Legendary Italian powerboat designer, builder and racer Fabio Buzzi died yesterday when a boat he was in struck a fixed object near the city of Venice. Also killed in the accident were Italian offshore racer Luca Nicolini and an unidentified Dutch mechanic, according to the BBC. A fourth crewmember on the boat, Mario Invernizzi, survived and was treated for injuries sustained in the crash when he was thrown overboard.
Buzzi, 76, was attempting to break his own endurance record from Monte Carlo to Lido di Venezia. The BBC said the accident occurred near the finish line when the boat hit “a spit of large boulders which have been lowered on to the seabed” to protect a manmade dam that was designed to be a flood barrier to protect Venice.
That he was trying to break his own record came as no surprise to many of his powerboat racing friends in the United States. “That’s Fabio. He went out doing what he does,” Richie Powers, a multi-time champion throttleman who now works as director of business development for FB Marine Group, told Trade Only Today. “I’m devastated. He was my hero.”
Added Mark Wilson, who worked closely with Buzzi for years when Wilson was with Rolla Propellers, “That’s what Buzzi lived for. He lived for breaking records even if it was one of his own.”
Buzzi founded FB Design in Milan, Italy, in 1972. He began to complete in offshore racing in 1978, winning the Italian and European Class 3 championships. A year later, he set the world speed record for diesel-powered boats at 191.58 km/h.
Franco Fusignani, CEO of Benetti Yachts, recalls working with Buzzi in the 1970s when he was head of Fiat’s new diesel engine division. “We did a lot of technical cooperation with the offshore racing segment, including Fabio and his FB Design,” recalls Fusignani. “We did many championships in both Europe and Italy. It was a fantastic period.”
Buzzi showed his engineering prowess in 1986, when he designed and built the Seatek engine, the first lightweight, high-output diesel. In a boat that he designed powered by engines and drives he designed, Buzzi in 1988 became the Italian, European and World Champion in Class 1 competition. All told, FB Design boats have won 52 world championships, the Harmsworth Trophy seven times and have set 40 world speed records, according to the FB Design website.
Buzzi became known to United States offshore racing fans when he dominated the Superboat class with his 55-foot self-designed V-bottom, La Gran Argentina, which was powered by four Seatek diesels connected to four Buzzi-designed Trimax drives. Buzzi throttled the boat and the driver was Daniel Scioli, who was vice president of Argentina from 2003 to 2007. Together, they won the Superboat International world championships in the Superboat class three times.
Buzzi also collaborated with Reggie Fountain, founder of Fountain powerboats, working on some bottom designs and other projects. “He was easy to work with,” Fountain told Trade Only Today. “I was smart enough to know how smart he was and I didn’t argue with him.”
Team Scarab founder Larry Smith said he and Buzzi were friends since 1975 and had both worked with Dupont to introduce Kevlar to the marine industry. “His Trimax drive is still the best drive in the industry,” Smith said. “He put the rudder behind the prop which is the right way to steer it.”
He continued, “Fabio has been a legend in the modern marine industry since 1975. He was an absolute innovator and not afraid of any project and not afraid to race any boat he designed. He was a very qualified engineer, but he had common sense. He understood why things worked.”
"Mercury Marine has had a long and successful association with Fabio and his team and we are saddened to hear of this tragic accident,” said David Foulkes, CEO of Brunswick Corp. “He was a friend whose creativity, energy and boundless enthusiasm for boating – particularly in the high performance sector challenged us to a higher standard. He will be missed by all of us.”
In addition to being a skilled engineer, Buzzi had a larger-than-life personality. He was brash and outspoken, which drew strong opinions.
“He’d build a boat and two days before he was due to test it, he’d call and say I need my propellers,” said Wilson. “He was the only guy who could call on Thursday and get his props on a Saturday. It wasn’t a love or hate relationship. Everybody didn’t love him, but they admired him. They respected him.”