The 1965 Gold Cup Remembered

Ron Musson & the U-40 “Green Dragon”


By Fred Farley – APBA Unlimited Historian

For the 14th time since 1950, a Ted Jones-designed hull triumphed in the APBA Gold Cup. In winning the 1965 race on Seattle’s Lake Washington, Ole Bardahl’s “Green Dragon” MISS BARDAHL became the first champion since EL LAGARTO (in 1935) to win three Gold Cups in succession.

Sadly, for driver Ron Musson, 1965 would be his final Gold Cup appearance. In less than a year, Musson would suffer fatal injuries while driving a radical new MISS BARDAHL at the 1966 President’s Cup in Washington, D.C.

For a few moments during the Final Heat of the 1965 Gold Cup, it appeared as though Rex Manchester and NOTRE DAME were going to win. Rex and the “Shamrock Lady” had a clear lead over Musson and MISS BARDAHL. But then MISS EXIDE caught fire from an engine explosion. Driver Bill Brow was unable to contain the blaze and had to jump overboard. The heat was stopped and had to be re-run.

MISS BARDAHL made a better start in the re-run than NOTRE DAME and went on to claim the victory, 110.655 miles per hour to 107.612. It was another triumph for Ron and another disappointment for Rex, who ironically was Ole Bardahl’s son-in-law by virtue of his marriage to Ole’s daughter, Evelyn Bardahl Manchester.

Five years earlier, Manchester had lost the 1960 Seattle Seafair Regatta under similar circumstances. While driving MISS SPOKANE, Rex had had a clear lead in the Final Heat over Bill Muncey in MISS THRIFTWAY and appeared to be a sure winner. Then a fire on another boat (MISS U.S. I) caused a stoppage. In the re-run, MISS THRIFTWAY made a better start than MISS SPOKANE. Muncey went on to take the victory with Manchester finishing second.

1965 Notre Dame

1965 Notre Dame

NOTRE DAME’s 1965 Gold Cup defeat was also disappointing to owner Shirley Mendelson McDonald. Her fondest wish had always been to duplicate her father Herb Mendelson’s triumph of 1937 with an earlier NOTRE DAME.

Mrs. McDonald tried for twelve years to win the Gold Cup but failed to do so, although she finished second twice: in 1965 with Manchester and in 1970 with Leif Borgersen.

MISS EXIDE, the former MISS WAHOO of 1956, another Jones hull, was clearly MISS BARDAHL’s equal in 1965. During qualification for the Gold Cup, MISS EXIDE eclipsed MAVERICK’s 1958 record of 119.956 for the 9-mile distance with a new standard of 120.312 on a 3-mile course. It is for this achievement that MISS EXIDE is probably best remembered. She is also known for pioneering the use of “laughing gas” (nitrous oxide) in Unlimited racing.

In Gold Cup Heat 1-A, the EXIDE roared to victory at an unprecedented 112.172 for the 15-mile distance, trouncing Chuck Thompson and the “Gray Ghost” TAHOE MISS, which did 109.800.

MISS EXIDE and MISS BARDAHL faced each other for the first time on Gold Cup day in Heat 3-B with EXIDE taking it and BARDAHL finishing second.

At the outset of the Final Heat, MISS BARDAHL and NOTRE DAME both had 1100 points, while MISS EXIDE trailed with 969. Although down on points, EXIDE was still fast enough to be considered formidable. But when Brow’s supercharger let go on the backstretch of lap-one, MISS EXIDE’s chances literally went up in smoke.

At the trophy presentation ceremony, third-place finisher Thompson collapsed. Only then was it revealed that Chuck had suffered a broken rib in the first heat of the day when TAHOE MISS took a bad bounce. Despite excruciating pain, Thompson did not tell his crew of the injury and went on to finish all four heats. The man had guts.

The 1965 Gold Cup was an oddity in that it marked the only time, between 1955 and 1981, that Bill Muncey did not have a “ride” on Gold Cup race day.

Since being fired off of NOTRE DAME in mid-season 1964, Muncey’s career had not gone well. A back ailment prevented him from accepting a full-time driving assignment in 1965. Although, he did try unsuccessfully to persuade the MISS THRIFTWAY people to “unretire” for one last try for the Gold Cup. (They had previously won the race four times between 1956 and 1962.)

Bill qualified the elephantine twin-Allison-powered SUCH CRUST IV for the 1965 Gold Cup as a favor to the owner, Jack Schafer, Sr., who was an old friend. But on race day, Muncey turned SUCH CRUST IV’s wheel over to Red Loomis, in order to honor an earlier commitment to provide commentary for a local television broadcast of the event.

But still, a Gold Cup race without Bill Muncey at the starting line? It seemed like heresy!

1962 U-40 Miss Bardahl

1962 U-40 Miss Bardahl

The 1963-64-65 Gold Cup-winning MISS BARDAHL had been retired after 1964 to make way for a successor hull. But when the new, highly anticipated, cabover “Green Dragon” wasn’t ready in time, the 1962 hull was re-activated.

The “Dragon” didn’t run in the season-opener at Guntersville, Alabama, and was ill-prepared at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where she finished third behind Brow in MISS EXIDE and Manchester in NOTRE DAME. But at Seattle, MISS BARDAHL was her old competitive self again.

Following their Gold Cup triumph, Musson and MISS BARDAHL won three more races (Ogden, Utah; Stateline, Nevada; and San Diego, California).

On the last day of her career, on San Diego’s Mission Bay, the “Green Dragon” set long-standing competition records for lap, heat, and race, with speeds of 117, 116, and 115 miles per hour respectively.

The 1965 season marked the tenth year in a row that a Ted-Jones-designed craft had won the National High Point Championship in the Unlimited Class. No designer had ever done that before; and no designer has done it since.

Following the greatest race of her career, the Gold Cup and National Champion MISS BARDAHL vanished forever from the Unlimited scene. She never ran in competition again.

Ted Jones

Ted Jones

It is appropriate that Ted Jones and his finest creation–the 1962 “Green Dragon”–entered retirement at just about the same time. They both went out a winner.

April 30th, 2015|