Model year 2023 marks Thunderbird’s 67th year in the production of fiberglass powerboats. A family-owned company located in Decatur, Indiana, Thunderbird produces boats that are world renowned for beautiful styling, advanced engineering and exciting performance on the water. With a long-established philosophy of uncompromising quality in every detail, Formula is recognized as today’s premier powerboat. Company history reflects the constant evolution of forward-looking product in the FAS³TECH® hull, trendsetting Crossover, Bowriders, Sun Sports and also in luxurious Performance Cruiser models.
The guiding force behind Formula’s vision of excellence is the Victor B. Porter family. Until his passing in October of 2021, Vic Porter held the office of Chairman Emeritus of Formula Boats. Now, four sons and a daughter actively manage the business. Scott Porter serves as a knowledgeable, energetic President while Executive Vice President Grant Porter directs all product development and manufacturing. Chairman Wayne Porter is Vice President of Sales, Jean Porter Brune is Vice President of Marketing and Ted Porter is Vice President of Human Resources. The eldest son, John, also a company shareholder, is a medical doctor not involved in daily business activities. Vic’s wife Kris serves on the Board of Directors. Scott’s wife Shelley is active in the IT department and is also involved in various Formula sales projects. Third-generation Porters work in the business as well. Two of Wayne’s children, Jeremy and Sarah, work full-time for Formula. Jeremy is the Transportation Manager and Sarah is the Director of Marketing Promotions. Jean’s son, Jason Brune, is the Product Engineering Manager. Ted’s three sons also work in the business, Danny is the Research and Development Manager, Chris is a Product Engineer and Josh is a CAD/CAM Design Engineer. The fourth generation has joined the workforce as summer help.
Thunderbird was founded by Woody Woodson in 1956 in the Miami, Florida, area, and Richard C. Cole was the original designer. Decisively proving its staying power and stability, an eighteen-foot Thunderbird made the first successful sterndrive crossing from Miami to Nassau in 1959.
In 1958, Vic Porter began building small fiberglass runabouts, enjoying success largely in the Midwest and Northeast. This boat line was developed early in marine fiberglass technology, and with Porter as President, was marketed under the Duo, Incorporated name. Because of its timely product and increasing popularity, Starcraft, a larger regional boat manufacturer, purchased Duo in 1966. For a time, Porter stayed on as president of Duo.
Meanwhile, Don Aronow founded Formula in 1962 in Miami, Florida. The original 233 deep-V hull design was built at his direction and later earned notable victories on the national offshore racing circuit. Formula was the first of Aronow’s boat companies. While today’s Formulas have matured well beyond the speed-only image, the deep-V influence originating with past racing victories is still quite evident in the highly successful FAS³TECH Super Sport hull. In 1961, Thunderbird was acquired by Alliance Machine and Foundry, and they followed up by purchasing Formula in 1964. Both Formula and Thunderbird models were then produced in North Miami. An Atlanta-based conglomerate, Fuqua Industries, acquired Thunderbird /Formula in 1969.
Vic Porter once again exercised his entrepreneurial spirit in 1970 and, along with five business associates, founded the Signa Corporation. This venture resulted in a quality line of tri-hull boats manufactured in Decatur and marketed throughout the Midwest and East. With Porter as President, Signa’s growing success attracted the attention of Fuqua Industries. Fuqua’s offer to buy Signa was accepted in 1973 and, based on his expertise in the boating industry, Porter was named President of Fuqua’s entire small-boat division. At that time there was also a manufacturing facility in Paso Robles, California.
In 1976, Vic Porter purchased Thunderbird/Formula from Fuqua. The second generation of Porters joined in the management team as they finished their college work and gained experience in the business. The tri-hull design was discontinued in 1979, and company emphasis centered on the offshore deep-V hull configuration of the Formula models.
Formulas were manufactured in California through 1981. In March of 1988, Thunderbird/Formula also departed South Florida and consolidated corporate and production headquarters in a brand new, state-of-the-art facility in Decatur, Indiana. Formula continued to grow and evolve in the 345,000 square-foot plant, and, in September 2000, production capacity was expanded with a 143,500 square-foot addition. And again in 2006, Formula expanded with an 85,000 square-foot addition. Corporate, sales and production are all under one roof in a 575,000 square foot facility, ensuring ongoing collaboration in creating each boat. From facility additions to the development of new boat lines, Sun Sports in 1994, FAS³TECHs in 1997, Super Sports in 1999, Yachts in 2002, Crossovers in 2012, and Center Consoles in 2022, Formula has led with imagination and integrity as today’s premier powerboat.
Victor B. Porter, past Chairman Emeritus of Formula Boats/Thunderbird Products, Decatur, Indiana, was born February 3, 1931, and on June 1, 1950, he married Kristine Striker, his bride of 71 years. Vic passed away October 24, 2021, having spent over 60 years in the boating industry. From small-town beginnings to larger-than-life reality, Vic’s story is truly the American dream.
To read Vic Porter’s obituary, click here.
Vic Porter’s early career ventures included mobile homes sales, real estate, and his own frozen food and ice cream business. An entrepreneur at heart, Vic felt the urge to start down a new path, and in 1958, that decision led him to a prominent place in the marine industry. Interesting developments followed each move Vic made throughout his 60-plus years of boat building.
In 1958, Vic started a boat company, Duo, Inc., to manufacture fiberglass boats in his converted ice cream plant with three employees. His first model, the Volare, was a catamaran equipped with two outboard motors. In 1959, the hundredth boat was built, and the Hepcat, a trimaran, was introduced. Vic was president, and also doubled as sales manager. The following three years, Vic developed the Catfish and monohull runabout design X-Series and F-Series boats. By 1962, Duo Inc. was booming. Vic now had 30 employees who built 20 boats per week. Business continued to expand in a new 18,000-square-foot facility with plans to double capacity. In 1962, Vic developed a V-hull boat series for a better ride. 1964 marked Vic’s first million-dollar year, and in 1965 the plant grew to 100,000 square feet and employed 185 people. 1966 was a whirlwind year — Vic traveled nonstop for a month, visiting 21 cities and numerous dealers to promote and sell his product. Duo, Inc. caught the eye of Starcraft Corporation, a larger, regional boat company, and in 1966 Vic sold Duo, remaining for a time as president. Vic’s entrepreneurial urge surfaced again, and he decided to captain a new ship in 1970.
Signa Corporation was the next step in Vic’s developing career. Manufacturing tri-hull boats in a 20,000-square-foot facility with 50 employees, it wasn’t long before Vic’s second successful boat company attracted the attention of investors. In 1973, Fuqua Industries purchased Signa Corporation. Fuqua had previously purchased Thunderbird Products and Formula Boats in 1969. Vic was named chairman of the small boat group, with $3 million in sales reported that year. Fuqua Industries manufactured the three small boat lines, including both Signa tri-hulls and Formula deep-V hull boats, through 1975.
Once again, Vic felt the need to head up a company all his own, and took advantage of the opportunity created by an energy crisis. In 1976, Vic purchased the small boat group from Fuqua Industries. Vic continued the company as Thunderbird Products, manufacturing the Signa and Formula boat lines. In 1979, Signa tri-hull production was ended, as market advancement indicated heavy preference for the deep-V hull Formula boats. The same year marked Thunderbird Products’ introduction of the Formula 302, a special edition offshore performance boat. In every direction, Vic led the company, creativity prevailed and successful innovation followed.
Vic made it a point during his boating career to be involved in the best interests of the industry. He was active in the BIA (Boating Industry Association) when it merged with the NAEBM (National Marine of Engine and Boat Manufacturers) to be come the NMMA (National Marine Manufacturers Association) in 1979. During his years at Signa and at Thunderbird/Formula, Vic served both the BIA and the NMMA in various board positions.
In 1980, integrated, continuous cockpit liners improved both structure and design flow. 1982 marked Formula’s first use of Imron® hull graphics. In 1984, as an industry first, Thunderbird Products innovated and installed curved, tempered glass windshields. Also that year, the Silent Thunder® exhaust system was introduced. In 1988, a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility was built — 345,000 square feet to manufacture the highest quality powerboats possible with a dedicated workforce of 600 employees. From facility additions to the development of new boat lines – Sun Sports in 1994, FAS³Techs in 1997, Super Sports in 1999, Yachts in 2002, Crossovers in 2012, and the Flagship of the Formula lineup, the 500 Super Sport Crossover in 2021—Vic led the company with imagination and integrity into a model business manufacturing today’s prestigious Formula Boats. Vic was often seen in the manufacturing area and in the office. Vic’s entrepreneurial spirit took him, his family and his business to places he only imagined.
Vic remained happily married to his wife of 71 years, Kristine. Together they have six children, five of whom are actively involved in the Formula Boats business. Vic and Kris have 17 grandchildren, and over the years have seen interest in the company flow into the third generation — six grandchildren full time and a fourth generation employed as summer help. Vic and Kris have also been blessed with 19 great-grandchildren.
Vic appreciated the support of his community, family and employees throughout his life, and responded with personal involvement. Over the years he served with a number of organizations in various capacities such as the local Chamber of Commerce, including serving as president, in many areas with his church, area Boy Scouts, and helping spearhead the development and funding of Decatur’s Industrial Park. Vic was Adams County’s Republican Party chairman from 1973-1975, and was on the board of directors of the county hospital. In earlier years he was a volunteer fireman and helped coordinate a high school drug awareness program. He also served on the board of directors of Indiana Central College, the Cole Foundation Board and on various committees of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. The Porter Family Foundation provides philanthropic funding to local schools, churches and charities and provided the seed money for the formation of Woodcrest, a local not-for-profit retirement community. The Foundation donated the land for the new hospital in Decatur, as well as aiding substantially in funding an oncology center. He and Kristine also established an ongoing fund through the Adams County Community Foundation to benefit community projects.
“We all need to be involved in our community, because we each have something to offer,” Vic said. “We also need to help our young people become entrepreneurs — inspiring them as we have been inspired by others along the way. Opportunities exist, and with commitment, sacrifice and passion, we can accomplish much.”
Over the years, Vic Porter’s service and entrepreneurial spirit gained recognition. In 1964, Vic received the Outstanding Young Businessman Award from the Decatur Chamber of Commerce, and in 1990, Vic was a finalist for the Indiana Entrepreneur of the Year Award and was that year’s recipient of the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award, recognizing his outstanding involvement and contributions in his community and state. In 1994, the board of directors of Woodcrest chose the Porter name for the auditorium there, and in 1997, Vic was awarded the Stephen Decatur Community Service Award. In 2000, Thunderbird earned the Large Business of the Year Award. In 2012, Vic was inducted into Junior Achievement’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Hall of Fame.
2016 marked the celebration of Indiana’s 200th birthday. Vic was honored for his community involvement and contributions and was asked to participate in the monumental event. He was chosen to be a torchbearer for the Indiana Bicentenial Torch Relay, was held from September 9 through October 15. 2,200 torchbearers represented all 92 Indiana counties. Vic carried the torch by boat for 1/3 mile through Decatur.
October 16, 2016 marked Vic’s induction to the NMMA Hall of Fame. The National Marine Manufacturers Association Hall of Fame was established in 1988 to recognize and honor individuals who have made or continue to make substantial contributions towards the advancement of the marine Industry. One has to be nominated and meet criteria that take many decades of dedication, effort and passion for the industry. Vic had clearly demonstrated a lifetime love for boating and striving to advance the industry.
As gratifying as all this is, his greatest satisfaction surely was that his family is carrying on in full accord with his example of living and giving, as well as continuing the business with the same values and goals he established.
Vic literally lived his philosophy, “to be successful in business and generous in worthwhile programs that build people up to their full potential so they too will be successful, generous and serve their community.” His goal was to build a viable, Decatur-based, boat manufacturing company, and from the looks of it, mission accomplished. From small-town beginnings to the personally fulfilling present, Vic spent his time well, as proven by his business success and family following.
BoatBlurb published a great digital editorial on the history of the Formula family in two exciting parts – click the links below to read all about it!
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