During offshore tests and a subsequent photo session, the 38' Lightning made short work of 3' to 5' seas. (Photo by Tom Newby)

During offshore tests and a subsequent photo session, the 38' Lightning made short work of 3' to 5' seas. (Photo by Tom Newby)



Messing with success can be big trouble. That's one reason successful builders—a class in which Fountain Powerboats clearly belongs—don't often re-vamp existing winners. Major change to any popular and proven model is risky at best.

In the case of the new-for-2002 38' Lightning, that risk paid off—big time.

A breathtaking performer, the retooled 38'-long, 8'6"-wide dazzler came with Fountain's Ultra Ventilated bottom, reportedly designed last summer by Reggie Fountain. In addition to having more aggressive steps, the boat had taller hullsides, which added 4 inches of headroom in the cabin.

With a pair of MerCruiser 496 Mag HO motors and no extra frills, the 38' Lightning will set you back $259,451. Delivered to our Placida, Fla., test site by company luminary Ben Robertson, our test model came with twin Mercury Racing HP575SCi engines, many frills and a $361,135 sticker.

Performance

We know what you're thinking: Tall hullsides, big steps—that could mean spooky cornering and poor lateral stability.

That wouldn't be a bad guess, but in the case of the 38' Lightning, it would be wrong. The 38-footer handled as well as any stepped or conventional V-bottom we tested during our 2002 Performance Trials. The boat carved surgically precise slalom turns at 30, 40 and 50 mph. In full-circle turns that became tighter with each lap, the boat laid down lines so precise that they looked as if they'd been drawn with a compass. Not once did it bobble, slip, hook or catch. That's the smooth-water stuff, you're thinking. The boat must have been a handful in rough conditions.

Sure, it was—a handful of diamonds. During offshore tests and a subsequent photo session, the 38' Lightning made short work of 3' to 5' seas. Quartering, following or head-on, the boat flew level and landed softly enough for a member of our test team to stand between the bolsters in the cockpit, although raising the grab handles on the backs of the bolsters, he said, would make them more usable and comfortable.

Large vents fed air to each of the 38' Lightning's two steps, the first of which was roughly 10 feet from the stern. The second step was approximately 4 feet aft of the first. The 22-degree bottom also featured a modified V-pad keel with a pair of inner strakes on the forward running surface. The outer strakes were continuous through all three running surfaces, and the flat chines were about 5 inches wide.

Combined with the twin 550-horsepower supercharged, fuel injected big-blocks, which were dialed into Bravo XR drives with 1.5:1 reductions and Mercury Bravo One 15 1/4" x 32" four-blade stainless-steel propellers, the new hull also proved wickedly efficient. Top speed on a 90-plus-degree day was 92.2 mph at 5,300 rpm.

More than fast, the 38' Fountain was quick. With the Fountain-made trim tabs down, it came on plane in 4.3 seconds and reached 77 mph in 20 seconds. Explosive in midrange drills, the boat shot from 30 to 50 in 4.5 seconds, 40 to 60 mph in 5 seconds and 40 to 70 mph in 8.8 seconds.

Workmanship

Like all Fountain offerings, the 38' Lightning was completely handlaid. Lamination materials included vinylester resin, multidirectional knitted fiberglass, high-density foam coring and a grid stringer system.

That was on the inside—the brawn behind the beauty. On the outside, the 38' Lightning boasted an American flag paint job over bright white gelcoat protected by a thick plastic rubrail with a rubber insert.

Hardware was sleek and maintained the boat's low-profile lines. Beginning at the anchor locker aft of the nav light on the nose, an elliptical stainless-steel handrail ran down the deck to a cleanly installed windshield. The boat had four Accon Pop-Up? cleats, one on each side of windshield and two on the stern. Safety rails were installed on the sides and back of the sun pad over the engine hatches, and a fold-down ladder was on the swim platform.

The power engine hatches raised to a nearly vertical position that gave our inspectors a dandy view of the two motors, which have been staggered this year, so they could be located closer to the boat's centerline. That likely helped improve the boat's handling characteristics.

Interior

Behind Fountain's trademark three-piece acrylic cabin door, we found a V-berth and facing lounges with leather upholstery, ultra suede pillows and privacy curtains. The head locker, complete with a Porta Potti and sink was on the starboard side of the cabin. To port was the galley, which included a refrigerator, a sink and cabinet space.

The 38' Lightning's cockpit boasted plush and supportive bolsters, made in-house by the Fountain team, with power drop-out bottom cushions.

At the boat's nerve center to starboard, the dash layout included color-matched throttles and shifters on the left side of the dash—another Fountain trademark—instruments in red bezels arranged in an easy-to-view pyramid configuration around the steering wheel. Flanking the Nordskog GPS speedometer above the wheel were a pair of tachometers.

Rocker switches also were supplied to control the drives and tabs, the mechanical indicators for which were on the right side of the dash.

Overall

Fountain already had a winner on its hands in the 38' Lightning. But in redesigning the 38-footer's bottom, Fountain made a good thing better.

Hull and Propulsion Information
Deadrise at transom22 degrees
Centerline38'
Beam8'6"
Hull weight8,500 pounds
Engines(2) Mercury Racing HP575SCi
Cylinder typeV-8
Cubic-inch displacement/horsepower502/550
Lower-unit gear ratio1.5:1
PropellersMercury Bravo One 15 1/4" x 32"

Pricing
Base retail$259,451
Price as tested$361,135

Standard Equipment

Anchor locker, stainless-steel anchor with bracket, two batteries and battery boxes, battery switches, Bimini top, drop-out bolster seats, bow eye and stern eyes, leather seating with wraparound sofa and V-berth cushion in cabin, cabin lighting, cockpit carpeting with logo, cleats, cockpit cover, drink holders, engine mounts, fire extinguisher, 14-gallon fresh water tank, galley with sink and pressurized water system, head, refrigerator, swim ladder, trim tabs and indicators, windshield, upholstered sun deck and external tie bar.

Options on Test Boat

Upgrade to twin Mercury Racing HP575SCi engines ($71,148), flame graphics ($9,700), Silent Choice exhaust ($4,833), stereo upgrade package ($3,300), hatch flame ($3,282), center removable bolster ($2,308), red bezels ($1,375), deck graphics ($1,170), front seat embroidery ($800), seat back embroidery ($800), ski eye ($791), fresh water flush ($700), white Formica in galley ($625), depth gauge ($505) and white dash with red throttles ($347).

Test Results

Acceleration
5 seconds17 mph
10 seconds35 mph
15 seconds51 mph
20 seconds67 mph

Midrange Acceleration
30-50 mph4.5 seconds
40-60 mph5 seconds
40-70 mph8.8 seconds

Rpm vs. Mph
10008 mph
150013 mph
200018 mph
250035 mph
300049 mph
350057 mph
400065 mph
450078 mph
500087 mph

Top Speed
Radar92.2 mph at 5300 rpm
Nordskog Performance Products GPS91.7 mph at 5300 rpm

Planing
Time to plane4.3 seconds
Minimum planing speed17.8 mph

Fuel Economy
At 35 mph2 mpg
At 45 mph1.3 mpg
At 55 mph1.5 mpg
At 65 mph1.1 mpg
At 75 mph1.1 mpg
Fuel capacity200 gallons

For More Information

Fountain Powerboats
Dept. PB
1653 Whichards Beach Road
Washington, NC 27889
(252) 975-2000
www.fountainpowerboats.com.

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