It's a long time ago, but still a fascinating memory:
I was sightseeing at the Miamarina in the early 80's, and came across a very decrepit Disco Volante. I asked for permission to come aboard, and it was granted.
A young German identified himself as the owner and he gave me a full tour. He was so proud of his boat, even though the hydrofoils were totally overgrown and the hull was badly covered in barnacles. The owner had been an engineer for Mercedes, and showed me the single Mercedes diesel engine that powered the boat. The engine was HUGE, but I don’t remember what he said the power rating was. The turbo was huge, easily the biggest I have ever seen. The turbocharger was at least 16” across. Odd to see a single engine on a boat like that.
The control center did indeed look like an aircraft, including the sloped glass. The controls looks more like an airliner than a boat, with dozens of gauges and switches.
It was apparently more than the owner could handle financially, as it sank at the dock and was raised and sold as scrap. Very sad, as it was truly a beautiful, and technologically very advanced vehicle. At the time I saw it, restoration would have been possible but extremely expensive
I purchased the Disco Volante circa 1969 from 3M for $6.000, which represented the dock storage fees. The boat was never titled in my name, but in my colourful partners name, Leonard Strong.
I had given him enough money get the boat running and he did, but never got the hydro-foils to operate properly. I had told him that once he got the boat to fly again I would put more money into restoring the boat back to it's original condition. My plan had been that we would restore her into an exclusive luxury high speed commuter boat.
When I bought her, she was sea worthy although her engine had not been run in a long time, therefore, we had to do a lot of pre-startup maintenance. We cleaned out the fuel tanks and pumped cleaning solvents throughout the fuel system and flushed & descaled the cooling system. We also flushed the lubrication system, next came new batteries and preventative on the electrical system. A depth recorder, radios, a compass and a few other pieces of equipment was added and we updated the engine fire extinguisher system.
When we started her engine, she never attained enough power to make her fly. But I think the reason was because we were not able to get the hydrofoils properly adjusted so instead of allowing her to fly, the foils created a powerful drag on the monstrous Mercedes Diesel engine.
I can't remember for sure, but I think the Mercedes engine as used in the movie and still in the boat when I bought her. It was a V16 producing 1,500 hp continuous at cruising speed on her foils. But this was not the original 493 MTU engine when she was purchased by Pinewood Studios. The original engine was scrapped in favor of the new and more reliable engine.
The 1/3 front rusted portion of the hull is not part of the original hull, it is actually a mount added for the cocoon. The name of the last person who legally owned her, as far as I know while it was still on Watson Island, was Leonard Strong or his son Roger. I relinquished all of my ownership to Leonard Strong on or about 1972. Leonard was more of a mentor to me regarding boats as he was much older than me at the time and I provided the money for tools equipment and supplies for refurbishing this boat.
I lost a great deal of money on this deal. But in the end it was better that I did indeed removed myself from this ill-fated venture. The last I had heard of Disco Volante was that someone had tried to scuttle her, but the boat sank in the middle of government cut and the person responsible had gone to jail.
Just wanted to share my experience and provide some further information on the Disco Volante - My all time favorite prop from the Bond series!
The Disco Volante was indeed located in Miami for a time. I attended college in Coral Gables in the mid / late 70’s and during one of our many Bond trivia one-upping’s a frat brother who was from the area casually mentioned that the Disco was berthed at Watson Island, literally rotting away. I immediately drove out to take a look and though despite being forewarned, I was in complete shock when I saw the condition the Disco was in. I didn’t even recognize it at first, driving alongside the pier I ignored what I thought were three old, beat up fishing trawlers. It wasn’t until I got out and walked down the pier that saw it was actually the Disco berthed between two trawlers.
Though the 1980 photo gives you an idea of the Disco’s condition, up close it was actually much worse, and I’m not at all surprised that it apparently sunk in its slip - when I saw it in 1978 it already was listing slightly, the deck was rotted and torn completely through in places, all the bright-work was gone and through the dirty windows I could see stacks of boxes and what looked like old furniture piled up. Both the engine hatch and engine were missing, the rear engine hold being partially covered by an old piece of plywood.
I called aboard and there was no answer so I was not able to take a closer look inside. I did however have the opportunity to speak with the Harbormaster on the way out. He told me that the Disco had been recently used as houseboat as the MB diesel had been pulled and sold long ago. When I asked if any of the props remained he said only the hull trim, where the boat aligned with the cocoon, the rest was either removed by the production company or by the owners (the attached photos from the State of Florida archives show the condition not long after the production ended - note the prop turbine housings on the back are still in place, while the interior looks decidedly utilitarian).
Given the condition I saw the Disco in, at a time where movie props were nowhere near their current valuations, if a new owner had reunited the hull with its original engine and begun the task of refurbishment, he had to be the most ardent and forward thinking Bond fan on Earth.
Some additional information on the Disco - Named the “Flying Fish” it was utilized for ferry service beginning in 1959 first in Puerto Rico to St Croix and later Bellingham WA to Victoria BC, Canada. The original engine was a Mercedes Benz (MB) Model 820dB / 12V Marine Supercharged Diesel developing 1385 shaft h.p. @ 1,500 RPM – MTU (MTU Friedrichshafen) was a partnered Daimler-Benz AG subsidiary created in 1969 later sold to a private equity group – The MTU 12V-493 engine is a variant of the MB 820 series. (the attached photos show the Fish in Bellingham prior to becoming the Disco)