years only, Four Winns produced a 17-foot and 19-foot pair of speedboats they called Unlimiteds. Clearly based on the Donzi hull design, but being quite different from the Donzis in detail, the U-17 and U-19 offered a style somewhat unique to themselves.


My obsession with the Unlimiteds stems from their individualistic features and creative marketing. The '96 models in particular are very pleasing to my eyes, more so than any of the Donzi Classics or the two-tone '97's, with their odd-shaped color-combination paired with very conventional two-tone seating. As for the danger element, I think you just have to show care and respect at the helm, much as you do with the notorious Kawasaki Triple motorcycles. I quite happily owned one of those for many years, and I knew that you never let one of those come up on the pipe in a corner. Twist that throttle in a straight line only! Without the snot-brand price quotient of a Donzi, the Unlimiteds were affordably priced, too. Like the lovable Corvettes and Mustangs of the '60's, you had to option up any Unlimited to make it interesting or even comfortable. Carpet, Bimini top, cockpit cover, through-hull exhaust, swim platform with a boarding ladder, a very low, windbreaking, dark-tinted windshield, CD stereo, and even a stern boarding ladder were optional. Even the graphics package, cassette stereo, and aft fill-in cushions were additional options offered on the 1996 models. The '96 models were offered in navy, red, chianti, teal, forest green, and purple. The 1997 colors were limited to navy, red, and yellow. When you factor in the color and engine choices, and of course the controversial DuoProp option, you can easily see how extremely few identical Unlimiteds were produced. What a fascinating boat!

Read a lot more details about the Unlimiteds in  
Ker-Splash 2: The High Performance Powerboat Book
Ker-Splash 2 in Kindle

16 comments:

trickrk said...

Glad to see that there are others out there that appreciate the "diamond in the rough" that the Unlimited is. My father onced owned a U-17 and after he sold it I never stopped missing that boat. Last year I happened upon a U-19 and just could not pass it up. Can't wait for summer to come back around. These boats are fast, affordable and flat out fun.

BlueWaterSailor said...

Hello Floyd. I too am a fan of the U-Series boats - have been since seeing both the 17 and 19 at our local '96 Boat Show with my father. We went to the show to look at the Donzi Sweet 16, which my father purchased at the show. I was unaware of the existance of the U-Boats until that show. I think my father and I were equally drawn to the Four Winns, but he just had to have the Donzi. The Sweet 16 was always a difficult handling boat, and my father was never pleased with it. Jump ahead 8 years and I'm driving home from work past the local car dealerships. There I spot it, along the front row, covered - but I knew at once what it was. I turned around to pull into the lot and peek under the cover. A gorgeous red-striped 1996 U-19 that had just been traded from the original owner on a Corvette! I called my Dad immediately and within a week the U-19 had taken the place of the Sweet 16! He never looked back - the difference in the handling of the two boats was night and day, not to mention the killer sound of the 351 thru the Corsa exhaust! The Four Winns was rock solid and handled chop beautifully. It was my Dad's pride and joy. Sadly he passed in April and the boat is now for sale. If you know of anyone who may have interest in this boat please pass this along. It's a very low-hour, meticulously maintained 1996, white hull with red racing stripe, 5.8L w/DuoProp. It's located at Smith Mountain Lake, VA. Thanks, Skip.

syclone01 said...

blue water sailor, i'm looking for a four winns u-19, syclone01@hotmail.com with pics and info...thx. i had a u-17 before..

unlimited said...

First of all I really enjoyed your article. Secondly, For the money and handling this boat smokes a Donzi. All I have to say to classic Donzi owners is put your money were your mouth is. In this day and age to have something that is nice looking, fast, and rare is extremely hard to find. My U-19 is fast out of the hole, handles extremely well and actually will beat most boats in a quarter mile or until they get trimmed out and at full speed. The Quality of the boat is great! This boat is not for an inexperienced boater, it is possible that you could hurt yourself. I have hydraulic trim tabs to stabilize my boat and I use them!!! Anyway thank you for the article. We are actually blessed that the boat had a bad review because in 20 years this boat will be worth more than any Donzi. Doing many searches there are less than a 100 left in the world!!!Forever!!! Think about that!!!What makes me even more happy is that the author of this article found a picture of my boat and cropped it in this very article. The boat in the picture above is my boat. How the author of this article got the picture I have no idea, but that is my cousin driving while I went to get the truck and trailer. The picture is taken at the Resort Hotel, in Coeur D'Alene Idaho. This 1996 U-19 was originally owned and ordered by the O'boy Oberto beef jerky brothers who own the Hydro plane racing team and I actually have the original window sticker and warranty registration card. They put every option you could get on the boat except for thru exhaust. Some day these boat's with be considered the Shelby Mustang of small high performance boats. Thank you for taking the time to read this. If anyone has any questions you can contact me at flyinhigh365@hotmail.com

unlimited said...

First of all I really enjoyed your article. Secondly, For the money and handling this boat smokes a Donzi. All I have to say to classic Donzi owners is put your money were your mouth is. In this day and age to have something that is nice looking, fast, and rare is extremely hard to find. My U-19 is fast out of the hole, handles extremely well and actually will beat most boats in a quarter mile or until they get trimmed out and at full speed. The Quality of the boat is great! This boat is not for an inexperienced boater, it is possible that you could hurt yourself. I have hydraulic trim tabs to stabilize my boat and I use them!!! Anyway thank you for the article. We are actually blessed that the boat had a bad review because in 20 years this boat will be worth more than any Donzi. Doing many searches there are less than a 100 left in the world!!!Forever!!! Think about that!!!What makes me even more happy is that the author of this article found a picture of my boat and cropped it in this very article. The boat in the picture above is my boat. How the author of this article got the picture I have no idea, but that is my cousin driving while I went to get the truck and trailer. The picture is taken at the Resort Hotel, in Coeur D'Alene Idaho. This 1996 U-19 was originally owned and ordered by the O'boy Oberto beef jerky brothers who own the Hydro plane racing team and I actually have the original window sticker and warranty registration card. They put every option you could get on the boat except for thru exhaust. Some day these boat's with be considered the Shelby Mustang of small high performance boats. Thank you for taking the time to read this. If anyone has any questions you can contact me at flyinhigh365@hotmail.com

Floyd M. Orr said...

To unlimited:

Wow! The owner of the actual U-19 pictured has responded! I found this photo on the net somewhere. I do not actually remember where. I have been collecting photos and information on the Unlimiteds since they were released. Yours is one of the best photos of one of these rare boats that I have ever seen, so that is why I chose it for the article. If you happen to read this, I have a question. Can you tell me what color this U-19 is? From the late-day lighting in the photo, I have never been sure of the color of the stripe. Can you tell us? The Unlimiteds were given more than their share of ink in my book, Ker-Splash, too.

unlimited said...

The U-19 is Emerald green. It has 377 original hours. 5.8 351 volvo penta duo-prop. halon Fire extinguisher system. Hydraulic trim tabs. This boat is truthfully unlike anything you'll find in the boating world these days.

Steve-o said...

Hi Guys,
Fantastic article and repsonses - I am glad to read about other enthusiasts. I am the proud and lucky 2nd owner of a beautiful '96 17 with 302 fuelie in Royal Oak, MI. The first owner bought it from the big Four Winns dealer in Fenton, so this one has been in MI all her life and has never been stored outside, beached, or rafted. I don't have kids so I sort of treat it like one I guess. I usually get approached by two types - those that ask if it's a Donzi and those that say they have always loved the Unlimiteds. Interestingly and in good weather, I have had her on the waters of the Niagara River, Lake Erie (both Buffalo and Toledo sides), the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, Lake Huron (Port Huron and Cheboygan ends), and Lake MI at Traverse City aside from many inland lakes MI has to offer. I contacted Four Winns in Cadillac, MI for any production info but did not ever get a response so I may contact some of you to trade some notes. If I have my way, it'll always be in my stable. Cheers,

- Steve

Miguel said...

Am glad to see more unlimited owners. I have a 1997 U-19 with 5.7 gi and sx outdrive with 114 original hours. Is there any web site for the unlimited were we can post pictures and coment about the boat. My email is mdccoira@yahoo.com if you have any info. I love this boat it has the perfect combination of speed,looks and comfort.

Miguel said...

Am glad to see more unlimited owners. I have a 1997 U-19 with 5.7 gi and sx outdrive with 114 original hours. Is there any web site for the unlimited were we can post pictures and coment about the boat. My email is mdccoira@yahoo.com if you have any info. I love this boat it has the perfect combination of speed,looks and comfort.

unlimited said...

The U-19 is Emerald green. It has 377 original hours. 5.8 351 volvo penta duo-prop. halon Fire extinguisher system. Hydraulic trim tabs. This boat is truthfully unlike anything you'll find in the boating world these days.

Floyd M. Orr said...

To unlimited:

Wow! The owner of the actual U-19 pictured has responded! I found this photo on the net somewhere. I do not actually remember where. I have been collecting photos and information on the Unlimiteds since they were released. Yours is one of the best photos of one of these rare boats that I have ever seen, so that is why I chose it for the article. If you happen to read this, I have a question. Can you tell me what color this U-19 is? From the late-day lighting in the photo, I have never been sure of the color of the stripe. Can you tell us? The Unlimiteds were given more than their share of ink in my book, Ker-Splash, too.

unlimited said...

First of all I really enjoyed your article. Secondly, For the money and handling this boat smokes a Donzi. All I have to say to classic Donzi owners is put your money were your mouth is. In this day and age to have something that is nice looking, fast, and rare is extremely hard to find. My U-19 is fast out of the hole, handles extremely well and actually will beat most boats in a quarter mile or until they get trimmed out and at full speed. The Quality of the boat is great! This boat is not for an inexperienced boater, it is possible that you could hurt yourself. I have hydraulic trim tabs to stabilize my boat and I use them!!! Anyway thank you for the article. We are actually blessed that the boat had a bad review because in 20 years this boat will be worth more than any Donzi. Doing many searches there are less than a 100 left in the world!!!Forever!!! Think about that!!!What makes me even more happy is that the author of this article found a picture of my boat and cropped it in this very article. The boat in the picture above is my boat. How the author of this article got the picture I have no idea, but that is my cousin driving while I went to get the truck and trailer. The picture is taken at the Resort Hotel, in Coeur D'Alene Idaho. This 1996 U-19 was originally owned and ordered by the O'boy Oberto beef jerky brothers who own the Hydro plane racing team and I actually have the original window sticker and warranty registration card. They put every option you could get on the boat except for thru exhaust. Some day these boat's with be considered the Shelby Mustang of small high performance boats. Thank you for taking the time to read this. If anyone has any questions you can contact me at flyinhigh365@hotmail.com

Syclone01 said...

my old boat, sold to my friend ken, he's touched 69 on gps. U17, has 302 fuelie, some cast alum manifolds and i think a fury prop...he owns a prop company and has tried 20 or more props. Seems like there is a limiter as it won't go over 5k. Eats chop up well, check out his other vids, under propgods. HIs website is www.propgods.com thanks

Syclone01 said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en1KfeNAgsU&feature=related

forgot the link to the vid, if it doesn't work just go to youtube and type in four winns u17, look for the vids by propgods

U17 said...

These were also made in 1995. Very cool boats. Definitely like the '95/'96 paint scheme much better.