34-foot Classic/Twin MerCruisr HP500s/Bravo Ones
Controlled Thrills-at War or Play!

When the American Powerboat Association (APBA) formed its Factory racing program three years ago, it granted special access to the serious performance enthusiast with the means and desire to to bow-to-bow with similarly set up boats.  By bypassing checkboat racing, which has historically driven the sport, the class has reduced the racing experience to its competitive roots, specifying box-stock HP500 power plants and implementing weight minimums on the production-only hull models.  The Factory classes have become the ultimate avenue for the hard core offshore thrill seeker.  But make no mistake --a good case can be made for their influence on the recreational real as well.

     For us, it was an open-and-shut case with the advantage of quality seat-time aboard a certain deep-V ventilator-bottom hull out of Sarasota.  The boat in question is an open-ocean terror that mellows on command, purring obediently at low rpm for long periods of time as needed, otherwise behaving like anything but the race boat that it becomes when unleashed.  And that was exactly what enthusiast Roger Acham had in mind when he ordered his new Phantom, a refined version of the same bottom that held the APBA twin-engine Factory speed kilo record for a time.

     Slammed with a gleaming set of carbureted MerCruiser Hi-performance HP500s and showered-and-tied Bravo cases, our 7,300-pound Phantom seized its racer role with sweet abandon.
   Imagine, by analogy, backing a 940-horse street machine out of your driveway, strapping on a helmet and going fender-to-fender for 100 miles or so with a bunch of like-minded drivers in similarly powered machines.  Then imagine rolling off the course and heading to town for a few hours of stop-and-go errands using the same vehicle as the family grocery-getter!
     In the case of our dual-purpose test machine with its race-styled, three up front wrap bolster; lightweight, snap in rear upholstery and center control console, the opportunity for close encounters with big-league-level offshore competition is wrapped in what appears to be an extraordinarily high-quality, value-oriented execution that shows considerable flair and talent.
     And this fast, solid deep-water boat presents relatively reasonably priced admission to a rarefied level of performance without compromising its ability to deliver reliable family recreation.  Where else in motor sports can such and opportunity be found for the motivated weekend warrior?

      Of course, Phantom builds variously powered, pleasure-only Vs as well.  Our impression was that they were created along with the competition boat as testament to range and potential.
     The Factory version's "Level II" interior upgrade focuses on providing maximum comfort and support for the front passengers, also paying homage to the basic comforts with its rear bench.  Mounting o the bolster was solid and secure, running through the floor and into a deck ridge tooled into the cockpit innerliner.
      We found it surprising that the front seat was set up for seated-only driving, given the competitive slant of the boat.  Just as in a race boat, the front seating was deep, padded, tightly fit and dense.  Premier Upholstery (Bradenton, Florida) showed off its exceptional skills in building the upholstery, which was stylishly trimmed in purple and yellow painted graphics.  The seated position puts the driver above the raked, crowned deck; goggles are highly recommended when you start stepping into the speed zone.
     Wind sheer aside, the place to be on the dual-purpose Phantom was up front.  The rear bench seats four, but its spartan, snap-out padding and low, hard back make the ride aft less than comfortable.  (The pleasure version is said to be more hospitable.)  Also, the absence of rear grab handles leaves those aft empty-handed as the Gaffrig needle creeps higher -- a less than sedate state at 85 miles an hour through chop.  The full-liner cockpit sports a nonskid surface, convenient drainage and storage space integrated into the rear seat base.  The liner extends below, partially through the  cabin, where wood and fiberglass meet in a clean, basic, straightforward layout.
     Phantom will rig and equip according to the client's taste.  In the weekend warrior version, trailering out at fighting weight is a priority that specifies limiting to the conveniences below to a couple of facing bench seats and a compact-V sleeper berth.  Our drivers found the accommodations comfortable and the headroom acceptable for average-sized adults.  Getting below and climbing out, however, were something else all together.  Doing either in a hurry would be quite impossible.
     Aside from that inconvenience, the race version was generally very hospitable under recreational duty.  There were subtleties that indicated that this was something more than a mere dock-browser.  The vented, glass hatch cover displaced any notion of a rear sunning area.  Optional, over-sized Gaffrigs gave the desired fast read at speeds (dials were framed with flush, powdercoated bezels).  The task of monitoring drive and trim position is left to the driver's port side partner, who also has easy access to the Kiekhaefer throttle sticks, if so desired.
     The Classic's dash layout and execution elicited enthusiastic praise from everyone who drove it.  The gauges were positioned directly in the driver's line of sight.  Optimum positioning of the controls and the clean look and feel of the dash functions, rockers and watertight toggles tuned the driving experience nicely.  The clean, laser etched switch panels, fabricated by Team Marine, lent a rich, trick look to the dash.  Reminders of the Phantom's pleasurized status included the Garmin GPS unit and a VHF radio.
     The more time we logged in the Phantom's seat, the more its sound, solid feel and evident quality impressed our team.  The hull's solid glasswork became apparent as we piled the Classic through brutal offshore swells, and this was backed with an attention to detail that appears to have been honed since our last encounter with Phantom.  From the elegant, understated punch of its checkerboard graphics to the clean installation of the exterior molding and trim, which was neatly finished inside, the Classic shone.  The white gelcoat base was turned to cool canvas by Phantom, who went to work with vinyl graphics to achieve a crisp, clean look.
     Stainless Marine's outstanding pieces (engine hatch hardware for the manual lift, etc.) dressed the installation, and everything was through-bolted and anchored as if for life.  White, powdercoated, stainless steel center railing ran down the long, pronounced deck, easing the prospect of bow-side boarding.  Three flush-mounted, dish-type cleats are standard.
     Our Phantom was rigged with battle in mind.  Full-power, dual-ram steering by IMCO is standard on the HP, along with gleaming, thru-transom, stainless steel Gil exhaust.  The wheel feel was deluxe, and the exhaust reverberated with a shrill, rich cackle; even with out numbers on the side, it's instant showtime when you rumble into the marina.  Kiekhaefer 280-S K-planes provided any needed attitude adjustments, and IMCO showers and tie bars kept the drives in check.  Dual heavy-duty batteries with switches and dual bilge pumps are standard.  We ran Hydromotive 15½x29 Quad (four blade) props.  From backseat to lower water pickup, Phantom's installation was flawless and gorgeous.  These guys obviously know their way around the business end of an enthusiast-level play machine.  Wiring, mounting of the accessories, and the engine and drive installation were pin-clean and very easy to look at.

Turn the Key
     Two questions betted to be asked from jump street:  Is Phantom's bottom really any different from the flood of ventilator platforms out there?  Can it process big quantities of horsepower?  We're delighted to report an affirmative response on both issues.
     Despite its name, the Classic's underside is anything but traditional in nature.  The 24-degree pad-bottom cut finds clean, rapidly accelerating lift from several sources, including its pronounced step.  Here's the interesting part:  Phantom cuts fist-sized holes into the sides of the hull at the bottom, which forces a concentrated airflow to an internally placed fiberglass tunnel that's worked into the mold.  Air ventilates out the bottom of the boat, in the center keel.  A speed pad also works below.
     The resulting ride seems somewhat out of whack with the package's 7,300-pound weight: The Phantom felt solid but light, and was enthusiastically receptive to trim, throttle and mixtures thereof.  Of the 15 boats tested during the Florida trials, only two found 60 miles an our more quickly than the Classic's 14-second posting.  And at 88.2 miles an hour, the Classic was the fastest V-bottom tested in Florida this year.  Performance fiends all, our test team's overall viewpoint was summed up nicely by a line from one of the drivers' comments books: "A wonderful hot rod."
     Numbers aside, the Classic is a performance boat in every sense of the word.  It took a quick, positive set off the line, and, as the revs climbed, its responsive nature sharpened.  Get used to its predictable nature at speed, and you begin to trust the bottom enough to let the Phantom fly.  Our drivers found teh resulting ride to be not only responsive, but also reassuringly reactive to command.
     At speed, the ride was loose but controlled, clean but adhering; it retained its mannerly stance even as we crested across the occasional phantom roller.  Even wide open, we didn't find any of the chinewalk or awkward spots that sometimes crop up on standard step-bottom designs.  There are a lot of fast Vs out there, but not all of them provide the same kind of confidence and secure feeling to those onboard at speeds of 80-plus miles an  hour.
     We shouldn't recommend this setup for the first-time performance powerboater, at least not without the benefit of a patient teacher and a lot of water time.
     The Phantom came off the line like a big-inch, midsized lake boat.  In fact, with its 6.12-second ET from standing idle to 30 mph, it'll run bow-to-bow with just about anything you're likely to encounter, inland or otherwise.  It did show some bowride off the line, a trait that extracted some emphasis from the Phantom's long, carved deck.  Once it rolled over, however, its manners were stellar.
     These manners remained consistent as we carved the Phantom through a series of imaginary, progressively tightening S-courses.  Again, the bottom stood up to everything we could throw at it, and it didn't cut loose or blow out.  Tuck the bow in, and the Classic carves the water with easy, torque-free precision.

The Bottom Line
    Phantom packs major thrills into the 34-foot Classic driving experience, particularly when it's set up with the readiness to rumble.  The twin HPs matched beautifully with this predictable, fast, fun-to-drive machine.

Centerline length: 33'10"
Beam: 96"
Hull design: Ventilated pad-V
Engines/drives: twin MerCruiser HP500s/Bravo Ones
Horsepower at props: 940
Drive ratio: 1.5:1
Props: 15½x29 Hydromotive IntimidatorQuad four-blades
Standard features: five flush mounted cleats, Stainles Marine lift hardware, Gaffrig gauges and controls 
(Monster Series), IMCO full hydraulic dual-ram external steering, IMCO drive showers, Kiekhaefer 280-S K-planes, dual HD batteries with boxes and switches, dual bilge pumps, HD kill switches, three-man bolsterOptions on test boat: Level II interior, Garmin GPS, VHF radio with antenna, Headmaster trailer, Gaffrig speedo upgrade, Halon system.
Top speed, radar: 88.2 mph
Builder's est. top speed under optimum conditions: 90 mph


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Re Edited by Bubba