Back in 1997, Formula Boats brought a group of journalists to Bimini for a top-secret product introduction. But it wasn’t just an the unveiling of a new model, it was the debut of an entire line called the FAS3Tech series of stepped-hull V-bottoms. Until that day, all of Formula’s V-bottom sportboats, which ranged from 27 to 40 feet at the time, were conventional V-hulls that the Decatur, IN, boat company called its “SR-1” line.
At a time when a lot of go-fast V-bottom boat builders were struggling to dial in their stepped hulls and the industry was making a seismic shift from single- to multi-plane running surfaces with varying degrees of success, Formula nailed it right out of the gate.
Without any loss of lateral stability running in straight lines or in turning, the new hulls had increased the top end of the FAS3Tech boats five to seven percent over their SR-1 predecessors. Concurrently, the builder replaced the standard wooden stringers in the hulls for the sportboat line with its stronger and lighter fiberglass grid system.
“Well, what did you think?” asks Pat Laux, who knew I’d spent time in a 38-foot SR-1 as a writer for Powerboat magazine, after I’d driven the new—as in the first one ever built—382 FAS3Tech in Bimini. “Did we get it right?”
I was blown away by the 38-footer, which was powered by twin 500-horsepower engines from Mercury Racing. I told him I was amazed. I told him I loved it.
Now, flash forward 17 years to the docks at Sealine Marina during the 2014 Miami International Boat Show. I’d just finished running a new Formula 382 FAS3Tech powered by twin 725-horsepower engines in Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean with Bob Teague, my former colleague and test team partner at Powerboat magazine. Formula’s Brian Smith asked me what I thought.
I told him I was amazed. Still. I told him I loved it. Still.
“It’s timeless,” says Teague. “The thing about the 382 is, while it may not be the fastest boat on the planet, it still runs respectable speeds, and it’s full of amenities—it’s not a stripped-down boat. It has great handling manners, doesn’t get upset and isn’t overly sensitive to anything you do. You can make a mistake and it doesn’t punish you. It feels good. It turns well. It’s had the same bottom since the early days of stepped bottoms, when a lot of companies were still trying to get stepped hulls to work and turn properly.
“From the standpoint of what makes a boat valuable, it has staying power,” he continued. “You can take a two- or three-year-old 382 and it still holds its value. The 382 has become a classic. A lot of times when you hear that, it’s a nice way of saying ‘old.’ But not in this case, not at all.”
There was at least one significant difference between the boat I ran in Bimini and the boat I ran in Miami. As expected, with an added 450 horsepower under the hatch, my ride in Miami was a lot faster and accelerated a lot harder than the first 382 FAS3Tech I ever drove. That boat had topped out at 80 mph and change.
Although we didn’t take it there, the 38-footer reportedly has reached a top speed of 93 mph in testing with the twin Ilmor 725/Indy drive package. It’s worth noting that with Mercury Racing’s 700SCi/NXT engine and drive package, the boat also topped out at 93 mph during Formula’s own testing.
While Formula adds new graphics options every year, the company hasn’t significantly changed the styling of the 382—or that of its 29- and 35-foot siblings—since before 1997. I asked John Adams, Formula’s designer since 1972, and Scott Porter, the company’s chief executive officer, if they had ever considered larger changes such as a lower profile deck for the 38-footer.
“We could have cut down the deck and produced a better form for Factory-class racing, but all that was rather short-lived,” says Adams. “But what is the purpose of these boats, and what is their place in the market? We didn’t want to create the world’s fastest performance boat, but a performance boat with a strong brand identity that doesn’t fluctuate with whatever trends and fads pop up. I think we ended up with something that, over time, has developed a life of its own and we don’t want to go back and do major cosmetic surgery.”
“When it comes to graphics, those are more trend-driven,” he continues. “As the moods and tastes of buyers change, graphics change with them, and that helps keep the product current and viable. We are able to update and release new graphics rather than having to resort to retooling a deck.”
Porter agrees. “We continue to be as fresh as we can with graphics,” he says. “As far as the overall deck of the 382 goes, you won’t see a change.”
Of course, there have been subtle changes to the entire FAS3Tech sportboat series, most notably in the helm station dash and cabin areas. While they may not appeal to hardcore go-fast boat purists, Formula’s cabin layout and amenities still set the standard for the production sportboat world—even custom-built offerings struggle to deliver the same levels of comfort and appointments in their cabins. Our 38-footer in Miami had a complete galley with a microwave oven and a refrigerator, a stand-up head compartment, and a generous V-berth and lounge area.
“A lot of times when you have a boat equipped like this, you get a lot of noise from the cabin,” said Teague after our offshore run. “This one didn’t creak or rattle in the ocean, even when we flew it off a few big cruiser wakes.”
|Fuel capacity||195 gal|
|Engines||(2) Ilmor 725 V-10|
|Top speed||93.8 mph at 6,475 rpm|
|Cruising Speed||57.1 mph at 4,000 rpm|
That the 382 FAS3Tech is a production-built boat also speaks volumes for its staying power in the marketplace. The production sportboat market was devastated by the recession and likely will never recover to its former levels. Thanks to diversity in its product lines that includes Sun Sports, Super Sports, Performance Cruisers, and even one yacht, Formula is the most viable production sportboat builder remaining in the industry.
Porter said he expects to build and sell six 382 FAS3Tech models this year. “That market is slowly coming back,” he says. “It’s been challenging, but we’re happy to see it start gradually growing again.”
Bottom line: The 382 FAS3Tech is as relevant as it ever was—I was reminded of that in Miami. And in 2014, six lucky owners will find out why.
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