The Thunderbird

There is lots to be said about the THUNDERBIRD, which is a 55 foot express speedboat designed by John Hacker and built by Huckins in 1939 for Captain George Whittell, a reclusive millionaire who owned most of Tahoe's east shore at the time.

She was launched on July 14, 1940 at Tahoe Boat Company, where she still lives, and was kept in a boathouse specially built by Whittell. THUNDERBIRD was originally powered by twin Kermath 550 hp engines.

In 1962, following Whittell's death, resort-casino owner Bill Harrah purchased the boat from the Whittell estate. Harrah added the flying bridge to the boat's stainless steel top, and repowered her with twin 1000 hp Allison aircraft conversion engines, allowing a top speed of 70 mph at sea level.

In 1979, Buzz and Joan Gibb purchased THUNDERBIRD and had her completely refurbished. For a time, the boat was used for commercial excursions both at Lake Tahoe and in San Francisco Bay, but she is now used for the Gibb's guests and rides on the boat are donated to worthy causes (handicapped children, local school sports programs, winners of civic raffles, etc.).


Information by Carol Van Etten
Photos by Jeff Laroche

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