I apologize for the length but it’s a cool story that is continuing to evolve.
The UFO II is a 1977 Sanger boat owned by my son Ian Rork. A friend of ours in Central California Glenn Thorne went to look at this boat in 1996. The boat was in a warehouse and completely unrigged. The aluminum was still in boxes from having been freshly anodized. The paint, upholstery and trailer were breathtaking.
There was also a all aluminum ZL1 Chevy motor with hilborn injection setting alonside of it.
The guys that were selling it wanted $7500 minus motor so Glenn passed on it but kept his eye on it.
Now fast forward to 10 years later when it came up for sale again and Glenn went to look at it. Unfortunately, by that time it had been pushed outside and the California sun had done damage to the incredible paint and upholstery.
At this time, Glenn was finally able to buy the boat and he brought it home where he documented what he had and put it in storage.
In 2008, another close friend Tom Manier of Jetboatperformance bought the boat from Glenn and they assembled all the anodized rail kit, and finished the cavitation hardware. They put a supercharged big block Chevy in it and tried a variety of setups before electing to focus on other projects and put the Sanger up for sale where Ian bought it sight unseen.
In March of 2009, Ian and I had a great father/son trip to southern California to pick up my new blower motor I was having assembled by Barry Obler of Obnoxious Racing Engines. On the way back, we swung by Tom at JBP and we brought the UFO II home to Washington State.
While Ian was buffing and detailing the boat we found so many details that are not typical like the murals, pin striping on the deck, on the floor, the trailer, and even inside the pump and faintly we could see the remnants of pin striping on the dash that said,
"Prepared by Sano Don La Franci"
We knew this boat was different and I tried to find some history through all the boat forums I could think of but not luck.
The whole time in the back of my mind I kept thinking about when I was young, my wife Janice Rork and I would go to the car shows and every once in a while there would be some boats mixed in with the hotrods and motorcycles. Given this, I tried the custom car forums but no luck.
Unfortunately, Ian like so many was hit by the economy soon after buying the boat and was laid off. The timing was tough as our big Labor Day Mardon event sponsored by Tony Skagen of Skagen Boats was coming up quickly.
Sooooo, against my better judgment, I turned Ian loose in my shop and spare parts. He was able to assemble a Big Block Chevy and all the fixings to get the boat running.
It's important to mention the help of so many friends like Tony Skagen, Tom Manier, Travis Wester, Rick Gitchel, Austin Cole who also kicked in some spare parts to get him on the water.
We made the event and the boat performed flawlessly and it was great to see him with his own boat before he left for college.
Now, fast forward to over the 2010 Christmas Holiday break when Ian was home from college and decided to play a prank on my by installing my blower motor in his boat while I was away at work. When I got home I was totally blown away how "right" the boat looked with that motor like it was almost meant to be....
Following that, I returned to searching trying to find anything I could about this boat.
I had Googled it, Bing'd it, tried Harlin Orin, Art Anderson, Billy B and Jerry Griffin and came up empty.
The only lead we had was that "Prepared by Sano Don La Franchi"
A few more months passed before I thought of something that I never had tried before. I tried Facebook.....
What are the odds that a Sano Don would be on Facebook?
Well, I did find a Don LaFranchi and he was in the right area (San Francisco) so I took a chance and sent him a message asking if he or anyone else he might know have any knowledge of a boat that my son bought with his name on the dash.
I got a message back from him the next day say merely "if this is about the UFO II, call me at ***********"
I was blown away that after all this time I had finally found somebody that might know about the UFO II. Well, we played phonetag for a few days till one night as I was driving in the driveway I got a call on my cell.
On the line was not only Don LaFranchi but the original owner, Rich Laguilo!
I knew I was in heaven when the first thing Rich asked me is "do you know how famous that boat is?"
So, here's a brief rundown of what all he told me.
The boat was bought as a bare hull from Sanger in 1977 thru Precision Speed & Marine in LA.
At that time Rich was a crew member of the Proctor Brothers Pro Stock Race Team. They were sponsored by Precision Speed & Marine, who built the blown big block for Rich. Jack Davidson (founder of Sanger Boats) had stopped selling bare hulls to the public. The hull had originally been ordered for a racer in the Oklahoma area but never picked up. The color was black with gold and orange stripes in the typical Sanger fashion. The full came from Sanger with Full Stringers, a feature they only installed for race boats at that time.
Bruce Halloway and Dave Bostrom, were partners in GTH Marine/GT Boats. Before they became partners, Bruce Holloway worked for Berkley Pumps and designed & manufactured all of the high performance parts for the Berkely jets.
The UFO II was one of the first boats they used to test the new state of the art performance race parts installed by Bruce Holloway of GTH Marine. At that time Rich also had GTH install a Balsa cored floor.
The race parts used in the pump was a Aquamet shaft, stainless A impeller with a "fueler cut", custom shoe and loader, double drilled bowl, long droop and race noozle with inserts. Clearly, these were the very best of the best for the late 70's and still good stuff today. Both Bruce Halloway, Dave Bostrom and GTH have alot of history themselves in the performance boat scene.
The motor was a supercharged 468 chevy with twin dominators running 22% over.
The boat also was equipped with a Lenco multi disc clutch with air shifter to activate it (remember, this was the late 70s. State of the art stuff at the time)
Mike Farley did the paint including the pin striping, numbering and murals. I'll be honest that at the time the name didn’t ring a bell but I've since learned that Mike has painted many boats, race cars and customs and is published in a number of books. I found that he's still in business and I hope to catch up with him sometime.
The trailer was custom built by Chuck Larkin and is completely smoothed with braided wiring, pin striping and many custom features. The attention to detail on this trailer is incredible.
All the custom machine work, rail kits, tiller for the Calgo steering as well as the aluminum seat frames were all build by Don La Franchi. Don's a master craftsman in the Bay area and his attention to detail has earned the name Sano Don.
The boat competed in the 1979/1980 season of the ISCA circuit ultimately winning the national championship in both Custom Boat as well as Competition Boat. It also won Best Interior, Best Paint and Best Competition Engine, Best Custom Engine as well as Outstanding Display.
At the time, it was so dominate that the judges began to break out the categories as many protested it. Rich still has many of the plaques and trophies and it was fun listing to him read them off on the phone.
At the time it was the champion, it was the very first jet boat to have ever won the championship.
Finally, it was time to retire the UFO II and move on to a new project, the UFO the Third! This was a Fresno Mini Cruiser with a High Performance V-Drive. This boat was also powered by a big block Chevy with three Corvette 2 bbls and a Turbo 400 transmission.
The boat was taken to Folsom Lake in Roseville, California and in front of a large group, the boat was christened with a bottle of champagne and launched into the water for the first time to show a) it would float, b) it would run and c)to formally retire it from competition.
He sparingly used it for a a year or two before selling the hull to a friend for $7,000 in around 1983.
The boat disappeared after that and its location from 1983 to 1996 when Glenn found it was unknown until now. What actually happened likely happens more often than not. The boat was put in storage at Topside Marine in San Jose and it stayed semi abandoned tucked away from the weather until it was pushed outside in the early 90s. Soon TopSide Marine placed a lien on the boat for past due storage fees and eventually sold the boat to Glenn in 2008 through Pat's Lien service.
Rich still has many of the judges sheets, trophies, awards, display boards as well and 100’s of pictures and is working on putting together a portfolio for my son along with a few parts that he still has.
All totaled, we spent about 2 hours on the phone and he has so many great stories it was a blast to listen to him. One that stuck out was when he was at a show in either the Oakland Roadster Show or the Cow Palace (I cant remember which he said) when there was a protest that his engine was a dummy and didn’t run. He was given 3 hours to prepare it (he never kept oil or gas in it so there were no chances of leaks and losing points) and swap out the exhaust (didn’t want to blue the chrome Sanderson’s).
He got that all done and had some zoomies mounted up and much to the disappointment of his competitors, fired the engine. The boat was alongside one of the walls and the exhaust from the zoomies blew some banners loose from the walls and they came floating down on the crowd and surrounding show cars. It typically is a grounds for loss of points to run engines during the event but since it was in response of a protest, he was not penalized but mentioned the judges were all pleading him to “shut it down, shut it down”. He then returned the favor and protested that his competitor’s engines were fake and they needed to prove they could run as well.
So that's it. The whole story of the UFO II. Through this silly boat, my son and I have made so many new friends like Don La Franchi, Chuck Larkin and Rich Laguilo and we both consider ourselves very fortunate.
Fun stuff for sure…………stay tuned. John